We hopped off our plane from Cape Town, picked up our rental car and began the long, 15 hour drive into Harare, Zimbabwe. As we drove, I noticed the large sprawl of Johannesburg – cars, buildings, freeways. I felt like I was in LA, not Africa.
We headed to the border and along the way we picked up John and Orpah. Little did I know, that in just a few days, John and Orpah would become heroes in my book.
As we headed for the border of Zimbabwe, we had to make a quick stop in South Africa before we arrived at the border. At the time, Zimbabwe, once the bread-basket of Africa, was known for not what it had, or used to be, but rather was known for extreme poverty.
A country on the verge of becoming a failed state. A country that had no economy, little food, no gasoline to drive, and the political tension could be cut with a knife.
These are the stories that are told on CNN, BBC and NPR. But those people have never met John and Orpah. We filled multiple jerry-cans with gas, loaded the van with as much rice and beans as possible, picked up a few toys and headed to the border. In just a few short hours, I would meet 30 orphans of whom John and Orpah helped to rescue.
Abandoned, abused, forgotten, alone and hurting, they’ve all been orphaned.
After driving frantically for hours under the starry night of Zimbabwe we finally arrived in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Our final destination was an hour away. However, Pastor John asked if we could stop to visit some kids who hang out at an abandoned gas station. It was 4AM and we had a van full of food and gas. I was not so sure about all this, but Pastor John insisted, so we did.
We stopped for maybe 3-4 minutes. These would be the 3-4 minutes that would forever change my life. As I was getting out of the van, we were swarmed with young kids. I felt like a rock star, it was immediate!
One nameless young boy grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, with a sense of humility and desperation that I’ve never seen before and he said these words that would forever change my life.
“Sir, thank you for visiting my country. I’m really sorry it’s in the state that its in.
I don’t want to beg, but I have not had food in days. Is there anything I can do to work for you, so I can have a meal?”
I was confused, overwhelmed and tired. I looked at this humble boy (created in the image of an almighty God) and said these devastating words:
“No, I have nothing for you!”
I pulled my hand away from his hand, got back in the van and drove off into the night. His stare has never left my mind. His voice still echoes in my soul. His pain will always be with me.
As we drove away, I was devastated. No one else in the car knew what was going on, it happened so fast. But for me, it seemed like an eternity. As if an Angel showed up in the middle of Zimbabwe to introduce me to something so close to the heart of Jesus…orphans!
I was having a conversation with God…I was mad, angry, bitter and broken! How could kids be hungry in such an age of wealth? How did I read scripture for so long, and do so little to care for the orphan?
That brief encounter with that unknown, approximately 10 year old boy is why I started an organization that partners with local leaders in places like Zimbabwe to care for vulnerable children and together do community development work.
As we drove away, it would only be a few more hours until I met 30 more orphaned kids. They had very little in this life. They were crammed in a home, their shoes had holes, their stories seemed straight from the pit of hell; abuse, abandonment, death, rape, suffering, hunger and disease.
I wish I had time to tell you all the other amazing stories. I was in Zimbabwe for a total of 36 hours. Since then, I’ve spent over 36 months dedicating my life to serving orphans and solving the global orphan crisis. Instead of 30 orphans, we now have over 100 kids at that home. They all go to school each day, they smile, laugh, play, and more importantly they know they’re loved by many.
I never met that young boy again. I hope someday, we will both be walking the streets of heaven. I hope one day I will get to give him a hug, tell him I’m sorry for leaving and let him know that his story started a movement. A movement that includes caring for orphans all over the world, a movement that includes this little conference in NW Arkansas, where hundreds of people gather to pray, think and process how we can end the global orphan crisis.
I hope to see you in Arkansas this February, and maybe you too can one day meet this young boy from Zimbabwe in Heaven? Until then, take a moment and meet the some of the original 30 kids that I met in Zimbabwe.
Meet some of our kids in Zimbabwe.