The soon-to-release film Mully tells the real-life tale of Charles Mully, an abandoned child of Kenya’s streets turned business magnate. He and his family had come to know all the lavish trappings of success. But in a dramatic turn, Mully senses God calling them away from privilege and power, to give themselves instead to the children of Kenya’s streets.

What results is the kind of story that can set your soul quaking, wondering if you could ever live with such faith…and what comforts would be forgotten and adventures found if you did.

This is the kind of faith we may not actually desire. It is not the soft-edged reassurance that makes us feel cozy on a frosty day. This kind of faith takes shape as one grapples with questions we wish we’d not been asked. It’s about forks in the road and bridges burned and stories of much-lost and much-gained.

Like any good story, Mully offers as many questions as answers. One cannot help asking if many of Charles Mully’s decisions were not rash or even reckless. Yes, faith often takes us beyond what makes sense to a world guided by materialism and self-interest. But even the boldest acts of faith must be guided by wisdom. Some of Mully’s dramatic choices seem to meet that test; some do not.

For example, the ways Mully shifted the family’s financial priorities, from self-indulgence to the care of street children, may have violated the world’s definition of success…but doing so clearly reflected the call of Scripture and the way of Christ. It would be harder to say the same for some of Mully’s other choices – including seasons when his passion to serve street children left his wife exhausted and his children with little attention or affection from their own father.

At the same time, I tremble at the thought of making such judgments while perched on a soft chair. Human nature has a dangerous capacity to deflect its own inaction by pointing out flaws in those who do act.

Human nature has a dangerous capacity to deflect its own inaction by pointing out flaws in those who do act.

This same tension applies to many aspects of the ways Mully sought to serve street children. In the film, when children are taken into care, we see little of the careful assessment that is so important to understanding each child’s unique story and needs. We also did not see if efforts were regularly made to trace whether children might be able to reunify with their parents or relatives.

Perhaps most significantly, the beauty of Mully’s story might obscure a critical reality affirmed by both Scripture and social science: the best place for a child is a family. Even a very caring group environment can’t fully replace the unique love, nurture and belonging of family.  In our broken world, solutions other than permanent family are sometimes the very best we can do.  But wisdom and love call us to press as close to that ideal as is possible for each child.

Certainly, we can say that every one of the children in Mully’s care is far better off than on the streets. And this fact must not be taken lightly. Yet there is also a place for thoughtful questions like, “How might we improve the ways we serve within our limited resources?” or “How can we move closer to the ideal of family for as many children as possible?

As we ask questions like this, we can simultaneously affirm the faith, love and sacrifice of servant-leaders like the Mully family…while also laboring together to grow our understanding and wise practice.

[To learn more about how churches and individuals can think through their strategies for wise support of care for vulnerable children worldwide, see the recent CAFO e-book, “Global Engagement and the Church” and the accompanying webinar, “Is Our Church Helping or Hurting?”]

As significant as these matters are, however, something even more important must be said. Because Mully’s biggest gift is not the debates it will stir over effective care and best practice. And if we were to focus our attentions solely there, I suspect we’d likely miss the invitation that each of us most need to hear.

Because the ultimate question of Mully isn’t about children in Kenya. Nor is it about best practice in orphan care. It’s about how we will respond to the children that God brings to our attention, wherever that may be. And often this will include an invitation to open our hearts, and sometimes even our homes, to vulnerable boys and girls in our own cities and towns – as Charles Mully and his family did in Kenya.

The details of our story likely won’t mirror those of the Mully family. Nor should they. But if we can live with just a fraction of their faith, I suspect we won’t regret it. No doubt, there will be many forks in the road and bridges burned and stories of much lost and much gained. But we’ll come to the end having lived a life well worth living, just as Mully has.