POSSUM TROT, in Texas, is such a small town that it does not
even have streetlights, or tarmac on the roads. But the
congregation of Bennett Chapel Baptist Church, in Possum Trot, has
seen its congregation swell in recent years. Over the past 16
years, this small, rural, predominantly black community has
welcomed 77 of the state's looked-after children into their
"In the late 1990s, my wife's mother died," the minister of
Bennett Chapel Baptist Church, Bishop William C. Martin, says. "She
was trying to find an outlet for the grief she was feeling. One day
she was praying to God: 'If you don't take this feeling from me
Lord, I'm going to die.' She felt God say to her: 'Give back to a
child who doesn't have a mother.'"
Donna Martin contacted the state Child Protection Services (CPS)
to sign up to adoption-training classes. Over the next 12 weeks she
and her husband drove a 120-mile round trip to go through the
training. At the end of it, they were given two children: a
five-year-old girl, Mercedes, and her three-year-old half-brother,
"We presented them to the church on the Sunday," Bishop Martin
says, "and I began to preach for the next few weeks about
It had not been an easy decision. The Martins already had two
teenage children of their own, and their oldest son was born with
severe brain damage, and is still cared for at home. "My brother
couldn't understand why we'd adopt with the child we'd already
got," Bishop Martin said. "But we were doing what the Lord required
us to do."
Inspired by their choice, families from the church began to ask
whether they could adopt as well. But for most people, the prospect
of driving 60 miles to an adoption training class and 60 miles back
was impossible, both financially and in terms of time.
Bishop Martin asked the CPS if they would run classes in Possum
Trot. Their response was that if he could find eight families
willing to adopt, they would come.
Twenty-three families came forward; the classes came to the
town; and the community began adopting. Most of the adoptive
parents were from the church, but some people also joined from the
town. "We had a grandmother who adopted a brother and sister, and
we've had single people, as well as families," Bishop Martin
"Everyone in the church was behind us. We didn't ever feel we
were not supported by the families that did not adopt. Everybody in
the end gets involved in caring and looking after the children,"
Mrs Martin says.
They have adopted four children in total. "One girl was being
fostered, and the lady looking after her went on a cruise and left
her behind. We looked after her for a couple of weeks, and when her
foster carer returned, she said she didn't want the girl back. So
we adopted her into our family.
"Another boy's brother was being adopted into our community, but
the family couldn't take both siblings. We adopted him so they
could stay close."
For such a small community, the influx of children with complex
histories and severe behavioural issues had a massive impact.
"People [started] saying we were doing it for the money," Bishop
Martin remembers. "But no money could make me get involved with a
child with the problems they had.
"All of us have had some major problems with our kids. We really
didn't know what we were getting into. But we weren't giving
"You can't expect a child to know something they haven't been
taught. You can't expect them to love when they haven't been shown
love; and you can't expect them to obey when they haven't been
shown how to obey. We don't have a lot of resources. All we could
give those children was love, and it was our determination to love
them through the pain."
"You take one day at a time," Mrs Martin says. "You have to deal
with every issue that they have, one on one. You've got to have a
lot of patience and unconditional love."
The state placed some of their most difficult children in Possum
Trot. "The community as a whole had issues with it. All of these
children had special needs. They'd all tried stealing, lying,
trying to connive, trying to be slick, trying to outsmart you. The
school didn't know what to do with some of the children
Some help came in the form of a reality TV makeover show that
had been cancelled, which decided to spend its remaining budget on
a grand finale: building a gym and learning centre for the children
of Possum Trot.
It is a centre that the church still uses to provide extra
support for children. "We struggle to pay the electricity to keep
the lights on, but we feed 75 to 200 children a day, we give them
activities, and we teach them life-skills. We're doing some great
things to teach our children to be productive citizens."
It wasn't just reality TV who took an interest in Possum Trot.
Oprah Winfrey, People magazine, Reader's
Digest, NBC news, and many others began to report the
extraordinary adoptions taking place in this small town in Texas.
The word spread.
"One day, I got a phone call from a girl who was in college. She
asked me: 'Is this the church that does the adopting? I've got a
son, and I don't want him any more.' She brought the little boy,
and told me that she just didn't have time for him."
Bishop Martin found a family for the boy, who was mixed race: a
couple from his church who are Hispanic and black. "They were a
perfect fit. That mother knew we could take that little boy and
It has not been plain sailing, but the dedication of the
congregation, in spite of the criticism and the financial burden,
has made a significant difference to the lives of the children they
welcomed. Sixty of the 77 children they adopted are now in
"These children aren't doomed. They still have a chance in life.
Someone had to stand up and give them that chance. It's not a
cakewalk, but what happened to them wasn't any fault of their
"There [are] so many children in the system who are carrying
fear, and they need somebody to come and lead them out. They don't
have to end up dead, or in the penitentiary."
The last adoption took place three years ago, but Mrs Martin
expects that there will be more to come. "I believe this is a
never-ending ministry. It's now expected of us; after 18 years, the
authorities know we're not going away. Even our children that have
children - they're wanting to adopt."
If Mrs Martin had her time again, she says, there is one thing
that she would do differently with her own family. "If I could go
over it again, I would change what I did with my own youngest
daughter, with her personal needs; we failed there.
"Because she was ours, she never went hungry, never went
without; so we didn't really sit down and say: 'How do you feel?
How do you want to make this work?' We were like: 'We love you, you
know everything we're about, join us on the bandwagon.' She's OK
now; but it was hard for her."
The next challenge now is to provide some kind of
independent-living scenario, such as mobile homes, for the young
people who are not able to function well on their own, and who need
support with life-skills. The church also faces the challenge of
continuing to provide the financial assistance required to support
their adopted children through college and university.
Bishop Martin is still encouraging people to consider adoption.
"Adoption is one of the greatest things that anyone can ever do. We
could have the next Prime Minister, or movie star, or missionary,
or bishop locked up in that system; if we don't bring them out, who
"It is God's will that no child is left behind, and it's
important right now to act to save a generation of children."
Bishop Martin is the author of Small Town, Big Miracle:
How love came to the least of these (Tyndale House, 2007).
The Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Paul
Williams, has fostered for 18 months
MY WIFE and I began thinking about fostering about eight years
ago, when our three boys were still quite young. We both kept
finding ourselves in contact with children in vulnerable
situations, and became more aware of the need for people to foster.
It touched our hearts.
From a faith point of view, we believe that God has a bias
towards those who are vulnerable and powerless in our society, and,
when it comes to vulnerability, children in care are clearly in
need. There was one particular verse, Matthew 18.5, we couldn't
shake off: "Whoever welcomes one child in my name, welcomes
At that time, it was hard to see how we could take on any extra
responsibilities: we had three children under five, and I was
lead-ing a busy and growing church. Would it be responsible to take
on another child with particular care needs?
[Then], in 2009, I was appointed Bishop of Kensington, a new
position with new responsibilities, and our boys were starting new
schools. About two-and-a-half years ago, we realised that there was
never going to be a time when life wasn't busy with the pressures
and demands that might make a sensible person advise us to not
We went to a "skills for fostering" seminar, simply to find out
more, and, though we both came out feeling more daunted, we were
inspired, and wanted to take it further. We went through around
seven months of fairly thorough assessment, were approved, and two
weeks after were asked whether we would take placement of a child.
We said yes, and we've had an 11-year-old girl with us for the past
As you would expect, it has been an extraordinary period for us
as a family. We are both challenged and enriched by this child we
share life with, and our boys are a part of the welcome. Together,
every day, we see Christ at the centre of our family life in the
form of a child we are caring for in his name, and thankful to be
learning some new lessons in what loving and serving another is
Reporting by Johanna Derry
Sadie Mills became a foster carer after
MY HUSBAND died at 54. I hada son at home, and I've always
wanted to foster. We had meant to foster together, but my husband
became disabled; so we put it on the back burner. After he died, I
thought: "I have a lovely home, and lots of love to give"; so I
decided that fostering was what I wanted to do with my life.
I spent about nine months going through the process, and then
started fostering. Straight away, it was an eye-opener, because the
children have been through such a lot.
I was 58 when I started, and I took it in my stride. I had my
son still at home and I come from a family of 15. I've been
surrounded by people all my life, and we all go on holiday
together; so I took the children I was fostering with me, too. I've
also taken all the children to church with me, as well. It helps
them to be part of the community, and to get to know people.
One lad I had had been through several foster homes, and was
going to be put in a children's home. He came to me when he was 11,
and stayed until he was 18. I learned so much from him, because he
had so many problems. We had the same senseof humour, and we could
laugh, though it wasn't easy.
When you first foster, you only see the naughtiness, until you
realise what's happened on their side of life. Those children have
opened up a whole world to me.
I've had children on respite, too. I looked after a baby girl
for a fortnight a few years ago, and she ended up staying for 18
months. When we were asked if we could keep her for longer, I
checked with my son, and he said: "Mum, I have never heard you
laugh so much as I have the past two weeks." I still see her and
her dad, and I'm like her nan, now.
I'm just a normal run-of-the-mill person. I don't take life too
seriously, but I do stick to the rules, so the child knows that I'm
always there, and I won't let them down. I've always been honest,
and I found that not being judgemental of their parents is one of
the biggest things. Most importantly, I make them feel like they
belong; without a sense that you belong somewhere, you've got
Reporter: Johanna Derry