Eagle Scout discusses journey from Chinese orphanage to Scouting’s highest honor

When an orphan in China turns 14, he or she is no longer eligible for international adoption.

Caleb Powell was 13 years and 11 months old when he asked God for a family to welcome him into their lives.

“I was praying on my bed one night and talking to God,” Caleb said. “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, Caleb’s prayer was answered. He returned from school that day to meet his new parents and begin the journey to a place in the United States called Arkansas.

Four years later, Caleb recounted this story at his Eagle Scout court of honor. Butch Walker, development director of the Quapaw Area Council and Caleb’s Scoutmaster, wrote about Caleb’s story on his council’s website. Walker agreed to let me retell the story here.

While Caleb’s journey to Scouting’s highest honor was arduous, the young man told the crowd it was worth it. He says Scouting, especially the time he spent as senior patrol leader, changed his life.

“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,” Caleb said. “Don’t be afraid.”

The tough road ahead

Four years ago, Caleb boarded a plane with his parents, Art and Jen Powell. They were headed for Little Rock, Ark. 

Caleb was just 4 feet tall and 68 pounds. He didn’t know any English. He was born with a cleft palate, meaning numerous surgeries were in his future.

Everything about the United States was new and different and rather strange. But there was one place he felt comfortable right away: his brother’s Scout troop.

Caleb was nervous going into his first meeting of Troop 99. But then an Eagle Scout named Schuyler walked up to him.

“Hi,” Schuyler said.

“Hi,” Caleb said.

“How are you?” Schuyler asked.

“I’m good, how about you?” Caleb said.

The conversation pretty much ended there because, Caleb said, “that was all the English I knew.” 

A new home

That brief conversation proved to Caleb he belonged.

“I knew there was something so different about him and the other boys there,” Caleb told the court of honor crowd. “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, Caleb went home. He told his mom how much fun he had at Scouts.

“That’s when I made my decision that, someday, I wanted to be an Eagle Scout, too,” Caleb said. “I wanted to be like Schuyler because he was so nice to me. I wanted to be nice to other people too.”

For his Eagle Scout service project, Caleb helped mitigate erosion at his church. He created a drain to redirect water beneath a footpath in a couple of different locations.

A lesson in leadership

Caleb’s toughest challenge wasn’t adapting to American food, even though some of his fellow Scouts’ cooking was “the most disgusting food I had ever eaten.” We’ve all experienced a bad camp meal or two, Caleb!

Caleb’s toughest challenge was when he was elected senior patrol leader.

“Leading a large troop of 50-plus boys is a difficult task for anyone, let alone someone who had only started learning English three years before,” said Walker, Caleb’s Scoutmaster. “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.”

In his speech, Caleb shared that he had one big regret about Scouting. He said sometimes he wondered what would happen if he had even more time in Troop 99. The four years were great but not nearly enough, he said.

“I think I could do so much more than this, but this is God’s plan for me,” Caleb said. “I am so grateful for what he has done.”


Thanks to Butch Walker for the blog post idea. You can read Walker’s original story here.