Like most new Eagle Scouts, Caleb Powell and his family were very proud as he received his Eagle award at his Court of Honor. Smiles and congratulations filled the room and pictures aplenty were taken, but for Caleb, the trail to Eagle was unusual. Only four years earlier, he was in an orphanage in China and the clock was running out.
“In China there’s a rule that says that when you turn 14 you cannot be adopted anymore,” Caleb explained to the people gathered at his ceremony. After turning 13, “six months passed by and, the next thing you know, another five. I knew I only had one more month before I turned 14.” Though visits from Christian missionaries had given him hope, now that hope was fading.
“A couple of weeks later I was praying on my bed one night and talking to God. I was saying, ‘I know I haven’t talked you in a long time, but if you love me like (the missionaries) say, would you please give me a family because I’m really not sure what I will do when I grow up if you don’t, and time is running out.’”
Three days later, everything changed. Caleb returned to the orphanage from school to news that a family had arrived to adopt him. “I was so happy! I was crying that night on my bed and thanking God for giving me a family.” Before he knew it, he was traveling to Little Rock, Arkansas with his new parents, Art and Jen Powell, but the road ahead was still tough.
At 14, Caleb was only 4 feet tall and 68 pounds and he didn’t know any English. Born with a cleft palette, he would face numerous surgeries in the coming years. Everything was strange and difficult yet, pretty quickly, he found a place that was comfortable: his brother’s Boy Scout troop.
Caleb recounted, “The first night at Troop 99 I was super nervous but an Eagle Scout named Schuyler came up to me and said, ‘Hi.’ I said ‘Hi’ back. Then he asked me, ‘how are you’ and I said, ‘I’m good, how about you?’ That was it. That was all the English I knew!”
“While I was talking to him,” Caleb continued, “I knew there was something so different about him and the other boys there. As they were heading outside to play a game, Schuyler and some other scouts came up and invited me to play with them. That was when the older scouts learned that I was a fast little guy, and that’s when I started liking Boy Scouts.”
“That night when I came home I was telling my mom all the fun that I had at Scouts. That’s when I made my decision that someday I wanted to be an Eagle Scout too. I wanted to be like Schuyler because he was so nice to me. I wanted to be nice to other people too. So I joined the troop and my dad and brother Zach helped me.”
Caleb remembers that learning to eat American food was challenging, but there was one kind of food that was particularly hard. “I will never forget that I thought boy scout food was the most disgusting food I had ever eaten! I also will never forget how awesome it was to eat with the Papa patrol. They have the best meals on all the campouts!”
But among Caleb’s biggest and most rewarding challenges was when he was elected Senior Patrol Leader of his troop. His scoutmaster said, “Leading a large troop of 50+ boys is a difficult task for anyone, let alone someone who had only started learning English 3 years before. But Caleb was elected because all the boys knew that he genuinely cared for them and wanted to help them succeed. I think he learned that from the older boys that had helped him. Caleb being elected made me very proud of Caleb and of our troop.”
As Caleb concluded his Eagle Scout speech, he turned to the younger scouts one more time. “I would like to say to those younger scouts and to my younger brothers, trust in God that He has an awesome plan for you. Be yourself. Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up, you can do it! Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I still had another four years in Scouting. I think I could do so much more than this, but this is God’s plan for me. I am so grateful for what He has done!”