With all the pain, hurt, and suffering and brokenness in the world, it can sometimes be hard to know just when, where, or how to make a meaningful difference.
As someone who has worked amongst people from difficult places for many years. I know all too well just how overwhelming it can be at times. While serving in Guatemala, I’ve seen some tough things, gotten to know people whose experiences would make you cry, and felt the crushing power of despair creep over me as I’ve come face to face with some of the worst of what humanity has to offer.
How do we, in the face of misery, rise up past the pain and make an impact? When the problem is so big and so overwhelming, even when you want to help, it can be hard to know just where to start.
I’m reminded of the following story, originally written by Loren Eiseley.
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.”
The story is a great example of Proverbs 3:27 which tells us: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
When we first came to Guatemala, we started serving at a small orphanage of 12 girls. To be honest, our ministry really wasn’t that impressive.
For five years, we walked alongside them, helping with food, clothing, education, and Bible classes. I was a young 20-year-old father of two who didn’t speak any Spanish. Yet from the moment I walked into that orphanage, I knew that God had called me to serve those kids.
While we did our best to provide both physical and spiritual help, I’ve since come to realize that it was the small personal things we did that they remember the best. Taking them to our home to watch a movie, celebrating holidays, special occasions, and bringing Christmas presents.
Often times, the most significant lack for children who get placed in an orphanage is not a physical one, it’s an emotional one that comes from not being surrounded by a family that you are indeed a part of. An orphanage, even a good orphanage, can rarely fill the void that arises from losing one’s own family.
Our ministry serving those girls was simple, but we did our best to love each and every one of them with our whole hearts striving to “make a difference for that one.”
Something I find interesting about the story of the boy and starfish, is that you don’t hear what happens after the starfish is thrown back into the ocean. Yes, it survives another day, but what happens next week, next month or next year?
For those we have served during our time in Guatemala, we find that is often the case. We never get to see the impact our time has on their lives. But for others, we have been blessed to walk the journey with them.
One such person was Sandra, a young girl from that first orphanage. From the first time I met her, I saw that she had an incredible desire to learn. Every class, she would bring a notebook and studiously write down whatever we were teaching.
Over the years, we continued to pour into her, giving her a job when she got her teaching certificate, helping her out financially when she needed it, helping her move from house to house, giving her a laptop for her studies, celebrating birthdays and holidays together, and mostly just being her friend.
She was a very motivated person with a lot of drive and determination who took advantage of every opportunity she was given. I can’t truly take credit for her success, but I am glad to have been there for her when she needed it to make a difference and like the boy with the starfish, to “throw her back” when it mattered most.
Recently we got to see the culmination of 17 years of walking alongside her. Last month she invite us to her graduation from Landivar University, one of the top schools in Guatemala, with a degree in business administration.
We had a wonderful time celebrating with her. Seeing that God had brought us into her life to help in some small way was incredibly humbling, but incredibly gratifying. To realize the impact of the help we had given not just her, but the countless other people that God had placed us here to serve, brought joy to my heart.
While we try to stay in contact with those we serve, it’s hard. Kids in orphanages get moved around, and students come in and out of our programs all the time. We do what we can with each one, but more often than not, we don’t get to see the fruit of the investment we make into their lives.
But in this case, we did, and I am incredibly grateful for God for that opportunity.
Over the years, our ministry has grown from serving 12 young girls at a small orphanage into the Cadanino foundation that serves 150 vulnerable kids and their families through two community centers that provide spiritual formation, educational reinforcement, and family strengthening services to people living in the slums.
Our programs have grown greatly in both depth and scope since we first started serving Sandra. But the goal is still the same, to “make a difference for that one.”
And we are.
Last month 24 of the 85 students in our first center placed first in their class at school. I don’t know if you can realize just how amazing that is?
Those we serve often live on the edges of society, in neighborhoods surrounded by gangs and violence, scraping to get by on scraps, often living 6-8 people in a room, sharing beds with nothing more than a tin roof over their heads.
I see in them the same things I saw in Sandra so many years ago, a desire to learn, the ability to appreciate the opportunities given them, and a willingness to take advantage of the help they receive.
When I think what our help did for Sandra, and see how much more we are doing for these students, I believe that the fruit is going to be even greater.
So yes, you can make in difference in the world, even if it is just a difference in the life of that one person who needs your help. You help to change their life, they help to change someone else’s, and on and on it goes.
Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
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About Tim and Sharie Martiny.
We are missionaries in Guatemala with our six children, Julia-now is college- (19), Audrey (16), Vanessa (14) Jessica (12), Alex (10) and Alison (8). We both come from missionary families and were raised overseas, Timothy in Europe, and Sharie in South East Asia and Mexico.
We work primarily in orphan care and prevention. The Biblical call in James 1:27 to care for the orphaned and vulnerable is our calling. Our ministry works with vulnerable children and their families in their communities through programs we run at two community centers in Colina Santa Fe and San Jose Pinula.