Month: December 2014

Infertility leads couple to embryo adoption

LOVELADY, Texas—While most American families were planning for Thanksgiving, Mitchell and Leslee Kleckley had something else on their minds Nov. 26.

The couple was in a Houston hospital for the birth of their son, Drew. No doubt hundreds of other babies were born in the state that day, but perhaps none had such an extraordinary journey as did little Drew.

Unable to bear children, the couple turned to a relatively unknown procedure known as “embryo adoption” in an attempt to have a child. They were able to experience pregnancy—with all its ups and downs—even though the baby Leslee was carrying was genetically unrelated to her.

Yet when little Drew Kleckley was born prematurely at 6:39 p.m. on Nov. 26, he was completely and wholly their son. And while the couple initially declined to be public about their struggles, they said they decided to share their story “not because we want publicity or attention because we know this is not about us. It’s all about God and his glory.”

Wrestling with infertility
After two years of marriage, Mitchell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lovelady, and his wife Leslee decided in July 2011 to start their family. Yet after nearly a year of trying and being unsuccessful, the couple consulted doctors, who determined that a medical issue left Mitchell unable to father a child. They sought an array of treatments for the matter; none of which helped.

“It seems like for the whole three years we struggled with infertility we felt like we were repeatedly being gut-punched as test results disappointed us again and again, but all of that was wiped away when I was able to hold my son for the first time,” Mitchell said.

While the couple is again on social media to tell others what God is doing in their lives, there was a time when Leslee went “off the grid,” even deleting the Facebook app from her phone. She said it seemed like every other day there was posted an ultrasound of someone’s unborn child or announcement that someone was expecting.

“I wanted so bad to be happy for these people, but I didn’t understand why that wasn’t happening to me. I realized these feelings could make me bitter, and I knew I had to get rid of this,” she said.

Exploring adoption
While the Kleckleys were not candidates for traditional non-donor in vitro fertilization, they began exploring alternatives. A friend who was familiar with their situation shared an article with them about “embryo adoption.”

Mitchell said initially the ethics of embryo donor programs gave him pause.

Yet as he explored it, it began to make sense to him given the couple’s confidence that life begins at conception and that these were “lives that were just frozen indefinitely.” He also learned there are between 400,000 and 500,000 living human embryos currently frozen in fertility clinics around the U.S.

The source of the frozen embryos is infertile couples who opt for in vitro fertilization and have leftover embryos–by design or not–once they’ve completed all their IVF cycles.

For these families, the choices can be difficult and morally problematic: allow the embryos to thaw, and they will die; leave them in an unending state of cryopreservation; give them to science for research, and they will be killed; or preferably, allow them to be donated to a couple willing for one or more of the embryos to be implanted in the woman’s uterus.

Adopting children before they are born
Given that the Kleckleys had already opened their hearts to adoption and “embryo adoption” would allow Leslee to experience pregnancy, Mitchell said they were comfortable, in effect, “adopting children before they were born.”

“The Bible teaches that life begins at conception. Each of these embryos is a human life frozen indefinitely unless someone adopts them and gives them a chance at life,” he said.

Mitchell said they were able to select the embryos they wanted to “adopt” and to see pictures of the embryos’ already-born siblings. They selected three embryos, two of which were implanted in mid-May.

Devastating news
Some embryos don’t survive the thawing process; others do not survive after implantation. In fact, during the eighth week of gestation doctors discovered one of the Kleckley’s babies had died.

Leslee said while it was devastating news to receive, she was overwhelmed with gratitude that the other child appeared healthy and was on track developmentally. “God comforted me in that time,” she recalled.

The Sunday following the loss of their child, Leslee said the entire congregation came to the front of the church and surrounded them, praying over them.

“Our church family has been walking with us nearly every step of this journey,” Mitchell said. “Every high and low we’ve had an opportunity to share with them.”

Initially the couple was not inclined to share with others what they were going through. Yet after over a year of struggling with infertility and the medical procedures they were hoping would address the issue, they began to tell others.

“It was at that point,” Mitchell recounted, “that I made a decision that I was going to use this opportunity—good or bad—to magnify God’s name. He has been so good to us. We don’t deserve the grace he has shown us in all of this.”

Leslee agreed, saying initially she was hesitant to share with others all they were going through, but looking back she says the support from the church was critical.

Pink or blue?
As their pregnancy progressed, Mitchell and Leslee chose a novel way to reveal their unborn child’s gender.

On an office visit, they asked their physician to write the baby’s sex on a small piece of paper and seal it in an envelope, which they took to a local baker. They asked the baker to color the batter inside of the cake either pink or blue, depending on what the doctor indicated.

The expectant couple learned they were having a boy when, with church members watching, the cake was cut revealing a baby blue-colored band.

On Nov. 22, Leslee went into labor. While doctors were able to ease the contractions, four days later Drew was born—2 lbs. 15 oz. and 15.6 inches long–nine weeks early.

While Drew is doing well, his premature birth means he’ll remain hospitalized until sometime early in 2015.

An adoption of a different kind
“It has definitely been an emotional roller coaster that has taken its toll on us physically as well,” Mitchell said, adding, “It has made our faith a whole lot stronger.”

“Our little guy has a lot of hurdles to get through still. But God is faithful, and we are going to continue leaning on him,” Mitchell said, noting he and his wife are now committed advocates for adoption.
Mitchell said they view this as a kind of picture of what God did for us, adopting us into his family: “We were loved by God; we were chosen by God. He was so gracious to us to give us a family.”

Interestingly what is called “embryo adoption” is not adoption at all in legal terms because adoption involves a child who is already born. In the state’s eyes, embryo adoption is basically a transfer of property—very special property. The embryo’s genetic parents relinquish any parental rights once they agree to donate the embryos leftover from IVF.

Under Texas law the Kleckleys are legally Drew’s parents because Leslee gave birth to him. Their relationship with him is just as binding as a legal adoption.

Letters to my son
Mitchell said on the day the embryos were placed in Leslee’s womb he wrote his first letter to his pre-born children. And he’s continued every day since. The couple plans to put the letters in book form for Drew.

Mitchell signs every letter with a reminder to Drew that he was chosen, that he is loved, that he was prayed for every day and that he is a gift from God.

How Census Bureau”s Deletion of 4 Questions Could Hurt Families

Beginning in 1940, select households began receiving the American Community Survey, or ACS. This is the census “long form” with more detailed questions about Americans, their households, and their socio-economic circumstances. Included on this form are four simple questions related to marriage. Questions 20-23 ask respondents to indicate marital status and marital history in very generic terms. There is no invasion of privacy or prying in these questions. This year, the U.S. Census Bureau has suggested the deletion of these questions, an omission that has the potential to hurt families.

A notice of the action was issued on Oct. 31 a deadline for comments from the public set for Dec. 30, 2014. Some have questioned this timeframe, noting many Americans could easily miss it amid the busyness of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Despite the fact that these questions are so simple, they are important. In the language of the Census Bureau itself, these questions are asked to “understand marriage trends.” They are used to “measure the effects of policies and programs that focus on the well-being of families, including tax policies and financial assistance programs.” This is the only survey in which those who are selected are required by law to participate and do so honestly. This produces information that is very important not just for the reasons stated by the Census Bureau but also for sociologists researching the impact of marriage on our society and for businesses that serve and support families.

Beyond this, the term “marriage” is important. We live in a culture in which marriage has been under attack with opponents attempting to deconstruct it and redefine it. If we allow the term to slip from common usage and be absorbed into the larger category of domestic partnership, life partnership or even sexual partnership, we are conceding ground in the marriage debate. We are conceding that the concept is not even important enough to differentiate it from other social arrangements. Even with the normalization of same-sex relationships being recognized as “marriage,” there is much good that can be done by those, religious or not, who believe that the historic concept of marriage is fundamental to a healthy and stable society.

Most of the governmental agencies with which we interact are administrative agencies empowered by Congress to write regulations that have the full force of law but which are written and enforced by non-elected government agents. If you know much of our history, you know that America was founded from a profound distaste for laws that apply to those without a voice in their crafting. This is why administrative regulations like this are subject to a period of public comment during which time all Americans have the right to submit their concerns, questions and comments to those responsible for making the regulations law. Most of the time this period is unremarkable and unnoticed by citizens and media alike.

Now is a time when we cannot afford this process to go unnoticed. The information that is collected every 10 years determines the apportionment of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and is relied upon by state legislatures as they redraw electoral districts for state elections. Countless other administrative agencies use this information in order to determine the effectiveness of government policy. Even if we do not think often of the Census Bureau, the work that this office does impacts vast swaths of American life.

You have a right to inform the Census Bureau that you believe that the benefits that our society derives from having information about marriage are real and are important. Join me in writing them to voice your concern and participate in our government in a unique way that few Americans ever do.

The paperwork clearance officer responsible for hearing from Americans is Jennifer Jessup. Her email address is Email her, but please keep some things in mind:

  • The issue at hand has nothing to do with same-sex marriage. There is no need to reference your opinion on this issue in your email. Stick to the issue that is before the Census Bureau.
  • Ms. Jessup is not the decision-maker. She is the person at the Bureau responsible for collecting public comments and passing them to the decision-makers.
  • Be respectful. Ms. Jessup is serving the American people by doing her work. Thank her for it!
  • If you copy my email to Ms. Jessup, please remember to personalize it by deleting my name and signing your own.


If you would like, feel free to copy this format:

Ms. Jessup,

Thank you for your assistance in forwarding this brief email to the proper decision makers in the Department of Commerce. I am writing today to express my concern that the Census Bureau not remove questions 20, 21a-21c, 22, and 23 from the ARC. Marriage is an important institution and in the last several years, we have seen this institution decline. Without information specific to marriage gathered on the ARC, we will not be able to track future trends. Other questions on the ARC relate to much less important issues, so the inclusion of these questions does not present an unreasonable burden to those who receive the ARC.

Furthermore, the removal of these questions represents a marginalization of marriage. As an American citizen, I value marriage and I know many others who do as well. Marriage is the core of the family and as the institution of marriage deteriorates so will the institution of the family. Strong families are the key to a strong society. The benefits of understanding marriage trends and supporting the institution of marriage are important to our nation and to me. I urge the Bureau to leave these questions as a part of all future ACS questionnaires.

I appreciate your help and your service to our nation.


Trey Dimsdale

Fort Worth, Texas

Context is Key

A pastor sits down to prepare Sunday’s sermon. As he opens his Bible, a question begs for an answer, “What does the text mean?”

Proper meaning can only be understood within context. The old adage still stands, “A text without a context is a pretext.” But, how much context is needed for each text? The answer is a text-by-text decision. As a case study in the importance of knowing the immediate context and being aware of the greater context in which a passage is placed, consider the story of Mephibosheth.

In 2 Samuel 8, David is installed as King of Israel and embarks upon a bloody conquest of the surrounding territory. He eliminates his adversaries and all threats to the throne. As David looks up from battle, he asks the question of 2 Samuel 9:1, “Who’s next?” This question and the corresponding story of Mephibosheth can only be grasped in the immediate context of 2 Samuel 8 and the greater context of 1 and 2 Samuel.

For most kings in David’s day, the best way to bring about peace was to kill all who opposed you. In 2 Samuel 8, David set out to establish his reign through the deaths of his enemies. 2 Samuel 8:5 gives a glimpse of just one day of David’s conquests, “When the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David killed twenty-two thousand of the Syrians.”

David established his rule by defeating, killing and humiliating his enemies. It was a very bloody time. In fact, there was so much blood spilt by the hands of David that when he wanted to build a temple for God, God commended David for his desire but would not allow him to build the temple. It is within this context that we find 2 Samuel 9:1, “Now David said, ‘Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’”

When I first read this verse, I thought, “Yeah right, kindness. Is that another way of saying, ‘That I might chop off his head’”? David had just killed thousands of enemies. Saul had made himself an enemy of David. David had not made himself an enemy of Saul. Now Saul is dead and his heir should be king, but because of Saul’s disobedience God had rejected him and his family and chosen David.

Humanly speaking, any male from Saul’s line should be considered a threat to David’s throne. So when we find David’s question in 2 Samuel 9:1, we have to ask what David is really up to here. Is it really kindness that David is seeking to show to a member of Saul’s family? Or is David about to rack up another number in the ongoing body count?

The key phrase of 9:1 is, “kindness for Jonathan’s sake.” The Hebrew word that is translated as “kindness” is hesed. It speaks of God’s covenantal faithfulness. What happened between Jonathan and David was a covenant. At least three times in 1 Samuel David and Jonathan made or affirmed a covenant. The basis of the covenant is that Jonathan recognized God had rejected his father Saul and chosen David to one day be king over all of Israel. Therefore, the two men agreed that in whatever may happen to either one of them, they would show kindness to each other’s family.

In 2 Samuel 9, Saul and Jonathan are now dead. David is king. He has all the power. Will he keep his covenant? This context is key to understanding the story of Mephibosheth, the descendant of Saul (2 Samuel 4:4).

Apart from understanding the immediate context of a passage of Scripture and at least being aware of the greater book context, a preacher may miss the point of a specific passage. In the story of Mephibosheth, the grace of David is only understood once the greater context is taken into account. In light of 1 and 2 Samuel, the main point of 2 Samuel 9 may be stated as follows, “Grace reaches beyond obligation to bless others.” Surveying the context of a given passage of Scripture will add understanding and depth to preaching. Without context, we may miss the point God intended. Thus, context is key.

—Paul Michael Vacca is the Associate Pastor of First Baptist Watauga.

Pro-lifers: Walk and don”t grow weary

It’s been a lifetime, the better part of 40 years, since I sat in the Tarrant County Convention Center and heard Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop explain the horrors wrought on unborn children by our culture’s sexual revolution. I’d never heard any of this in church or in ethics classes, nor had I noticed it in the news—at least not in these terms. That year was really the birth of evangelical involvement in the pro-life movement; the Catholics had been at it for years. It is to our shame that it took years after Roe v. Wade for evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists, to realize what we’d allowed to happen.

But we did realize it. Since those days, millionaire abortionists have risen and declined. Even many of the unsaved now see that abortion at any stage and for any reason is monstrous. It is a right that many defend but in which only the shameless glory. Yes, there are shameless people, and many of them are politicians, but abortion clinics are closing. In my adult life, the “women’s health issue” has been put to shame by quiet, praying volunteers at pregnancy resource centers around the country. Without public money and a decent return on investment, abortion clinics close. Without public money and any return on financial investments, pregnancy resource clinics expand and multiply.

The legal landscape has to some degree reflected growing public distaste for the extremes of the abortion lobby. The activists and profiteers know that any limitation, even on the killing of fully formed and viable children in the wombs of girls too young to legally drive a car, will terminally undermine the mythology they preach. Average citizens, and many state lawmakers, are not deeply concerned about the consequences reasonable regulation might have on the financial fortunes of ghouls.

But Roe v. Wade still stands. And public opinion is more quickly changed than legal precedent.

Young women still have what were formerly called “problem pregnancies” and lack adequate family or community support. That won’t end.

The drift of fallen humanity will always be away from righteous sexual behavior and personal responsibility. We, all of us, are tempted toward many sins to hide a single sin.

Our families and our churches will still need to support pregnancy centers, then. These outposts provide food, diapers, furniture, counseling and nurture to tens of thousands of young women (and their guys) each year. Thousands will confess Christ as Lord each year as a result of the ministry and witness these centers provide. If Roe v. Wade was overturned tomorrow, we’d still need these ministries. The government will not fund them because they are too controversial. Those with a profit motive will never help them because they are the purest benevolence. This must continue to be one of those things we’d never do for money but will do for love.

Dirty and frustrating as it can be, we must continue to advocate for laws that protect life. There will always be challenges to existing regulations by many with venal motives and some with a misbegotten but sincere desire to help women. Technology will move so that existing laws don’t address the things we can do in this day. For example, the amazing progress of medical arts to keep ever-younger babies alive outside the womb has impacted the pro-life movement in the past 20 years. The movement for embryo-destructive stem cell research is another thing that we wouldn’t have predicted when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down.

Additionally, the strange “we favor the right to abort, but we also love babies” mentality of American society will always leave bizarre contradictions in the law. When a person kills a pregnant woman, how many “people” has he caused to die? Roe v. Wade will not allow us to treat the unborn child as a person with rights separate from his mother, but it seems to allow us to protect him from nearly every other person. We who believe in God, the giver of life, must be on hand to help tip the scales toward the value of every human life as lawmakers try to unsnarl knotted legal problems we’ve created.

Always, we have a prophetic role to a nation too often mindless of revealed truth. When thousands mobbed the capitol in Austin in favor the worst kind of abortions, Christians needed to show that there is another way to stand for one’s convictions just as there is more than one conviction on the subject. I think in this case it helped to show up.

Consider another, less contentious, event for your calendar. The Dallas March for Life will be Jan. 17 at the Dallas Convention Center from 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. This is not a political rally but a spiritual one. We will pray, hear from God’s Word, sing and walk the streets of Dallas in a peaceable way until we arrive at the Dallas County Courthouse—where Roe v. Wade began.

For the sake of the unborn innocent and for the sake of a guilty nation racking up ever more guilt by what we allow, approve and even bless, we must be light bearers in our communities. There are many ways we can do that but really no way we can justify ignoring the worst thing our generation has done.

Find the latest details on the march at

Baby Born to Missionaries Airlifted with help of LMCO Funds

Kyle and Abby Carter’s* missionary journey began in typical fashion. Their home church, Houston’s First Baptist, sent them; the International Mission Board (IMB) trained them; and then a string of connecting flights deposited them in West Africa, where they received additional training.

By April 2012, the Carter family arrived at their post in East Africa committed for the long haul. They had surrendered their lives to serve as ambassadors for the Lord and knew they were the only missionary presence among a people group of 1.8 million. With their 18-month-old daughter, Ruthie, they left every familiar thing behind and assimilated with new neighbors. Their love for the people of Africa had drawn them eastward, and their training had prepped them for the hardships of missionary life in Africa—a life the couple says was their dream.

Just a few short months into their work in Africa, though, the dream became more of a nightmare, as trial after trial descended upon their small family.

Within two weeks of arrival in Africa, Abby, who had recently found out she was expecting the couple’s second child, Jonah, contracted malaria. Soon after that, Ruthie also became ill with malaria. Because of the sickness, IMB moved the family to a larger city for a time. By the time they made it to their target village in East Africa, Jonah was 5 months old.

Within six months of arrival in the village, Abby contracted malaria six times and typhoid once. She just could not stay well. During a two-week trip back to the United States, the couple discovered they were expecting a third child. The continued sickness and the pregnancy prompted IMB to move the Carters to South Africa and out of the malaria zone.

Abby, they said, would not be able to return to their home in East Africa and could not re-enter a malaria zone, so what began as a two-week trip became a forever goodbye. Kyle returned to the village, packed up the family’s belongings and moved them to the Carter’s new assignment in South Africa. The frigid desert climate contrasted starkly with the lush tropical weather of East Africa, and the abrupt change left the entire family stricken with pneumonia within the first week of their arrival.

The spiritual climate change was just as evident, they said. Where the people in East Africa had been warm and friendly and open to conversation, the South African people did not welcome interaction and had a much heavier involvement in spirit worship.

“One time a 10-year-old girl was playing UNO with me on my floor, and she was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go. I’m the spirit drummer. I’ve got to lead the spirits back to the graveyards tonight.’” Abby said.
Ten weeks after their relocation to South Africa, the Carters trekked to Johannesburg for medical check-ups. While there, Kyle dislocated his knee, sending him to the hospital where doctors placed his leg in a cast  he would wear for 10 weeks.

At the very same time, Abby had been at an obstetrician check-up. During her appointment, doctors became concerned that something was “not quite right” with the pregnancy and decided to keep her for additional testing that week. Between the pregnancy concerns and Kyle’s knee, for which he would have to visit the hospital three times a week, the family and IMB agreed the Carters would need to stay in a missionary guest house in Johannesburg for the time being instead of returning to their village four hours away. The three-day trip eventually turned into an eight-month stay as medical concerns continued.

A Turn for the Worse
“We thought we were just going to get Kyle off of crutches, and we’d go back and finish up, and things would be great, but then things just spiraled with the pregnancy,” Abby said.

“They were telling us everything from the baby didn’t have a stomach, to the baby didn’t have a brain, to the baby isn’t going to live. It was always back and forth. We’d get a good report, a bad report. A good report, a bad report.”

The baby, a boy the couple named Andrew, was born prematurely through a difficult delivery.

“We could tell he was in severe distress,” Abby said. “I’m a nurse by trade. We could tell that something was really, really wrong.”

Yet, once the baby was born, the midwife put him in pajamas, handed him to Abby and said, “You just need to feed him. He’ll be alright. You just need to feed him.” And she left.

All of the sudden Abby and Kyle were alone with their struggling infant, not having slept in about 48 hours. Not being in a hospital, no nurses were on site to check on them or to help care for either Abby or Andrew. Kyle decided to take him to a neonatal intensive care unit only to be turned away and told, “We don’t babysit.” He returned and tried again with a new nurse, and this time Andrew was admitted.

“She took Andrew and knew something was wrong,” Abby said. “Two hours later I was woken up, and it was the doctor at the edge of my bed saying, ‘Your baby is on life support. If you want to see him, you should probably come now.’”

Abby and Kyle say the scene that awaited them was a “parent’s worst nightmare.” Andrew had been put in a medically induced coma and had tubes and cords all over his tiny body. Doctors told Abby and Kyle that Andrew was born septic and with bilateral pneumonia. For the next four months, Abby remained at the hospital, rooming-in with Andrew, while Kyle went home with the other two children.

“It was a lot of dark days in the NICU,” Abby said.

During that time, Andrew would have glimmers of hope when it seemed he might be getting better, but those moments were short lived as he returned to life support repeatedly. At one point when Andrew developed respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the hospital cleaned out a closet to make an isolation unit for the baby. One nurse was spared to staff the closet where Andrew lay. When it became apparent he needed to be intubated—a task that requires several hands—the nurse looked at Abby and asked if she could bag and suction. Being a registered nurse, Abby knew what to do and was able to help the nurse, all the while bearing the searing pain of a mother watching her child suffer and bleed.

“After that, things just really started to go downhill,” Abby said. “It was like every week on Thursday, another system would crash. He started having seizures, he went into heart failure, and then his kidneys started shutting down. They told us to prepare to lose him.”

The Carters planned for a funeral. A family friend knitted a burial blanket, and Abby’s parents flew to Africa from the states to say “hello” and “goodbye.” They were sure Andrew’s short life was near its end.

Hope Peeks Through
During this dark time, the Carters were overwhelmed with prayer letters, thousands of Facebook messages and calls from IMB, including one from then-president Tom Elliff. The support shocked them, the couple said, and also gave them opportunities to be a testimony to the nurses working with Andrew.

Miraculously, Andrew’s condition began to improve, tiny bits at a time, even allowing his grandparents the chance to see him outside of the hospital for one day. Perhaps there was still hope.

Doctors diagnosed Andrew with Costello Syndrome—an extremely rare illness affecting only 200-300 people in the world. They were unsure what exact care he would need but were certain he would have long-term disabilities. After much thought, prayer, deliberation and finally a diagnosis for baby Andrew, it became clear to the family and to IMB that they could not remain on the mission field hours away from medical care.

“We fought so hard to stay in Africa,” Kyle said. “That was our dream, to go be missionaries on the field for the next 20-30 years.”

But it was clear that Andrew needed more care than the hospital in Johannesburg could offer. With two weeks to gather their belongings and make arrangements to return to America, there was not enough time to return to the village. As the two weeks passed, though, Andrew could not stay well enough to travel. Soon, it became evident that the only way for him to get back to America would be by air ambulance—something that would cost around $300,000, which appeared too far out of reach.

In the Lord’s economy, though, it was comfortably within grasp.

“About that time, it was right after the 2012 Lottie Moon offering [had been taken] that was just a record high,” Abby recalled. “Everybody had been shocked at the upswing that year. It came through that there would be money and not to worry about it. We got a call from Dr. Elliff saying, ‘Money’s not an object. Don’t worry about it. We’re getting this baby home.’”

The family was overjoyed and overflowing with gratitude.

So, Abby put Kyle and the other two children onto a commercial flight and prepared for the air ambulance to pick up her and Andrew the next day. Yet again, however, Abby got a phone call saying Andrew had crashed, was back on a ventilator and that it didn’t look good. When the air ambulance arrived the next day, the crew said they were not aware of how sick Andrew was and that they could not take him. So, they turned back around and left.

“At this point, I’m at the hospital, my room’s gone at the guest house, my car’s been turned back in, I don’t have a cell phone, and my only hope just walked out the door,” Abby said.

“I couldn’t call Kyle because he was still traveling, and he wasn’t going to have an American cell phone after he landed for 12 hours anyway. It was just the worst feeling in the world. It just shattered me.”

A friend who happened to be in Johannesburg helped Abby find another place to stay and a car while Abby and the medical team worked to get Andrew healthy enough to travel and to find someone willing to fly him home. Three weeks later, it seemed both Andrew’s health and a willing flight crew may finally be in sync. A South African flight crew flew Abby and Andrew to Houston, where Kyle was waiting on the tarmac for his wife and baby. It was a very happy reunion, Abby said.

Andrew stayed in the children’s hospital in Houston for another month, where doctors diagnosed a floppy esophagus as the culprit for some of Andrew’s medical issues. The Costello Syndrome, however, was not so easily fixed and will likely remain with Andrew for the rest of his life. Because of the Costello Syndrome, Andrew is legally blind, in heart failure and unable to sit up, though Abby said he is learning that now. She said this Christmas marks one year since Andrew has had a seizure—something she counts as a precious Christmas present.

A New Mission Field
While their hearts ache at having to leave the mission field and the people they grew to love, especially without the chance to say goodbye, Abby and Kyle said God has been faithful to bring Africa to them. Now living in North Texas, the family is involved in refugee ministry where they are able to work with African people, speak with them in Swahili and help them get aquatinted with their new American homes and lives. They pray that someday they’ll be able to return to Africa, perhaps doing business as missions, but for now, they’re content to serve as missionaries among their current neighbors.

Both Abby and Kyle agreed that they want to fight against getting caught up in the busyness of American life in a way that hinders them from sharing the gospel and ministering the way they made a point to in Africa.

“[The Lord] asked us not to become too settled in America,” Abby said.

She and Kyle said they think a lot about what it means to be “missional” in America and want to be faithful to follow the Lord wherever he leads them—be it Texas or Africa. Recognizing that there are no missionaries among the 4 million people in South Africa where they were last stationed, Kyle and Abby pray that God would raise up workers to water and reap where they planted.

Abby says that these days, as she sits and rocks Andrew, she remembers that it was other people’s money that brought him back. If they would have remained in Africa and could not return to the states, it is very possible Andrew may have died there. Instead, she has a 2-year-old, curly-headed little boy to hold and love in Texas. For that, Abby says, she wants to say a “huge thank you” to those who gave and give to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. These gifts, she said, allowed her and Kyle to see “very tangibly” the care and faithfulness of Southern Baptists.

“It changes lives,” Abby said. 

*Names changed to protect future mission work

Typhoon Hagupit steamrolls the Philippines

MANILA –– One year after Typhoon Haiyan steamrolled through the Philippines, another typhoon is carving a path of destruction through the islands.

Typhoon Hagupit, or ‘Ruby,’ as it is known locally, made landfall Saturday evening, Dec. 6. The slow-moving storm is expected to strike six Philippines islands before it moves out to sea Tuesday.

Filipino disaster response teams are poised and ready to respond as needed and Baptist Global Response is on standby for a full report on the damages, said Patrick Melancon, BGR’s managing director of disaster response and training.

“The Philippines is somewhat better prepared for this after having learned a few lessons in Haiyan last year,” Melancon said. “Right now, the information I have is that there is little loss of life and mostly a lot of rain.”

As many as 48 million people live in the path of the typhoon.  Ahead of the storm, up to 1 million evacuated to shelters – including a school building on Gibitngil island rebuilt by BGR volunteers earlier this year.

Last year’s Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people and rendering 200,000 people homeless. Before it made landfall, Typhoon Hagupit weakened to the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane. The storm is expected to weaken further as it moves over the islands.

In the city of Tacloban, hardest-hit by last year’s storm, 48,000 people were moved to shelters ahead of Typhoon Hagupit’s arrival. Adore and Hope Sabido, Filipino BGR project directors, and Glen and Marvella Thompson, also BGR project directors, will soon travel to Tacloban to begin damage assessments.

The assessment team will connect with Carl and Suzie Miller, IMB missionaries in Tacloban and survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, (click here to read their story of survival).

The Millers reported strong wind and rains in Tacloban but they say the storm damage is much less than that caused by last year’s typhoon.

Cell phone lines are down in some areas, including Eastern Samar, a province bordering Tacloban. The BGR team and local IMB missionaries are waiting for an update on believers in the area.

Stan and Dottie Smith, IMB missionaries on the island of Cebu, expressed concern about Gibitngil, an island situated just north of Cebu.

“Being a [smaller] island exposes them to the effects of the storm much more intensely than the mainland,” Stan Smith said.

Early reports indicate rain and wind were strong on Gibitngil. Families on the island are gathered in the local school for safety. Volunteers with BGR helped rebuild this school after Typhoon Haiyan left its mark last year.

BGR’s desire is for Filipino believers to lead out in Typhoon Hagupit disaster relief efforts, but help from American Southern Baptists will be needed, Ben Wolf, the Asia Rim director for BGR, says.

Southern Baptists played a crucial role in recovery and rebuilding after Typhoon Haiyan.

SBTC DR Director Jim Richardson retires

PARADISE, Texas — Jim Richardson, who arrived in Texas in May 2006 in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita to become the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention director of disaster relief (DR), announced his retirement from the position effective Dec. 31, 2014.

Richardson, former director of Georgia Baptist Convention DR, expressed appreciation to SBTC leadership and the DR volunteers with whom he served, calling the latter the “true heroes.”

“It has been my privilege to work with the DR volunteers at the SBTC—people who are committed to DR ministry. I appreciate the leadership of the SBTC who backed me up and allowed me to do the things I needed to do,” Richardson told the TEXAN.

In a letter announcing his retirement, Richardson expressed appreciation to DR task force directors, unit directors, team leaders and “yellow shirts” (DR volunteers) for their sacrificial service.

During Richardson’s tenure as SBTC DR director, the ministry grew significantly.

“Our first order of business was to develop leadership, put units together and train volunteers,” Richardson recalled. “Now we have close to 3,000 volunteers, 40 units and a very active leadership task force.”

In 2006, SBTC DR efforts focused primarily on clean up, recovery and feeding. Under Richardson’s leadership, the ministry expanded to include childcare, communications, water purification, shower/laundry, operations, assessments and chaplaincy. SBTC DR training sessions increased to six per year by 2014.

In addition to his work with SBTC and Georgia Baptist DR, Richardson served on the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief roundtable and the SBDR Region 3 steering committee, opportunities for which he expressed appreciation in the letter announcing his retirement.

Richardson’s wife, Frances, died in October after battling brain cancer. Richardson plans to relocate to Central Florida to be closer to family.