Life in Zimbabwe, Africa, is much different than life here in good ole Chillicothe. While Don Odendaal, recalls his father hunting down lions and leopards; most Livingston County dads are busy hunting less life threatening prey like deer and turkeys.


Life in Zimbabwe, Africa, is much different than life here in good ole Chillicothe. While Don Odendaal, recalls his father hunting down lions and leopards; most Livingston County dads are busy hunting less life threatening prey like deer and turkeys. Don and his wife Lorraine originated from Zimbabwe, Africa and somehow ended up here in Chillicothe. The story of how that happened is a painful one, full of struggle, but ultimately has a happy ending... an ending that involves this amazing couple getting ready to spend their first Fourth of July as official United States citizens.  

When Don and Lorraine lived in Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) they were under colonial rule from England. African countries started revolting and soon the violence reached the Odendaals’ back yard. For protection, Don trained to be a part of the police patrol and they fortified their home the best they could.  

Don was shot at while on police patrol during an ambush about a half-mile from his home, leaving him with a leg injury from particles of a gun from the blast. While Don was hospitalized, Lorraine was rescued by the army from their home.  

Soon after, their home became ashes. Terrorists not only set fire to their home; but they also burnt up their farming equipment, sheds and crops, and even stole most of their cattle. Everything they had was lost other than a few family mementos, including Don's mother's family Bible. Not all hope was lost however; neighbors gave Don and Lorraine clothes and furniture, and helped them restore their home.  

Out from the ashes rose a more spiritual and caring version of the Odendaals than ever before. In 1987, they created a sponsorship for orphan children. These orphan children were usually surrendered due to their parents having and dying from AIDS (there was an AIDS epidemic at this time).  In Zimbabwe, it was expected that the children stay with extended family members after their parents die; however, poverty made that difficult.  This program helped supplement the family's income, making it possible for children to stay with family.

Twelve years later, after waiting for government registration papers, they opened two orphanages, housing 12 children each. These orphanages, along with 18 churches the Odendaals helped establish in Zimbabwe, and more than 300 churches they helped start in Mozambique are still thriving today.  

Despite these good-doings, their struggles continued. These struggles included: being ostracized by their families and friends, Native Americans being distrusting of their presence, and their crops and cattle being stolen on a regular basis. The Odendaals had to learn to live poor; but despite their personal struggles, they still helped other families with their struggles as well. In the year 2000 they woke up to find thousands of people in their backyard, that had literally moved in overnight; all of these families in need of food, clothes, and guidance. They were helping more than 240 families on a farm that could hold only about 50.  

Meanwhile, threats continued for the Odendaals. Soon their two sons, one living in England and the other in North Carolina, approached them and strongly urged them to move to the United States for their own safety. In 2005, after much prayer and soul-searching, the Odendaals moved to the United States.  

The United States is a big place; therefore one might wonder how the Odendaals ended up in Chillicothe. This amazing couple are now permanent residents of Chillicothe, thanks to Stan and Michelle Saunders.  

Stan and Michelle were invited to a three-week journey to Zimbabwe after receiving their degrees in 1985. That is when the Saunderses met the Odendaals. The Saunderses were invited to speak at the church on the Odendaals’ farm. After that, the Saunderses traveled back to Zimbabwe to speak to the local churches about half a dozen more times, and the Odendaals traveled to Chillicothe every two to three years to visit Cornerstone Church. So, when the time came for the Odendaals to move to the United States, they were comfortable enough to call Chillicothe home. 

Don and Lorraine have been in the United States for nine years; five years is the requirement to gain U.S. citizenship. When asked why they decided to pursue U.S citizenship, Lorraine said, "We couldn't have what we used to have.  We decided to move into our new life, and citizenship was part of that new life we had chosen."   

In order to become official citizens, the Odendaals were given a book with 100 questions that they had six weeks to learn the answers to. These questions were of a wide variety of topics, such as, history, geography and government. Out of the 100 questions they had to learn, they only had to get six out of 10 correct on the test. Each of them were only asked six questions because they got the first six correct. In addition to the six questions picked at random, they also had to read a sentence in English and write a sentence in English.  Lorraine said, they helped each other study by quizzing one another. 

The Odendaals went through their naturalization ceremony in the western district of Missouri, located in Kansas City, on October 17, 2013.  This is where they formally received their certificates of citizenship. The Odendaals said that becoming official citizens of the United States really gives them a sense of belonging. They are also excited about being able to vote and the fact that they have more rights and freedoms.

"What amazes me about the United States is the availability of things,” Don said. “If you want something, you can get it in America. In Africa, you were lucky to get a tube of toothpaste.”

The Odendaals have returned to Zimbabwe two or three times to train leaders for their churches and to visit their orphanages that they were named, "Mother and Father", of.  However, Chillicothe is their home now. 

“We love Chillicothe,” Lorraine said. “We have friends here that are more like family, and we feel that our church is our family also."

Lorraine spends her time cleaning the church and working in her garden which she says is her passion. Don stays busy doing chores and mowing. They are also very involved with cornerstone Church, often greeting and ushering on Sundays, helping with outreach and whatever else they can do to help.

Their plan for their first Fourth of July as official citizens is to "party and watch fireworks," Lorraine humorously said.  They will be spending the holiday with the Saunders family, which the Odendaals feel they have been adopted into.

Despite the joking of parties and fireworks, Independence Day means much to the Odendaals.  "It represents freedom from bondage," Don said.

Forty out of 50 years of their marriage were spent in the middle of war. Now, they can enjoy the boom of the fireworks without mistaking them for gunshots. The Odendaals can finally relax and celebrate their survival and independence this Fourth of July the American way... at a party surrounded by fireworks, good food, and people that they love.