Jesus Wrecked My Life
About the Guest
Eighteen-year-old Katie Davis had a desire to go and serve the children of Uganda for a season before college. She never imagined that her first trip would change her life, and the lives of many others, forever. Today Katie is the founder and director of Amazima Ministries and the foster mother of 13 girls. Hear more about this courageous young woman and her outreach to orphans in Africa.
Eighteen-year-old Katie Davis had a desire to go and serve the children of Uganda for a season before college. Hear more about this courageous young woman and her outreach to orphans in Africa.
Jesus Wrecked My Life
Bob: When she was a high school student, Katie Davis took a trip to Africa—a trip that she remembers had a significant impact on her spiritually.
Katie: I knew Jesus and faith in Him sustained me through high school and was instrumental in the decisions that I made—but I remember being in Uganda and wrestling with: “Oh, You’re asking me to be like all the way—all the way—all the way in.” I don’t believe for everyone—to be all the way in—means you have to move to this other country; but for me, that’s what it meant. I think it meant a significant alteration in my lifestyle.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We will meet a remarkable young woman today who has done remarkable things in her life all because of her faith in a big God. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think I can safely say that this is the first time we have ever interviewed a 25-year-old single woman who is a mother of 13; right?
Dennis: I think that’d be safe to say. [Laughter] I think she’s surprised that it happened too. Katie Davis joins us on FamilyLife Today. Finally, Katie, we arranged to get you here; and it worked out for your schedule. Thanks for coming all the way from Uganda—and caring for the 13 children you are in the process of adopting—and joining us, here on the broadcast.
Katie: Yes. Thank you for having me.
Dennis: She’s written a book called Kisses from Katie. We’re going to cut right to the chase. I want you to take us to that first kindergarten class, where you were supposed to teach 12 kindergarten children—
Dennis: —and you arrived—
—and that wasn’t who showed up.
Katie: [Laughter] No, I had committed to teach kindergarten for a year in Uganda with a pastor who ran an orphanage there and who was very excited—came to Uganda with two packs of construction paper and a couple of boxes of crayons and thought, “Yes, I can do this.”
I showed up, and they had turned an old barn into a classroom. I thought, “I was going in to teach a couple of students—12, maybe 15. I had Oliver, my translator, with me who turned into a great friend. It seemed, on that first day of kindergarten, that every child between the age of three and seven or eight had decided, “Let’s go to kindergarten!” And so, the classroom was just packed full of—
Dennis: Not 12.
Katie: Over a hundred—no, no—I think it was 130 something that were there in the building—and just all their little brown eyes—
—just excited / excited to learn—some amazed by a white lady in their classroom / some kind of looking very afraid of the white lady in their classroom.
Dennis: You were how old?
Katie: Eighteen—I was eighteen years old.
Dennis: And you, of course, were fluent in the native tongue of—
Katie: No! [Laughter]
Katie: No. I remember—the national language in Uganda is English. So, one of the goals of going to school is for your children to learn English; and you start that in kindergarten. So, I remember picking up a ball and saying over and over again [slowly and distinctly]: “This is a ball. This is a ball.” They would all go and say [with Ugandan accent]: “This is a ball. This is a ball.” We had gone through the whole day of school; and we had learned many, many words. At the end of the day, this one little girl came up to me with her pencil. She said [with Ugandan accent], “Teacher, this is a ball.” [Laughter] I was like, “Oh, no! That is a pencil!” [Laughter]
“This is not going well!”
Bob: Let me take you back two years before that.
Bob: On your 16th birthday, that’s when you first had a sense that you might want to spend some part of your life overseas; right?
Katie: Yes. It was something that I had—you’ve been kind of dreaming about in the way that you’re young and you dream about these things that will probably never happen. “One day, I will travel to all the countries of the world”—you think that. You also realize that it might not happen. It was something I had been dreaming about.
I think by the time I was 16 I was working downtown at a halfway house in Nashville, where women came to after rehab to get their children back from foster care and kind of rebuild their lives. I loved to go down there and just be with them. I loved to babysit their children so that they could go to their meetings or do different stuff. And so, I think that really grew in me a love for serving people.
I had begun to feel like, “I’d love to do something like this overseas.” And so, I thought, “Oh, my parents might not love this idea,” but I remember asking them on my 16th birthday—we’d gone out to dinner—that was kind of our family thing. You got to choose where you wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate.
I just kind of brought it up and said, “Hey, you know, I was thinking, maybe after high school, instead of going straight to college, I could kind of take a year and just go somewhere—travel overseas / do some mission work.” They just kind of looked at me like, “Oh. Well….” They kind of—they didn’t immediately discourage it. They were kind of like: “Well, you know, college—probably that’s the best idea—but we could look into it. We can see. We’ll talk about it more.”
I don’t think we made any decisions that day, but I went home excited about that and started looking up places online: “Where could we go? Where could we serve? How could I get involved? What kind of ministry would I want to get involved with?”
Dennis: How did you settle on Uganda?
Katie: You know, honestly, I looked online. I didn’t feel specifically called to Uganda, or to Africa, or to anywhere really. I just felt called to serve people. So, I looked online and found several different orphanages—and emailed orphanages in all different countries—and said: “I would like to come and visit. I would like to help. I will change diapers. I will wipe noses. I will mop floors. I will do whatever. I’d just like to come serve.”
I got emails back from several of them. One place was an orphanage in Uganda. They just did a really great job communicating. They had this great volunteer coordinator at the time.
She said, “Yes, you can come. We accept volunteers of all ages for any different time periods.” So, I went to my mom and said: “Mom! Do you want to go with me to Uganda over Christmas break?!” And my mom said, “Well, maybe.”
Bob: Your mom and dad were hoping this would just wear off; weren’t they?
Katie: Sure! Yes, and I think they even thought, “Well, maybe, if we let her go over Christmas break”—
Dennis: —“she’ll get it out of—
Katie: —“she’ll get it out of her system.”
Dennis: Yes. Yes; sure.
Katie: And they said, “You need to find an adult who will go with you.” I said, “Okay, but I want to go over my Christmas break.” There were great adults in our church and supportive people around me, but they weren’t going to leave their families at Christmas and go travel to the other side of the planet. So, I remember just finally begging my mom—and I get her to come sit next to me on the computer. I’d show her these pictures of the children at the orphanage. Mom loves people and loves children and used to volunteer downtown with me and used to volunteer at the church with me.
So, it wasn’t—it wasn’t like it was super difficult to convince her to come. So, that was my present—that was my Christmas gift from my mom was—
Dennis: “I’ll go with you.”
Katie: —two pink suitcases and her presence to come with me to Uganda.
Dennis: And so, when you went there and you got off the plane, did you already have a spot you were headed toward?
Katie: Yes, we did. We had communicated with this orphanage, and they took short-term volunteers. They were very kind and very accommodating. So, we went and we signed up to volunteer at this orphanage for three weeks over Christmas break.
I do think my parents had, in the back of their minds: “Well, maybe, this will get it out of her system. This will be this overseas mission trip, and she’ll feel like, ‘Yes, I did the overseas thing.’” I don’t think they thought that I would just—I mean—I was just taken. I was absolutely just in love with everything—
—the color, and the language, and the people, and the simplicity of life, and just all of it.
Bob: We should explain—you were a pretty typical normal 17-year-old high school student, at this point in time. You were president of your class; is that right?
Bob: You were homecoming queen?
Bob: You drove a yellow convertible?
Bob: You liked shopping for clothes.
Katie: Yes. Yes. Pretty—I mean, you could say just an average high school girl. I liked high school life. I liked football games. I liked having my friends sleep over. I liked to go to the mall.
I was doing—I mean, I think, early on, the Lord had grown in me a heart for people that my parents really encouraged and taught me to be kind to people, and taught me to love people, and taught me that there were people less fortunate. So, there were days where I would say:
“Hey, high school friends, do you want to come with me to the homeless shelter this weekend?” They would say, ‘No.’” [Laughter] I would say: “Okay! Well, that’s where I’m going to be this weekend,”—but I had that—I had a heart for people, and I loved people—but I also very much loved my comfortable lifestyle and where I was at, and I—
Dennis: To that point, you say in the book that Jesus wrecked your life. You blame Him for all this.
Katie: Absolutely! I think faith in Him sustained me through high school and was instrumental in the decisions—
Katie: —I made—but I remember being in Uganda and wrestling with “Oh, You’re asking me to be all the way—all the way—all the way in.” I don’t believe for everyone—to be all the way in—means you have to move to this other country—but for me, that’s what it meant. I think it meant a significant alteration in my lifestyle.
Dennis: And I think what folks need to realize, as you read the New Testament—if you really get to know Jesus Christ—He may not call you to go to Uganda, but He will wreck your life. He will cause you to deny yourself—
Dennis: —to pick up your cross and follow Him daily. I think, sometimes, we’ve kind of put a soft sale on Christianity and our Savior. He comes to take over—to transform / to radically make an impact in our lives.
Katie: Yes, absolutely. So, the director of the orphanage we were volunteering at introduced me to this pastor, who was the director of a different orphanage of 120 children—all ages. The youngest was four, and the oldest was eighteen. He was short-staffed, and he didn’t have enough help. He wanted to start this school, and he wanted to start this kindergarten program. He had a couple local teachers that were going to help him out.
He said, “I feel like the Lord is saying that you are coming back; and you’re going to work here, and you are going to teach kindergarten.” I remember, when he said that to me, I was like: “Well, I’m here for a few weeks. I’m going to go home and finish high school. So, we will keep in touch—[Laughter]—I will let you know if the Lord causes me to also feel that way.”
But I went home and finished high school—and would look at the clock, like during high school classes, and think: “Okay, what time is it in Uganda? Okay, the kids are going to bed,” or, “The kids are waking up,”—and would just replay, in my mind, what their routine was like: They would wake up, they would brush their teeth, they would get porridge for breakfast before they would go to school—and just was doing high school classes but was living, in my head, in this different world that I just couldn’t shake.
Bob: Now, wait. Weren’t you—all your friends were talking about “We’re going to UT next year,” or “We’re…” I’m sure there were guys asking you out on dates, and some of them were cute; right?
Katie: One of them was very cute! [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, so, I’m sure you were thinking about what life would be like if you stayed here—and some of that had to be alluring and attractive. I mean, go to the UT games with cute guys—that’s not a bad thing; right?
Katie: No. Yes, it was—I would not be honest if I said: “Yes, it was easy. I just thought, ‘I’ll move to Uganda.’” It was difficult; and there were times when I thought, “Am I making the right choice?” I remember leaving and saying goodbye to good friends and sweet people when I had decided, “Yes, I will go back to Uganda for a year.”
Bob: Katie, your parents—when you were 16 and you said, “I might want to go to another country at some point,”—they were not sure what to think of that. When you were 17 and said: “That’s what I want to do for Christmas. Will you go with me, Mom?”—your mom kind of went, reluctantly.
Now, you are saying, “I think I want to spend a year in Uganda and put off school for a year.” Did your mom and dad warm up to this? Or did it take them a while to be able to say, “Yes, this is okay, and we’ll support you in this”?
Katie: They were always supportive. They also, though, out of love, really wanted what was best for me and really thought: “Well, in order to be successful and have a good life and be comfortable, you’re going to need to go to college. You’re going to need to have your degree to secure a good job.” So, they really said: “Okay, you go for a year, but no more. Then, you come back and you do school and you make sure that you have this good future in place.” They were just looking out for me in the best way that they knew how. They wanted good things for me.
My dad said, “Well, you can’t go live for a year in a place that I have never been.” So, very reluctantly, he got on a plane when I was moving to Uganda in August.
He said, “I’m coming with you for the first week.” I think he spent that first that they were there kind of trying to convince me: “You cannot do this. You will come home with me. Are you sure that you don’t want to come home with me when the week is over?”
Dennis: Yes, all the dads, who are listening right now—
Bob: “I’m not…”—in my head, I’m going, “I want to go check this place out”—
Bob: —“before I’m leaving my 18-year-old daughter in Africa for a year.” Yes; absolutely!
Dennis: I mean, the daddy’s love—there is nothing that can compare to it.
Katie: No; and as an 18-year-old, I didn’t get that—but, as a parent, I go: “How did you let me do that?!” I did not understand at all on that side of parenting. I mean, I remember the tears in my mom’s eyes as we got on the plane. I remember the tears in my dad’s eyes as he realized, at the end of the week: “You’re not coming home with me. You’re going to stay here for the year.” That was a huge sacrifice for them to say:
“We love you enough to say, ‘We don’t really understand why this is what you want to do’; but we love you enough to say, ‘Okay, you can do it.’”
Dennis: You know, it’s interesting, Katie, the number one obstacle to a graduating college senior, coming on Cru staff—which is an organization that recruits a lot of collegians to ministry around the world—the number one obstacle—parents. They are the ones that don’t get it. To me, it’s fascinating that you are not the only one being called to a step of faith—
Dennis: —that, in the midst of that, the parents are called to put their own belief in the Bible and relationship with Christ on the line as well.
When you’d spent a few months in Uganda, you sat down one day—in fact, you write about it in your book—“It’s Saturday, September 29th, 2007.”
You must have been there long enough that you were, not only overwhelmed with the living conditions, but also with the needs of human beings—not just a few—thousands of human beings in a country ravaged by HIV, AIDS, factions of war, and all kinds of unrest. Share with our listeners what you wrote on that day.
Katie: Sometimes, working in a third-world country makes me feel like I’m
emptying the ocean with an eye dropper. And just when I have about half a cup of water, it rains. More orphaned children, from the north, migrate to where I live—more abandoned and dead babies are found, more people are infected with HIV. It is enough to discourage even the most enthusiastic and passionate person.
And yet, the discouragement lasts only a moment. God tells me to keep going—that He loves me / that He loves these people—that He will never leave or forsake any of us—not one—and my work is
Important to Him.
I spent the day at the wedding of my friend, Lydia. It was a beautiful celebration, not only of the love two people can have for each other, but also of the love God has for us. At the reception, there was a cake, and singing, and dancing just as there would be at any American wedding. One thing that wasn’t like an American wedding, though, was the congregation of street children, at the gate, all longing to join the party inside.
I immediately felt suffocated inside the gates of the extravagant party. So, for most of the reception, you could find me outside with the raggedy, dirty street children—dancing, and laughing, and cuddling. Most people didn’t like that I was associating with these children—the outcasts of society. Many of the fancily-dressed guests at the wedding even came and told me that I probably shouldn’t associate with these children—
let alone kiss them and let them bury their faces in my hair. “They’re street children,” the people would say as if it was some kind of sin—as if the children could help it.
We had so much fun, though. The children ate up every bit of attention I could give—danced as close to me as they possibly could and lavished me with love. We spun and laughed until we ached and had to collapse in the grass outside of the place where the reception was taking place.
Those who had been shy at first ended up snuggled close to my side, petting my hair or kissing my hands. The smallest ones fell asleep in my lap despite the blaring music from the wedding. Those who could speak English wanted to know all about me and thanked me, unnecessarily, for spending time with them. They were so happy.
I can’t describe the new light in their eyes after all of our dancing. It’s that light—it’s that happiness / it’s that love.
Darling Emily, a little girl from the orphanage, is snuggled against my chest, fast asleep. And I can feel her heart beating against mine—it’s that beat, it’s that warmth, it’s that love.
That love is the reason I just keep filling up my little eye dropper—keep filling it up and emptying my ocean, one drop at a time. I’m not here to eliminate poverty, to eradicate disease, to put a stop to people abandoning babies—I’m just here to love.
Dennis: When I read that—[emotion in voice] and maybe it’s because I’ve gone to some orphanages myself and visited these children and seen the faces—I was reminded of a great statement made by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He said, “There are two kinds of problems in life—those that are far away and those that are near.”
And I think for the Christian—for the follower of Jesus Christ—we are commanded to go near—
Dennis: —the orphan and the widow in their affliction. It is pure and undefiled religion, and that’s what you experienced as you danced in the grass,—
Dennis: —outside the gates, with the real party taking place out there instead of at the reception.
Bob: And of course, you had no idea, as you were sitting with those children, that you would share your story—that it would become a New York Times bestseller.
Katie: No. [Laughter]
Bob: Glamour Magazine would name you the 2012 Woman of the Year—all because you said, “I want to go be near these kids and just love them.”
We have copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’d encourage our listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner that says, “GO DEEPER.”
From there, they can order a copy of the book, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com—click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” to find Katie’s book.
We also have a link there to Katie’s website. If you’d like to find out more about the work she’s doing in Africa—like to help support what she’s doing—you can do that as well. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You’ll find the information you need available there. Or you can call to order the book, Kisses from Katie. The toll-free number is 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I’m thinking about the work that FamilyLife has done over the last decade in helping to raise awareness of the needs of orphans all around the world. Dennis, I’m really thinking of the folks who helped make all of that possible through their financial support of this ministry. We could not do what we do without our listeners making it all possible.
We are listener-supported. More than 60 percent of the money that we need to operate this ministry comes from donations, from folks just like you. About half of that money comes in during the month of December—that’s why this is such a key month for us.
And fortunately, we’ve had some friends of the ministry come along who have agreed to provide matching funds, here in December. They are going to match every donation our listeners send to us this month, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $2,000,000. Of course, we are grateful for their support; but if we are going to take advantage of those matching funds, we need listeners, like you, to go today to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I Care,” and make as generous a donation to support this ministry as you can possible make. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com—or you can call to make a donation at 1-800-FL-TODAY—and you can always mail your donation to us.
Our address is: FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR: and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear about Katie Davis’s move to Africa and about what happened four months in when she thought, “Do I really want to be here?” We’ll hear that story tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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