By Iris Richard
Countless stories and parables are told of small beginnings that lead to greater ends. This is my own small beginnings story.
It was a comment from a stranger that got me thinking about a change of direction in the social work with poor communities we were involved in at the time. The place where we had been working hadn’t yielded much lasting fruit and the outcome of our labor hadn’t at all been what we’d hoped. Our efforts seemed wasted and work had become increasingly frustrating.
I had no idea exactly what it was that needed to change, but one day, when I least expected it, an encounter set things in motion. While waiting in an office reception area for an appointment, I got involved in small talk with a stranger. He was a businessman from the African continent and talked fondly of his country, the scenic beauty, the people, but also of the social imbalance and poverty. Then something he said struck a responsive chord within me.
Later, when thinking about this encounter, I realized that a fledgling seed had deposited itself into the fertile ground of my mind. At first it was just a tiny nudge, but when I gave it further attention, it began to sprout with an idea. Soon after, the idea morphed into a plan; at first scary, yet intriguing, especially since it involved a major change in location and mode of operating. After committing this undertaking to prayer and brainstorming, the plan slowly formed and action was taken. With small and timid steps, we moved in the seemingly daunting direction that God was pointing. The consolidation phase into unknown territory had begun.
In the beginning stages of setting up a community work in an African country, our faith, resolve, and patience was thoroughly tested. Countless challenges needed conquering and unforeseen obstacles had to be hurdled. Finally, after a number of trial-and-error years, the base of a lasting aid project had taken shape.
Looking back down the mountain of accomplishment that started with a nudge, our time-tested work now celebrates its 25th year of service in marginalized communities. Since those first shaky steps and small beginnings, thousands of poor families have been helped, abandoned children have received education followed by job opportunities, and countless lives have been positively changed.
I have since learned not to underestimate the power of a thought, a fledgling idea, or dream that nudges in a certain direction, that when followed, might lead to new and greater things. This reminds me of a story I recently read. It tells of an age when machines like motor vehicles couldn’t even be imagined.
The first ever “horseless carriage” was built in 1769 by a Frenchman named Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot. It was an enormous three-wheeled, steam-powered gun carriage, which travelled along at the neck-breaking speed of one kilometer per hour.
At the time one can’t imagine that many people saw that great a benefit in Cugnot’s horseless carriage. It was very expensive, very noisy, and it couldn’t match the pace of even the oldest nag. Yet from that horseless carriage came a revolution.
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay to start small, with an idea that seems crazy, and watch to see if, from that embryonic vision, something great might happen.1
Jesus highlighted the capacity of small things turning big as follows:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”2
By heeding God’s “whispers” in our hearts and staying in touch with His plan for our lives, even dreams can come true.
“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”—St. Augustine
1 Scott Higgins, from Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki’s New Moments in Science #1, https://storiesforpreaching.com/from-humble-beginnings/.
2 Matthew 13:31–33 NIV.