Month: January 2010

June Richards felt sense of belonging with father, adoptive mother

KELLER?The nativity scenes have been safely packed away for another Christmas in the homes of most folks. Not so at the home of Jim and June Richards. The special meaning June Richards attaches to her collection justifies keeping them in sight year round.

As a young child, her grandmother made a manger scene and let her select one of the characters to take home. “Of course, as a kid, I picked out baby Jesus. Every year we would go to the 5-and-10 store and add to the manger scene,” she recalled.

“We learn to love baby Jesus as little children, but when I got saved at the age of 9 it meant that much more to me.”

June vividly remembers finding strength in Christ to carry her through a very confusing time of her childhood as she tried to make sense of the fact that two women were regarded as her mother.

Before she was born, her father began a relationship with a waitress in a café he visited about an hour from the small Louisiana town that June still calls home. “Whenever my daddy found out she was going to have a baby, he took responsibility for his actions because he wanted me. And I’m the product of that relationship.”

The single mom was already caring for an 18-month-old and couldn’t imagine how she’d handle another child. “I think her family was very poor and they couldn’t afford to do that again,” she related. Her father pled with the woman to carry the child to term, and then allow him and his wife to care for the baby.

“She verbally agreed,” June said. “It seemed she was giving me up because she wanted me to have a better life. That’s the way I look at it. God brought me into this world in a different way. I thank the Lord because I know he literally placed me in the arms of my mama so she could tell me about Jesus.”

Always referring to her adopted mother as “Mama” and her birth mother by name, June explained, “My adopted mom always told me that Joyce was my mother, but I called her Joyce because I couldn’t call her Mama. I just couldn’t.”

Growing up in a small town, June’s mother wanted to avoid the likelihood that her new daughter would suffer from gossip and rumor-mongering about her parentage.

“So it was always mentioned and therefore it wasn’t shocking. She didn’t want me to feel like children who are adopted who do not know their mother and then go out and chase them only to be disappointed.”

Not only did June hear her parents make reference to her birth mother, she regularly visited with the woman.

“I was about 11 years old when she came to visit one time. I knew that my parents had a relationship with her. Daddy, of course, would say, ‘There are no feelings. I’m just thankful I have you.'”

June regarded the circumstances as odd, but felt enormous love from both of her parents, while maintaining contact with her birth mother, sibling and the grandmother who had given her that first baby Jesus figurine from her own manger scene.

“I would tell the Lord, ‘This is so strange. In my heart I can’t understand all this.’ But I guess it strengthened my dependence on talking to him.” In fact, her passion for intercessory prayer grows out of that experience.

“That’s where I feel is my place?that I can pray for other people. I saw how much he did to work in my life and the least I can do is to submit to him.”

June’s father made it clear that he regretted his behavior, but remained steadfast in his love for his daughter. “Daddy was very frank. He said, ‘I made a mistake. I was sorry for what I did to your mom, but I wanted you.'”

Amazed by his willingness to take on the added responsibility, June reflec

Adoption process brought perspective for couple

WEATHERFORD  Becky and David Nelson had no intention of adopting more than one child. The long, drawn-out, expensive process seemed beyond their means after bringing their first child, Lucianne, home from Uzbekistan when she was 14 months old.

When the thought of adopting a second child crossed their minds, the couple quickly dismissed the idea, discouraged by the cost of the first.

But God had a different idea, according to Becky Nelson.

“God said it’s not up to you,” she recalled.

Adoption, especially an international adoption, can cost between $7,000 and $30,000, while domestic adoptions range from $4,000 to $12,000, though some climb considerably when private arrangements are made.

In the midst of their first adoption, Becky said she and David visited her parents. She soon found herself complaining to her father about the process?the paperwork, the waiting, and the money. Up to that point the Nelsons had already invested more than $20,000 and anticipated doling out more before they ever took their child home.

Becky’s father listened and then asked an odd question. How much, he asked, did their truck cost and how long were they going to take to pay for it?

Was their soon-to-be child not worth more than the truck? The amortized value of the truck cost more than the adoption fees, he noted. Becky said her father did the math and showed her that the cost of their child?spread out over a presumed 70-year lifespan?was pennies a day.

Point taken.

“If God asks you to do it, God will provide. That’s God’s child,” Becky said.

“We’re not wealthy,” she added. David is an instructor for a computer database company and Becky teaches adult GED test preparation courses. Oksana is now in college and the other three children?Lucianne, 15; Artur, 14; and Zhenia, 13?are all homeschooled.

Couples who feel called to adopt must be proactive with their finances. Becky said she and David refinanced high-ticket items and found ways to cut back on spending.

“The whole amazing thing is we’d make those sacrifices and not even feel it,” she said.

They would also revel in the way God provided through anonymous donations and “found” money. The support they received from their families and their church served as affirmation and encouraged them to follow through with the calling. And each time the couple began pondering another adoption Becky said they would pray.

“We would just lay it at his feet and tell him, ‘We want to see how you’re going to pull this off!'”

The adjustment process for an adopted child must also be taken into consideration. The Nelson’s first two children were infants, reducing the need for cultural acclimation. But Oksana was 10 and Zhenia was 9 when they moved to their California home. Although they quickly settled into their new home it was not without its bumps and quirks.

Food proved a most pronounced adjustment. With very little variety and quantity in their orphanage diet, hamburgers and pizza?staples for most American children?were to be picked apart and eaten in pieces by 9-year-old Zhenia. Even sandwiches, Becky recalled, were picked apart by her youngest son. Today he mixes everything together and eats like a typical American teenage boy.

Are you called to adopt?

I often find myself telling people, “If you could only be in my shoes for a week, you would have such greater insight into what a beautiful journey adoption truly is. It’s awe inspiring.”

Sacrifice, grace, love, pain, and joy are all very much a part of the private adoption journey. As you can imagine, plenty more could be added to that list. I am privileged and blessed to be a part of such a powerful calling and gift each day. Allow me to fill you in.

Adoption is a calling: You don’t haphazardly end up adopting. It’s so much more than that. I continue to see this truth played out as each year passes. Most couples’ adoption journey begins long before they contact the Texas Baptist Home. Many couples may have experienced infertility, the loss of a child, and/or have the desire to add to their family through adoption. In some cases, the adoption journey begins with pain.

Working through those emotions is essential; then comes the waiting. Oh, how so many dread the waiting. It looks different for everyone and it’s all a part of the couple’s specific journey. I have the privilege of encouraging and being the vessel used to stretch the couples who desire to adopt privately with the Texas Baptist Home. God’s plan is always so much bigger than we often see. It’s exciting to look back along with the adoptive couples and see evidence of that specific plan in each couple’s lives.

Birth mothers are my heart and my heroes: The other side of private infant adoption is the birth family. Words cannot describe how much I love the birth families I walk alongside with. Each and every person’s story is different and unique. I treasure seeing God’s redeeming power in the lives of those who are willingly and lovingly choosing to make the second most sacrificial and courageous choice I’ve ever seen. It is humbling to say the least.

The birth mothers go through nine months of pregnancy, and all that includes, while also handling the emotions that come with choosing to place their baby for adoption. My role in their lives is tough, full of emotion, challenging at times, and exceptionally rewarding. There is beauty in sacrifice.

How do I begin my journey: The process varies by agency, but upon contacting the Texas Baptist Home, for example, you will be provided with the following: program requirements, necessary trainings, fees, and information about what to expect the adoption process to look like. An informational packet will also be sent to you in the mail. Upon receiving the informational packet, if you and the Texas Baptist Home decide it is a good match, you will choose who you would like to pursue your adoption journey with and be placed on an orientation waiting list.

Upon attending an orientation you will be provided with all of the necessary paperwork, including an application. Once your application has been turned in, it will be reviewed by the Texas Baptist Home. If the application is approved, you will be set up with a home study coordinator and a home study will be completed. When a home study is approved a couple is then ready to be viewed by birth families, and possibly selected as an adoptive couple.

Are you called to adopt? If so, please don’t hesitate to contact the Texas Baptist Home. I would love to talk with you. If not to adopt yourself, I would challenge you in asking, what role then are you to play in adoption? Will you pray for the birthmothers who are carrying their babies to term, giving life, and sacrificing their wants for the needs of their child? Will you donate not just financially, but your time also to promote healthy adoption education? Or, are you to simply be a listening ear or give an encouraging word to a couple who is waiting on God’s timing in their journey of adoption? All are needed, and all are important. What role is yours?

Jessica Page is adoption case manager at the Texas Baptist Home for Children in Waxahachie, an affiliated ministry partner of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

2nd Z-Leader course for pastors ready

The second of three planned courses in the SBTC’s Z-Leader curriculum is ready for pastors and churches interested in a biblically guided approach to church growth.

Begun as a part of the SBTC’s Ezekiel Project for plateaued or declining churches, Z-Leader has transitioned into a stand-alone program for all pastors, said Kenneth Priest, SBTC Church Ministries associate.

The first session was 12 units and was based on the book “Breaking the Missional Code” by Ed Stetzer and David Putnam. This second course is based on Ken Hemphill’s book “The Bonsai Theory of Church Growth.”

Priest said the Z-Leader program has been well-received and involves the study and the option of a trained, personal coach to walk a pastor or church leaders through the course as they evaluate such things as whether or not their facilities, ministry philosophy, spiritual climate, and prayer lives are conducive to growing their church’s influence.

Included in the second course is a “vital facilities tour” to evaluate the church’s growth capacity given its physical size and use, Priest said.

“Facilities and philosophy of ministry are the foci of addressing things that comes out of the Bonzai Theory,” Priest added. “Is the size of the campus or the things we do assuring that we keep the church the size that it is?”

In addition, there is the “soil factor”: is the spiritual soil of the church enriched or is it dry and parched with only the appearance of spirituality?

A third course is being prepared and will be ready later this year or early next year based on Darrell Robinson’s “Total Church Life” book to help congregations develop an outreach and evangelistic strategy for reaching their community.

The objectve of the Ezekiel Project and the Z-Leader curriculum is “to be used to bring about a reversal to the decline of the evangelical Christian community throughout the state of Texas and extending throughout America and throughout the world,” according to the SBTC website.

If interested in learning more about the Z-Leader courses or the Ezekiel Project, call or e-mail Kenneth Priest toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC) or, or visit and request login information.

Learning from God

A brief survey of history indicates that adoption as we practice it in America is a pretty rare thing. Through the ages it has been more common for people to take in children already kin to them, or to adopt within one’s own class to provide continuation of name and title. Mordecai’s care of Esther and Jacob’s provision for Joseph’s sons are two biblical examples of adoption based on already present relationships. In some cases adoption was near slavery. Other things called adoption provided basic needs but withheld complete family status to adopted children. For most of the Christian era, children without parents or parents able to care for them were either street kids bound for early death, menial workers, or beneficiaries of some sort of religious foster care system. Sometimes the system could care for orphans nominally and other times the provision could not rightly bear the name “care.” Overwhelmingly, it was and is a tough world for parentless children.

The relative wealth of American families following World War II allowed for a boom in adoption that grew for 25-30 years. The groundwork had been laid by the 19th century beginnings of legal monitoring of adoptions, of state involvement to ensure that children were moving into nurturing rather than exploitive situations. President Theodore Roosevelt, with his family’s heritage of philanthropy, called during the early 1900s for adoption by families to replace the foster care system in place. Several economic and social factors caused many years to pass before this call would be widely answered.

Legally regulated compassionate adoption of non-relatives that provides full family status is a modern and mostly American thing, then. Surprisingly for a 50-60 year practice, it also appears to be modeled after, at least similar to, biblical doctrine.

As I thought about this, I’ve come to a conclusion that surprises me a bit. While I’ve often used parenthood as an analogy (God did this first) for understanding the love God demonstrates for us, adoption of children not otherwise kin to us?adoptive parenthood?is specifically a better analogy. No doubt adoptive parents tumbled to this some time back but it’s a new one on me.

Only Paul used the word “adoption” in the New Testament and he actually fleshed it out pretty thoroughly because he was using it in a way unusual to Hebrew and Roman culture. When he told the Galatians that they were sons of God by adoption he added they were the type of sons who were also heirs. Clearly as gentile believers they would have also understood that they were also adopted from the “outside” of God’s people. How rich they’d become by their redemption in Christ! They’d not only been dragged out of the fire but also exalted to family status in a royal household. This grace of God was not only sufficient, a monumental gift already, but also abundant so that orphans became princes.

Perhaps we could say the foster care facilities provided by Christians through the centuries were analogous to God’s grace that pulls us out of the fire. Acceptance as a son or daughter into a loving family, rich and secure beyond your prior imagining, completes the picture by showing us the abundance of his mercy, then.

Weren’t we outsiders to God’s family, foreign in a way that a begotten child could never be? That’s why I say that adoption as we now understand it is a better picture of God’s mercy toward us than is biological parenthood. Of course the love, nurture, and discipline exercised in parenthood would be the same for all children without regard to how they came into a family. Those very useful illustrations remain safe and beneficial.

And in a way, Jesus was adopted, wasn’t he? He was known widely in Nazareth as the son of Joseph (Luke 4:22, John 1:45) and yet Joseph, Mary, and some of their kin knew that he was an adopted son of Joseph. For the Lord, the status ascribed to him as the carpenter’s son was part of his humiliation, creator God living in modest circumstances and under the care of his creatures. He became poor in this and many other ways so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). It was his submission to a mortal father figure that made it possible for us to bask in the glory of the perfect Father.

So when we adopt a child, support a family who seeks to adopt, or when we uplift adoptive parenthood in what ways we are able, we’re doing a work we learned from God. I believe we are also acting out our own redemption for all who watch, particularly I’d think for children whose vision of “loving parents” (and a loving heavenly Father) has been pretty fuzzy.

Watershed days

We are tempted to become indifferent toward causes hyped too often or loudly. Our hype-intensive age tempts me to turn off every voice that speaks urgently. That’s a mistake. This is an important time in American Christianity, and in the Southern Baptist Convention. Consider a few important events currently underway.

The health of our leaders?I know of no fewer than eight prominent and influential Southern Baptists who have major health concerns. All of us age and eventually die but now we can name a remarkable list of people, who could predictably have decades of service ahead of them, who face cancer and other ailments at this moment. It is reasonable to assume also that scores of our leaders and mentors additionally face spiritual and leadership challenges unknown to us. The call is that we should systematically pray for them.

Transition at our boards and agencies?Three SBC agencies representing more than three-fourths of our denominational budget are in leadership transition. Three search committees are seeking leaders for our two mission boards and our Executive Committee. These leaders will make important strategy decisions for our missionary endeavors for decades to come. We must, in this day, have visionary and courageous leaders for those causes we would all agree are the reason for our denominational cooperation. Pray for the search committees as they seek God’s will. Pray that the various trustee boards (even those not currently seeking leaders) will be diligent and hard working as they make significant decisions at every meeting. And pray for God’s men, those retiring, those not yet in place, and those who continue to serve at the heads of our seminaries and agencies. Our convention requires leadership beyond what mere men can dream or accomplish in their own power.

The GCR Task Force?This committee will meet late in January to finalize whatever aspects of their report they will make available in February during the SBC Executive Committee meeting. That report will be the 500-pound gorilla as we go to Orlando for our annual meeting this year. I expect some dramatic surprises. Pray for them as they work toward their presentation in Nashville and Orlando. They need divine wisdom for the sake of our unity around priority causes and effectiveness in all we agree to do together.

The threat of fragmentation?Regional and generational balkanization of American Christianity seems more likely than at any time during my life. Millions of trees have given their lives so that hundreds of books and articles can try to explain, hype, or decry the rapidity of change within the cultural context of American evangelicals. I don’t know many people who don’t have strong opinions about what is important and what we should do regarding the current generational leadership hand off. How should current leaders respond to the unique concerns of pastors 15 years younger? How should those not yet in middle age understand the leaders and essentials of our common work? Whether these questions are actually big or small, they occupy much of our attention during a time when other things are also crucial.

Within our convention, I observe a similar divide between east and west, with the Mississippi as the boundary. Those on both sides are passionate about global evangelism and committed to innovative ministry. Some in both regions also seem disrespectful of their brothers across the muddy river. Pray for patience and gentleness within our convention as we speak of significant matters from different contexts. Pray that all of us will gain the virtue of speaking less and listening more. These divisions I observe are common to all evangelicals in our day, especially the first. My concern is specifically for the Southern Baptist Convention and the impact of needless division on our important work. A biblically founded spirit of peace and forbearance in the SBC will deeply impact the work of evangelicals in every locale.

These four things, at least, convict me that I should more regularly pray for those God has placed in leadership within our convention. We shouldn’t wait until we hear of a crisis or surgery or scandal. There will always be important things that come and go without our general knowledge?things that will bear fruit for good or ill before we know anything has happened. That is unavoidable because our work is so widespread and complex. The only way to pray is to pray regularly, on a schedule, so our leaders will be lifted up during times of need and opportunity know to but few. Join me in doing that more faithfully.

Athens churches apparently torched

ATHENS?A Southern Baptist church was one of two churches in the Athens area heavily damaged by what investigators believe were arson fires set in the early morning hours Tuesday, marking the third such church fire in a week near the East Texas city.

Local authorities are being aided in their investigation by the state fire marshal’s office and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities suspected burglary at the churches, but Athens Assistant Police Chief Rodney Williams said the investigation is in its early stages.

“I would assume that it is arson, but as far as the motive, we will probably never know,” said John Green, pastor of Lake Athens Baptist Church, which sustained an estimated $500,000 damage to its auditorium. “But our hearts are full and our spirits are encouraged. We believe God is going to bring something good out of this.”

Athens Fire Chief John McQueary said investigators are also seeking clues to a fire early Tuesday at Grace Community Church in rural Henderson County near Athens, as well as a fire last week at nearby Faith Church.

McQueary said dogs trained in detecting accelerants were picking up scents that point to arson, but further testing to confirm that might take up to a week.

Green said he is thankful that the church office was not damaged and the gym had only minor smoke and water damage.

Lake Athens was scheduled to meet for its Wednesday night services at a local fish hatchery and Sunday at a music hall in Athens.

The church fires follow two others in recent weeks in nearby Van Zandt County, the Athens Daily Review reported.