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From deformed leg to national championship­

1.1. 2014 1,368 read

Femi Hollinger-Janzen is a blessing of God to his family, his congregation and beyond.

On Dec. 14, 1993, mission worker Lynda Hollinger-Janzen was serving at a church-based health-care center in the West African country of Benin.

In the maternity department, women would arrive well into labor, pay $3 to have their babies’ umbilical cords cut with sterile instruments, then leave a few hours later.

“Someone brought in an abandoned child,” the maternity doctor said, bursting into the room where Lynda was doing paperwork. “What are we going to do?”

“God spoke to me, ‘This baby is for you,'” Lynda says. “I wasn’t looking for a baby.”

The baby was very small, and his leg was deformed. It bent inward in a U-shape. See photo).

The baby was very small, and his leg was deformed. It bent inward in a U-shape. See photo)

Lynda, after checking with her family, took him to her home on a motorcycle taxi. So the little boy joined Lynda, Rod and two older sisters, 6-year old Mimi and 3-year-old Rachel.

“The girls were very welcoming,” Lynda says. “We had evening devotions with an Advent wreath, so it was kind of like baby Jesus came to our house.”

Rebecca Assani, a Nigerian friend, came to the house that evening. She named the baby Oluwafemi, which means, “God loves me.”

“You would not have survived if God didn’t love you,” Rebecca said to Femi.

Another older woman came and prophesied over the infant. Comparing Femi’s rescue to that of the infant Moses, she and the 13 other people who visited that evening called him Moïse.

Because there is a lot of child trafficking in Benin, Lynda and Rod let everyone know about the abandoned infant.

“We thought we would keep him for several weeks until there was an opening in an orphanage,” Lynda says.

Lynda and Rod Hollinger-Janzen in Benin in 2000 with their children (from left), Femi, Rachel and Mimi. Photo by Wayne Gehman.

Lynda and Rod Hollinger-Janzen in Benin in 2000 with their children (from left), Femi, Rachel and Mimi. Photo by Wayne Gehman

When Femi was 3 months old, Lynda and Rod connected with the birth mother, who was in jail.

“I took one look and knew she was the mother,” Lynda says. The mother identified Femi’s father as a man who had a family in another village.

When Femi was 6 months old, the Hollinger-Janzens were scheduled to return to the United States on furlough. But they had not yet adopted Femi and could not take him along.

The family often worshiped with the Universal Evangelical Church, an African Independent church that was “very Anabaptist,” according to Lynda. Friends in the church offered to keep Femi while the Hollinger-Janzens were away.

But what to do about this little boy’s deformed leg?

Lynda took Femi to a specialist who said the boy would need to be in a body cast for six months if there was to be any hope of walking. But even with the cast the outcome was uncertain.

However, Jean and Virginie Yehouenou, the church friends who offered to keep Femi, were not willing to subject the active baby to such a constraint.

“We will keep him,” they said, “but not in a body cast. We will pray, and you will see what God will do.”

Femi began walking at 10 months, and the deformity gradually disappeared.

“After four years,” Lynda says, “we did not notice it anymore. We see it as God’s intervention. A potentially huge problem was taken care of.”

Femi defends against a play from eventual 2013 champion Notre Dame in a match last fall. Photo by Everett Thomas.

Femi defends against a play from eventual 2013 champion Notre Dame in a match last fall. Photo by Everett Thomas

After Femi’s birth mother’s stint in jail, the Hollinger-Janzen family connected with her.

“She came to live with us for two and half years,” Lynda says. “She was a street kid. We thought if she experienced love she would be able to love her child. But that strategy did not work.”

When Femi was 6, the birth father signed off on Femi being adopted, and the birth mother was considered legally incapable of caring for her child. A family court judge then granted Femi’s adoption into the Hollinger-Janzen family.

The family returned to Goshen, Ind., in 2000, when Femi was 6, and connected with the Waterford Mennonite Church.

Femi attended Bethany Christian School in Goshen, where he had an outstanding soccer career: a school record 67 goals plus 23 assists in four years, named 2011 Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year and 2011 Indiana Player of the Year. In 2012, the Goshen City Council passed a resolution honoring Femi’s stellar high school career.

Today he plays forward-midfielder on the Indiana University (in Bloomington) soccer team. During Femi's first year there in 2012-2013, the IU soccer team won the national championship. Femi appeared on the cover of a March Sports Illustrated along with some other athletes.

Today he plays forward-midfielder on the Indiana University (in Bloomington) soccer team. During Femi’s first year there in 2012-2013, the IU soccer team won the national championship. Femi appeared on the cover of a March Sports Illustrated along with some other athletes

In spite of his local and regional fame, Femi remains grounded in his faith and credits his congregation and his mentor.

“Waterford Mennonite Church is a great example of what a Mennonite family can be,” Femi says. Of his mentor, Vance Weaver, he says, “I don’t know if I’d be the person I am today—with the morals ­and values I have—if it weren’t for Vance.”

Femi is what is known as a “third-culture kid,” meaning he is in a third culture from his parent’s and the one in which he grew up. But growing up in a mostly white Midwestern U.S town was not difficult.

Femi tells the children's story at his congregation, Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. Photo by Dee Birkey.

Femi tells the children’s story at his congregation, Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. Photo by Dee Birkey

“As a kid,” Femi says, “I didn’t know any difference. I don’t remember people picking on me because I am African and American.”

Now a second-year student at IU, Femi continues to play soccer and has decided to major in sports management.

Lynda works as a writer for Mennonite Mission Network, working out of the Elkhart, Ind., offices. Rod is the executive coordinator for Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, working from a Goshen office. Mimi works at Conrad Grebel University in Waterloo, Ontario, and Rachel is a registered nurse living in Dearborn, Mich.

“Femi is a blessing of God to our family, our congregation and beyond,” says Rod Hollinger-Janzen. “Out of his own personality and his experiences, including changing cultures as a child, he has been shaped into someone who warmly and deliberately accepts and welcomes everyone. With the gifts he has been given and the skills he is developing, we are excited to see where God will lead him.”

Everett J. Thomas is editor of The Mennonite.

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One Response to “From deformed leg to national championship­”

  1. Kim Koffi says:

    What a blessing to hear of this family all these years later! We have been watching Copa America and were looking up some things online about soccer players when we came across Femi’s name. He will not know me, but I met him in his young years and remember fondly the time in his life when he was jumping up and down enthusiastically saying “I’m a Hollinger-Janzen!”. I was Femi’s older sister Mimi’s first grade teacher in Benin. If you see this comment, Lynda and Rod, Warm greetings to all of you!!

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