Compassionate Community: Shining a Light in the Darkness

Compassion: The ability to understand and empathize with other cultures and personal situations and to respond in love, kindness, and generosity. Involves a desire to alleviate others’ suffering through action.

– One of 16 Habits of the Mind Providence School seeks to develop in our graduates

An uncomfortable time

In 2017, when I accepted a position to teach at Providence, A Santa Barbara Christian School, I found myself in an uncomfortable limbo. While enjoying my interactions and experiences with new students and colleagues, I found myself grieving a loss I hadn’t anticipated in this transition: I was missing community. 

Having left a school where I actively participated as a teacher, coach, mentor, and colleague for six years, I recognized changing schools would come with unique challenges (my 100-mile round trip commute from Camarillo to Santa Barbara being one of them). It  took me weeks, however, to realize that the confusing ache in my heart came from missing meaningful connections with others. And even though I knew these connections would eventually come with time and effort, it was at that moment the power of true community became real to me. I mourned the loss of one community while looking forward to opportunities to build and grow relationships within a new community.  

It wasn’t long before I felt a personal connection to the Providence community and—even after a few twists and turns in the road—I remained confident God had led me to this school in his timing and for his purpose. Two years later, in the fall of 2019, the Providence community shone brightly for Jesus in a compassionate way that not only directly impacted me, but produced ripple effects felt by others beyond Santa Barbara. 

I am grateful for this opportunity to share my story.

A dark time

A year after the 2018 merger between Providence, A Santa Barbara Christian School and El Montecito School, the newly branded Providence School saw a need for two sixth grade classes. My principal asked me to move up a grade, where I would continue to teach many of my former fifth grade students. I complied, partnering with April Torres to create a cohesive sixth grade program. In all honesty, I wasn’t thrilled to be changing grade levels, but little did I know God had ordained this change for a greater purpose. 

Fast forward two months into the school year when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. According to my medical team, my prognosis was “the best it could be,” but after surgery I would need six rounds of chemotherapy. 

My world was rocked. I was scared and I was angry. All sorts of emotions and thoughts swirled in my mind. It was hard to hear encouragement. Praying was even harder. 

I vividly remember driving to work and finally crying out to God, “Fine! I’ll do it! But I need you to somehow be glorified in all this!” Immediately, his peace that passes all understanding filled my heart and set my feet on a firmer foundation. Later that day, as I told a room full of students what I would be facing, I was able to do it with a calm voice and a new determination I hadn’t felt until then. We prayed together and the journey soon began. 

I could tell a myriad of stories from this season in my life but there are a few key ones that encapsulate the compassion demonstrated by the Providence School community. I shared these stories with doctors, nurses, family, friends, and anyone who read my CaringBridge journal, which had over 3,000 views. The Lord used the compassionate Providence community to shine the light of Jesus in a dark time in my life and that light was seen by many.  

I would like to share  three snapshot stories out of the many acts of loving kindness I experienced.

Thursday mornings

My chemo treatments took place on Thursdays, every three weeks, from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm. I began each treatment day with a consultation with my oncologist and then went to the chemo lounge to begin treatment. Remember how I hadn’t been happy to change my assigned grade level earlier in the school year? Well, the Lord knew my students and I were going to need the kind and loving Mrs. Torres on our team! On treatment mornings, Mrs. Torres brought both sections of the sixth grade class together for a time of worship and prayer. As I sat and received treatment, they were worshipping the Lord together, praising him for his faithfulness while being gently reminded of who he is when we face trials in this life and the hope that only he brings. In my time of trial, that was a meaningful and powerful testament to the compassionate heart of the Providence School faculty and student community.

Powerful prayer

Before I began treatment, my students and I had set two main prayer requests: that I could continue to work while undergoing treatment and that I wouldn’t be nauseated. Both prayer requests were answered with a resounding “yes.” At my second treatment, my doctor told me he was “blown away” by how well I was handling the chemo. He attributed it to how perfectly the dosage coincided with my body mass index, weight, and other medical rationales. I smiled and politely told him, “I believe you. But I also have an army of prayer warriors surrounding me and supporting me, and I believe there is miraculous power in that, too.” 

That wouldn’t be the last time my doctor marvelled at little miracles that allowed me to point him to the Lord. 

By Christmas 2019, I reached the halfway point in my treatment. The day of the Lower School Christmas program my sixth graders were at a tech rehearsal and I used my free time to sub in the third grade classroom. When I returned to my own classroom, I found a card on my desk, with the following note:

Dear Mrs. Wilson,

You’re doing it! I’m so happy to have you as my teacher for a second year in a row! You’re a great teacher and a great role model. It’s amazing how you’re teaching and going through chemo! If I were in your situation I would lose it. I’m really amazed at how you do it and still have the patience to teach 3rd graders. I know you can’t wait till all of this is over and so can’t I. If I believed in luck then I would wish you the best, however I know that the reason that you’re powering through chemo is most definitely not luck, but it’s prayer and your faith in God! I know it will be fine and normal in the end.

This thoughtful and compassionate student learned about the power of prayer in an experiential way that went far beyond any lesson I could have taught.

Note received from a sixth grade student

Helping hands

Outside the classroom, the Providence community supported me in a variety of ways. My students’ families and also families whose children I had never taught sent Amazon wish list items and meals to our home. A few families even made the trek from Santa Barbara to Camarillo to deliver meals. Colleagues paid for house cleanings prior to treatments and offered to cover my class during their prep time if I needed a break. Administrators supported me by finding consistent substitute teachers during my treatment weeks—a huge relief for my teacher’s heart—and bringing me necessary caffeine when the fatigue hit hard. Middle and Upper School teachers sent encouraging texts and emails. I felt seen, known, and loved by my school community in the most profound ways. I truly saw the love of Jesus as all members of the school community demonstrated a desire to alleviate my difficult time through their Christlike actions.     

With a student while sporting a wig at the Christmas program.

Love is a verb                

From the beginning of my cancer journey, I was very transparent with my class about my expected hair loss, a visually startling side effect of chemotherapy. I prepared students ahead of time as to when I would be cutting my hair short, then shaving it off, and even gave them permission to ask to see what my head looked like under the beanie I typically wore. (I wore a wig for the first time at the Christmas program and their reactions were priceless!). 

The week of my final treatment, four boys came to school with their heads shaved. They walked into my classroom and told me they wanted me to know they supported me and this was “how I would really know they meant it.” That Thursday, as I sat with my oncologist at my final treatment, I showed him a picture of me with these boys. At that moment, his very professional demeanor dropped away and his eyes filled with tears. He cleared his throat and asked, “Where do you teach, again?” When I answered “I teach at Providence School in Santa Barbara,” he smiled and replied, “It must be a very special place.” 

Shaved-head support crew!

Providence School is a very special place. Ask families, students, administrators, faculty, and staff what makes Providence special and you’ll hear a variety of answers: each one true and distinctive. Ask me what makes Providence special and my response will always be “it is a community of people who truly love the Lord and also love others well.” 

When a community is rooted in Christ, God’s faithfulness, love, mercy, and goodness are clearly demonstrated to others. It’s for his glory and purposes that we endure hardships or celebrate blessings alongside one another. 

May Providence School continue to shine brightly as a compassionate community and a beacon for Christ as we enter a new year and beyond! 

Mary Wilson
Mary Wilson

Lower School Assistant Principal

Mrs. Wilson loves finding ways to make learning engaging, fun, and enriching. Her many strengths include curriculum development and leadership. She was declared in “complete remission” in November 2021.

Taking a Moment: The Key to Compassion

A Recess & Rhetoric Blog Post by April Torres, Sixth Grade Teacher


Take a moment to remember

Who God is and who I am

There You go lifting my load again . . . .

His yoke is easy and His burden is so light

I’ve been listening to these words from a song, “Take a Moment,” by United Pursuit over and over again the past few weeks and have been struck with the idea that the heart of compassion—something we all need to practice and to receive— can be characterized by the first three words of this song: Take a moment. 

I invite you to listen with me as you read this blog post.

Compassion and taking a moment

Two concepts of compassion emerge from the Old Testament.

First, compassion is the intense longing of tender love that can cause physical pain, extending from the innermost depths of our vital organs or the womb.

Second, compassion is the act of sparing someone from harm or pain or difficulty.

We see examples of these concepts of compassion many times in Scripture.

In Genesis 43:30, a prideful, favored son turned slave and prisoner finds himself lord over the entire Egyptian empire. Interactions with his starving, fearful brothers cause him to take a moment to allow his intense grief and tears to rise to the level of deep longing for restoration even after suffering grave offenses. After taking that moment, Joseph’s compassion leads him to extend his resources to save his father Jacob’s family—including the brothers who betrayed him—and thereby preserves the Hebrew family tree.

In Exodus 2:8, a privileged, protected, pampered princess takes a moment to notice a basket in a river and investigate its contents. She connects the cries of the baby she finds there to the Hebrew families who must sacrifice their children to obey her father’s commands. She spares the baby, a direct descendent of the once-favored Joseph, not only out of the basket, the river, and death, but to a lifetime of care and protection. Pharaoh’s daughter spares Moses with multifaceted compassion that hinges on the moment she took  on the banks of the river. 

A personal experience with taking a moment

Recently, a young woman kept popping up in my mind. I eventually texted her a short message: “Hey, thinking of you.” It turns out, her mother had just passed away from COVID pneumonia. She was on a sudden three-day trip to Georgia to meet with her sisters and say goodbye. She so appreciated my tiny kind words. When she returned, we walked along the harbor while she shared her memories of her mother and the mysterious struggle with grief. It only took a moment to activate compassion. 

How do we help students learn, practice, and value compassion?

Providence School, where I teach the sixth grade class, has a mission, motto, and various “habits of the mind” we strive to develop, with the goal to see them flourish in our graduates. Compassion is one such habit.

Recess-time provides the perfect arena for spreading wings of compassion. Students leave the routine and structure of their classrooms and race toward relief, freedom, and recreation. They move their bodies and renew their minds running across the field or climbing up slides and ladders. Most of the time, partnership and laughter prevail.

At other moments, students jam their fingers, scrape their knees, struggle to compromise, find their ideas are not chosen, or even are ignored. Their eyes dim; their shoulders droop. In that moment, another student may reach out with help and comfort. These daily experiences provide the perfect opportunity to learn and practice compassion.

Teachers are moment-makers, hoping one day these children will be moment-makers on their own. Our goal is that they will take a moment and help someone, apologize, love someone, or lift someone in Christlike compassion.

Daily life on the playground and in the classroom provides students the arena to nurture compassion through consistent practice. Extended isolation and too much privacy short-circuit opportunities for bending, adjusting, and showing preference for the needs of others over oneself. With social interaction, our students have built-in motivation for extending second chances and a gracious perspective.

What about adults in the school setting—and elsewhere?

At Providence, as well as at other distinctly Christian schools, we who encourage students to take moments for compassion must ourselves actively practice compassion. Words of kindness, offers for support, encouraging texts, or reassuring calls make a big difference in the lives of our communities. 

Over the past 19 months, COVID has impacted our efforts for active compassion, at school and elsewhere. Deep relationship history and loving trust are tested by each families’ unique needs and perspectives. More than ever before, we are tempted to isolate, grumble, or make judgments that might strain or even break opportunities to cement lifetime friendships. Birthday parties, play dates, and parent events have to pass through complicated steps to reassure safety for participants. 

We must reestablish markers of trust and respect and acceptance after months of letting go and prioritizing protection. The forbearance we extend each other demonstrates the active, wise, and loving compassion of Jesus within us.

We must cultivate, care, and respond to the moments around us. I know I couldn’t have made it through this last year of teaching without my loving and prayerful colleagues. Teachers need teachers. Moms need moms. Dads need dads. Kids need each other. We all need friends we can count on. Take a moment to embrace the vast resources in your community, as we are so blessed to have at Providence.

And, finally, what about Jesus?

I routinely ask my class, “How does this biblical story, verse, or concept point to the person and work of Jesus?” 

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus sees the multitudes fainting and scattered, harassed and helpless, without a shepherd and hungry. He takes a moment to invite his disciples into his compassion for these followers and feeds them bread. Jesus broadens love to action and we can do the same with our meager offerings, comforting and preserving the people we do life with.

In Luke 23:39, as Jesus endures death on the cross, he takes a moment to speak with a fellow prisoner. He recognizes repentance and humility and hope in the person next to him. As the crucified One offers forgiveness to the crucified criminal beside him, Jesus offers us his compassionate mercy and grace and the reality of paradise, despite his own agony, blood, and labored breath. 


Take a moment.

What do you see in the eyes of the person next to you? Do their shoulders, walk, or posture show signs of pain, weariness, conflict, or doubt? When we extend the mission and vision of Jesus’s compassion into the moments of our day, we will bless those around us with an easier yoke and a lighter burden. Habitually offering active compassion releases good into our days.

As you lift the loads of others, the Lord will lift you.

<strong>April Torres</strong>
April Torres

A 6th grade teacher at Providence School in Santa Barbara, CA, she enjoys leading students through core content areas that activate discovery, discipleship, and human creativity inspired by God, shepherded by Jesus, with significant purpose in the Holy Spirit.