Allison Alley is the new president of Compassion Canada. She holds a master of arts in global leadership with an emphasis on international development and urban studies from Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies, and worked with Compassion as national advocacy manager before becoming president in October 2019. She spoke with Faith Today’s Karen Stiller about the state of the world and the condition of our hearts.
Listen to our podcast
Faith Today: Allison, you started your work as the fourth president of Compassion Canada in October. How are things going so far?
Allison Alley: That is a great question. It is going well and praise God for that. I feel a lot of peace. I feel confidence in the team that God has built here long before I even arrived and the new sense of team that He continues to build in this season of transition.
FT: There is a sense that we are doing better in the world in terms of poverty and that children are living better lives in a lot of Majority World countries. Can you give us Compassion’s perspective on that? Is there a solution to these big problems?
AA: There has been incredible progress made in the last 25 years or so. We’ve seen a dramatic reduction in extreme poverty. In 1990 approximately 35 per cent of the world’s population lived on less than $1.90 a day. Today that number is less than 10 per cent, so incredible progress has been made.
The vast majority of people are living in middle-income countries. We’re used to looking at national trends and national data, but we’re now looking at sub-national data and understanding the pockets of poverty within the countries where we work. There are new forms of vulnerability happening around the world with a rise in political instability, religious fundamentalism and environmental vulnerability.
We have our eye on inequality, which continues to be an ongoing barrier to progress. From Compassion’s perspective, when we think about inequality, we look at gender inequality which is persisting, but slowly getting better.
Not only are we seeing this progress, but we are seeing the Church being the hope of the world – the Church being the tangible and visible expression of the person of Jesus making a radical impact in the lives of children and families and communities around the world. And that is something we continue to celebrate.
FT: Compassion works deliberately with local churches overseas. Can you unpack why that is so important? For Canadians sometimes it’s hard to imagine our local church being the centre of community development.
AA: Compassion partners exclusively with local churches. That’s how much we believe in them. We partner with over 8,000 local churches in 25 countries, allowing kids to be known, loved and protected by members of their own community.
So first of all we would say that theologically the Church has the calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their local community. The Church has the calling to live out the verbal expression and the proclamation of the gospel, but also the social action part of it, in caring for the practical needs of their community. But churches also have physical capacity – they have infrastructure and buildings. They also have staff and resources and leaders that make them very well suited to meet the needs of their own communities. They have proximity.
Churches that we work with are in the context of extreme poverty. They’re right there in the thick of it, and they were there before Compassion partnered with them. We trust they will be there after Compassion partners with them as they continue to invest in their own communities. They have credibility. They are the shining beam of hope and love in their communities in a way that not only illuminates who Jesus is, but really illuminates the role of the Church in that community.
FT: When I've been oversees and encountered local churches, and had the privilege of participating in their life, even for a day or two, I'm always deeply touched, and I have the feeling of seeing the Church doing what the Church does best. What can we learn from that?
AA: What I often say is that as I’ve engaged in relationships with those around the world, I’ve come to discover in my own life what I would now call the poverty of the non-poor.
The outcome of this learning for me is that I’ve gained eyes to see my own poverty, and this inflated sense of self – and God complex – that can often come in our Western way of life.
I’ve come to see my own poverty of community, and the sense of individual ism and consumerism that can come into play in my own poverty of spiritual intimacy, in light of not having to trust God for my literal daily bread.
And of course, a poverty of stewardship in consumption habits and materialism, and the way I think about the resources entrusted to me. And so yes, as I’ve travelled around I learned that there is this availability that is on display in the Church there, where it isn’t just a Sunday morning that you come to this building and we engage in a service together.
Local churches are the shining beam of hope and love in their communities in a way that not only illuminates who Jesus is, but really illuminates the role of the Church in that community.
There’s an actual physical building that is available as a literal place of refuge, which I think is really interesting. When it’s raining people will come to the church to get away. When fleeing violence in their home, they’ll come to the refuge and the safety of the staff and the church.
There’s a relational availability where they do life together in an ongoing way. A lot of that is reflected in a warm culture versus cold culture, or collectivist cultures versus individualistic cultures, but it really is made quite evident with the Church. There’s hospitality, the way that they invite people in to share meals together, to share life together.
FT: Your organization challenges Christians here to be generous. You’re obviously deeply involved in the work of philanthropy. Can you speak to the role of generosity in the life of a Christian and how you’ve seen that impact faith?
AA: Well, it says in Luke 12:48 that to whom much is given, much is required, and to whom much is entrusted, even more will be asked. And we know that a lot of Canadians, not just Christ followers, have been given much. Even those with modest incomes in Canada are within the wealthiest 1 per cent of the world’s population.
And so what does it look like to be faithful with what God has entrusted us?
We’ve been talking a lot about not just our financial resources but our time and our talents and our passion and our circles of influence. What does it look like for us to steward all that we are and all that we have toward accomplishing God’s purposes in the world?
We know that when we experience faith in new ways, we experience trust and interdependence in new ways as we choose to give to God what is God’s, and to give to others out of our abundance, trusting from an abundance perspective that God will continue to provide.
But I think also, not just with financial generosity, but giving our whole selves, there’s something incredible that can happen, that we’ve seen happen through the ministry of Compassion, as lives are shared and as relationships are shared, we can continue to impact one another. We grow in our learning from one another as we grow closer to God and grow closer to the image of God.
Mutuality is just a fancy way of saying, "We ought to acknowledge that we all have our God-given assets as people who were created in His image, and we all have needs and deficits." We all have something then to offer to the other, and we all have something to receive, and that happens in the context of relationship.
At Compassion, and certainly as I enter this new season as the new leader, I’m pretty excited about the role of Compassion as a bridge between the resourced Christians in Canada and the under-re sourced Christians around the world, where God can use us to facilitate this exchange of relationship and this growth. It can happen on both sides.
FT: I’m guessing that you see really beautiful things, but also really hard things sometimes, and experience the contrast between a Canadian life and what you see overseas. How do you care for yourself spiritually and keep yourself strong in this kind of work? It must be incredibly rewarding, but also taxing in a way that other work may not be sometimes?
AA: It is most definitely a tension that needs to be managed, navigating the context of both extreme wealth (even opulence) and extreme need. And really stewarding those stories and encounters as well on behalf of the kids and families that we serve.
One of the things that was impressed upon me early on when I started in seminary was you lead out of your being and not just lead out of your doing, and how critical it is to care for yourself and to build the rhythms and the relation ships that will both create and then sustain the life that God invites us to live for His glory.
And so I went through the exercise of reflecting and then creating those rhythms and relationships that I ought to prioritize, whether it be time with God, time with others and time with my husband. I have rhythms – daily, weekly and quarterly – of resting, times of refreshment and reaching out and connecting. I was able to map that out and to design these rhythms in ways that I continue to stick to.
I’m a relatively disciplined person who makes small choices, but they have made a big impact in my life as a leader. I am proactive in getting these most critical things in my calendar first. Time with God, marriage time, family time. I have two kids who need their mom. And time with friends who can know me as Allison, and hold me accountable in my own life journey as a Christ-follower. Time with my local church matters, and the discipline to choose first the relationships that can hold you accountable.
And then the acknowledgement that you’re going to fail, time and time again, and to keep evaluating how to navigate and adjust these plans and these rhythms. To be who God has called me to be. So yes, it is a tension to manage. I’m one who requires a lot of intentionality and productivity, and then relationships to hold me accountable.
FT: What can we expect to see from Compassion?
AA: What won’t change is our continued focus on being Christ-centred, child-focused and church-based.
So we will continue to be an organization that is not just compelled by the gospel to prioritize kids in poverty but expresses the gospel tangibly in the work that we do. That will continue.
We will continue to be church-based and partnering, not just with local church es in the context of extreme poverty, but prioritizing and investing in and learning from churches here in Canada.
And also, of course, being child-focused. We recognize that in the context of human development, which is the work we do, starting early matters. There’s a new body of research that talks about how critical it is that babies and children are prioritized in their earliest days so they can then flourish and grow and contribute as adults in the working world around them. We will continue to do that.
We’re working toward a world where every child can be released from poverty and have the opportunity to flourish in Christ.
As we look ahead, we’re working toward a world where every child can be released from poverty and have the opportunity to flourish in Christ. It means that we’re looking at new ways of operating pro grammatically. We are looking at new ways to keep kids on the agenda here in Canada, and new ways to partner with other like-minded organizations who are also advocates for kids.
We also want to invest in and mobilize every Jesus-follower, and want to encourage them to join God in advancing His mission. A critical goal for us, and a critical part of our mission, is that God would use Compassion to be a bridge that builds relationships to see lives changed here in Canada.
FT: Thank you, Allison.
Listen to our full podcast conversation with Allison Alley at www.FaithToday.ca/Podcasts.