We never officially said "yes" to taking in a boy from Kenya, but had promised to pray about it. One thing led to another and in the end, many lives were changed.
Calvin’s coming to us was an amazing answer to his seemingly impossible prayer. Years earlier, he had read a book about a boy who left Kenya to go to school in the United States. ”Maybe I could go there someday,” he dreamed and prayed, “Dear God, please let me go to the United States.”
Calvin prayed with the faith of a child, even though long ago, at thirteen, his childhood had been lost. Both his parents had died of AIDS, leaving Rogers, 15, Calvin, 11, and Joash, 8, among Kenya’s 650,000 AIDS orphans. When Calvin revealed his prayer to his older brother and an aunt, they laughed at him but he kept praying.
Evan Beauchamp, a missionary for the diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota arrived as a teacher at Calvin’s school. He learned of the boys’ hardships and invited Calvin to live with him during the week and then return to help his brothers on weekends. Calvin kept asking Evan to take him back to the United States. Since Evan was seventy, he knew the U.S. State Department would never agree to such a scenario.
When Evan was back in the United States for sabbatical, he asked my husband, Mark, and me if we would take Calvin in. We initially said no because we could not afford to care for one more. Evan suggested finding donors that would pay Calvin’s expenses. Our response was that we’d pray about it. Calvin did not even have a birth certificate so we thought the odds were good it would never come down to that anyway. We needed legal guardianship for Calvin to be covered by insurance; St. Mary’s high school had to agree to accept him at no charge; there were a number of obstacles to overcome. When everything eventually fell into place, we accepted it as God’s will although not without a certain amount of trepidation.
Nine years ago Calvin stepped off the plane and became a much-loved member of our family. After he'd been with us a week, he share with us his prayer to God in the face of seemingly impossible odds. At that moment, we realized we were privileged to have been chosen by God to answer his prayer. He graduated with a degree in respiratory therapy from University of Mary and is in medical school at Saba Medical University. (pictured above with Evan on left and then UMary President Sr. Thomas Welder.) He plans to eventually return to Kenya to help the poor. He has been a wonderful son and sibling to our family. Had we followed our initial reluctance and not prayed our way through it, we would have missed out on untold blessings. But when we said yes to Calvin, there was yet another blessing from Kenya waiting for us.
Calvin's Little Brother
A year after Calvin’s arrival, Chuck and Tip Reichert, one of the couples helping to support Calvin, took him back to Kenya for his brother Rogers’ wedding. Tip, the mother of seven who had also fostered seven more, was drawn to Joash, Calvin’s younger brother. “He looked so lost,” she told me. ”He needs a mother.”
Could I handle one more? I wondered. No, I determined. I found another family who wanted to take him. Mark insisted that Joash belonged with his brother and told me he was going to pray about it. ”Fine,” I said, “Go ahead but I’m not going to change my mind.”
I prayed too and a few days later, I changed my mind. One morning, I read an email Mark had stayed up late to write, full of reasons why we should take Joash. ”If we died, wouldn’t we want our kids to stay together?” Mark argued. I called him at work.
“Okay, Mark. He can come,” I said to his happy surprise. Then, I hurried off to morning Mass. I was not really paying attention to the reading, when the words from Hosea 14:4 penetrated my reverie: “In you the orphan finds compassion.” I was in awe at the timing.
An Orphan's Pain
A few months later, Joash arrived. We assumed the loss he had experienced was much the same as Calvin’s. Only later did we gradually learn that his pain cut deeper and affected how he encountered the world. Joash was only eight when he sat desperately by his mother’s side as she lay dying. Joash adored his mother, Yovencia, and she always loved and protected him — her youngest. The older boys had grown more independent, but Joash usually preferred to be at his mother’s side.
Joash hoped that his mother would not die, as had his dad and so many others in his village. Charles had been away from home, working to earn money for the family. There was no AIDS education and people lacked understanding as to how it spread. Teenage girls and young women, needing money for their own families, often gathered around male work crews offering their services as prostitutes. Although Christianity is spreading, the Kenyan culture traditionally has not been strict about sexual fidelity in marriage. Charles died of AIDS on December 14, 1996. Fourteen months later, Yovencia followed.
Joash had been at his mother’s side only moments before she died. Someone told him to go take a shower but then he heard loud weeping. He ran back towards the hut and forced his way in to see his mother. In horror, Joash realized she was gone.
Joash ran to the river to be alone. There, he cried out in anguish. How could he go on? God must be punishing me, he thought, He has taken my mother and left me all alone.Joash sobbed for hours before a cousin came for him. His grandfather took him in for a time, but the gruff old man resented the responsibility. Joash bounced among relatives and his brother Rogers. Since Rogers began attending school for masonry, he could not adequately supervise his younger brother and was just a teenager himself. Often in frustration, he disciplined Joash firmly. If my mother was still alive, they would not be treating me this way, Joash often thought. He built a wall around his emotions. If people did not care about him, he wanted them to know he did not care about them either. His angry defenses became ingrained.
At the airport, five years after his mother died, Joash again broke down and cried when Calvin left for the United States. Calvin had always been kind to him and he loved his brother very much. Now, he would not even have him. One evening, after Rogers had been angry, Joash grumbled, “I wish Calvin were here.”
“Then you better start praying if you want to go to the United States and see Calvin again,” Roger had answered.
That night, before bed, Joash said the first prayer he had ever said on his own. He prayed the “Our Father,” a prayer he had learned in school. And every night after that, he said an “Our Father” before going to sleep.
About six months later, Rogers let Joash know that Evan wanted to make arrangements for him to join Calvin. Initially, Joash could not believe it was true, fearing it was some kind of a joke. For the first time since his mother’s death seven years earlier, he had something to look forward to. But Joash’s defensiveness and pursuing his own agenda for so long had become habitual. Very soon after his arrival in July of 2005, struggles began. I knew his negative behaviors were born of pain, but I could not seem to make things better. We prayed hard and asked God to help and guide us. Still the struggles were constant.
After about seven months, Mark and I decided the situation was more than we could handle. I wanted to teach my kids not to jump ship in the face of trouble, but limping along seemed to be hurting everyone. On the evening Mark and I planned to reveal our plans to find another placement for him, Joash approached us first.
“I know I’ve messed up,” he said, with pleading eyes. “I stopped at the chapel at school today and prayed. I’ve asked God to help me. Please give me another chance. I promise I will try harder.”
His pledge was salve to my heart. I did not want him to go away, I just wanted a manageable family life. Afterwards, for the first time, things started getting better.
Instead of grudgingly doing chores now, Joash worked at being helpful. He also worked hard at his studies. We could see Joash actually trying although sometimes, situations were beyond him. But I also noticed something Joash had no idea I was aware of. When one of the younger children was upset about something or sullen over getting punished, Joash comforted them. He would try to stop the tears or just talk with them and suggest a fun activity. I knew this boy, who had built a wall around his heart, had a big one indeed.
Then, while taking each day one at a time, Joash made an amazing discovery that changed his life. After lackluster seasons in soccer and basketball, track season began. Joash had once tried to run a race in sixth grade but quit when people laughed after he tripped. In eighth grade, he entered a race once more and seemed to be off to a good start, running past everyone. Unfortunately, he was quickly pulled out and disqualified. He had no idea it was a walking — not a running — race.
As a freshman at St. Mary’s Central High School, he decided to try track one more time. That’s when he discovered that he had wings on his feet and could fly. At his first track meet, competing with nine schools for the western region of North Dakota, I accidentally brought Joash two hours early – not realizing the track events started an hour after the field events. Joash ran around the track for well over an hour to warm up. He’s going to wear himself out, I feared. When the starter’s gun fired, Joash bolted ahead of the pack for the 1600-meter race. Oh dear, I thought, he doesn’t realize he needs to pace himself; he’ll never keep that lead. Then, he kept turning and looking behind him — another big no-no that slows a runner down. Still, Joash managed to cross the finish line at 5:07, nine seconds behind first place. Not bad for his first race.
At the end of his freshman season, running for only 3 months of his life, Joash took seventh at state for the 1600 meter at 4:40 and fourth in the 3200 meter at 9:47. At the end of his first cross-country season as a sophomore, Joash was the second fastest runner on the 5K course, four seconds behind the winner. During junior and senior year, he took first.
During his senior cross-country season, Joash broke every course record but one where the course had been changed. We suspect it was so he would not break the previous record set by a hometown boy. In his senior year, he competed in the Nike National race in Portland, OR and came in third with a time of 15:18 against 199 of the fastest runners in the country.
The boy who came here struggling with school, received a running scholarship to the University of Portland. He's had some injuries but is coming along and has earned Academic All American.
We are an imperfect family so I share this story for one reason--to encourage hearts to open when God calls. He has blessed us beyond measure and I pray that he will lead us all closer to him.