Becoming Numb To “For Just a Dollar a Day”

Published on August 2, 2010 by CT in Blog, News


Advertisements have ruined compassion. OK, maybe they haven’t ruined it, but how many times have you heard that a dollar a day will save the life of some child in a third world country, and you flip past that channel or turn the page or click to the next site without thinking any more about it?  I’ve probably seen a thousand ads for kids that desperately need my help, and I’ve actually helped maybe 3 of them.

This is the tragedy of familiarity.  We tend to go numb at too much exposure.  We may be moved to compassion by the first starving kid who comes up with her hand out to us, but if we see a hundred of them, it’s easy to get over the whole thing.  This is unfortunate, and I don’t know that there’s a fix for it other than to abide in Christ and trust God for more grace, which sounds a lot easier than it is.

Having said all of this, I want to share with you something that moves me to compassion—and is one of the Top Ten Things I Love:  ACTS Ministry.  ACTS is a group of men and women in Burkina Faso (West Africa) who love widows and orphans.  It would be cliché if they weren’t such genuine people—and if they didn’t love Jesus as much as they do.

ACTS started when a woman named Joanna bought some land to raise chickens as extra income.  This is Proverbs 31 woman kind of stuff:  “She considers a field and buys it” (Proverbs 31:16).  But as she spent time out in the village where the land was located, she found herself in front of a few orphan kids who didn’t have any food.  So she started giving them some rice.  Then a few more showed up, and she fed them too.  Then she ran out of rice.  Then a stranger dropped a bunch of bags of rice on her doorstep.  So she fed some more kids.

Before long, Joanna quit her job and started working full-time with these orphans.  And then she found the village had a bunch of widows because the men had left for Ivory Coast looking for jobs and hadn’t come home.  So she started working with them too.

Fast forward to today.  ACTS has provided the village of Saonre with an orphan center, primary school, secondary school, fresh water well, medical center, dental center, bakery, and evangelical church.  The ministry teaches villagers about the Bible, educates them on AIDS prevention and good hygiene practices, trains young women in sewing, teaches young men carpentry skills, and generally paints a glowing portrait of Jesus for this village.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar ministries throughout the world, advancing God’s kingdom, bringing the gospel to people, and meeting their needs.  But I love this one in particular.  Anna and I have spent a month in Burkina over the last few years, and we’ve hosted Joanna in our home here in the US on two occasions.  She is family to us.

The reason I tell you all of this is because I promised Joanna that I would share one of her needs with my friends and family.  And you count as part of that group.  The primary and secondary schools are starting up again in October, and because giving is down so much over the last 18 months, ACTS doesn’t have the funds to sponsor the kids’ education.

Joanna wrote to me to say she is looking for sponsors for 37 secondary school students (at $405 per student for a year) and 85 primary school students (at $225 per student for a year).  If you’re interested in being part of this work, you can contact ACTS or hit me up at

Don’t feel bad if you bypass this request.  We’re not all supposed to meet every need we encounter, so it doesn’t mean that you’re numb.  Unless you’re actually numb, at which point you should take that up with God first and then reconsider.

But I would ask that you pray that God’s will would be done in the lives of these kids, and that He would reveal Himself more and more to their hearts, and that their passion for His glory would become an all-consuming movement in this village.  Education is great, as is food, and medical attention, but they should all serve the end of pointing all of our hearts towards the One who meets our every need.

Question:  Irrespective of this particular request, why do you think we go numb to these kinds of needs?

  • Ray Hollenbach

    Thanks for posting this, Chris. I trust that many will be moved to action, and I'm asking the Lord to put extra money into my hands, that I could pass it along to ACTS MInistry.
    My recent post Mondays Meditation- Encountering His Spirit in His Book

    • Chris_Tomlinson

      Thanks, Ray. I'll pray for the same thing for you as well! I would love to hear the story of how God answers these prayers, if it be His will.

  • lauradroege

    Why do we go numb? For me, I think I become overwhelmed by how much suffering is in the world, how many needs there are, and I really WANT to help every single exploited, needy person.

    But i suffer compassion burnout. (I think that's the term for what counselors sometimes go through.) I hear about it on a daily basis, I know I can't meet every need, I'm simply overwhelmed by the depth of the grief/needs/hurts, and I have to "numb" myself so I don't completely break down under the weight of this combined suffering. I have to "numb" myself so I don't take on more than my mind/heart can bear.

    I have to "pick and choose" what to pray intensely about, what ministries to give to, etc. I simply can't do everything, which thankfully, God hasn't called me to do!

    My recent post Aisha- Her courage is beautiful

    • Chris_Tomlinson


      I love your ending–God is in control and doesn't ask us to do everything. I used to think that was an excuse, but I've come to see the wisdom in your statement. I think my mentality of wanting to "save the world" was born from pride rather than compassion. Humility brings us to the place where we recognize God doesn't need us–and then out of that humility He uses us for certain good works. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

  • Lyla Lindquist

    I think there's a least one study out on the phenomenon Laura talks about above. The repeated, graphic exposure…we go numb in self-defense. Whether than explains it or excuses it for me, I don't know…

    The thing that makes your request here compelling, I think, is the personal connection. It's not an unknown child on video that we secretly think is stock footage from somewhere. But you're talking about a real woman, with real children, real widows, a real village. And when it's real, we must act.

    My family does a little (in the grand scheme of things, tiny) to help out a little baby in North Africa. But I know his daddy. He's my friend. So when he asks, I can't bring myself to say no. It's personal.
    My recent post We Can’t Handle This Much Jesus

    • Chris_Tomlinson


      I think you're right on. I remember when we came back from Burkina the first year–I couldn't understand why all my friends who didn't go on the trip weren't as driven to compassion for these orphans as those of us who went were. But why would I think that? I didn't have that compassion either before our trip. There's great power in that personal connection, and I praise God for the way He connects people at the right time to accomplish His will. Thanks for sharing about your connection to the baby in N. Africa–beautiful!