NETTLETON – Wes and Elizabeth Stephens, who pastor Jones Chapel Baptist Church, not only have a heart for adoption, they are living examples of turning their home into a welcoming shelter for foster children and an adopted son.
The urgent need for adoptive families was first highlighted during November when National Adoption Week was first proclaimed by Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis in 1976. His idea grew in popularity and quickly spread nationwide. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week, and in 1995, under President Bill Clinton, the week was expanded to the entire month of November.
The Stephens’ happy brood of six includes their two biological children, one who has been adopted and three currently in foster care.
“We had talked about adoption before we ever married. Elizabeth was told that she couldn’t carry a child to term,” Wes said.
The Stephens lost their first baby to miscarriage, but with extensive medical help and much bed rest were able to parent two healthy children.
“Before we started the adoption process, I studied scripture to find the mind of God,” Wes said. “James 1:27 became my mandate – ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…’”
The Stephens have been foster parents for four years now and have seen two children placed into adoptive families.
They originally explored the idea of adopting a child from overseas, but that didn’t materialize.
“When God closed the international door, a social worker encouraged us to consider domestic adoption,” Wes said.
After a lengthy process, Jon Michael became part of the Stephens family.
“It took two years, seven months and 12 days. You never know what may happen. The process is open-ended. We knew nothing about him,” Elizabeth said.
The different factor is that Jon Michael is African-American.
“It’s harder to explain to adults why we have a ‘different’ child. We wondered whether our family and friends could handle it. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, although it took a few months to get to that point. We had to learn how to react to their reactions. Trans-racial adoption blurs traditional boundaries. Jon Michael is amazing and charismatic. He’s a people person and presses into conversations,” Wes said.
The Stephens believe they will be involved with foster care from here forward.
“Over 90 percent of foster care cases are drug-related. Drug addiction is crippling families,” Wes said.
The Stephens consider their calling to be helping victimized children through the adoption process.
“There are not enough foster homes to meet the need. We want to prick the interest of others who can help. Everybody is called to do something,” Wes said.
Elizabeth carries the load of maintaining the family environment alongside her busy pastor-husband.
“The first few days are crazy,” she said of welcoming a new child. “There are state health department assessments, socialization and issue management. Our church has been amazing with bringing clothes and supplies, as well as mentoring the children in church activities.”
The Stephens involve their children in making decisions as well as managing day-to-day living, so there are no surprises.
“It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding,” Elizabeth said.