Dear Ezra and Lian,

Some amount of your lives will be spent with some very Rich and Powerful people. If you want to scare them a lot, start talking about Justice or start demanding relief for the poor, weak or powerless. Preach that they must act Justly or submit to Justice or pay for the crimes they’ve committed; then watch them go into attack or defensive mode. It is one reason why I’m no longer interested in fighting for “social justice”. Practically speaking, social justice is just a cover anyways. It tries to put a halo on revenge or lipstick on the pig of bloodlust. No, I’m in the mercy business now. Most of all because I need unwarranted grace myself. You will find this is especially true of the Rich and Powerful. They desperately need mercy and they know it.

If you ever end up representing someone or some people who have little resources or influence, pursue mercy for them. It appeals to the heart desire of most powerful people. They know if the truth ever comes out about themselves, they have no other hope but mercy. They will give mercy “easily” because they hope someday to get the same. It also makes them feel good; they can be magnanimous.

Mercy is foundational to reconciliation. Mercy can inspire those with hearts of stone to do the unlikely. Acts of mercy will generate more acts of mercy. Imperfect justice quite often just perpetuates a cycle of revenge. When we stop keeping score or assigning blame, it lets generosity flow freely. Mercy seeps through walls and occupies territory where the hard boulder of Justice can never enter. Let me illustrate.

One day after I was distributing rice in villages near Tlabung, the states’ top bureaucrat (Chief Secretary Haukip Hauzel) showed up and did the same with the cameras rolling. The state government had ignored these people for months and the very old, young and weak were dying from complications due to malnutrition. A couple days later, I thanked him at my press conference AND asked for more help. That help and additional help saved lives. (My film footage was damning enough of the government.)

The gleaner principle has a strong element of not keeping score or claiming credit. “Did I drop wheat in my field? God must have meant for you to get it then.” The rich and powerful need a little mercy too. If they FINALLY do something, no matter how small or insignificant, that is NOT the time to rip them. That is the time to demonstrate how much good was done with the scraps off their table. Imagine what could happen if you did more?

Fraser Valley Gleaners donated 550,000 million meals worth of dehydrated food to the famine relief (mautam) I was involved with in 2008. (Getting that into India is a long story for another time.) They use the leftover, Grade B, etc. agricultural produce from the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada. They save it for a super nutritious soup that can be carried in by foot to remote areas. I think they are applying some aspects of the gleaner principle in modern day life. Re-using others’ still good castoffs. I think it also speaks to the attitudes of the poor and those of us who have represented them. We should be grateful for whatever we get, even if we think the soup tastes terrible. 🙂

When we get help it is so easy to complain about its quality or to question the motives of the giver. Corporations get significant business advantages by donating nearly expired medicines or products with little commercial value. However, any time there is a natural disaster they make up a significant portion of the donations.

It may make you feel morally superior to attack evil in its many forms. We can rail at the injustice of the wealthy living off their ill-gotten gains, while their nearby neighbours are starving to death. Most times it’s a fruitless pursuit to try rip aid and money out of their hands. Warm their hearts with love, and let mercy flow like a flood. I want to drown under grace. If you are interested in actually helping people, that’s where you should be.




“What difference you think you can make, one single man, in all this madness?

tim13Dear Ezra and Lian,

“What difference you think you can make, one single man, in all this madness?” I felt like Sean Penn from the movie “Thin Red Line” had asked me that question. This wealthy man at a party in Aizawl, Mizoram, India asked me why I was trying help the poor people in Mizoram. They were suffering from a famine called Mautam. He couldn’t understand why I would do it. I told him a version of “The Starfish Story”.

“A young man is walking along the ocean and

Sees a beach on which thousands and thousands

Of starfish have washed ashore. Further along

He sees an old man, walking slowly and

Stooping often, picking up one starfish after

Another and tossing each one gently into the


“Why are you throwing starfish into the

Ocean?” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out

And if I don’t throw them further in they will


“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles

And miles of beach and starfish all along it!

You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even

Save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you

Work all day, your efforts won’t make any

Difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent

Down to pick up another starfish and threw it

Into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.””

Lian, every day when I draw you a starfish, I think about this story and Mizoram. Your dad told that man at the party, I know about these starfish and I see them dying. I’m helping them simply because I can. I’m not going to wait for somebody else to save them all. If I save the life of one, that’s enough difference to make it worthwhile.

Everyone at that party (why did I ever go?) was 20-100 times richer or more powerful than me. They lived 100 miles away from people starving to death, while I lived 7500 miles away. If anyone in the future ever thanks you for what your dad did for them, say “You’re welcome!” Inside, though, remember he didn’t do anything amazing. He simply did what he could. What was truly amazing, was all the people who could have done something really significant and yet did nothing.

This is why I’m telling you this story. When you are my age now, you will be 20-100 times richer or more powerful than me (at least). By that time, you will have stood on a beach with tens of thousands of starfish dying in the sun. You will have a choice; you can start putting starfish in the sea or you can run away. You can stuff as many things in your life as you can…to try and forget what you’ve seen and know to be true. You can say the starfish deserve to die or that they should have got themselves back into the water. You can pretend that you can’t make a difference or that the starfish will be ok. You can give the excuse that because you can’t save them all or most, it’s not worth saving even one. You can do all that.

The one thing you can never do, is avoid that beach and those starfish. They are real. Your destiny is to stand there amongst them. At least one person is going to ask for your help. I wish you never had to face that decision, but you will. If you decide to put a starfish back in the ocean, I promise you, that you won’t be alone. I will be there beside you.