n a rainy day in April 1977, my husband and I, along with our two small children, arrived on the campus of the Church of God Home for Children in Sevierville, Tennessee, to begin our lives as houseparents. In those initial moments, we had no way of knowing that 10 little girls in Cottage 2, ages 5-11, would impact our lives forever.
They were a talkative bunch! After telling us their names, they proceeded to show us their skinned knees and bruises from play. One had a headache; another, a stomachache.
“Have you come to be our mommy and daddy?” a small blonde-haired girl asked.
“We can’t take the place of your parents, but we will love you and take good care of you,” we assured them.
Eleven-year-old Anna spoke up proudly, “I can be your helper. I know how to run the washer and dryer!”
Thank You, God, I thought. We’re going to need a helper! Ten children under age 12!
In the days following, we learned their heartbreaking stories. Two sisters had been abandoned and taken to their aging grandparents, who were unable to care for them. A very thin 8-year old had never know her father; he mother had a debilitating disease and subsequently passed away.
Others had been raped by relatives and/or had parents on drugs and therefore had been taken out of their home. It was tough for them to grasp what love meant, so it was a challenge to win their trust.
Early in our ministry, the resident nurse told me, “Sister Joyce, this is a proving ground.”
It didn’t take long to understand what she was trying to tell us. Each day brought new challenges and much prayer. Sometimes at night, I wept in my bed.
The weeks and months rolled into years, and the task was not easy. But seeing those children learning to trust and accept love, taking pride in themselves and their surroundings, learning how to have a balanced life of work and play, and, more importantly, surrendering their lives to God, made it all worthwhile. Through it all, Anna remained our helper.
The time finally came when we felt our work in Cottage 2 was done, yet we desired to stay connected to the Home for Children in some way. Therefore, when a job came open for a secretary in the Social Services Department, I accepted it, while my husband accepted a job with the Maintenance Department.
In my new position, I was able to have a broader view of the workings of the Home and the opportunity to connect with every child on campus in some way. I often saw the hopelessness in the eyes of a child sitting in the lobby. Other times I could rejoice at a success story. In almost 20 years in that position, I could never become insensitive or uncaring to their stories.
Now I am retired, but I thank God that the vision I had as a 12-year-old girl to someday help needy and hurting children is still intact. When I think of Anna and my own two children, all involved in children’s ministries, I thank Him all over again.