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Project Compassion

Hisiger: Finney students show global compassion

If you had to describe Peter Burch in a word, it would be committed.

The Reverend is committed to making history come alive for his American and World history class at the Charles Finney School in Penfield.

This idea first crystallized in his mind when he learned John Dewey’s philosophy of education as a doctoral student of church and educational leadership at Andrews University in Michigan.

“Instead of just learning about history in the dead past, I’d like my students to get involved in what’s going on right now so they can be a blessing and make the world a better place,” said the Rev. Burch, Ph.D., when first presenting his idea for Project Compassion to Mike VanLeeuwen, Finney school president.

Compassion is one of the Charles Finney School’s core values. The Christian, non-denominational private school has a motto, “Do Something Greater.”

Since September of 2012, Project Compassion has completed over 600 acts of compassion. Student missionaries have traveled over 31,700 miles bringing acts of compassion.

“They’ve been up and down the east coast, to Africa and other places, helping people who have suffered loss through natural disasters,” said VanLeeuwen, who commended Burch’s desire to take community service to the next level.

Last month, a mission team returned from a 3,700-mile trip around the eastern half of the U.S., bringing acts of compassion to six different states.

VanLeeuwen lead school groups to Panama the last three years during February break, and is planning a trip back in 2016.

“I think it helps students realize just how fortunate they are in their own situations in life, and we’re blessed,” said VanLeeuwen.

Project Compassion’s objective is to discover need and suffering around the world and to take action to help make things better.

Starting at home

At first, Project Compassion reached out locally to places such as the Rochester Soup Kitchen, Webster Community Chest and the Open Door Mission, to name a few.

After Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in October 2012, Burch decided it was time for wider outreach. The school allowed him to take students to Highlands, New Jersey, one of the areas devastated by Sandy.

As the student missionaries brought food, clothing and supplies to the residents of Highlands, along the way, they passed mounds of debris, the remnants of people’s lives.

“I was not prepared for the extent of the damage,” said Nate Abbey, class of 2015.

As Ethan Durkee-Pollack, a Finney senior, noted: “You can replace things of materialistic value but you can’t replace a life.”

While in Highlands, Burch felt God was telling him to make a commitment. So once again, Burch, along with his wife and two young sons, joined his student missionaries to make a return trip to the area. They loaded up a moving van with items donated by the school, Rochester churches and community and brought them to two families in Highlands.

“So, there we were on Christmas Eve, (and you can imagine what it meant for the parents to let their kids be away on Christmas) bringing furniture as well as gift-wrapped presents to these families and the student missionaries were telling the families, ‘Thank you for allowing us to be here with you. It’s a blessing for us.’

I’ve been in ministry for 25 years, but I’ve never experienced something like this,” Burch said.

Trip to Malawi

Project Compassion’s next program reached out on an even wider scale. This time, to Malawi, Africa, to bring love, laughter and play to children in an orphanage.

Despite the considerable financial cost of the mission, all 12 students who had initially heard a presentation by the orphanage’s founder, went on the trip.

Burch attributes Project Compassion’s accomplishments to divine guidance and to the educational principle of linking knowledge acquisition with knowledge of the world.

Arlene Hisiger is a freelance writer contributing about topics of faith and compassion.


Missions and more are detailed in videos posted on the Project Compassion website at dosomethinggreater.com.



                            Contact Arlene at 585-442-6108 or arlene@wordtailor.net
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