A drop in the bucket

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What do I do about overwhelming needs

Five of us, together with our luggage, were crammed into every available space in a small Missionary Aviation plane flying over a scenic area of southwestern DR Congo. We had just spent a week in the town of Tembo on the Angola border and were on our way back to the capital city of Kinshasa. We had held six days of teacher training sessions for more than 160 teachers and administrators. The workshops had gone well, and we had accomplished our mission. I was tired and should have been elated. Instead I was depressed.

During our time in Tembo so many new educational needs became apparent that I felt completely overwhelmed. On that 2 1/2 hour flight I struggled with my feelings, knowing I could not address the crushing needs I saw. 

That evening in Kinshasa, the Lord sent a Congolese doctor to me. I had briefly met Dr. Delfin on an earlier visit. This time when he saw me he came over, asking about our trip to Tembo and the workshops we had given. After a brief report I shared with him my feelings of depression: “I’m just a drop in the bucket. The needs are so great. How can I hope to make a difference?” I asked. 

“That’s just how I feel at times,” he responded. “I know exactly how you feel.”

Dr. Delfin and another doctor have established a medical clinic in one of the poorest slums in Kinshasa where they provide primary care to approximately 100,000 residents. They work with a shoestring budget, asking patients to pay if they can. If not, they still provide emergency care and medications for the first 24 hours as needed. These doctors defy the conventional way of doing things in the Congo. They pay themselves last instead of first. Their nurses and other staff are paid, medicines are purchased and if there is money left over, they pay themselves. 

“Rose, we are just a drop in the bucket, too,” he told me. “Sometimes, I wonder if I am making much of a difference, but I continue. That’s what God wants me to do. We have to keep doing what God expects of us. I focus on helping one person at a time.” 

I needed to hear that and found his words reassuring. Later when I shared my thoughts with a short-term volunteer in our group her response was, “But every bucket begins with the first drop.”

When I came home, I looked for the answer to: How many drops does it take to fill a bucket? I found several answers when I googled the question online. One source said there are 120 drops of water in a teaspoon. Another claimed that when several different liquids were measured they averaged about 78 drops per teaspoon. That comes to almost 60,000 drops per gallon. So depending on the size of the bucket…well, you do the math.

Several weeks later I got an insight into what it means to be a drop in the bucket. Samaritan’s Purse Christmas shoe box collections were in full swing in our community. The manager of the Christian bookstore that was a drop-off point for filled boxes asked for help in preparing the boxes for shipment. I spent several hours one afternoon in her warehouse packing shoe boxes into bigger boxes that were taped and labeled for truck shipment to the regional processing site in Denver. Samaritan’s Purse expected to distribute over 8,000,000 Christmas boxes worldwide in 2009. 

“I’m just a drop in the bucket of this massive project,” I thought as I worked, packing 200 boxes for shipment. I and many others like me were drops in the bucket—most of us unknown to each other but all part of the bucket that makes this massive project a success. Several days later my husband and I went back for a second round of packing.

I recently watched the CNN “Heroes of 2009” presentation, featuring 10 people who are making a difference in their world. They included a young Filipino man who takes a school cart into a slum area to teach children, a West Timor pilot and his wife who have turned their home into an orphanage for 48 children, a school bus driver in New York who sponsors a nightly feeding program out of his home for the hungry in his area and a man who provides wheelchairs for disabled children in Iraq. 

Just last week I caught myself planning a project that could address some of the needs we found on our ministry trip. Thankfully, I realize that my depression is gone, and I have a new sense of mission—to be another drop in the bucket. 

CL Archives
This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at editor@usmb.org.

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