There is a story about a Johns Hopkins University professor who invited his graduate students to do research on 200 boys between the ages of 12 and 16 living in impoverished circumstances. The students were asked to investigate the boys’ backgrounds and living situations and to predict their chances for the future. Using the methods they had been taught in school, the students compiled a great deal of data, and concluded that 90 percent of the boys would spend some time in jail. This is what many who read today’s headlines might have expected them to find. But fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
Twenty-five years later, another group of graduate students was given the task of determining whether the prediction made earlier about the 200 boys came true. The second group of students was able to find 180 of the original 200 boys and learned that only four had been incarcerated. This was clearly a much better outcome than the original study had suggested. Thus, the new researchers began to ask themselves what had made such a significant difference in the lives of the boys, when seemingly sound predictions would have suggested very dire outcomes for the young men being studied. Over and over again, the graduate students were told about a teacher who had impacted the young men’s lives. They found that in 75 percent of the cases, it was the same woman being described.
Intrigued, the graduate students worked diligently to find this teacher, who at that time lived in a home for retired teachers. They spent time with her to try to determine how she had made such a significant difference in the lives of her students. Though she pondered at length, the teacher couldn’t think of any reason why the boys would even have remembered her. And then as she began to reflect more on her time at the school, she smiled to herself and said, “I really loved those boys.”
As you reflect on this tale, I simply want to remind you that where we start does not necessarily determine where we will finish. Though I, too, am an academic and can appreciate the value of statistics and data, I fully understand that God’s plans for our lives supersede what the numbers may show and what circumstances might suggest. May I encourage you to give limited energy people who would suggest otherwise? Mark Twain put it this way, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too can become great.” I love that this story reflects the value of what one loving person can do in the life of another.
Mother Teresa, who was known and adored the world over for her forty-five years of service to the orphaned, poor, sick, and dying described her work this way, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” In a world where so many people are in great need of hope and encouragement, we are reminded that God has not called us to see through each other, but to see each other through. I would submit that a little love can go a long way.