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October 26, 2011

The Hendersons: Party of eight

David and Mendy Henderson of University City Fellowship.

Although it is not possible to know all of the plans and details of the future, each decision directly affects the journey. Eleven years ago, David and Mendy Henderson came to Charlotte with plans to start a church in the University area. Although a major change for the young couple, with two small children and one on the way, the process of moving and launching the church was only the beginning of a very exciting journey for this family. October 2000 marked the inception of University City Fellowship, with David Henderson as pastor. The intention and focus of the church was and is mission, reaching people locally and globally. David’s mantra is “love loud, risk often, hope always.” UCFellowship focused on making an impact on the community by loving and serving its neighbors in amazing ways, producing steady growth for the church. The Henderson family, with their honest friendliness and passion for service, earned respect from the Harrisburg community. Once UCFellowship was established, David felt it was time for the church to serve globally as well. He took a trip to Africa to visit ministries in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria and to target areas and projects for the church to invest in long term. It became clear that Ethiopia was the place, and after 14 months of prayer, Mendy Henderson accompanied a church team back to Ethiopia. By that time, David and Mendy were parents to four biological children, and out of her love for children, Mendy took the opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage during that trip. One afternoon, while holding children at the orphanage, Mendy realized she would someday be a mother to a child from Ethiopia. “We were not even thinking about adoption, but my experience that day forever changed our thought patterns,” says Mendy. “It is difficult to explain to others who haven’t had an experience like this. It doesn’t make sense when you tell people what you are thinking of doing.” David agrees: “Mendy and I are real people first. We are parents and no different from our friends and neighbors. However, when presented with an opportunity, we realize that it is taking the risk, or stepping out no matter how scary, that opens the door for the next opportunities.” David practices what he preaches, and in order to understand the real plight of the children and people in Ethiopia, he returned the following year. During this visit, he met three boys, ages 8, 9 and 12, whose parents had died from AIDS. The children had since been living on the streets. David took an interpreter and made the decision to stay with them overnight to experience exactly what they go through in their lives. “The stunning realization of the unimaginable lives these children live was indescribable,” says David. “That was the most unreal, real thing I have ever experienced in my life.” This experienced confirmed to the Hendersons that adoption was in their future. The overwhelming process of choosing a child began with looking through pictures from an agency, but the couple was not comfortable choosing that way. When another couple from UCFellowhip successfully adopted a child from Ethiopia, the Hendersons contacted their agency. A few Sundays later, during their church service, David and Mendy both received a phone call that the agency had 4-year-old twins available for adoption. On the way home from church, they each felt a burning in their hearts for these children and knew assuredly that they were the children for their family. However, what about the exorbitant cost of the adoption? This was just another opportunity for faith, according to David. They learned that the twins were from a remote island, Zadecha, measuring only one mile by two miles. The Hendersons took a flight and slow boat trip to meet these children on their island. The Hendersons bonded with the children instantly and promised that the next time they saw each other, the Hendersons would not leave them. This commitment and risk allowed a miracle; a complete stranger provided the finances necessary for the adoptions. The Ethiopian court date for adoption was set for June 2010, but the embassy court date was seven weeks after that. The Hendersons made the decision to take their four biological children with them to stay in Ethiopia with their two adopted children between the two court dates. The family lived in an orphanage home for the seven weeks and began the process of bonding as a family of eight. “This obstacle became the single best opportunity we had as a family. The time spent there allowed our children to experience the lives their new siblings were leaving and for a slower, easier transition for the twins to the life they were coming to,” says Mendy. They also visited Zadecha Island and met the twins’ biological mother, six other siblings and extended family. Finally, on August 8, 2010, the Hendersons returned to North Carolina with their twins. Their son, Geremew (whose name means to be awed or surprised) and their daughter Tizita (to remember) became Garrett and Tia Henderson. The family does remain “awed and surprised” and does “remember” God’s faithfulness through this process. Every day since their arrival, the children have been adjusting to the language and school. They’ve also adjusted to new experiences like having toys and clothes that fit and eating at a table. The older children enveloped them, and the church family and community reached out and helped every step of the way. Even at such a young age, Garrett frequently mentioned the difficult life of his mother and family back on the island. He remained concerned about their well-being and prayed that they could have clean water someday as he now did. Upon hearing his plea, friends of the Hendersons set up Garrett’s Heart, a foundation to raise awareness and funds to provide clean water for Zadecha Island. Garrett’s first teacher at Harrisburg Elementary took the initiative to involve the first grade students in the fundraising process. Mendy told the students at Harrisburg about life on the island and the difficult living conditions. As a result, the students chose to give up one or more weeks of ice cream money and collect spare change for the cause. They ultimately donated over $2,000, enough to begin installation of a clean water well for Garrett’s family. UCFellowship remains committed to orphans; at least five church families have adopted children and six more are in the process. “I never planned for the church to be only for the plight of the orphan, but for all people. It doesn’t matter what the cost; let our hearts break for the things that break God’s heart – this includes the outcast of any type,” says David. There are over 700 children waiting to be adopted in North Carolina alone. David believes that if one family in every church in North Carolina adopted a child, we would have families waiting for children rather than children waiting for families. Again, this knowledge produces opportunity, according to David. “Every single step we take into an opportunity opens the way for the next opportunity. If we had not taken each of the steps we did, we would not have our family of eight, and we can’t imagine our life without these children and the joy and blessing they have brought our family.” To learn more about adoption in North Carolina, visit or To contribute to Garrett's Heart, visit

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