I once read a fictional story of a man walking along a deserted beach at sunset. He saw a young boy in the distance and noticed that he was diligently picking up starfish and one by one throwing them back out into the ocean. As the man drew closer, he asked the boy what he was doing.
“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean,” the boy replied. “They can’t return on their own, and they will die unless I throw them back into the water.”
“But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches all along the coast,” the man said. “You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; he then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw as far into the ocean as he could.
“Well, it made a difference to that one,” he said.
Often when I think of all the pain and corruption in this world, the millions of people that live in poverty, the children that are sold into slavery, and the countless orphans that will grow up never being held or loved by a family, I feed defeated and overwhelmed. In those moments when my mind is flooded with the vast and various needs, it becomes easy to question what difference one person can make. Surely there must be someone more equipped and better trained to meet the needs of these people than me.
These are questions I have often wrestled with as I studied social injustice in school or witnessed it firsthand around the world. During my internship in Haiti, these questions came flooding back along with feelings of inadequacy.
“Lord, how in some small way can I best serve you here in addition to my work responsibilities?” I asked God. “Where do I even begin to make a difference with all that is taking place in this country?”
In His timing and in a way I never expected, He gave me a special group to invest in.
I was often encouraged during my time in Haiti to not give things to the kids on the beach, primarily because it meant they would all start asking for items and there’s no way to meet that many demands.
Because of this, I came to gradually dislike and shy away from the kids that would hang out by the fence near my hut on a daily basis. I assumed that if I went near them, I would be bombarded with requests and pleas for money, gifts, and other demands I simply couldn’t meet—so I stayed away.
Friends Across the Fence
Three months into my internship, I was coming back from church one evening when I noticed those same kids were playing soccer on the other side of the fence. I love to watch and play soccer, but I hadn’t done so in Haiti.
I timidly approached the fence just to watch, but no real soccer player can ever “just watch” for long. Finally, in the little Creole I knew, I asked the children if I could play. A resounding, “Wi!” came from the other side. In that moment, I didn’t know the impact these children would have on my life.
From that moment until my last day in Haiti, my evenings were spent playing soccer with these boys on the beach until it was too dark to see the ball—and even then we often kept playing. Among this group of soccer stars, I found Creole teachers, hard-working students, boys working to support their families, and children that simply wanted to be seen, to be known, and to have someone to spend time with them.
It didn’t matter that they were way better at soccer than I was, it didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language, and it didn’t matter that the only thing I had to offer them was water as we played—it only mattered that I was there.
My favorite name for God has always been El Roi, the God who sees. In Genesis, when the Lord heard Hagar’s cry for help from the desert, Hagar responded to the Lord by saying, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” (Genesis 16:13b, NKJV). If the Lord saw a slave girl and her dying son in the desert and had compassion on them, I know that He sees each and every one of these Haitian boys.
He hears their hearts’ desires and passions, and He’s intimately acquainted with their sorrows and sufferings. Though I’m powerless to meet the overwhelming need in Haiti, El Roi is not, and He is daily rescuing people from their own hopeless deserts just as He did Hagar. He also graciously allows us as Christians to assist others along this journey, to see those the world often doesn’t see and help them find their value in Christ.
These boys on the other side of the fence were no longer people to be avoided. They were my friends with names and stories and smiles I will never forget. They taught me the importance of investing my time and how much an impact simply being “seen” can have on an individual’s life.
I know there are countless children and hurting people in every country and the need can be overwhelming, just like looking at a beach full of thousands of starfish needing to be rescued. I’m glad the Lord leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one (Luke 15:4-7), and I too now look not solely at the big picture but at how I can make a difference in the world one person at a time.
The Samaritan’s Purse internship program is an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to use their skills to impact the world in a tangible way. Find out more here.