|VIRGINIA BEACH—Thirteen-year-old Georgina Smith, originally from South Africa, still gets a kick out of introducing her parents to friends from school.
When classmates see the white parents of this vivacious African teen-ager, they look stunned. Then parents Roy and Shirley Smith exchange a timeworn glance and say simply, “Can’t you see the family resemblance?” The joke never gets old for the Smiths who adopted Georgina, one of the first babies from the Door of Hope ministry that they help organize in 1999.
“We prayed that God would bring a family to adopt Georgina when she was a baby,” recalled Roy Smith in his rich pastor’s voice. “God answered that prayer with us.”
Today Georgina represents one of about 1,000 babies the Johannesburg-ministry rescued in a city where up to 100 children per month are abandoned. North Carolina Baptist Men helped organized the ministry as another way to reach the world with the message that faith in Christ provides eternal life.
Although the Smiths have two grown sons, one with children of his own, Roy and Shirley Smith saw the need of an orphaned baby who has since matured into a bubbly American teenager who radiates a singular faith of her own.
“I am really blessed,” Georgina said from the cozy kitchen of her two-story house in a snug Virginia Beach neighborhood, a 30-minute drive from the ocean.
“There are a lot of kids out there who are not in the Door of Hope program and it makes me really sad to think about it,” Georgina said, her words acting like a lightning conductor sparking warmth.
The spark travels to nearby North Carolina where Richard Brunson is executive director of North Carolina Baptist Men. For Brunson, the Door of Hope ministry may be more than 8,000 miles from his office, but it couldn’t be closer to his heart.
“Baptist men and women are known internationally for their help with disaster relief,” he said from his Cary, N.C., office. “But we are involved in lots of ministries. We operate North Carolina ministries such as the nation’s largest mobile medical dental ministry, but we try to be world Christians with ministries such as Door of Hope based in Berea Baptist Church in Johannesburg.”
Brunson’s office is filled with reminders of places Baptist men and women go including a tarnished silver fork mounted on a 10-inch wooden plaque, a reminder of the family of 12 who once had to share the fork for lack of eating utensils. Brunson’s files overflow with letters from supporters, many of who let it be known that they are not Baptist.
“They give because of the work that God is doing,” Brunson said. “Baptist men and women give because we are called to share Christ with a needy world.”
Roy Smith once worked with North Carolina Baptist Men and now works as a missionary with Norfolk Area Baptist Association. In 1999 the Smiths worked in Johannesburg under a joint appointment with the International Mission Board and partnered with Berea Baptist Church to help with the problem of abandoned babies.
According to Roy Smith, grinding poverty and other social ills contribute to mothers abandoning babies in refuse heaps, the river, even storm drains. He and his colleagues worked to open Door of Hope where babies could be nurtured in a loving environment, often at the hands of trained volunteers.
The Door of Hope features a window-shaped opening on the street where a mother can leave a baby without revealing her identity. Some call the opening a hole in the wall; babies who make it in alive call it sanctuary.
Once the baby is inside the opening, a sensor alerts the staff who rush to the baby’s aid. The inside of the bin is inviting, airy, a place foreign to many of the haggard mothers listing from sadness and neglect. Their burden is a burden within a burden that bow the women into a fallen heap and Door of Hope is there to redeem the loss.
The goal of the ministry is to provide a safe haven for the baby with medical treatment and, ultimately, a foster home. It exists to drive out the hopelessness that leaves mothers faint with regret, longing for a future for a tiny human who has begun life, often with disease and no prospects beyond want. Door of Hope wars against the monstrous darkness of life where babies are left in open fields for lack of provision.
Smith said prospective parents are screened for their commitment to the baby and commitment to the Lord. While the state oversees the process, which can be quite rigorous, the ministry does all it can to match loving parents with denizens of the Door.
Georgina’s mother gave her up, knowing that she hungered for the resources to raise a daughter on her own. Roy Smith said mothers who leave their babies at Door of Hope do so out of compassion that overcames a wave of shame.
Georgina was among the first babies to arrive at Door of Hope and, before long, she took to the Smiths.
“It got so that when I came in, if I didn’t pick up Georgina right away, she would latch around my leg,” Smith recalled.
“She would stand on his feet and walk with him,” added Shirley Smith. Before long the Smiths sensed that they should adopt Georgina.
Smith remembers the day he and Shirley waited in a courthouse in Johannesburg for a legal remedy. They waited so long, each thought the adoption must have gone awry. When all seemed lost, a clerk had the Smiths sign a series of legal documents and then a judge appeared and quickly congratulated the family on adopting Georgina, saying, “According to the laws of South Africa, she is the same to you as a blood-born child.”
Nearly 12 years later, Georgina eyes her parents with a merry side-long glance and says, “They are pretty awesome parents.”
A good student, Georgina excels in English and music and plans to perform with People to People Student Ambassadors in Europe. She wants to have a career in music or work in foreign relations.
Whatever she does, she said ministry wouldn’t be too far off her mind. She visited the Door of Hope with parents not long ago and asked to spend time with the babies.
Seeing the babies and realizing that she was once one of them moved her.
“I said I would definitely be coming back when I turn 18,” she said.
Until then, North Carolina Baptist Men continue to support this ministry and many others. Additional information on Door of Hope or other ministries of North Carolina Baptist Men may be obtained by visiting http://www.baptistsonmission.org/Projects/Outside-US/South-Africa or calling (800) 395-5102 ext. 5613.
--Michael Ray Smith