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When a ministry is growing by leaps and bounds, sometimes it is difficult to remember the early days when discouragement after discouragement washed over it. Today, Open Arms Ministry is assured of 60-100 people (not including counselors) in our counseling room every Monday and Friday night and we have a good solid staff of counselors who have been very faithful in helping to run the room. But it wasn’t always like this. Throughout OAIM’s history when attendance was low and it seemed that we weren’t making any difference in anyone’s life, one night has stuck in Doug’s and my memory as the heartcry of God to press on no matter what. The Maria night.

About a month after OAIM began, the numbers of people through our room dwindled and one Monday night we had only 3 people besides Doug and myself. The night felt like a total failure. Had God called us into this ministry for only one month of helping people? Doug and I told ourselves that Friday would be different. Friday has traditionally been our big night and God would provide an abundance to make up for the lack of people that night.

Friday came and no one showed, not a single person. Since we did not have other counselors with us yet, Doug and I were the only ones in the room....for a very long time. We discussed the future plans of OAIM and decided maybe we had been mistaken about our calling to minister to the hurting in Yahoo Chat in this way. As we were saying good-night to each other, we didn’t see much point in continuing OAIM and talked about not bothering with opening a room again. We would both go back to our hit and miss style of counseling people in the Christian chat rooms, while dodging barbs from those non-Christians who constantly wanted to disrupt what we were doing. Neither of us relished such an idea, but it appeared the only option.

Then Maria came in. She was from Mexico and she didn’t really waste any time in relating her story to us. She had had an affair and her proud Mexican husband Ricardo was demanding a divorce. In Hispanic culture, things are not necessarily equal when it comes to having affairs. Before marriage, a male is almost expected to test out his sexual prowess many times. A woman, on the other hand, is expected to be 100% pure before her marriage and is required to be totally faithful to her partner during their marriage. And now, here she was, facing the wrath of her husband’s wounded machismo.

He wanted her out of the house. The very next day. Who could she talk to? Who in Mexico would listen to her repentant heart? Who would give her the options that she was too upset to see? Who would pray for her husband’s anger to abate?

As we’ve ministered to many, we’ve found that sometimes problems that cannot be shared with anyone around them, can be shared with us, allowing us the awesome privilege to share God’s grace with those who are hurting. Maria needed some of that grace, desperately.

After she left, we were quiet for a few moments. We have never heard from Maria again because she hasn’t had access to a computer, but we knew that God has her in His loving arms. We don’t know if Ricardo continued with the divorce or not. We don’t know what has happened to her. But we do know that God had us in that room for a specific reason that night -- Maria.

There is a story that my pastor once told. (The original story was written by Loren Eisley.)

There was a business man who had to take a business trip to another city. His hotel was close to the ocean and in the evening he decided to take a calming walk along the beach after a frustrating day of meetings. The moon was out, brightly illuminating the crests of the waves and glistening on the sandy beach.

In the distance, the man saw a dark figure moving about. He kept his eye on the figure as he walked towards it. It was moving oddly and the man tried to make out what it was doing. As he neared, he could see that it was stooping over and then standing back up. The figure of a mere boy became clear in the moonlight.

When the man was closer, he could see that the boy was bending over, picking something up off the beach and then flinging it out to sea with all his might. Probably just throwing seashells into the water, the man thought, as any boy might do. By this time, the man was very close to the boy.

“So, practicing your pitching arm?” the man asked nonchalantly.

“Oh, no, sir. I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean,” the boy replied sincerely.

“Well, there certainly are a lot of them to throw,” said the man, looking at the thousands of starfish that littered the beach. “Why are you throwing them into the ocean?”

The boy turned his serious face towards the man. “If someone doesn’t throw them back in, they will die here on the beach!” The tone of his voice was dead earnest.

The man suppressed a laugh, knowing it was an endless task but yet respecting the boy’s sincerity. “But there are thousands of them on this beach! What difference can it possibly make if you throw a few of them back into the water?”

The boy looked around him at the beach and then at the waves. There was little hesitation in his actions. Stooping down again, the boy silently picked up another one and threw it with all of his might into the ocean. He stood for a second and watched it fly and bury itself in the wave. Then he turned and looked at the man. “It made a difference to that one.”

We don’t know what difference we at OAIM are making; only eternity will bear that out. But whenever there is a night that we feel we did no good at all, we remember the Maria night. God has put us here for a reason. There are no accidental meetings, only divine appointments. And if OAIM exists to bring only one soul to Jesus, then we have accomplished the most important of tasks. We made a difference to that one.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9, 10



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