James and Herman

James Colten was born in Winfield, Illinois.  He was raised in Wheaton, Illinois.  He likes to play Frisbee, pole-vault, and he enjoys playing the piano and saxophone.  James isn’t sure what he wants to be when he grows up, but he enjoys history and sociology.  He is currently employed by Sojourners where he thinks and writes and lives for important issues. 

Herman Goza was born in Kampala, Uganda, to parents who both had AIDS.  His parents died when Herman was young, and he went to live with his uncle.  His uncle worked hard.  He was torn between caring for his nephew and the family’s immediate needs.  Herman’s aunt was torn too.  But she didn’t want to raise Herman.  She was torn, but she couldn’t raise Herman.   

So Herman left. Herman was asked to leave.  At seven, Herman was asked to leave. 

Herman lived on the streets, and he was seven.  So he stole.  He would steal from food vendors and restaurants.  But somehow, Herman knew that it was wrong to steal and that he could get caught.  He was afraid. 

Herman was seven and he was afraid. 

Herman was living on the streets, stealing, fearing.  Patrick found Herman and invited him to come and live at the orphanage with the rest of the kids.




After growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, James went to Hope College.  He and I lived at 248 W. 20th  street.  He spent long hours in Lubbers Hall preparing for Model United Nations, and he spent his summer working the grounds for the college. After college, he got an internship at Sojourners in Washington D.C. which is great.  He gets paid $100 per month.  James also sponsors Herman.  James sends $345 each year to Herman-29% of his annual salary. 


I remember this-I am sitting on the blue area rug leaning back against the jean-covered couch, playing video games.  James steps into the kitchen doorway. He says that he has a question about the sponsorship.  I press start and Mario freezes mid-kick.  I look up at James, “yea sure, what’s up?”

James is torn.  “So the sponsorship is $115? Is that due soon?”

I see the squint in James’ eyes, hear the unsure hesitance in his voice.  “Yea, I mean, we’re hoping to send the money in a week or two. But ummm…if you don’t have the money this term, that’s probably fine.  We would probably be able to make the money up somewhere.”

James mumbles something I can’t hear, and steps back into the kitchen. 

A week later, a check is tacked to our house bulletin board- To: Beautiful Response Amount: $115  Memo: Herman’s Sponsorship.  James was torn.  But he wrote that check for Herman.



Herman has AIDS.  It is his death sentence.  He will die from AIDS.  Most orphans with AIDS don’t make it long.  Most orphans with AIDS die quickly.  A while ago, Herman took a turn for the worse.  He was not able to go to school.  I told James that Herman wasn’t doing well and he was torn and helpless.  Because in some strange way, James loves Herman.  And Herman suffering from and dying from AIDS is not so far from us.  It is close to us. 

And we don’t like using possessive language.  It is not our orphanage, and Herman is not his child. 

But we are Herman’s family, his people, and he is our brother, our son.  In a very odd yet real way, Herman is ours, and we are his.  So when Herman is dying from AIDS it hurts, it really hurts.


This morning, Patrick called Sonja and me on Skype.  He gave us updates on the children.  He told us that Herman, Herman that we love, was doing much better.  They were able to bring Herman to a good medical center where he received more treatment.  Herman is doing really well. Patrick also told us that Herman got his school exam grades back.  Herman is ranked second in his class of 60 despite missing class often due to his illness. 

Recently, I looked back at Herman’s profile, to remember his story better.  He wants to be a doctor.  Herman wants to be a doctor.

Herman has AIDS, he is an orphan.  What are the odds that Herman will get to be a doctor?

I texted James and told him that Herman was doing better, that he was 2nd in his class.


Awesome.  That is great news.  When can I write him a letter?