When God Says "Yes," It's a Promise: David Graduates from College

06/08/15

It’s been 20 years since COTN opened its doors with a bold mission: “raising children who transform nations.” Twenty years is a critical milestone—the children who first entered COTN’s care so many years ago are all grown up. Now we can answer the big question: is COTN achieving its goal?

 
“Tell me your story,” I ask new college graduate, David Samuel, and then quickly add, “please only tell me what you’re comfortable with sharing.”
 
I know all of the children who enter programs with Children of the Nations (COTN) have difficult histories, some so painful it’s hard as a journalist to balance the need for the truth and my desire to protect them from their memories.
 
David worked like an adult to survive before he was even seven years old. 
 
“It’s okay,” David says, “I don’t mind sharing. It is God’s story.” He just graduated from college—more on that inspiring accomplishment later—and he’s in the middle of hunting for jobs, so he assures me he has plenty of time to talk. For internet access, David has settled down in the middle of the COTN office in Malawi. As soon as we connect through Skype, I recognize where he is. 
 
This was the first COTN building I set foot in. It was 2010 and I’d joined a Venture team to Malawi. Before that I’d only read about COTN online and I was curious. This organization stated their mission was to raise children who transform nations. What did that look like? Was it even possible? Their goal sounded lofty, almost idealistic. I was skeptical. 
 
I look at David’s face on the screen today and know this goal is far from impossible. It’s happening. 
 
David begins his story by telling me about what life was like before he entered COTN’s Children’s Home in Malawi when he was only seven years old. 
 
David lived with his grandmother. He chose not to mention his parents during the interview—who they were or what happened to them—but it’s clear that he sees his grandmother as a blessing, despite the fact that she didn’t have the financial means to fully care for him. So David did what he could for the both of them, by creating jobs for himself. He would purchase plastic bags and use them to help merchants and customers carry their goods on market day. The rest of the week, David would care for villagers’ cattle out in the fields. They would pay him in food.
 
During the cold season in Malawi, David remembers his grandmother covering him up with a sweatshirt because they didn’t have blankets. 

           “I see myself now and think, oh my gosh, I’ve really come so far,” says David.
 
“Life was really difficult,” David says, “but I thought, you know, that’s how people live, that’s how probably I will live for the rest of my life.”
 
One day, some Americans showed up in David’s village and started a vacation Bible school. David faithfully attended every Saturday. It was 1999, the beginning of COTN’s ministry in Malawi and the year that David’s life took a 180 degree turn. 
 
Through the VBS program, David was identified as a child in great need and was invited to be one of the first children in COTN’s new Children’s Home. 
 
“I packed my little stuff,” says David. “I didn’t really know where we were going.” He still remembers the date, September 20, 1999, when he walked into his new home. He was overwhelmed. There was carpet on the floor, beds, and he had to learn how to use a toilet instead of a latrine. The rushing sound of the water terrified him. 
 
“It was amazing,” David says, “I see myself now and think, oh my gosh, I’ve really come so far.”
 
It wasn’t easy at first. Malawi has two official languages, English and Chichewa, and David’s English was not good enough to understand what was going on in school. In class, David struggled to catch up. Through it all, his house parents insisted it was important he get good grades.
 
Even in the midst of all the adjustment and hard work, David says he felt like God was with him. “I saw God working in me every day,” he says.
 
David says he wasn’t one of the smartest students, but he worked really hard, and his good grades reflected his work. He went on to attend one of the best high schools in Malawi. But David was frustrated. He wanted to be the best, but there always seemed to be someone else who was doing better. Then one day, Chris Clark, COTN’s founder, called to check in and find out how David was doing.
 
“Daddy Chris called me and I was complaining about my grades. He said, ‘I just want your best. If you are doing the best you can, that’s enough for me. If you are serving God, that’s enough for me.’”
 
(Pictured left to right, Chris Clark, David, Debbie Clark) “What an amazing journey,” Chris Clark, COTN founder, writes on David’s Facebook page, “from selling on the streets, to Kamuzu primary, then to the Kamuzu Academy, now upward you go to graduate today. You my son have caught His vision, your life transformed to transform others! We are deeply proud—Love, Mum and Dad and the whole COTN family.
 
David hasn’t forgotten their conversation. It changed his perspective. “You have to be thankful for what God has given you,” says David. “It’s not about you fighting to be the best out of the best. It’s just about you doing your best.”

  "What a weekend! What a day! What a moment! What an occasion!" David wrote on his graduation day.
 
This May, David graduated from the Catholic University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in social science in political leadership. He’s already applied for several jobs in local nonprofits as well as a position with the Malawian government. 
 
It’s a stunning reversal—the boy who herded cattle, now applying for jobs so that he can help change people’s lives the way his was changed. What’s even more amazing is that David’s story isn’t an anomaly. He’s one of many COTN children, now all grown up, who are making big strides into the future of their countries.  


David spends some quality time with his COTN brothers and sisters, the next generation of children who will change Malawi.
 
David has hopes and plans, but he trusts God will put him in the right spot at the right time. “When God says, 'Yes,' it is a promise,” David says.
 
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