When we put our son Calvin on a plane to leave for medical school this week, I dare say of the hundreds of thousands of kids leaving their hometowns for college this year, his is the most unlikely of stories. Both Calvin and his biological brother Joash are now sadly no longer part of our homes, but of course will always be part of our family, our prayers and our lives.
Remember the TV show Eight is Enough? My wife, Patti, and I had enjoyed that show back in the seventies. By the 1990’s, we had eight children of our own. We thought it was enough.
Then our friend, Evan, paid us a visit. He came through town on sabbatical from his work as a missionary in Kisii, Kenya. We were expecting just to have dinner with him, but he was hoping for something more.
“Is there anything we could do for you?” I asked. I was thinking along the lines of a small donation or occasionally sending packages of goodies not available to him in Kenya.
A sly grin passed over his face. “Well,” he began, “I have a bright young student who desperately wants to go to school in the United States. Would you consider taking him in?”
While Patti and I were recovering from the shock of being asked to take in a boy rather than send money or beef jerky, Evan elaborated.
“Calvin is a very good boy. His parents both died of AIDS and he was living with his two brothers. I found out he often went hungry and walked an hour and a half each way to school.” Evan took a breath. He had our attention so he continued. “I invited him to stay at the school with me during the week so he can eat properly. He wanted me to bring him back with me, but I am seventy now so that would be impossible. I’ve been asking around in Bismarck to see if there is a family who might be willing to take Calvin into their home.”
Calvin had our sympathy, but we already had eight children back in 2002, ranging from a one-year-old to a 19-year-old in college; six boys and two girls. “Even if we wanted to,” Patti ventured, “we cannot afford one more.”
Evan shrugged. “I know. That’s why I was not planning to ask you. But after a few families suggested the Armstrongs, I thought I had to at least bring it up. One person thought that since you had so many kids already, maybe one more would not make much of a difference!’” Patti and I looked at each other and smiled.
Then, Evan suddenly brightened. “What if I got a family or two to help with the financial expenses?” I loved being a Dad. So much of life was merely passing, but children were forever. It had always felt like an honor to me to be entrusted with God’s little ones. The idea of becoming a father to an orphan intrigued me. I looked at Patti again. We knew each other well enough to know that the door to our hearts had opened just a crack.
In reality, no one really believed that Calvin would actually get permission to leave the country. At fifteen, he had no birth certificate. Before Evan left Bismarck, he had two families willing to help support Calvin and our promise to at least pray about it. Somehow we never actually got around to giving a bonafide “yes.” When Evan emailed us that Calvin had successfully gotten a birth certificate, the wheels were set in motion. But there were still a lot of hoops to get through. Terrorists had recently blown up the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi so getting a passport and U.S. visa for an orphan to travel to the U.S. would not be easy. Everyone on all sides prayed, and with the help of a congressman in North Dakota, Calvin joined us in July of 2002. He easily became a part of our family. Our son Tyler, who is a month younger, quickly became best buddies with Calvin calling him, “his brother from the other color mother.”
We thought we were being good Christians to take Calvin in but when we heard the rest of the story, we realized it was we who had been blessed. God had chosen us to answer a special prayer that bordered on the miraculous.
A Dream God Nutured
Years earlier, Calvin gently closed his paperback novel as he lay in his mud hut. It was getting dark in the one-room home he shared with his two brothers. There was no money for oil to burn in their kerosene lantern, so reading needed to stop at sunset.
Ignoring the rumbling coming from his empty stomach, Calvin thought about the main character in his novel; a boy who left Africa to live with relatives in the United States and go to school there. “Maybe I could go there someday,” Calvin dreamed.
“Dear God,” he began praying, “Please let me go to school in the United States one day.” Although it seemed that God had not answered so many of his prayers before, Calvin prayed with the trust of a child, even though at thirteen, his childhood seemed to have been lost long ago. Both his parents had died of AIDS, leaving Rogers, 15, Calvin,11, and Joash, 9, among Kenya’s 650,000 AIDS orphans. The boys had loved their parents deeply. The ache caused by their absence overshadowed each day.
Relatives helped out a little, but as time went on, the assistance was gradually withdrawn. An uncle continued to pay the fees for him to attend school, but it was a long walk for Calvin from his hut to St. Patrick’s Elementary School. Since he rarely had dinner the night before, his feet felt heavy as he trudged along. “If only I could go to school in the United States,” Calvin began thinking on these long walks. And again, he would pray.
When Calvin revealed his prayer to his older brother and an aunt, he was laughed at. “You only own two pairs of pants and have no money,” his aunt had laughed. “How do you think you are going to get to the United States?”
Rogers was sympathetic but no more encouraging. “Why don’t you pray for something more practical like a bigger garden?” he had asked. The boys’ only reliable source of food was a garden. It was not very big, but it provided vegetables around occasional donations of food from others.
Then, Evan Beauchamp came to work at the school as a missionary for the diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota. When he noticed that Calvin had a sore on his foot for several weeks that was not healing, he knew it must be the effects of malnutrition. He learned of the boy’s hardships and invited Calvin to live with him during the school week and then return to help his brothers on the weekends. Calvin overflowed with appreciation. Not only would he receive better nutrition but perhaps God was answering his prayer to eventually go to school in the United States.
It was not long before Calvin asked if perhaps Evan could take him back to the United States with him one day. Evan told him that would never be possible.
Calvin smiled as if he understood but he kept praying and he kept asking. Finally, Evan told Calvin he would ask his friends when he returned to the United States for his mid-service sabbatical the next year.
Eight Wasn’t Enough, Thank God
It was a month after Calvin joined us that we learned of his prayer. We were truly in awe at such faithfulness and to realize that God had picked our family to answer a young boy’s prayers. Calvin instantly became a much-loved member of our household. He bonded with our son, Tyler, who was the same age as Calvin; just a month apart. Tyler affectionately called him, “my brother from the other color mother.” He and Tyler went on to both graduate from high school with honors four years later. Calvin was awarded a four-year scholarship to attend the University of Mary here in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he graduated this year with honors. And he now left to go off to medical school. He is determined to return to Kenya after graduation to help his countrymen in whatever way God leads him. It has been an honor to have Calvin call me Dad.
So, after Calvin joined our family, was nine finally enough? Well, we honestly thought so. Then, Evan hoped to have Calvin’s younger brother, Joash, also come to school here. Again, he sheepishly asked us and again we said no…at first. After a lot of praying, we changed our minds and decided there was room for one more. Joash also graduated from high school and was the third fastest runner in the United States last year. That got him a full athletic scholarship to the University of Portland, where as a freshman he was one of the top cross country runners in the nation this past season.
The blessings both boys have brought to our family are immeasurable. We thought we were doing God’s will by having eight children of our own. God knew that by having eight, it made it easier for us to say yes to two more. And by saying yes, our family has received blessings a hundred-fold.
It is sad in a way to see Calvin off to medical school now and Joash off in Portland, Oregon now, along with two of our other boys in St. Paul, Minnesota and one in Guatemala and “only” have five of our ten children living in town now. I can’t blame them for wanting to be out in the world trying to make a difference. As I often say, ‘You can’t always make a difference in the world, but you can make a world of difference in the lives of those you come in contact with.’
So are we done inviting new children into our home? Probably not. It is so quiet in our home, with just four kids here now, Patti and I have gotten re-licensed to be foster parents. We are even open to sibling groups. If you think we are crazy, we probably are, but, remember children are the only things you can bring to heaven with you, the rest of the “stuff” stays here!