Charles Mulli: We Are Family — “Christian Heroes: Then & Now” Series

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Book Review

Charles Mulli: We Are Family by Janet and Geoff Benge has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is a book in the “Christian Heroes: Then & Now” series.

Plot Summary

Charles Mulli is a Kenyan boy in the 1950s. His alcoholic father, Daudi, often beats his mother, his two siblings and him. One day, 6-year-old Charles wakes and realizes that his family has abandoned him. He begins living with his maternal grandmother. She loves him, but she has little food and no money to send him to school. At the age of 6, he must beg to survive.

After two years, Charles’ mother returns to her mother’s hut. She had been unable to hold onto her new baby during a horrendous beating by Daudi and dropped the child into the fire they cooked on. She came to beg her brothers to pay for their hospital visit, and they did. After mother and child are released from the hospital, Daudi returns and takes all three home to his family’s village.

There is no room for Charles in his family’s hut, so he lives with his paternal grandfather, who sends him to school. Within the year, Charles finds his family has left him behind, again. His grandfather puts him on a train headed to the city where they went.

After many days, Charles locates them, but he is not welcome. His father sends him back to his maternal grandmother. Unfortunately his uncles won’t let him near her. They are afraid that he will get part of their inheritance if he stays with her. In his mother’s tribe, inheritances are passed down to sons. Since he is the son of a daughter, they don’t want him to inherit what doesn’t belong to him.

Though his Aunt Muthikwa tries to help him, her husband wants nothing to do with Charles. Eventually, Charles is tired of being a burden on her family and is afraid that his aunt will be punished by her husband if he stays. He now must beg for food and a corner to sleep in someone’s home. By age 11, Charles finds occasional menial work so he doesn’t have to beg as much.

At 16, Charles begins to lose hope. After a friend invites him to church, Charles accepts Christ as his Savior, prays for forgiveness and asks God to help him forgive others. He realizes that if God forgives him, he must forgive his relatives. Charles becomes an active member of the church.

At the age of 17, Charles graduates from eighth grade and can’t attend high school because he doesn’t have the money. Charles briefly moves near his family, who is living in a different city, and attempts to help provide for them. But he struggles to find steady work. He leaves for Nairobi, a three-day walk, and gets a job with a wealthy Indian family, the D’Souzas.

Charles works hard around the D’Souzas’ home and eventually is promoted to the position of field clerk in the D’Souzas’ business, Kukuzi Fibreland. Through his job, he meets and proposes to a Christian woman named Esther. Since Charles doesn’t make enough to support her as his wife, he finds another job at a construction company called Strabag. Charles and Esther marry and begin a family.

Charles’ wife and children briefly live with his parents, as is their tradition. Daudi wastes the money Charles gives him and continues to beat his wife and children, though he doesn’t beat Esther. Charles moves his wife and youngest sister, whom he and his wife adopt, out of his parents’ home and threatens to report Daudi to the clan elders, who will probably sentence him to be beaten to death.

Instead of moving to Yemen with the company he works for, Charles leaves its employment and starts a matatu business, a shared taxi service, despite Esther’s doubts. As he drives around town, he becomes aware of the street children around him and feeds them and tells them Bible stories when he can.

Charles’ business quickly expands, and he diversifies into being a distributor for gasoline, oil and lubricants. Through this, he becomes quite wealthy. He lives in a large house and sends his children to good schools.

Daudi continues to abuse Charles’ siblings and mother, and illegally sells land that Charles has bought three times. Charles reports him to the clan elders, and they find him guilty of being a violent man. However, before Daudi is killed in the beating he receives, Charles saves him. This is the first time the clan elders have ever retracted a verdict. Eventually, Daudi turns away from superstitions and witch doctors, and toward God, changing his ways.

Charles drives to Nairobi for business, and street kids steal his car. As he takes the bus home, he begins to wonder who will help the street children. Three years later, Charles is still thinking about those street kids. He struggles with God to better understand what he should do, until he finally realizes he needs to use all his resources to help these children.

Charles tells his family that God is calling him to help street children in Kenya and sell all his businesses. Despite their doubts, Charles sells his businesses and many of his possessions. The week of his decision, he gives three street kids a home. He allows others to stay in an old shed on his church’s property. There, he feeds and educates some of them.

Charles invites about 20 of them to church, but an elder asks them to leave. Later, the church board tells Charles to stop bringing street kids to church property.

Charles moves the kids to his home in Eldoret. Charles and the children work hard, building small huts for classrooms, kitchens and places for the kids to stay. Within two years, Charles’ personal money is gone. Sixty-two staff members work for Charles’ ministry, which is known as Mulli Children’s Family (MCF). Esther realizes they only have enough food for one day and no money to buy more. After they pray, a woman brings food and money for the ministry, saying that God told her to load a truck with food for them. Anytime food, money or resources are needed for the children, God provides.

They move the children to Ndalani, to land they’d bought for their retirement. Charles, Esther and their hundreds of children begin to build what they need to live there.

Charles is told that he is a diabetic and must slow down for the sake of his health. He chooses to continue the work of the ministry. After some difficulty, Charles registers to teach high school and builds the school building on Ndalani property. The kids who go to his school are successful, and the school ranks among the best in the nation. When MCF struggles to acquire clean water, God leads Charles to an underground well, something unheard of in the area. MCFs’ garden expands, and they begin to export crops to Europe. A home for young mothers is also added.

When Kenya erupts into violence after a presidential election, MCF assists those affected. The Mulli family brings a 65-member team from MCF to help the people who were traumatized by acts of violence. Charles and Esther house 250 additional children because of the violence.

God continues to bless MCF, and Charles helps those who live in the town near his now self-sustaining facility with water and food. He also starts a project to help the environment in Kenya, growing hundreds of thousands of trees and giving away 1 million saplings a year.

Daudi, Charles’s father, becomes ill with cancer. Daudi gives Charles his blessing and tells him to continue his good works. Charles reflects on his father’s transformation from an alcoholic to a respected Christian man. After Daudi passes away, over 3,000 people attend his funeral. Charles continues to run MCF with his family.

Christian Beliefs

After Charles accepts Christ, Christianity and faith in God guide his actions, including his decision to help street children. Charles and other Christians often sing hymns, quote Bible verses and pray.

Miracles occur at several points in the story. Charles visits a witch doctor to show his father that God is stronger than superstition. The witch doctor seems visibly disturbed when Charles prays. When Charles visits the witch doctor a second time, the witch doctor’s hut explodes.

After Charles decides to spend his life serving street kids, he feels God’s peace. When Charles and Esther have no food or money, they pray for help. The next day they receive food and money from a woman who felt God leading her to give.

God provides several more times when MCF is in need. Charles also hears a voice leading him to a spot to find clean water when his ministry needs it. Various churches are mentioned. Although one church turns away Charles and the children, Charles regularly attends church and is also an elder.

Other Belief Systems

Some of Charles’ non-Christian family members are superstitious and believe in ancestor worship. Charles’ father prays to a hen so that his ancestors would hear, bless and guide him to what he should do next. Charles’s mother brings Esther a red cloth from a witch doctor and tells her to sleep on it to have healthy babies, but Esther refuses. Charles visits a witch doctor with his father in order to show his father that God is stronger. The witch doctor has no power over Charles.

Authority Roles

Charles’ father, Daudi, is an alcoholic. He is abusive and takes advantage of Charles’ financial success. Daudi is later redeemed and dies a respected Christian man. Other members of Charles’ family, including his uncles, don’t take him in when he is in need.

Charles’ mother stays with her husband even after he abuses her. A policeman appears briefly in the story. The book says that many of the police in Kenya are callous and abusive toward children. Despite this, the officer Charles meets helps him find his parents.

The elders in Charles’ church don’t allow the orphaned children to attend services and ask Charles to remove the street children from their church’s property.

Profanity & Violence

Daudi beats his wife and children through much of the story. The injuries caused by these beatings are described in detail, especially those that Charles’ mother received. Many of the children that Charles takes in have histories of abuse. Charles’ mother can’t hold on to the baby and drops the child into the cooking fire as her husband beats her. The baby is burned.

When Kenya erupts in war, violence occurs. Fifty unarmed women and children are burned to death in a church. The police shoot people in the streets. Mobs check peoples’ IDs, and those who don’t belong to their tribe are killed with machetes. Charles travels through a war-torn area and sees corpses, but they are not described in graphic detail. He also sees a soldier with a bloody machete.

Sexual Content

It is implied that one of the children that Charles takes care of was sexually abused. She states that when she on the streets men abused her. Many of the street children he takes in were prostitutes.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

Drugs and alcohol: Charles’s father is an alcoholic, and some of the street children buy cheap alcohol. Some street kids sniff glue to get high.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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