I suspect you will have seen a story like this before:
An old man walked the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Finally catching up with the youth, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun. “But the beach goes on for miles and there are millions of starfish”, countered the other, “how can your efforts make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. “It makes a difference to this one”, he said.
Perhaps you have had the experience of seeing a situation that needs urgent change yet nobody seems to respond. These days we are literally bombarded by news stories from around the world telling of all manner of disaster, distress and difficulty. What can we do to locate a missing aeroplane or rescue abducted children in a faraway land? It is perhaps not surprising then that many of us feel powerless or even numbed to the plight of others, but surely, this cannot be justification to do nothing.
When I turned 30 (almost a decade ago!) I told friends not to buy presents as there was nothing I really wanted or needed. A rather disappointed church member suggested that rather than miss the occasion I should have a collection for a charity or cause that meant something to me……but…….I didn’t actually have one. After a bit of thought and prayer I opted for a dilapidated hospital in rural Uganda that the church supported and we sent them the monies donated by friends and family and I thought nothing more about it. After a few months, a letter and video tape arrived in the post. The letter was overflowing with gratitude for the gift and I felt a bit embarrassed that I had almost forgotten all about it. The video was an interesting assortment of interviews with hospital staff together with a guided tour of this impoverished facility before they proudly unveiled the new mattresses they had bought with my birthday collection. It had changed the hospital facilities beyond their dreams and they were overjoyed. I was ashamed at my lack of compassion and for a number of months could not get the broken hospital out of my thoughts and prayers.
More recently, we uncovered a situation in our community that needed urgent resolution but it was complex and messy. As I prayed and asked the Lord to resolve the situation I heard a clear response ‘you are the solution, you know what to do’. Within a few weeks the situation was resolved as the local church stepped in to offer practical support. It was messy but it was definitely the right thing to do. I wonder if we can comprehend what life would be like if we all responded with compassion to some need or situation today. What could we do to change a situation today? There is only one way to find out!
The Revd Andrew Axon, Priest in Charge, Hucclecote Benefice