“What’s in a name?”  That question is from one of the most quoted passages of Shakespeare’s works.  We tend to put a lot of emphasis on names.  It’s often the first thing people know about us and is usually the most important way we are identified.  

When people say my name, they’re probably not thinking “kind, gentle, handsome,” the literal meaning, as much as I might wish.  More likely they see what my name represents to them – husband, father, son, brother, coworker, neighbor.  But what if I had no name at all?  Let me share with you about a boy with no name.

Last July I was traveling with my wife, Kim, and a small team on the annual CRF summer trip to Kenya.  At the Neema Centre, a children’s home in Rongo, our director Lawrence Ngoje introduced us to a young boy, about four years old, called Okoyo. Called… not named. In Kenyan culture, names are a story in themselves–tribe, parents, when and where one was born, under what conditions, and even what the weather was like at birth!  Knowing this, I asked Lawrence what Okoyo meant.  He told me it didn’t have a meaning.  It’s just what Okoyo told them when he was found one night abandoned by the side of the road.  In fact, that was his answer for every question, so that’s what he was called.  

Okoyo was taken to the County Children Department.  Announcements were made over radio, in print and at public gatherings and events.  Nobody claimed Okoyo.  Weeks past, still no one came.  The government determined his was no longer a possible case of displacement but of abandonment.  Okoyo had no home, no family, no name.

But God knew where Okoyo needed to be, and so did the local authorities.  They’d already taken a number of abused, neglected and forgotten children to the Neema Centre.  They knew Okoyo would be cared for by a loving staff and surrounded by children who would accept him as part of their large family.

As we finished our lunch, Lawrence told me since Okoyo was now considered to be abandoned, the Centre had the legal right and responsibility to give him a name.  And Lawrence asked that I give him a name before we departed later in the afternoon!   As the room cleared, I stayed behind and began to pray for clarity and the right name – quickly! 

My thoughts were drawn to that stranger who saw Okoyo beside the road and took him to safety; to the authorities who tried to identify him; and to Lawrence and the Neema Centre family. Okoyo wouldn’t be where he was without a Father who was watching, a Father who knew his name, a Father who gave him strength. Okoyo had been forgotten, rejected and abandoned by earthly relatives for reasons we may never know.  But he was loved and redeemed by a heavenly Father.  God was his strength, God is his strength and God will be his strength.  Okoyo, your name is Gabriel, because God is your strength!

Lawrence told me the night after we left, Gabriel made it clear to the others at the Centre he was to be called by his new name.   Gabriel came to Neema a frail, frightened and forgotten boy, but he is now thriving.  He has a home, a family, a sponsor and a name.  And I believe as he grows, he will tell the story of a Father who knew his name and gave him strength because “If God is for us, who can be against us?”