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Published on February 10th, 2013 | by Nathaniel

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Meet Nathaniel Nelson: A 19 Year Old Who is Changing the World

Nathaniel Nelson1

It’s always inspiring to meet someone who is living their life with the intention to serve a greater purpose. It’s even more inspiring when that same person has devoted five years, four trips, and over 4,000 hours to mission work in Lusaka, Zambia- all before the age of 20 years old.

Encouragers, meet Chikhondi Kayanda (which means “Love House” in Bemba) or if you want to take the easy route- Nathaniel Nelson.

Aside from sharing the same name, Nathaniel and I also share a couple of other facts: we were both born over eight weeks premature and we are both committed to helping Africa progress.

On a casual and uncharacteristically breezy Los Angeles day at a Mid-Wilshire Starbucks, Nathaniel, sporting a dark hoody and a humble smile, is welcomed into the world of a coffee-addicts-heaven. For the first time, he orders a vanilla latte and we get to talking about his journey, his inspiration, and his spiritual renewal.

Born and raised in inner-city Los Angeles, Nathaniel, grew up in a blended home with two loving parents and a brother and sister who were adopted. Yet when asked how it felt to go from “only-child status” to the older brother of a now 10 year old African American sister and 15 year old brother from Guatemala, he says he couldn’t imagine it any other way.  Maybe it was this upbringing coupled with being one of a few Caucasians in elementary school that helped culture his affection for what many westerners still perceive as the “Dark Continent.”

The decision

Prior to his first trip to Lusaka, Nathaniel remembers being filled with doubt about the “Christian-thing”- a familiar feeling for many of us who have been groomed in the church since infancy. “It wasn’t real to me; it was more intellectual than spiritual. Church felt awkward- I was intimidated by the fire that other people had,” recalls Chikhondi. So what was the catalyst that resulted in a life changing, 10,000 mile, 24 hour flight ride?

Home schooled from 6th to 8th grade, Nathaniel remembers learning about the Eastern Hemisphere and being curious about Africa. When a youth group leader suggested that Nate consider joining a mission trip to Lusaka, he agreed without reluctance. Little did he know, his obedience would incite a spiritual renewal and fire for Christ like he had never experienced before.

The Purpose

His expectations were pretty minimal. “I knew it was going to be hard living conditions. When I first arrived, I realized I was spending two weeks in a culture that was totally different; a culture that completely understood abject poverty,” admits Nathaniel. Stepping off the 747, he remembers the symmetry of the skyline looking different and people walking everywhere. And in the midst of shack-markets, unfinished houses, and a lack of proper sanitation, he experienced a deeper sense of raw and real connectedness, unlike anything he had ever encountered- something bigger than him.

While in Lusaka, Nathaniel and his team from Mosaic Church, served at Breath of Heaven- a nonprofit children’s ministry dedicated toward helping a growing orphan population. The group broke off into two teams- Nate’s group worked to build a playground during the first week and they committed the second week to a vacation bible school program. Striving to create a safe environment for many kids who were double AIDS orphans (both parents deceased due to AIDS), Nathaniel felt God speak to him the process. “Something about that place captured my heart. It became my second home.”

When he came back in the summer of 2009, his second home kept on calling him again and again. It called him in 2010, 2011, and most recently for a nine week stay in 2012. Every visit, he had the opportunity to see the lives of kids transformed through spiritual revival, education, and a “it takes a whole village…” approach to life.

The Truth

Chikondi, now getting ready to embark on the next phase of life- his 2013 freshmen year at Hope College in Michigan, is eager to use his experiences to become an author, teacher, and a linguist. He believes that following God to Lusaka and serving others humbled him because the kids at the orphanage saw him as a gift. I don’t think it’s ironic that “Nathaniel” means just that- “gift from God.”

“I don’t have to wait on God to make me an awesome person to go and do awesome things.”
-Nathaniel “Chikhondi Kayanda” Nelson

If you would like to learn more about the Breath of Heaven ministry in Lusaka, Zambia and support their efforts, please visit their site:  http://www.bofheaven.org/

Here is a video of some of the lives that have been touched through the Breath of Heaven ministry:

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