Throwing the starfish back in Tonga

In 1969 Loren Eiseley wrote: A man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking up starfish and gently throwing them into the ocean. 
Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?” 
“Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die,” the boy replied. 
The man laughed and said, “Do you realize there are thousands of starfish washed up on this shore?  You can’t possibly make any difference.” 
After listening politely, the boy bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the surf. Then, he smiled at the man and said, “I made a difference to that one.”
House9Foundation is a shelter for abused and neglected young women in Tonga.  It is run by a couple that have day jobs as teachers but after school they are superheroes. 
They are two of the humblest unassuming people I have met.  They opened their door to abused girls nearly ten years ago when they noticed students that started missing school, had become withdrawn, or had bruises or cut marks on their skin.  
Often the kids had nowhere to go, or just needed shelter, food, or a place to sleep that was safe.  Initially, Siope and Liu were just trying to help because the need was so obvious.  There was no end of kids that needed help.
I am talking with several of the young women they have helped.  They each tell their heartbreaking story.  I can see the nervous twitching of their fingers, or tears, or the inability to look anyone in the eye because they are still carrying a burden of shame that is not theirs; but they don’t know that yet. 
Only recently have they had access to a professional counselor to help them process their anger, hurt, pain, and confusion. A few have vertical scars on their wrist; noticeable reminders of dark times and pain and anguish that most of us will never experience.
House9Foundation is Siope and Liu’s repurposed 3-bedroom 1-bath house in a poor Tongan neighborhood.  
When I arrived, I noticed immediately that the house is busting at the seams with kids, dogs, laughter, laundry, and food preparation activities.  
This house is not big enough or equipped to handle the extra 3-5 girls that routinely live here along with their family. 
Sometimes kids sleep on a woven mat, a thin foam mattress, the floor or on the couch.  Our superheroes make sacrifices such as having their own boys sleep out in a shed. 
Everything Siope and Liu have done so far has been self-funded using their small teaching salaries, old car, home, and time. 
They run kids to school in shifts because their small car won’t haul all of them and buses are unreliable and mostly non-existent in Tonga.    
Because the weather is mild often the parents sleep out under the covered patio.  This sleeping arrangement also ensures that Siope can act as a “night watchman” so the girls don’t have to worry about any unwanted visitors.
It does not stop their personal nightmares, but it’s a first small step.
We have been working with House9Foundation for nearly nine months.  With the help of some donations, we were able to get mattresses for kids to sleep on. But the fact is, there are not enough bedrooms for this many kids. 
We wanted to help, but it costs lots of money to build a house. So, I decided to give up my Pepsi and donate all the funds to buying lumber to make a modest addition to the house.
Really? I know! Give up my Pepsi? Okay, perhaps the Lord made it easier for me, as it turns out I can’t find a Pepsi in Tonga and I do have some principles, so I won’t drink Coke.
We consecrated my Pepsi money to serving the Lord and bought some lumber to start building two bedrooms for House9Foundation.
House9Foundation had a large, covered deck.  Our plan was to start building some walls and hope and pray that it might inspire others to want to help and donate.  So, we did just that. 
Up went a few walls and soon neighbors and other people drove by and started asking what we were doing. 
Angels started arriving, they looked like Tongans and other Senior Missionaries, but I am sure they were angels. Some brought food, some brought tools we could use, some just came and watched us work and told us stories and encouraged us. 
Fortunately, a few brought money. The people in Tonga that donated were not giving from their excess, it might well have been lunch money for their kids.  But, they wanted to help throw a few starfish back into the ocean and give them another chance to live. 
As the walls went up, you could see hope in the eyes of the kids.  They felt the collective love of Siope and Liu and a community that had not forgotten them.
Sometimes the suffering around us makes us want to be like the old man and give up trying because the needs are many and the resources so few. 
But with my free labor, (after all, I am currently working for the Lord; sure, the pay isn’t great, but the retirement plan is supposed to be pretty good), perhaps we could make a couple of bedrooms under the covered porch on the cheap. 
The project started with prayer and hope.  Now House9Foundation has two additional bedrooms, with sheetrock, primer, electricity, a few beds and mattresses, and doors.
We read about angels and miracles in the scriptures such as when God healed the sick and when an angel appeared to strengthen Jesus in Gethsemane. 
With the faith of Siope and Liu, and the help of a few angels, and God’s ability to multiply our efforts, young women are being healed and are finding meaning and purpose after a very rough start in life. 
I don’t know if you believe in miracles, but I do. There have been over 30 kids that have lived at House9Foundation: 90 percent have graduated, 90 percent participated in seminary, 50 percent have gone on missions, and 60 percent have gone on to college or other post high school training. 
There are 15 that have been married, 80 percent have been married in the temple. These statistics may not prove a miracle, but to hear the laughter and see the smiles on the faces of these young women sure feels like one to me.
Siope and Liu, are throwing starfish back into the ocean one at a time and “making a difference to that one”.  And the question, “Lord, when did we see You a stranger and take You in?” has been answered and acted upon by ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Look around on the beach near you, I am guessing there are some starfish that could use your help.

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