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Glen Miller: Every Man’s Uncle Steve Adams

Suppose you were to pick up a device that held random snapshots of Glen Miller’s life, and suppose you turn it on and press play, here’s what you’d see. It’s sunday morning and the people are coming out of second service at church. You see them start gathering into circles, and some stand alone or in pairs. Then one man catches your eye, his hair tells you he is getting older, but his demeanor and his energy tell a different story. He bounces from person to person, and group to group, meeting, greeting, catching up, sharing and listening to stories. Sooner than you know it, he’s talked to everyone you can see and yet he’s still shaking hands and making people feel welcome. You see his eyes glance around looking for more people to greet, he spots someone he doesn’t recognise and heads over. “Hi, what’s your name?” he asks “I’m Emmanuel” says the man. He responds by introducing himself, and faster than you can say “extroverted” they have become friends. The device moves on to the next snapshot. For the sake of time in this essay, the device you are holding suddenly blows up and you decide that the best way to learn about him now is to read this paper that has conveniently fallen into your hands. Who is Glen Miller? This man is many things, but at heart, he is a man of action. Everything he preaches, he puts into practice to the best of his abilities. Helping those in need is an instinct


shared by everyone that I have ever met. No one I know could honestly say that they are opposed to helping people who need it. Not everyone, however, goes as far as Glen Miller. Glen, fueled by a deep set compassion and a strong faith, has turned himself and his God into a pillar of hope for everyone he meets, and even those beyond his personal knowledge through his organization called Hands of Hope, and through his pastoring. Truly, this world would be a bleaker place without him. Glen was born on September 24, 1943. The family he was born into wasn’t particularly rich or poor, but they were rural. He grew up on a big farm with a river running through it. As a child, he learned to do many different farm things. He also greatly enjoyed fishing in the river. He was an active boy, and competitive from a young age. As he got into high school he developed an appreciation and a real talent for basketball. As a student in college he met his to-be wife Patty at a basketball game he was playing in. He didn’t really know her, but being the extrovert he is, he called her and asked her on a date anyway. They eventually got married. At thirty years old Glen had a major perspective shift: he became a Christian. Soon after, he went on a trip to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt to play basketball and share his faith. It was on this trip that he really found a passion for the latter. He went on to go on mission trips to more than twenty countries. What some might consider his crowning achievement is his founding of Hands of Hope, an organization that helps AIDS children and orphans in Zimbabwe. He also pastors at Valley Church in Cupertino. Now he works with Hands of Hope half the year in Zimbabwe, and spends the other half serving the church and the community. In 1974, the life of Glen Miller would be changed forever. He had been working as a basketball coach at Santa Teresa High School when he was approached by Jack King, the head of a program called “Sports Ambassadors.” The idea behind the program was to take a team of basketball players to different countries with the predominant goal of sharing their faith and helping people. He asked Glen if he was willing to go to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt on this trip. Glen had his doubts at first, he had to raise a significant amount of money to be able to go on this trip, and it was such a commitment,


but he was delighted to be offered this oppor- dred yards out in the ocean. The scariest part is tunity and eventually accepted. Glen explained that it’s monsoon season. Visitors are told not to go to me the value of a trip like this saying in the water because drowning is a serious problem. “People say that there are three international But his courage is unabashed as he leaps into the languages: music, English, and sports. And so water. A sudden burst of adrenaline flows throw him wherever you go around the world, people want as soon as his face hits the ocean and he begins to to learn english, people love music, and people swim vigorously out. He can see the ten foot waves love sports. And so that’s a tremendous way crashing down around him, each one seeming to just to be able to make a connect[ion] with peo- barely miss hitting him. He is about three quarters of ple.” With this in mind he went to these coun- the way to the person who he can now see is a boy, tries and played basketball. The question that but he is getting very tired, the raging waters and I asked after hearing this story was “How did the waves trying to push him every which way are Glen’s faith and his experiences helping peoplewearing him down. Suddenly he sees two lifeguards affect his actions.?” And one story in particular headed their way with a life preserver. Glen realises shows how selfless he really is. in an instant that he didn’t have to come out to save The year is 1981, and Glen Miller is vacation- this boy, he didn’t have any idea that there were ing in Sri Lanka. He is playing a fairly intense lifeguards. In his tired state, he decides that he can game of table tennis with his son, Glen Jr. His just ride a wave back to the shore. No sooner were concentration is absolute, once he gets into a the lifeguards out of sight then a giant wave hits him game, he doesn’t stop. But his focus begins to and sends him hurdling down to the bottom of the shift, out towards the ocean to the right of him. ocean. He stays under for ten seconds, then fifteen He is about fifty meters from the beach and he seconds, then after what feels like is able to see along the coastline for a decent fifteen minutes he finally surfacdistance. He tries to snap back into the game, es and tries to continue swimbut his effort proves useless, he snaps out of ming towards the shore, but in table tennis mode and drops his paddle and a matter of seconds another runs towards the ocean. He wave is baring down on him. can see He takes a look at his famia pair of ly on the beach and says in a flailing weak voice “God save me”, for he hands is sure that he will die. The wave several takes him under and he blacks out. hunGlen isn’t sure what happened after that, but he remembers crying in his hotel room for two hours straight after that. Since then he has gone on many trips to different places for outreach and service, one trip in 1999 he was in the UK, and he went to a conference that spoke about helping at risk kids. There was a woman there named Phyllis Kilbourn, she spoke about the revolution in Liberia and about the horrible things that happened there. One particularly horrific story she relayed was child soldiers being forced to laugh at babies getting fed to crocodiles or they would be shot. Glen said that she had them in tears every night she spoke. This conference laid the seeds for what is arguably his greatest achievement. He, alongside his wife and a woman by the name of Franseca


Sal Gueme would go on to start Hands of Hope, in part, because of this. “What is Hands of Hope?” you might ask, here’s a little bit of background first. The year is 1997 and Glen Miller is teaching at Herari Theological college. He enters the lecture hall on his first day of the new semester. He scans the rows of faces in the seats in front of them. Several of them are familiar, but one face draws his attention. It is a middle-aged woman he has seen around, but has always assumed she was part of the staff. After class ends he approaches her and askes politely what has driven her to take college at this stage in her life. The woman, whose name is Francesca Sal Gueme responds by saying. “We can’t deal with how many orphans we have in Zimbabwe, we need more orphanages, and I want to train people to be pastors in Zimbabwe” Several years pass since this incident and Glen receives a call from Francesca. She asks him and his wife to provide the funds to purchase a property in Zimbabwe to start the orphanage. Glen just so happens to have money saved up from various preaching jobs he had been doing over the last several years, and so He and Patty agree and together, the three of them start an organization who’s purpose is to shelter and take in AIDS kids and orphans in Zimbabwe and give them an education and share the Christian faith with them. Hands of Hope operates in a different way than a standard charity organization. It works with local churches to feed and house orphans. They buy property with their funds and build orphanages and create resources for these unfortunate children in Zimbabwe. Glen told me about one the the most fulfilling times when he got to see how he helped a kid: There was a kid named Chipo that they took on when she was young. She was astute, and spiritually minded, and they loved her, Glen received an email recently with a picture of her in a cap and gown, she had graduated from university. She said in the email “Thank you Uncle Glen, I wouldn’t be where I am without you” After hearing this, I really began to understand Glen’s role in life. The people that he has helped out of desperation are like his nephews and nieces, and they literally call him “Uncle Glen” Of course, all is not always rosy when it comes to building and keeping up these orphanages. The government requires all orphanages to go through a somewhat absurd registration process that often does not get completed unless a bribe is handed over. Hands of Hope does not pay bribes, and this makes it incredibly hard to get their homes registered. Despite these challenges, Hands of Hope has recently purchased a new one hundred plus acre property in Zimbabwe that they will develop and build to house and nurture many more children. Glen says “ Some of these kids don’t even go to school. They go to a church, and they have a bridging school there. So a couple of teachers have been trained by our staff of Hands of Hope so that if indeed they get some money to go to school, or they get a uniform and can go, that they won’t be too too far behind. But this property here, we really hope that we can use it for skills training” Not only does Glen believe in educating children because education is a good thing. It is also vital because in Zimbabwe, the job market is in shambles. The unemployment rate is more than ninety percent. If the kids are going to be able to get jobs and stay off the streets as adults, they need to be ready to work. After hearing these stories I knew what a giving person he is. I asked him specifically about his motivation for the things he does. He explained to me “The motivation... is that if you see someone hungry, the


scriptures tell us in Matthew 25, feed them. If he’s thirsty give him something to drink. If he’s in prison you go and visit him. If he’s naked you do something. When you see someone, it’s like coming across an accident, if you see someone lying there in the street, you don’t just say “well, have a nice day.” You stop the bleeding, you get some help, you call 911, you do whatever needs to be done to help the person”. So what’s next for Uncle Glen? Here’s what he tells me: “I’m gonna be seventy in two days and I hope that I finish strong. Whatever time I have left on planet Earth, whether it be two weeks, two years, I don’t know, twenty years, I want to be able to finish because Paul said in 2 Timothy 2 at the end of his life ‘I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the course, I’ve kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge will reward me on the day, and not only me but all who love my appearing.’ So I want to look forward to his appearing. I want to be found faithful. I don’t want to be disqualified. I want to finish strong, it’s like in a basketball game, you can’t just play for thirty eight minutes, you’ve got to play for forty. Until the final buzzer sounds. And so I’ve got great confidence in his ability to keep me strong until the very end.”

“One of the ways that we really see hands of hope expanding is through our new property that we purchased, one hundred and thirty four acres, it has quite a bit of infrastructure. I just returned, my wife and I, from five and a half months there, and we’ve had camps for our children for like a week. Some of these kids don’t even go to school.”

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