Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA) is a specialized structure of Alliance Missions which responds to disasters globally and partners locally to restore communities and alleviate poverty. Mike Sohm has served as the CAMA director for the past nine years and is retiring from CAMA on July 31, 2022.
Coming Alongside Others with CAMA
I’ve had the privilege of serving in many roles with The Alliance over the past 40 years. Like many, I began in the pastorate in British Columbia, then moved to Thailand with my wife Nancy and our son Caleb to become international workers.
I served as the field director there for a short time, and eventually transitioned back to the United States to become a regional leader for Asia. After 15 years in that role, our family moved to Minnesota where I held an administrative role at Crown College.
Each of these experiences was unique, but none have been quite like CAMA. For the past nine years, this role has been life changing, rewarding, difficult, and worth all the effort. CAMA staff members (I’m including our global partners who are not U.S. citizens) have taught me what relief and development looks like when it’s done well. Getting to know our many partners around the globe has been rewarding and has also served as a reminder that the Lord of the harvest has many other harvesters working in His field that we can join in advancing His Kingdom.
Relief and Development
Relief and development are rewarding but exhausting types of ministries. Visiting the location where a major disaster has just happened is overwhelming. Development is an involved, long-term commitment that requires relational trust, community engagement, and local leadership. Visiting development projects and the sites of disasters throughout the years has challenged my faith while also reminding me that I am present to listen, to affirm, and to weep with those who weep.
Allow me to state an obvious truth that the heroes of these crises are our staff members and local partners. They are the ones who make sacrifices to go to a place just after a disaster has hit or spend many days working with community leaders to identify their highest priority needs. Their commitment to help in ways that engage others locally, preserve the dignity of the participants, and point people to Christ has been inspiring.
Whether it was a project to improve children’s nutrition and education, or an initiative to help vulnerable women find safety and hope, it was moving to meet, listen, and learn from these individuals. People coming together from diverse backgrounds for the good of others is very moving to observe. Serving these heroes has been my greatest honor.
Looking Back at Lessons Learned
Over the years, I’ve learned so much from CAMA’s staff members and partners. Allow me to mention a few of those lessons:
- God in His providence has provided local people with local resources to solve local problems.
- Partnership is the preferred path when you can agree on a common outcome.
- The people most changed by our work is us.
- Abandon your preconceived ideas of what is needed as well as your solutions to problems and you are off to a good start.
- Be careful not to rob someone of their dignity by doing things for them that they could do with just a small amount of help or knowledge.
- Prioritize developing people even as you implement projects, and you will not be disappointed.
- Failure is guaranteed—commit to failing fast, learning from failure, and not letting failure define you.
- Compassion will not sustain you in the long term; you must know that you are there in response to Christ’s call to serve others.
- Since sin has holistically affected our relationship with God, with one another, with ourselves, and with creation, our solutions must be holistic. The only solution that addresses the brokenness of the world in its entirety is the gospel being fully expressed in both word and deed.
Thank You All
I am grateful to have had the privilege of serving as CAMA’s director. Thank you for the many times you prayed for a staff member, a project, or a disaster response, and thank you for your gifts which made it possible to carry out our work in some of the most difficult places of this world. Your prayers kept me going when quitting seemed like the only choice, and your giving met people stuck in hard situations. Your countless expressions of compassion have all made a difference.
The work is not done, and there will always be more needs than we have the resources to meet. However, I’m confident that God will continue to provide what we need for our part in His larger plan.
Thank you for walking with me and with the staff members of CAMA over these past nine years.