Kenneth’s first half career was in the retirement housing industry. He also operated a highly successful tea company in San Francisco, where the substantial profits from his company are invested in meeting the deepest needs of others, not his own comfort or material gain. Profits from the company have helped American families adopt Chinese children.
A picture can indeed speak a thousand words, but for Kenneth, it was the words on a poster featuring the photo of a young Chinese girl that spoke to his very soul: “Priority – A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
A native of the Shantou, Guang Dong province of China, Kenneth understands more than most the meaning behind that message. Political oppression forced his mother to send him to live with relatives in Hong Kong, where he struggled with language and cultural differences, as well as heart-wrenching homesickness. What 11-year-old wouldn’t be homesick?
Fortunately, caring neighbors reached out to boost him over the language hurdle and bridge the gap of his parent-less childhood. “I learned early on in life that it is so important for someone to give you a helping hand if you don’t have help from a family member,” says Kenneth.
Several years later, an equally caring teacher started Kenneth on a spiritual journey. As he matured in his faith, one thing was certain: He wanted to help others as his way of giving back. He prayerfully contemplated a career in ministry or social work. “But God had different plans for my life,” he says. “He led me to San Francisco, not into social work, but into business – and He expanded my influence far beyond what I could have ever imagined.”
That business – a highly successful tea company – operates with an unwritten contract with God. “When I started the business,” he says, “I told my Lord that I wanted to serve Him. ‘This is your business. I am just your steward to manage it for you.’ That unwritten contract guides how I treat my employees – and how I use the funds the business generates.”
The substantial profits his company generates are invested in meeting the deepest needs of others, not his own comfort or material gain.
He first began by using profits to help hundreds of American families adopt Chinese children when no agency in America knew how to go about it. In 1993, Kenneth and his wife also adopted a Chinese baby, Melissa Joy.
On the day I met Kenneth, I asked him about his work with orphans. His eyes lit up and he simply said, “Would you like to see my photos? We built an orphanage in China.” He reached down and pulled out a dog-eared little photo album and began to show me the most compelling shots of an orphanage for 100 little children, all of them disabled. Page 7 was a photo of him holding a little girl, and I was captivated by the smile on his face. “Who is this little girl,” I asked, “and why are you smiling like that?” He told me her name and said, “I just paid to have her heart repaired. Without that, she would have been disposable.”
In China, where baby girls are often abandoned, the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child is great – so great that in 1995 Kenneth began an endeavor that took eight years to bring to fruition.
Considered an embarrassment to their families, the mentally and physically handicapped of China often are thrown into garbage bins. Burdened to make a home for these unwanted children, Kenneth negotiated patiently with the Chinese government. In November 2003, the Prince of Peace Children’s Home (POPCH), located in the Wuqing district of Tianjin, opened its doors. Funded by the Prince of Peace Foundation and World Vision International as a joint venture with the Civil Affairs Bureau of Wuqing, the facility accommodates 100 mentally and physically handicapped children under age 6 and provides rehabilitation services to other disabled children in the province.
The home set a miraculous precedent in China: For the first time in history, the government had allowed a foreign organization to build, staff and manage an orphanage.
Today, highly trained staff and caring volunteers lovingly embrace children once viewed as society’s trash – and they teach others to do the same.“I told the Chinese officials that we would not only build and manage the orphanage, but we would also set up a training center to help caretakers from other orphanages in China,” Kenneth says. “What the Chinese government really needs is to see a model that an overseas Christian organization can come in and build this type of thing with love and care. I told the officials that God has loved us, and we want to share our love with the children in China. They accepted that. They even allowed us to engrave a Bible verse on the cornerstone of the building.”
While he was going through the Halftime Institute, Kenneth’s Halftime Coach asked him if he left any other passions behind during his first-half pursuit of success. After just a few seconds he said, “Well, yes, there is. I am very good at photography. I love photography, but about 15 years ago I gave it up because my business was growing and my family was busy.”
Kenneth shared with his peers a plan for his second half of life. “I came to this day thinking I would sell my business and go to seminary and go into ministry,” he said, “But I’m a tea guy – this is what I do and I am good at it and I make a lot of money doing it. So instead, I am going to hire someone to take some of my responsibilities in my company, and I will go and capture the most compelling photos of disabled orphans in China to challenge others to help fund orphanages for these children – we’ll even print them on the back of the tea packages we sell around the world. And I will go and ensure they are run well.”
And that is what he is doing. In fact, these are his photographs and they represent the convergence of his passions: Tea company profits, compelling photographs, and disabled orphans who know everyday that someone loves them dearly. He recently won a prestigious award by the Chinese government for outstanding charitable organizations – the first non-Chinese citizen to receive the award.
Kenneth put it this way: “If I can help change the fate of a needy child, I’d rather do that than have all the world’s luxury.”