The number was so abstract, so overwhelming – it didn’t seem real and it wasn’t personal.
– Joe Brandi, Founder and CEO
Sometimes movies open our eyes to realities of the world; a disease can makes us reevaluate what is important; or something clicks and we feel called to take action.
I was a Florida Presbyterian pastor when I felt called to act. Something in my life was missing. I missed the ocean and surfing. I craved the flexibility to travel and experience diverse cultures. I felt like I was being pulled towards global ministry, but I had convinced myself to be content.
My best friend, Derek Dominquez, now a board member for Unity 4 Orphans, made me question what I really wanted to do with my life. At the time, he worked for World Orphans and shared stories about the impact they were making. Derek asked me to join the team, but I wasn’t willing to take the risk knowing it meant financial insecurity and my actions being questioned by others.
In one of our conversations, Derek asked me, “How many orphans do you think there are in the world?” I had never really considered this question before, but it was a sobering moment. 143 million kids were vulnerable and/ or at risk. The number was so abstract, so overwhelming, it didn’t seem real and it wasn’t personal.
A few months later, I was diagnosed with cancer. Death weighed on my mind; I needed to escape the reality of my situation, so I went to the movies and saw Slum Dog Millionaire. The movie told the story of three orphaned children in India. One of the orphans was a beautiful, vulnerable little girl who was sold into prostitution. It was horrifying. I thought of my sister and the need to protect her.
I left the theater feeling conflicted: the movie, the number orphans in the world and cancer. God was speaking to me and suddenly orphans transformed from a huge, abstract number to a face. I realized the desire for financial stability was the only thing holding me back from joining World Orphans. God was calling me to take a new path.
When I shared my feelings with my church, I was encouraged to take a mission trip with World Orphans. That trip changed everything. Derek and I spent two weeks in Kenya working with children in slums and local group homes. Packing up on the last day, the children gathered closely for a picture. Craving human contact, they clung to me and time slowed down. A door in my heart pried open and the children leapt in. God’s vision for me was clear: I knew I was supposed to work for the rest of my life fighting for defenseless children.