“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”

Die-hard Star Trek fans will remember that line from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s what Spock tells Kirk after exposing himself to deadly radiation while repairing the damaged Starship Enterprise in order to save the ship and the rest of the crew.

The flip side comes in the next Star Trek movie, when Kirk and crew violate orders so they can find and rescue Spock. When Spock asks why they came back for him, Kirk responds, “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

In fiction and in real life, there are many examples of both types of heroics – individuals who sacrifice themselves in order to save countless others, and large teams that mobilize and focus on the rescue of one lost or endangered person.

It’s not always a life-or-death matter. And it’s not always necessary to choose one at the expense of the other. I have a friend who takes part in a “Polar Plunge” every year in order to raise money for charity, and who also knits teddy bears that go to sick or orphaned children in developing nations. I have another friend who’s a Speech-Language Pathologist as well as an internationally-known speaker. She teaches parents and educators how to use music to develop speech and language skills, and she helps more people – in a shorter amount of time – when she’s on stage. But her heart is really with the young children she works with one-on-one.

The reason all this is on my mind right now is because of some people – and one woman in particular – that I met in Gulu.

Gulu is in Northern Uganda, which has been decimated by war and disease since the late 1980s when the LRA, led by Joseph Kony, started killing villagers, kidnapping children, and burning homes to the ground, forcing survivors into refugee camps.

The purpose of my trip to Gulu was to speak to a group of 90 women who are just now putting their lives back together after years of living in the camps. They’ve formed a co-op and are doing farming – and whatever else they can to raise money – in order to survive and to rebuild their homes. Their members include a talented group of dancers and musicians, and they’d like to raise money for instruments and costumes, so they can “take their show on the road.”

While learning of the individual hardships of these women, I was introduced to Grace, a young mother who has either an advanced case of breast cancer or a severe, disfiguring infection. When she showed me her wound, I didn’t know what to say, other than that I was so sorry this had happened to her, and that as soon as I got back to Kampala, I would try to find some help for her.

“We can’t leave that woman to die,” my friend Tabitha said when I told her the story and showed her Grace’s picture. “Compassion doesn’t work that way.”

As I write this, Grace is in a hospital in Kampala, where her wound has been cleaned and dressed, and where she is undergoing tests to determine the exact nature and severity of her condition. Tabitha, who is still in Uganda, made all the arrangements and is trying to take care not only of Grace, but of her three small children, two of whom she bore after being raped at the hands of Kony militants.

People in both the United States and Uganda have contributed to her care, and Tabitha said she couldn’t believe the difference in Grace after just one night of love, care, and treatment. When she visited Grace in the morning, Tabitha explained to her everything that was being done.

“Does Jesus live in America?” Grace asked.

“No,” Tabitha told her, “but He has used a few people there to help you, and they are praying for you.” Grace then asked Tabitha to tell everyone that she was praying for them, too.

Grace’s story breaks my heart and warms my heart at the same time. Yet I worry about the continuing care she will need, and about what will happen to her after Tabitha returns to the States. My mind is also on the other women in Gulu and their needs, as well as the girls in Ki-Mombasa who need help in breaking free from the life of prostitution in which they’re now trapped.

It can be overwhelming to think of all the people in the world who are in desperate need of help, and to wonder where we can concentrate our own resources – our time, money, energy, and prayers – so that they do the most good. It’s a question I’m not able to answer for myself, let alone anyone else, and it gets more pronounced whenever I go to Uganda.

One thing I do know, however, is that there are many people whose needs far outweigh my own. I know God doesn’t expect me to address all of them, but I believe He expects me to share whatever gifts, resources, time, and talents I have, with those who are in need.

That’s all I can do. And it’s what I always try to do – whether I am addressing the needs of the many, the few, or the one.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 15, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013

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