Across the Pastor’s Desk: Always take efforts 1 at a time

Published 8:00 pm Friday, May 13, 2022

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Nancy Overgaard

Years ago, my then 4-year-old niece tearfully asked me to read her one more story, as her mother packed up the car for their long drive back to Arizona after their visit to Minnesota. I gladly agreed, sharing her sadness about them leaving.

Nancy Overgaard

Moments later, she appeared with a large pile of books. “We only have time for one,” I told her regretfully. “Yes!” She enthusiastically agreed, “One at a time!” 

I often think of her words when I am facing a long list of tasks or feeling overwhelmed by all of the needs in the world and wondering where to begin to make a difference. 

This week, her words reminded me of my visit to Compassion International Global Ministry Center in Colorado Springs several years ago. That one Christian ministry now supports 2 million children around the world, one at a time, by matching them with sponsors. It began with one pastor concerned for orphaned children in one country (South Korea) 70 years ago, and expanded to what it is today.

Having sponsored children through Compassion International in the past, I wanted to do so again this year. But I got stalled out, unable to remember where I got the paperwork in the past, and thinking it would be difficult to sign up online. Once I went to their website, I found it much easier than expected. 

The hardest part was choosing a child as the online application asks. How could I choose just one when thousands are in need? In the old-fashioned paperwork way, they simply assigned me a child, and I was happy to let them choose for me. I decided to select “longest waiting child,” only to find there are dozens of children who have been waiting for a sponsor more than two years. I fretted a few more days.

Finally, I had an idea to make it personal and possible to choose. I would request the longest waiting girl from Brazil. Years ago, while in seminary, I was invited to take a study trip to Brazil where I was taken to the most impoverished favelas (slums) in Brazil. There, I took a photo of three little barefooted girls, giggling shyly from the doorway of a shanty made from scraps of tin, boards, bricks and whatever else could be found. For years, I kept their picture on my nightstand and wondered what I could do for them. 

Now, I knew. I could sponsor someone like them. Once I made my final click on the website, I was flooded with peace and joy, as well as love for the precious 8-year-old girl whose picture popped up on my screen. It may not be much, but hopefully, I can help in a small way by supporting Ana, whose brief biography tells me she loves doing arts and crafts and learning about God. Her name, as mine, means grace, and God has been gracious to us both in making this match (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:12-15). It will be my joy to support her, pray for her and encourage her through letters throughout her childhood.

So, if you feel burdened by all of the needs in the world, as I do, and think there is little you can do, be encouraged by the wit of a 4-year old. Taken one at a time, our efforts can add up, especially when we team up with others. Somehow, I find comfort in being part of the much larger set of people who, together, sponsor 64,016 children in Brazil, 2 million around the world, one at a time. With many more children in need, organizations such as Compassion International are always looking for “one more” sponsor.

In recent months, I have been amazed by stories of people with a passion to take on massive challenges, one at a time — as directors of organizations committed to feeding millions of refugees, one pot of soup or one box of food at a time; or others committed to responding to one global crisis at a time, providing food, water, shelter, medical help and spiritual care by recruiting others to join the effort. For those of us who cannot conceive of undertaking projects that big, we can still contribute one donation at a time. 

Yet, we do not even need to wait for our efforts to pile up to be significant. Jesus taught that even a cup of water given in his name is significant, in and of itself (Mark 9:41), and that whatever we do “for the least of these” we have done for him (Matthew 25:40).  We can make a difference, one at a time. 

Nancy Overgaard is a member of the Freeborn County Ministerial Association.