It was in Peterborough, Ontario, while I was attending college, when I first met Shawn. He wasn’t a teacher, or another student, he was just an ordinary 7-year-old boy. A boy who just so happened to frequent a teen drop-in centre in the heart of the city where I volunteered.
Given how young he was, and how lost he looked, I noticed Shawn immediately.
He wore a tiny, worn-out leather jacket and his tread-worn shoes were missing nearly all of their laces. Although he was a fragile little boy, he gave off the impression of being someone who had lived longer and experienced more than the age on his birth certificate would indicate.
I don’t really remember how it happened; it just happened.
We started playing together in the center. We played cards, made crafts and watched movies. I would walk him home at the end of each day, wondering why a young child spent so much time by himself. He never came with others his age; he was all alone.
When I met Shawn’s parents, it immediately became clear to me why Shawn spent so much time away. It seemed it didn’t matter to them whether he came or went. He didn’t matter to them. He was invisible. He didn’t exist. No one noticed him unless he’d left his shoes in the way, or hadn’t picked up his coat.
THEN they noticed him. And then they yelled.
I spent four months with Shawn and during our time together I realized that all he needed was someone in his life, someone who noticed him, someone who accepted him for who he was, someone who really cared about him. During that time, we went on many bike rides, played pool, and ate together in the college cafeteria. We did this with several other kids that I had somehow picked up along the way.
And then, on a cold December evening, as I was walking Shawn home from the college where we had spent most of the day, something happened that changed my life forever.
We were walking along the railway tracks that ran behind the college. Shawn was cold so I gave him my jean jacket, a jacket that I’d been wearing under my trench coat to help keep me warm. Wearing it, he looked like one of those circus hobo clowns; the jacket was four times as big as he was and the sleeves dragged on the ground as he walked. We chatted for a bit – anything to keep our minds off the cold, which cut like a knife.
Somewhere along the way in the middle of a conversation I’ve long since forgotten he did something I will never forget: he reached up and grabbed my hand.
That’s when it happened; that’s when everything changed.
Although we were two people from two very different worlds, at that moment our worlds collided and became one. Just a few months before neither of us had known that the other person existed and now it was as though my only purpose in life was to show a little boy God’s, unconditional love.
Holding his small hand in mine, I felt a warmth that I’d never felt before. I looked up into the crystal clear night sky. Despite the extreme cold and the brisk wind, everything was beautiful. Peaceful. Perfect.
And that’s the moment it happened; that’s the moment that my purpose became clear. For the first time in my life, I knew why I was created, and how everything I’d experienced in my own childhood had led me to this moment.
At that moment, I knew exactly how Shawn felt and what Shawn needed.
And at that moment, I knew that there were many, many other kids just like him.
Instinctively, I knew what I must do. At that moment, my purpose was revealed and I knew that from this day forward it was my purpose to care for and attend to the heartfelt needs of vulnerable, fragile and precious children wherever they may be.
So today, here I am, more than 20 years later, in Hamilton. It’s here that I founded CityKidz. Or maybe, it found me. To this day, every day I continue to search for children who are just like Shawn.
Some kids need to be rescued. Others just need a friend.
Each and every week, thousands of children receive personal home visits from one of our faithful staff or volunteers. Each and every Saturday, over 1,000 children attend a dynamic kids’ program that teaches them about God’s unyielding love and the greatness that is within each and every one of them.
What started in Hamilton has now grown to include Regina and Ottawa, too. One day, I hope we can cover Canada with God’s love for children.
As for Shawn, I don’t know how his story ends; shortly after I moved out of Peterborough, we lost touch and lost contact. My heart breaks for him, it really does. It is my most earnest prayer that one day soon we will meet again and that I will be able to tell him how much he impacted my life and changed it for the better. I yearn to tell him what a difference he’s helped make in the lives of hundreds and thousands of children; children who, today, are just as he used to be all those many years ago.
Until we meet again, I will continue my search.
I’ve learned a great many things over the past two decades. I’m not who I was when I began this journey and tomorrow I won’t be who I am today. For that, I am most thankful. And yet, despite all the many changes, I still believe… I still believe that my life can count for something, and I still believe that one person’s actions really can change the world.
Today, I’m an ordained minister with Global Christian Ministry Forum and currently pursuing my MBA. I’m the proud husband of my beautiful wife, Tina, and I have the privilege to be a father to four absolutely amazing kids: Madelyn, Cassidy, Mackenzie, and Noah.
Today, Canada is my mission, but Hamilton is my home. It’s here that I live and serve. It’s here that I see a nation of need through the eyes of vulnerable children from coast to coast to coast who want nothing more than to love and be loved in return.
And as often as I say it, I really do mean it: as long as one child remains who need to know that someone cares, that God loves them and has a plan for their life, I will be there.
In search of the one.