Eddie, I feel like I read a lot these days about huge problems in the world (like AIDS, Human Trafficking, war, etc.) but don’t really have a way to help. I mean, I know I could give money, but that just seems so pathetic compared to the need and actual suffering that’s out there. What can I really do to help?
Amy. Seriously. Do you know what my job is? No no no, I can see how you’d mistake me for a model but that’s a misconception. Amy, my days are spent sharing with people, on behalf of International Justice Mission, about the exact question you just asked. That is, what can one person really do?
I’m talking about how we’re going to affect the situation, change the world, get our hands dirty, watch people go from despair to joy and actually see life-change occurring in front of you. We’re talking about palpable, measurable help. What can one person do to help like that? Good question.
Like you, I’ve struggled with (and sometimes still do) the enormity of the need and the smallness of me. Sometimes it seems like giving 25 bucks, signing some petition, or even praying just feels like throwing a cup of water into the ocean. And while I feel good doing those things, I often wondered, “Was this more for them—or for me?”
Then one day, a pastor took the stage at my church and shared a story I’d heard zillions of times, but was about to hear again as if for the first time. Maybe you’ve heard this story, it’s about Jesus feeding the 5,000, and it’s found in all four of the Gospels. By way of recap:
A bunch of folks—at least 5,000, but probably more like 15,000, because the original count didn’t include women and children (sorry about that, Amy)—were clamoring to hear Jesus speak, heal and generally just be Jesus-y. It was an epic, big-tent-revival, emotionally and physically exhausting, amazing kind of day.
So, these thousands of people are at this impromptu Woodstock when they begin to run out of an oh-so-precious commodity: food. And as the original greek states, “The 5,000 started to get cranky because their little bellies were empty.”
Enter, The Apostles.
What did the ever-practical apostles do? They approached Jesus and said (again, in the Greek), “JC, your people are hangry (hungry+angry), what would you think about giving a quick benediction, sending them home for supper, and starting again tomorrow?”
Now the apostles must have known better, because there’s just no way they thought that Jesus, being as wonderfully contrary as He tended to be, would say, “Yep, solid point homies, send my people away from me.”
What then did He say?
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16).
The apostles proceeded to go back a forth a few more times, reminding Jesus that it would take half a year’s salary to feed everyone, and even if they did have that kind of money, it’s not like there was a Costco down the street.
Finally, Andrew, maybe out of desperation, or possibly out of deep faith (or both?), says to Jesus, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9).
Now what I love about this is that:
1. Andrew offered this up this small bit of food as a legitimate solution. And while he probably thought it was unlikely to make a dent in the problem, he tried. He didn’t cower behind the problem, he did something!
2. There was a little boy who, when everyone got hungry, didn’t run away with his food and hide, but somehow made it available as a humble solution to the gigantic problem. Would I have hid? Would anyone blame me if I did? I mean, it’s my lunch, why be hungry if I know this tiny bit of food won’t really help.
Of course, Jesus does what only He and David Blaine can do: magic. And with the little bit that was offered, He miraculously fed everyone. Abracadabra: dinner!
Amy, what can we take from this story?
First, like the apostles, you and I are faced with a dilemma. There is a gigantic need in front of us, in fact there are multiple gigantic needs. There are 35 million people enslaved, right now, in this world. In 2013, 1.34 million people died of AIDS. 21,000 people (most of them kids) die of starvation every. single. day. And if you’re like me, the enormity of the problem is crippling—unless we think like Andrew.
Andrew didn’t get how it would all work out, but he put his best solution forward, not because he actually thought it would solve everything, but because he knew that trusting Jesus means not having every answer, but rather being obedient with what you’ve got and trusting Him for the miracle.
And like the little boy, we’ve got a lunch box filled with what we feel is just enough to keep us satisfied. Yet God asks us to relinquish it so that He can work and do miracles with our very best offerings.
Amy, what’s in your lunchbox?
I would contend that you have a lot in there. For starters, you have a passion to help, resources at your disposal and the ability to pray. So, instead of seeing that 25 bucks as nothing, realize that it is something—it’s a fish! And what about the prayers you offer, the Facebook posts you share, and the internship you accept? All of those are loaves and fishes.
Amy, those you care about need you to not crumble under the enormity of the problem, but rather rise up, bring forward your lunch, and trust that miracles will happen.
Go change the world, friend.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.