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October 14, 2000
Column #998

"ALL IT TAKES IS LOVE, SWEET LOVE"

     HOUSTON - A small black church in East Texas has adopted 60 neglected children!

     It began when Donna Martin, one of 18 children in Possum Trot, a area of Shelbyville, Texas, lost her mother to death. As an adult, Donna saw her mother daily, and felt so loved that when the great lady died in 1997, Donna said, ''I went through grief and emptiness. I had cried so much that one day I said to God, `You take this pain or let me die.'''

     ''I stepped outside in my backyard and heard a voice say `Foster and Adopt. Give back to the children who do not have what you had.' It was as if God heard me and said, `I know what your mother meant to you. Now you replace that, give it back to other children.''

     Suddenly, Donna had a new sense of fulfillment. She told her husband, W.C. Martin, Pastor of Bennett's Chapel, that though they had two children, aged 16 and 10, that she wanted to adopt. As a man with nine brothers and a sister, he immediately agreed. She called the Texas Child Protection Service about how to take in a foster child, who could later be adopted. 

     Donna visited her sister, Diann Sparks, a divorced mother of a 17-year-old, and suggested they both adopt. Diann laughed at first. Then she remembered her mother saying, in her last weeks, ''You know something about you? You have so much love to give.''

     Diann thought about her life with a daughter always on the phone, and realized she was getting lonely in her own home. Together, the sisters began driving weekly to Lufkin, 60 miles away, to evening classes on foster care and adoption.

     Donna and W.C. adopted two children and Diann, one, Nino, a 4-year-old who had lived with an elderly couple since taking him home from the hospital after his birth. In meeting him, she fell in love with the bright youngster.

     Today she says, ''This little boy is so smart and intelligent. He makes me feel good about myself. He tells me, `When I grow up, you work so hard, I will take care of you!''' 

     Donna and W.C.' new children were aged 3 and 5, a brother and sister orphaned when their mother, a crack addict, was killed. Suddenly, the Martin home had new life and joy. She said, ''By putting something in a child's life, your own life has new purpose and meaning and value. We are one big happy family.''

     In this modest way, a revolution began in Bennett's Chapel. Some 35 families have now adopted more than 60 children who were once abused and neglected.

     Yet it was never the subject of a sermon by W. C. Martin. He says, ''We did not want coercion to be part of it. We did it by example. It was a vision. They caught the vision.'' 

     The Martins' story was featured at Gov. Bush's Faith In Action conference last week. First we saw an ABC TV story with Diane Sawyer showing the little church filled with singing kids and their new parents. One family took in triplets; another, four brothers and sisters; yet another, five children. State adoption officials were at first suspicious. But as one parent, Fred Brown, said,''If you have any kind of heart, you want to help.''

     Pastor Martin spoke of their church's astounding demonstration of God's love, by singing, ''What the world needs now is love, sweet love.''

     ''Do you agree with that?'' Applause filled the room.

     ''We are saving a generation,'' he said. ''We have lost a generation of young people. We cannot continue to sit down in self-concern. It is easy to talk about how wrong some people are. We have to do it by example, by demonstration. We will do what God calls us to do.''

     His wife was eloquent: ''We are dedicated to meeting their every need. Family is the most important thing. What you do for them makes all the difference. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish. If we believe in our children, establishing them with moral support and unconditional love, it is undetermined what these children will turn into. We would not have so many jails.''

     The Martins have been on Good Morning America, Oprah, TBN, The 700 Club and featured in People magazine. Yet not one reader or viewer sent a donation to Bennett's Chapel (Route 8, Box 57, Shelbyville, TX 75935), which had to be totally rebuilt after Donna's mother's funeral. So many people packed into the tiny old church that its floor partly fell through. 

     More important, consider adopting one of the 110,000 available kids. For a list of state 800 numbers, see the National Council For Adoption website, www.ncfa-usa.org

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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