Child holding starfish

IN THE LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY there was a story written by Loren Eiseley called “The Star Thrower” that became popular among Christians. It goes like this:

A man was walking along the beach when he saw a boy picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

“Throwing starfish back into the ocean,” he said. “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.”

I’ve heard this story in several sermons — you probably have too. It’s a sweet story with the message that you can make a difference, one at a time. But it is strong on individualism — individual action resulting in individual rescue.

Had the story been written for the twenty-first-century Christian, it would be quite different. Maybe it would go something like this:

A man was walking along the beach when he saw a girl taking a picture of a starfish with her iPhone.

Approaching the girl, he asked, “What are you doing?”

“Uploading pictures of these stranded starfish to my Facebook page and asking friends to Tweet the call to action,” she said. “The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I can get enough friends out here, we can get all these starfish back into the water before sunset.”

“Little girl,” the man asked, “what does tweet mean?”

The girl rolled her eyes. She bent down, picked up a starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then she gave the man a wry, twinkly-eyed smile and said, “If you want to help out, this is how you do it.”

Within hours, thousands of children stormed the beach and every starfish was rescued.

Child holding starfish

Image credit: Starfish in Aruba 2008 by Maria Strong on Flickr.

The biggest difference between the man and the girl was what each of them expected. The man did not expect that all the starfish could be rescued — he expected them to die. He thought the problem was too big, that it was just reality for starfish. But the girl was not a hostage to such low expectations. And that made all the difference. Expecting that every starfish could be saved unleashed her exuberant action, while the man slumped critically along the beach prophesying about life’s impossibilities.

But the Star Thrower story might continue:

As the last starfish was tossed into the ocean, the children celebrated their accomplishment on the beach. It had been a good day — for them and for the starfish.

But not all of them were playing. One boy faced the water, deep in thought.

The little girl approached him and asked, “What’s up?”

Still gazing into the distance of ocean and imagination he said, “How’d it happen in the first place?”

Turning to face the girl, eyes locking with hers in resolve, he continued, “And how do we make sure it never happens again?”

This is a book about getting a bunch of friends together to rescue all the starfish — every last one — and being faithful to each one. It’s about building a world in which, once the starfish have been rescued, they will also no longer be at risk. We must marshal our best wisdom and strategy to address the root causes of vulnerability. And we must have the foresight to make sure it never happens again.

Read more: Buy Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Dr Scott Todd on Amazon.

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Source: An extract from Fast Living: How the Church will end extreme poverty, by Dr Scott Todd. Reproduced with permission.

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