Recently, while serving in Kampala, Uganda with one of my favorite ministries, Sixty Feet, I was reminded of a story I once heard from my friend, Jim Gash. The story is called Starfish and goes like this:
Once upon a time, there was a man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a child, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The child was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The child paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled man.
To this, the child replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the child bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”
I met Tony on my first trip to Uganda in 2010 when he was 2 (maybe 3 years old) in the Ugandan Reception Center, a place that receives children who are orphaned, unwanted, abused, and left for dead. He was found on the streets after his mother and father had died of AIDS.
As I walked into the old, dirty, dilapidated building brimming with forgotten children, my only thought was, “no child belongs here”. I was overwhelmed at the mess and feared I had nothing to offer. I didn’t know if I had it in me to love a snotty-nosed kid who was sick, dirty, and probably diseased. Then I spotted a shy little boy sitting in the corner on the cold, filthy floor. He seemed scared. The only thing we shared was fear followed by the same question, “why am I here?”. When his eyes met mine, I motioned him to come to me. He slowly made his way to my side and then raised his scrawny arms. I scooped him into mine and we exchanged names. His name was Tony.
As each day passed, I found myself falling in love with this little guy. The thought of leaving him behind nearly tore me apart. Who would take care of him? Who would love him? And not only was I leaving Tony behind, but also all the other kids in the reception center that had no one to properly care for them. I was paralyzed with helplessness as I thought of the thousands upon thousands of Tony’s all around the world. Then the words of Jim Gash came to mind, “I made a difference for that one.” I committed that day to doing whatever I could to save Tony…he became my starfish.
It’s taken almost three years before seeing my little guy thrown back to sea, but this past week I met with Tony and his foster parents. A Ugandan pastor friend and his wife agreed to take him in if I would cover the whopping $50/month living expenses. It was a small price to pay for my Ugandan boy… a boy I could not love anymore if he were my own flesh and blood… a boy who had no control over his situation and lost all hope for escape. He needed a miracle.
Yet, don’t we all need a miracle! Maybe we don’t need to be rescued from a filthy, dilapidated building or given a new set of parents like Tony, but we need to be rescued from our dilapidated hearts and given a new identity. Good thing Jesus is in the miracle business and offers just that…
Galatians 4:4-5 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Jesus entered our mess at just the right time to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died, to rescue hopeless orphans like you and me. He is the only one that can look at seashores of helpless Starfish and rescue them all! Even you and now even Tony…