On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington addressed a crowd at the Cotton
States and International Exposition in Atlanta concerning racial progress in the South. In
what has been named one of the most influential speeches in American history, Booker
T. Washington talks to white and African Americans about how equality and progress
can be achieved peaceably. His proposed solution is summarized in one phrase, “Cast
down your bucket where you are.”
This statement comes from an illustration Washington recited in his speech, “A
ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the
unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, ‘Water, water; we die of thirst!’ The answer from
the friendly vessel at once came back, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ A
second time the signal, ‘Water, water; send us water!’ ran up from the distressed vessel,
and was answered, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ And a third and fourth
signal for water was answered, ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ The captain of
the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came
up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.
Booker T. Washington’s instruction to “cast down your bucket where you are” is exactly
what Christians are called to do in the Bible. In John 4:35, Christ asks his disciples, “Do
you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?’” Then He corrects
them saying, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for
harvest.” Christ wanted His disciples to see the immediate opportunities that were ready
and within sight. As Christ’s disciples now, we must “lift [our] eyes, and see that the
fields are white for harvest.” There is work to be done, opportunity to help others, and
it’s all around us if we will only lift up our eyes and cast down our buckets where we are.
Each day, when you’re in the grocery store, at work, at church, or at home, look up and
see the souls around you. Cast down your bucket where you are, and you will find it full
of opportunities to speak hope (1 Pet. 3:15), act in love (Mt. 22:39), share truth (1 Cor.
9:16), and spread kindness (Eph. 6:10).
The sailors in Washington’s story and the disciples in John 4 were both thirsting
for opportunity. Their problem…they failed to realize that the opportunities were right in
front of them. It is so easy to miss the forest for the trees when it comes to making an
impact on society. We see the whole of humanity as broken, or we see ourselves as too
insignificant to make a difference. But Booker T. Washington says if you want to
positively influence society start with where you are, with the people around you. More
importantly, Jesus says the same thing! The fields are white and ready for harvest. Our
communities are full of opportunities just waiting for us to lift our eyes and cast down our
buckets where we are. Start sewing and start reaping (John 4:36-38)!