Character Close-Up: Ken VanderWal

	Courtesy Photo / Ken VanderWal
A child receives medical treatment at Ken VanderWal’s Ugandan orphanage.

Courtesy Photo / Ken VanderWal
A child receives medical treatment at Ken VanderWal’s Ugandan orphanage.

Susie Skowronek

Before falling asleep one night, Samuel hears someone calling his name. He searches out the nearest person, his teacher Eli, who says he had not spoken a word.

When Samuel hears his name and inquires with Eli again, the teacher tells his student to ask the Lord to speak.

When Samuel hears the call a third time, he responds in confidence, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Similar to the biblical hero Samuel, at first Ken VanderWal dismissed the summons to become administrator of an orphanage in Uganda. Two times, he politely declined and returned to the United States without ties. Upon the third request, as Samuel did, VanderWal halted. He and his wife prayed over the matter and in August 2009, Grand Valley State University maintenance worker VanderWal accepted a position as administrator of a Ugandan orphanage.

As administrator, VanderWal looks out for the future of the orphanage – building plans, expansions, new directions – and how to reach that future in economic ways.

“These people don’t have the foresight I do due to their history and lifespan,” VanderWal said. “They don’t have a five-year plan or a 10-year plan.”

VanderWal and his wife began visiting Uganda in 2005 and have made 10 trips in the past five years. They began with a goal to bring the Gospel to schools in Africa.

The couple spent about a month in East Africa on each visit, traveling to schools and churches and presenting at speaking engagements.

Crowded schoolrooms forced four or five children to each bench, none of them seated at tables or desks. Both schools and homes had bars on the windows due to ongoing war.

Not only war, but a problem such as HIV/AIDS increases the number of orphans in Uganda.

“I want them to be able to share their faith with me in their schools,” VanderWal said. “The more finances I have, the more kids I can bring in. So many kids have come to know Christ through me.”

In between his trips to the orphanage, VanderWal tours local churches to request financial aid and sponsorships for the Uganda students. He currently has about 12 children sponsored.

One of the sponsored children, Amute Tom, is 20 years old. To return to school, he would have to enter in the fourth grade, but he is willing.

As a student, Tom receives a uniform and food at school in addition to the meal from the orphanage. His sponsor pays $30 per day for his expenses.

The orphanage, however, cannot host children younger than school-age.

“Without having a full-time mother onsite, we’re not suited for little kids,” VanderWal said.

Instead, he distributes the younger orphaned children among local families and pays the families a fee. VanderWal said though this foster system costs the orphanage more money, it allows the children to live in a family setting – probably a benefit to them.

To give families, especially single-mother families, an opportunity to sustain themselves, VanderWal collects money for pigs and goats, which cost $70 per head. One pig at $30 can sustain an entire family.

VanderWal cited the New International Version of the Book of James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Since VanderWal has begun his work in East Africa, he has been received into the Buganda tribe and the Mpindi clan. He is one step further in his mission to spread the Gospel as godfather to a local girl, Patience, and as administrator of the Ugandan orphanage.

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