Every act of kindness defines our character and becomes a stepping stone toward heaven.

We become the sum total of every moment and every event of our lives on earth. Every episode forms our stories and writes in time the adventures of our lives. The enjoyable experiences, as well as the tough spots we encounter, set up occasions that demand a response. Our responses then set into motion the actions that give rise to the consequences of our intentions. And lo and behold . . . we then have what we call character. That character becomes our temporal as well as eternal identity. But character is built one episode at a time.

One of the great privileges afforded me in traveling to nearly every corner of the world was being able to quietly observe the countries, cultures, and character of the people. Though the mores and folkways varied vastly, the core similarities of the people were astounding. Many times I was overwhelmed by the responses of individuals to the opportunities of goodness presented to them.

While working in Lilongwe, Malawi, in eastern Africa, I encountered a delightful twenty-two-year-old man named Fletcher Mutandika. I listened carefully as he unwrapped his story for me:

One night an old, shriveled woman came gently but insistently
knocking at the apartment door of the boarding school I was
attending. She was holding an emaciated baby in her hands.
She pleaded for enough milk to help the baby stop crying.
looked at the starving baby and quizzed the old grandmother.
I learned that her daughter and husband had both died recently
of HIV/AIDS. The grandmother could not care for yet another
orphaned child, but she was desperately trying to keep this baby
from dying and being buried with the dead mother.

Fletcher was faced with a character-defining moment in his life. How he responded would set events in motion that would have far-reaching consequences.

Fletcher’s own mother had been orphaned when she was just ten years old. When Fletcher was a child, his mother had told him what it was like to grow up alone, with no family. But by God’s love and mercy, she had eventually gone to school and married a young man, who later became a Presbyterian preacher in his native country of Malawi.

As Fletcher stood in the doorway gazing at this grandmother and her grandchild, something happened inside him. He not only came up with some milk for the starving baby, but he also took the baby to receive medical attention. Sadly, it was too late to save the child, and she was buried with her mother three days later. But Fletcher decided in his heart that from that point on, he would get involved in helping with the orphan situation in Malawi.

Five years earlier, a census had been taken that estimated the number of orphans in Malawi at more than a million. Old grandparents who should have had someone looking after them were trying to care for fifteen or twenty little kids. Many of the grandparents’ children had died of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses, leaving all their living offspring to be raised by someone else. It wasn’t uncommon for a child to be orphaned two or three times. Both parents would die, and the children would be taken in by an aunt or uncle, who would also subsequently die and leave all the kids orphaned again. Nor was it uncommon for young children to be heads of households, trying to raise their brothers, sisters, and cousins after the deaths of their parents. But with no adults around, who would teach the children how to cook, plant crops, tend the goats, or even fetch water? 

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By the age of twenty-five, Fletcher was operating his own day-care center for orphaned kids in Lilongwe. He was caring for 750 orphans in his program, but his day-care concept had an interesting twist to it. He didn’t want to break up extended families if it could be prevented. Instead, he wanted to make it possible for the families to retain some of their original identity. He wouldn’t take the kids on a full-time basis, but he gave them a place to go before and after school, and he even helped purchase their school uniforms and pay their school fees. After school, the kids would flock to Fletcher’s pavilion, where all would receive a good, hot meal. Then he would send them off to a relative’s hut to sleep for the night.

Every act of kindness bestowed on those 750 orphans defined Fletcher’s character. Every episode transformed the story of his life. Even to this day, Fletcher continues to build stepping stones to heaven not only for himself but for countless others in the country of Malawi as well.