As a boy in Kenya, Benard Ondiek walked six miles to school barefoot with no bag in which to carry his books.
His father worked extra hours as a security guard to help pay for the education he believed was so important for his son.
Now at 51 years old, the Rev. Ondiek is educating orphaned children in the African country.
"Education is the key to a good life," he said. "I want them to be productive citizens and have a bright future. I want to save a community that is desperate, dying and without hope."
Ondiek was in Columbus Feb. 19-23 as a speaker at the 11th annual Global Mission Conference held at First Presbyterian Church.
Other speakers included the Rev. Donald Marsden, associate director of the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, and the Rev. Randy Gardner, executive director of the Bible Training Centre for Pastors.
Ondiek is co-founder of a seminary in Kenya that was established to try to ease a great shortage of Christian church leaders. He is visiting the United States to seek funds for his two Friends of Christ day schools for orphans, which hundreds of children attend. Besides an education, the children receive two daily meals.
Classes are only through the eighth grade. Students must pay to go to a government high school, and those who attend Ondiek's schools can't afford that.
So Ondiek wants to build a high school.
"The cost is about $250,000," he said.
Without high school, many of the children are unable to get work so they go back to living on the streets. Some start eating from trash bins, while others may turn to prostitution.
Most of the orphans come from families where the parents have died from AIDS/HIV or waterborne diseases, two huge problems in Kenya.
Ondiek finds guardians for some of the children, but it's not adoption.
"It's just a place for them to sleep," he said.
Ondiek and his wife, Pamela, have five children of their own and have taken nine others into their home.
Ondiek attended Kapsabet Bible College and earned a master's degree in theology from Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C.
He did not grow up as a Christian, but as a young man he felt God calling him during a youth rally in 1982. He moved in with a local pastor and began to study.
"I was doing road work, digging," he said. "I was going nowhere at the time. I learned that Jesus is the solution."
The national director for Partners in Evangelism International in Kenya, Ondiek has helped establish nine churches.
His vision includes a medical clinic and missionary housing.
First Presbyterian is a supporter of his work.
Over the years, the church on First Avenue has helped purchase a bus, build a dormitory and provide meals, uniforms and shoes for the children.
It is just one of the international places that help the church. According to church literature, First Presbyterian has set $40,000 as its mission goal this year.
First Presbyterian has distributed almost half a million dollars around the world since the Global Mission Conferences began. Missions in places such as Haiti, Brazil and Pakistan have benefited.
The work in Kenya has special meaning to First Presbyterian Senior Pastor Chuck Hasty. After Hasty graduated from college, he spent a year teaching English, history, geography and Christianity at a high school in Kenya.
"Once you experience Africa, you leave a part of your heart there," he said.
He went to Kenya to visit Ondiek in 2007. He said the schools were nothing more than tin huts at that time.
"It is just miraculous what he has accomplished since then," Hasty said. "He is a man who has been given a directive from God and it is inspiring the way his work is bearing fruit."
This summer, First Presbyterian plans to do more than send money. Hasty said a group from the church, including a doctor, will be traveling to Kenya for a couple of weeks to lend aid.
He said those going will be concentrating on children's health.
"Our relationship is being strengthened," Hasty said.