Earlier this month, 8-and 11-year-old brothers were swimming at a Florida beach when they got caught in a riptide. With no lifeguards in sight, a handful of people – including their mother and grandmother — jumped in to rescue them and were also trapped.

Someone on shore yelled for a rope. Since no one had one, 80 bystanders linked arms to form a human chain that reached 100-yards to where the family was drowning. One woman, Jessica Simmons, swam out with a boogie board, helping the family reach the chain. When everyone was safely on shore, the crowd of former strangers started clapping and cheering.

“It was like they were destined to do it and they knew they had to do it,” Simmons later said in an interview with NPR.

Hearing this, I thought of the great swell of humanity caught in the global riptide of famine, war and poverty. From the devastating drought leaving 20 million people on the brink of starvation in east Africa to those fleeing war torn homelands and others in need of basic medical care and education, the needs are overwhelming.

Often, we ignore those in greatest peril. Why? We generally don’t see it. Unlike the family on the beach, those in greatest need often live far from our shores. Were a family truly perishing from lack of food and water next door, we’d likely help. But those caught in the most extreme peril today are often too far away for their cries to reach us.

Or we are afraid of the cost. What discomfort might we experience? What might we have to sacrifice or give up in order to help others? Driving an older car? Living in a smaller house? Nixing a fancy vacation?

Or we believe the need is too great and our resources too few.

Yet, people of faith have a mandate.

“Save those who are being led to their death. Rescue those who are about to be killed,” says Proverbs 24:11-12 (NLT). “You may say, ‘We don’t know anything about this.’ But God knows what is in your mind, and he will notice… He will pay each person back for what he has done.”

Each person on that Florida beach had a choice whether to get involved or to keep walking. Wading into a riptide came with risk. Everyone in that chain had to put their trust in the strangers around them to reach the drowning family.

On our own, most of us can do little to help those in greatest need. But by joining together with churches and organizations that are already on the ground within arm’s reach of the perishing, we can make a difference.

How will the global disaster unfolding today end? With mourning or clapping and cheering?

Only we can decide. Each of us must choose whether to be part of the human chain rescuing those who are being led to their deaths or to say we didn’t know about it and keep walking. Today is the day to embrace your destiny.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.