Jim Shinn: A Starfish Story


f you haven’t heard the “Starfish Story”, it is from one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. In summary, the little lesson is about a man walking on the beach which is covered with thousands of starfish. He sees a man, picking up starfishes, one at a time and throwing them in the water. He asks the fellow what he is doing and he says that if the starfish doesn’t get back in the water, they will perish when the noon sun bears down on them. The man then says, in a condescending tone his efforts are meaningless and that “you can’t save them all!” At that point the stranger picks up a starfish, heaves him in the water, and replies, “Well, I just saved that one!”

Men are called to serve and the Great Commandment calls us to help save others. We are to “make disciples and baptize” and how do we do that? Well, just one starfish at a time. I am a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and our mission is to be involved in the lives of children in the foster care system. I went to visit one of my clients, a young man, in a placement facility located north of San Diego County. He has had severe behavior problems in the past, and comes from an addicted family. It is a common story here in the Valley of the Sun, which is also a major country drug corridor.

It was the third visit I have made, and finally some of the ice began to melt. When you are abandoned by parents, the anger, hurt, and fear builds up a wall, and too often the barriers are reinforced with bad behavior. We had a nice 40 minute conversation and I found out he is making improvements, getting a 2.5 in his grades and acting more like a human being. There is still a long way to go. We decided our goal was to improve his behavior enough so he could get a day pass so we could go together to a local high school football game. This young man is interested in football. Up in Oceanside, my nephew is a high school football coach so the plan is to meet the coach and watch a game. He has never been to a high school football game.

Men need to be more involved with young men in the community. The statistics about fatherless families are extreme and not getting better. Unfortunately, too many children from dysfunctional families, end up in the criminal justice system, and in extreme cases, jail and prison. (See the Rural Reader Writes in the DR and read “The Best Students Ever” for a prison perspective).

There are many ways to be involved in the lives of youth. Many churches have AWANA, youth groups and Sunday school. Most of the teachers are women, which is OK but youth need men. If you like sports, there are after school programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, summer recreation programs, Little Leagues, Pop Warner and more. We all live in neighborhoods where relationships can be built and lives impacted. One of my grandsons and his cousin got saved at AWANA and they are now two 4.0 students. They have good parents but they have a better God. In Romans 10:14 Brother Paul asks the question “..how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard?” There is God’s Word that they can hear, through our voice and more importantly through our actions. That is called a relationship. Jesus died for me and you. John 3:16 sums it up for all the starfish out there.

There are starfish around us, but you have to look for them, pick them and help them to move to a place where they can grow, be protected and survive. If you read the Starfish Story, you might notice that the questioning man did not then begin throwing starfish back in the water like the other person. That was a sad state of affairs, especially for the starfish that could have been saved!