Imagine the scene: a self-made millionaire sitting with his family at dinner one night announces that he will no longer work for money but, instead, will donate all his time and wealth to saving street children. He also adds that he will start selling his possessions to achieve this aim.
Such was the case one night for Kenyan businessman Charles Mully, the subject of a new documentary. The film’s director is the sometime-actor Scott Gaze, who has chosen his subject matter well. After viewing Mully, one concludes that if Hollywood made a fictionalized version of the story, no one would believe it to be true.
Mully tells the story child from a violent home who is abandoned by his family. A random act of kindness by a Catholic family changes the course of his life, setting him on the road to prosperity. Seemingly, everything this young man touched—commercially and in his personal life—turned to gold. Charles Mully, once a homeless orphan, had acquired money, a wife, and a family of eight children. Mully thanked God for all this. He was a man whose priorities were clear: his faith, his family, and his ever-increasing wealth. That would soon change, however.
One day, Mully’s car was stolen. He had many cars; the theft of one should have made no difference. Yet it did. The boy who had stolen the car had previously confronted the businessman as he parked. The street boy was a younger version of Mully himself. The man recognized all too well the hopeless rage and sense of despair he glimpsed on the face of the boy. This realization sparked a search on Mully’s part for what God was calling him to do with his life.
The rest of the film charts a story that is even more incredible than Mully’s rise from childhood abandonment to adult abundance. Maybe that is because what followed is a story of a different form of abandonment—abandonment to God’s will. Thankfully, this second chapter is told with as much verve as the first part of the film. In fact, the filmmakers are to be commended on blending documentary footage and docudrama recreations into a seamless, compelling whole.
From its opening, the film is a joy to watch. The editing of interviews and pacing of the story is perfect, and the cinematography had a head start with the lush Kenyan landscapes. But it is the chronicling of a man’s remarkable kindness that makes the film so powerful.
In fact, the movie’s subject is almost too good to be true. But then, the same could have been said of Mother Teresa and others. Looked at closely, the same characteristic is on display in the lives of all such people: namely, a burning desire to do the Will of God no matter what the cost, no matter how few people understand the vocation discerned. In Mully’s case, not many did understand—not even, initially at least, his wife and children.
Today it is estimated that, with the support of his family, Mully has improved the lives of around 100,000 children in his native Kenya. These are children whose lives were over before they started. When rescued from the streets by “Daddy Mully,” they were given not just a life, but hope, as well. Left to fend for themselves on the rubbish heaps of Nairobi and elsewhere, many of these children now have an education; many have gone on to enter the professional classes in Kenya and abroad. At the time of filming, more than 80 of these children are attending university.
It is impossible not to be moved by Mully, and his story invites the viewer to consider his own life. In meeting Charles Mully, if only on-screen, one feels “stretched” to embrace a broader vision of what it means to live. No doubt this reflects in a small way the experience of the children he has helped and, indeed, of all those who have encountered this remarkable man.
The film is less explicit about Mully’s Christian faith than perhaps it could have been. What is clear is that he is motivated by his faith and that the key decisions he made were real acts of faith that cost him and his family much. The film, a record of one man’s spiritual journey, is more riveting than many a drama for this reason.
The phrase “feel-good film” is overused and is applied, not always appropriately, to many contrived Hollywood plot lines. In the case of Mully, the phrase “feel-good” is not only true, but is even, perhaps, an understatement.
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