[dropcap3]“I[/dropcap3]n the summer of 1992, while still on a two-month mission trip in Kenya, I was praying and asking God for direction for my life. I was 22 and went to Kenya to say to God that I was willing to serve Him anywhere far or near,” says Sam Harrell about the time he calls “the beginning of God’s detour.” He needed a job to help his family. He needed to know whether he should continue his studies at Temple University or pursue the Bible degree he longed for.
Upon his return to the States, he found that God had been laying the pieces into place in his absence. A woman in his church had a job opportunity, assisting the Community Impact Institute to train Philadelphia churches in nonprofit organizational development. His first assignment was to interview pastors and church leaders all over Philadelphia about their work in community service in order to develop a directory of church-based community service programs. “For the next couple of months I interviewed churches. I had no idea they were so involved in their neighborhoods and in so many ways – simple and complex. Some churches did after school tutoring and homework help. Some churches had entire Christian schools. Churches were offering transitional housing, homeless shelters, drug rehab centers, help for ex-prisoners, counseling, music and arts, camps, etc. Many of these efforts were being conducted out of the sole resources of the church budgets and many were the life-lines of their communities. Churches also did this work as an expression of love for Jesus Christ and as a witness to others of His love for them. I was blown away.”
About that time Sam heard about Cairn’s Degree Completion program on the radio. He enrolled, and found that the program fit him perfectly. “The experience of completing my degree in a defined period with a cohort of others for the journey was wonderful. It fostered community. The instruction was excellent. We were taught how to study the Bible, my reason for coming to Cairn. We learned ways to become more effective in our ministry and I felt safe that I was being instructed in a place of sound biblical doctrine tradition.”
While much of his social experience during his time at Cairn was centered on work and his studies, Sam connected with his Degree Completion classmates as well as traditional students. “One such friend, (now Dr.) David Thomas, introduced me to my wife one afternoon in the school cafeteria. She is from Kenya, and I had just spent two months in Kenya on a short-term missions project gaining a heart for her people, seeking God’s plan for world evangelism, and my role in that plan. Cairn offered opportunities for traditional students to do ministry in Philadelphia, where I lived, so Rhodah did so every Friday night at a ministry to more than 45 children in South Philadelphia called Agape Community Outreach – led by two other Cairn grads. Though not a traditional student, I soon followed and for the next few years, Rhodah taught Swahili while I taught Bible to the children.”
Sam and Rhodah married in 1999, by which time Sam was director of the Community Impact Institute. Through his work there, he became a nonprofit expert. In the years since then, God has taken Sam and Rhodah on an incredible journey. From one organization to the next, one agency to another, at both the local, state, and national levels, Sam has been actively involved in working with community development. He has worked to build bridges between community leaders and faith leaders to partner for community benefit. He has worked with foundations that help churches and ministries build their organizational capacity to become more sustainable. He provided leadership, working in five cities, on a major social policy agenda for President Bush regarding what organizations and municipalities were doing to help ex-offenders reintegrate successfully back into society.
In 2008, with the birth of their youngest daughter, Rhodah and Sam faced a new journey of faith. “Gracie’s birth came with significant life-threatening challenges and a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Gracie is a blessing and is healthy and strong today, but she has come a very long way from months spent in the hospital and our family with many sleepless nights. Through this, my wife only solidified herself in my mind and heart as my hero and God as our faithful loving Lord!”
Sam left the national stage in 2006 and went to work in the City of Philadelphia, working in two different organizations. This year, “As if to come full circle after 20 years, the Lord opened up the door for me to come and serve as Director of Programs and Compliance at Capstone Legacy Foundation – the only Christian community foundation in a top-tier city in the Eastern United States. Capstone was created by Christians for Christians with a heart to spur increased giving to the kingdom of God and to see Christians achieve increased unity. At Capstone, I have been able to re-establish the long-missed and very needed Community Impact Institute. Today, I am serving a whole new generation of church leaders on how to have nonprofit excellence and make greater community and kingdom impact. Only, now God has equipped me with so much to be a help to the ministries we are blessed to serve.”
Through every step, Sam has seen the hand of God and the preparation he received at Cairn as instrumental. “My career has been defined by nonprofit capacity-building in ways that inspire, instruct, inform and invest in nonprofit leaders working on community betterment. Cairn gave me tools in leadership and Bible training that have served to set expectations of me as a Christian in the work place and, when given audience on things spiritual, to represent the Lord with solid Bible training backing me up.”
And Kenya, that place where God began his detour of Sam’s life? “When I left Kenya 20 years ago I felt God tugging at my heart that Kenya was what I was called to. So, I went to Cairn to get training. Upon arrival at Cairn, I met Rhodah – my dear wife who is from Kenya! Today, I am considered a pastor in the Kenyan community and lead a precious Bible-study in New Castle, DE, where we live. People are getting saved and eager to learn God’s Word. I trust God has our return to Kenya in His plans for us someday. And as always, we will simply follow where He leads!”
[framed_box]Sam Harrell and his wife, Rhodah (Kipyab) ’96 work together under God’s leadership to raise their children, Christopher David Kiplagat Harrell (12); Christen-Hope Chelagat Harrell (8) and Christie-Grace Cherop Harrell (4), in Christ.