Eugene Choi grew up as many American children, hitching his faith in Jesus to his parents: a spiritual umbilical cord of sorts.
“I thought I was a Christian and never sinned because of my parent’s association with the church,” Choi, 26, said.
But unlike many of his peers a near tragedy drew him to God in a deeply personal way before he even hit puberty.
“I was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 12, and I fully understood God’s grace and mercy then. Since then it’s been an ongoing process of surrendering my life to God and having a more intimate and authentic relationship with Jesus.”
But along the way to adulthood Choi’s spiritual mountaintop journey descended toward the valley.
“I felt my faith getting stagnant and wasn’t happy with my relationship with God,” said Choi, who was healed from his childhood cancer.
He began searching for ways to shake up the malaise so he signed up for a missions trip to Africa where Flood, his church, was working in partnership with Children of the Nations, a sponsorship organization that serves underprivileged children with the vision that those who are sponsored with go on to transform their communities.
“I was always curious about that,” he said. “A bold leap of faith later, I decided to look into going on a missions trip to Malawi.”
While doing ministry in Malawi, Choi’s heart was drawn to shy teenager named Richard Jaziwell, who at 17 was on the cusp of adulthood but who, as an orphan, had no support system.
“My mother died of a brain tumor and my father suffered from internal cuts,” Jaziwell said of their deaths, which happened while he was still a young boy. After his parents’ deaths he also drifted away from his three brothers.
During Choi’s trip, Richard helped with translation for the American team and also taught the foreigners an African tribal dance.
“He was shy, but he was trying to welcome us in the best way possible and I knew that being an orphan and in high school, he needed the sponsorship more than the younger kids,” said Choi, a wholesaler for a small investment firm. “All I knew was that he was an orphan in need, trying to make it to school.”
So Choi committed to sponsoring Jaziwell and returned to Malawi nearly every year since his inaugural 2009 trip.
“We grew up together,” Choi said.
The money Choi provided, coupled with that from several other sponsors, allowed Jaziwell to attend a technical college to be trained as an auto mechanic.
“When I first meet Eugene I didn’t know what God had instilled in him and I never thought about him sponsoring me,” Jaziwell said in an email interview from the Kasungu district, where he lives. “I took him as a friend. I interpreted his words to communicate to the young, He also insisted to learning an African dance.”
Finding his faith
Now 23, Jaziwell said he’s grateful for the holistic approach Children of the Nations uses to transform the lives of recipient children.
“Eugene and the other sponsors that I have, have transformed my life in many ways,” he said. “I now know God as a universal Savior and with His love I have grown spiritually. They have been offering me standard food, clothes and shelter. They have been paying for my education from high school.”
He does admit, however, that his gratitude sometimes teeters on guilt as he considers how much he’s been blessed.
“Sometimes I question myself why I was chosen among my family to be part of Children of the Nations, where they took and still take me as their biological son, with the provision of standard basic needs. This makes me realize God’s love and care for me and it’s all for His Glory and purpose.”
Although their initial contact was birthed in a formal sponsorship, over the years the pair has developed a strong bond, with Jaziwell serving as Choi’s interpreter when he’s in the country.
“Little by little Richard opened up to me as we continued to chat,” Choi said. “Over the past couple of years as we’ve met and spent time together, he would be more open and we’d developed a friendship now where we joke and banter with each other.
“We talk in depth about what God is doing in his life and we’re able to connect on a deeper level, seeing as how we’re kind of the same age. We talk about our hopes and dreams and I treat him like a younger brother.”
Through the example set by Choi, Jaziwell has cultivated his own abiding faith.
“I have learned of love to others by sharing (what) God has blessed us with,” Jaziwell said. “He really loves and cares for us, although we fall short of His glory minute to minute of our stay on Earth.”
Choi said he couldn’t help but notice how Jaziwell has developed into a natural leader who is now “paying it forward.”
“Seeing Richard go from not knowing any English and being really shy to serving as my translator and being fully fluent in English was a humbling reminder that Children of the Nations is doing some good Kingdom work,” he said. “Seeing him graduate high school, attend college and share with me his hopes and dreams, something that he hadn’t had a couple of years ago, that was an aha moment for me.
“It’s absolutely incredible to see the work that God’s done in this guy’s life from being extremely shy to stepping up to the plate and not only translating for me in recent trips while I minister to the younger kids, but taking on a leadership role in the village for the younger kids as well.”
The San Diegan said the learning curve has also bounced back on himself.
“I’ve learned so much more from Richard and the ways he’s honoring and glorifying God than I think he has from me,” Choi said. “The benefit has been all mine and it’s really hard to put a price tag on how God’s blessed me through my relationship with Richard.
“God is big and alive and working in ordinary people to do some pretty extraordinary things.”
— by Lori Arnold
What: Children of the Nations was founded 20 years ago by a Washington state couple who, after traveling to Africa, were compelled to provide assistance to orphans and refugee children they met in the country.
Who: Chris Clark, a fifth-generation missionary who was raised in Africa where his parents served as missionaries, and his wife, Debbie, a teacher, quit their positions with Youth for Christ to establish the child sponsorship ministry.
Where: Children of the Nations now serves the United States, Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Uganda and Haiti.
How: Through funding primarily from child sponsorships and individual donations, Children of the Nations operates homes, schools, farms, skill centers, clinics, and village feeding centers in an effort to provide quality care for children. Each country office is established with an individual mission-based, nonprofit organization and is recognized among reputable Christian charities.
Although originally launched as an outreach to “rescue” destitute children, the program now seeks to create a “family” for each child in the program. The needs of each child are met through numerous sponsors. In addition to providing monthly support of at least $32, sponsors may write letters to their child and visit through missions trips they call Venture Trips.
Accountability: Local governing boards oversee local ministry staff in each country. Country directors and management committees work closely with staff to provide the best for participating children.
Venture trips: Hundreds of individuals from churches, specialty groups, and youth programs, many of them child sponsors, visit ministry sites to offer support and encouragement, staying from one week to up to a year.
The numbers: Children of the Nations started in 1995 with a monthly budget of $300. Today, the ministry has 400 U.S. and international staff, tens of thousands of volunteers, and an annual budget of more than $7 million.