Feature

A Jar Full of Faith

One small boy had a plan for Africa

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“Dad, did you know that not everyone in Africa has churches to go to?” my four-year-old son, Caden, asked me from the back seat.

We were in the car driving home, and as I glanced at him in the rearview mirror, I saw a very serious look on his face. I told him that I did know that, and that it was pretty sad. A few seconds passed before he spoke up again.

“Dad, I want to build a church for the people in Africa who don’t have one.”

By the time we reached our driveway, Caden had a whole plan. We needed builders, like his uncle George, lots of tools and lots of help from his friends. From Caden’s perspective, he had everything he needed to get it done. He then proceeded to tell me he was busy tomorrow, but maybe on Thursday we should go to Africa to build the church.

That night, I told my wife, Katie, about Caden’s plan. Even as we talked realistically about the scope and cost of building a church in Africa, we realized that we couldn’t tell Caden this was something he couldn’t do. His plan was a long shot, but there was no way we would tell our son that building a church in a foreign country was impossible or too big of a dream. As parents, we’d prayed that our children would love Jesus and live for Him. We were seeing Caden’s heart, and we wanted to encourage it any way we could.

So, like any well-meaning broke parents, we cleaned out our pockets, swept the handful of change off our dresser and started an “Africa” jar. We began to think about how great it would be for Caden to raise enough money to be able to build a church in Africa before he graduated from high school.

Apparently, this wasn’t fast enough. Caden wouldn’t stop talking about his church, so the next day I helped him make a video asking friends and family to help him. I posted it on Facebook and watched as the number of “likes” kept rising. A few weeks later, we got a letter from a family friend that included a check for $100. Caden was thrilled. His Africa jar now held a total of $124. Every night when we put our son to bed, we listened with quiet pride as he prayed for the church in Africa that he was going to build.

The next month, Dave and Tara Powers of Worship and the Word Ministries came to lead our church in a weekend focused on prayer. On the way back to the church after picking them up at the airport, I shared Caden’s story. Later, Dave asked Caden if he’d be willing to share his story with the whole group on Saturday night. “Sure,” Caden responded, as if speaking in front of hundreds of people was something he did regularly.

As Caden made his way to the stage, both Katie and I wondered just what, exactly, Caden would say. But as he started talking, our hearts started melting. “Why do you want to build a church in Africa?” Dave asked. “I want people in Africa to learn about Jesus too,” Caden responded. We were two proud parents watching from the front row!

Throughout the prayer retreat, there was a life-size map of the world on the floor in front of the meeting room. On Saturday night, Dave and Caden stood on the continent of Africa and talked about how cool it would be to see a church built there so that more people could hear about Jesus. Then, Dave shared something that totally blew us away. He said that as I told him about Caden’s story on the way from the airport, God told him to give Caden $1,000. Katie and I couldn’t believe what we were hearing. We didn’t have a location for the church or any connections in Africa. All we had was an old pickle jar with $124 in it.

That night, Dave asked the 100 or so others gathered at the retreat to pause in prayer. If they felt that God was leading them to give to Caden’s project, they should make their way up to the map and leave their offering on the seat of a chair that was placed over Africa. One by one, people from our church family and community laid their offerings on the chair. In a few minutes, the group had given Caden nearly $3,500. His dream was becoming a reality.

The next morning in church, money continued to come in. Two of Caden’s friends even donated their allowance money. I was overwhelmed at what was happening. Our church was helping my four-year-old see that God really, truly answers prayers. Our bed time ritual wasn’t just routine anymore. Caden was actually talking to God. At the same time, we were learning the invaluable truth that no one’s dreams are insignificant.

Over the next two months, as news of Caden’s story spread, money continued to come in. We asked the Alliance National Office about places in Africa that needed churches. We received proposals from five locations. It was an almost impossible decision, but after connecting with Randy and Marsha Barnwell, C&MA international workers in Mali, we chose the destination for the contents of Caden’s Africa jar.
The Barnwells had told us about a village named Tiola, where more than a hundred children were meeting under a mango tree. In another village, named Finkolo, a small congregation had started building a church some time ago, but money ran out, and they were unable to complete it. The combined cost to build a church in Tiola and to finish the one in Finkolo was about $6,000. We quickly realized our plan could be expanded to two churches.

Randy and Marsha e-mailed: “Not only was this an answer to our prayers, it was [some] of the most encouraging news we had received in a long time. We have used the story of [Caden’s] project to encourage others, and everyone has been amazed that a four-year-old boy could do so much. His love for missions and his enthusiasm for building a church in Africa has been inspiring to Malians and Americans. If more adults shared his passion, we wouldn’t be behind in the Great Commission Fund. We love working with kids, and we love Caden’s faith. May God raise up many more just like him.”

I was amazed at how Caden’s story has affected so many people. Our church family had really come alongside us in accomplishing Caden’s vision. Josh, a family friend, told me that his four-year-old daughter, Hannah, told him that when they were done helping Caden build the churches, she wanted to build a house because the people in Africa needed houses too. Another family indicated that if there was a need for a well in either of the villages, they would be interested in helping to provide it. The Barnwells told us that there was a need for a house for a future pastor at one of the churches and that the other church was in desperate need of a well for the pastor’s home and church.

Today, two churches in Mali have been funded and completed, Caden and his friend Hannah are working hard to raise support to build the house for the new pastor and, in a few short months, the other church there will have a well drilled.

That night in the car, I could have shrugged off Caden’s idea with a kids-say-the-darndest-things attitude. I could have patronized him and not ever really listened to the Holy Spirit speaking through my son. But I’m glad I didn’t. All of these things have come together because a little boy had a plan, and enough faith to go along with it—a plan that, to be honest, I thought was too big for me, let alone my four-year-old son.

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