Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Some years ago an anthropologist by the name of Loren Eiseley compiled a bunch of essays into a book which he entitled, The Star Thrower. Among the essays is a familiar story, but most people don't know where it originated. The story goes something like this...

Once upon a time, there was a wise 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, so he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man 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 young man 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 wise man.

To this the young man 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 wise 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!”

As if he hadn’t heard, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he turned, smiled and said, “Yes, but I just made a big difference to that one!”

I like that story. And I'm convinced most people like that story. It gives us permission to not worry about changing the world. We get a lot of "world" stuff thrown at us: "Change your world." "Make a world of difference." World this, world that. The message of the starfish story resonates with what we intuitively know to be true... that singlehandedly I cannot change the world, but I might be able make a big difference for a tiny part of it. For a child or a village or an orphanage.

Furthermore, I am convinced that people want to, and are ready to do and to give and to help. But it's all so impersonal. We pick up a brochure or we see the need on TV. We have no personal connection to those who challenge us to give. What a sad disconnect: plenty of human compassion and ready resources, but a comparatively puny response to our confrontation with desperate human need.

This irony must end.

It is my contention that there are countless worthy causes out there that we do not respond to because no one we know is affected by or connected to those causes. What if, though, the "tarps project" phenomenon could be duplicated? Remember that? People gave because they had a connection... me. And I had the gall, the nerve to make the ask. God, forgive me for doubting that people would respond en force! (By the way, a little company by the name of Lamar Advertising (highway billboards?) heard about and was impressed with our tarps effort and donated 15 pallets of tarps to us to get to Haiti). We are working now on getting them down there.

I am convinced, dear friends, that this little "tarps" story need not be that unusual. That there are countless other similar stories waiting to be lived out and told.

Coming soon..... STARFYSH


Cory & Kris Thede said...

Great story-one that I have liked for a long time. Many a time the Lord has asked me if I'd help 'Just one'. The longer I live in Haiti it becomes easier to focus on 'one' or I should say one at a time.

I think your right in that to often we are trained to think BIG or that Big numbers matter more. While I think we need to be willing to do HUGE things for the Lord-it may all start with one at a time.


Anonymous said...

I went to La Gonave to the and worked at the Weseyan mission hospital at Anse A Galet in 2008.

When I first arrived in Haiti the needs and poverty were so overwhelming I could not imagine I would make a difference. While I struggled with the poverty the starfish legend was shared with me. Then we delivered beds, pillows and blankets to the orphanage in Anse A Galet. What a blessing as the kids smiled their thank yous. Yes we can help one at a time. Matthew 25:37-40