— I’m sitting in the chapel at Christ’s Haven for Children, trying hard not to bawl like a baby.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a crowd has gathered at this Christian children’s home near Fort Worth to honor the most caring, humble couple I know.
Alas, I should admit a bit of bias here because I share a last name with this couple. They are my parents, Bob and Judy Ross.
In 1982, the summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved to Christ’s Haven. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
was big at the box office, and I was a devoted Cincinnati Reds fan — soon to begin a long-suffering love affair with the Texas Rangers.
By age 14, I had become accustomed to moving. Dad’s Air Force service and later his work as a minister had meant frequent changes of address. I had lived in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina before returning to my native Texas.
Shy and awkward as a teenager, I can’t say I was excited about starting a new school and trying to make friends again. I can’t say I was thrilled about my mother and father becoming house parents at Christ’s Haven.
Deep down, I understood that Mom and Dad felt a calling to care for abused, neglected and abandoned children. I knew that my parents loved me, and that this love wouldn’t change with strange kids suddenly filling the bedrooms next to mine.
Yet I suppose I was selfish at that age.
Part of me resented sharing my parents with these misfits who always seemed to rebel and never seemed to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to offer them warm beds, hot meals and — most importantly — true Christian role models.
Another part of me hated the way people in the community — and even folks at church — looked at us when our long white van arrived at the grocery store or Sunday morning worship. I sometimes longed to explain that I was a house parents’ kid and thus not deserving of the pitiful looks that I thought should be reserved for the real orphans.
Despite my reservations, I made friends at Christ’s Haven and enjoyed the amenities: a swimming pool, gymnasium and ready supply of pals to play baseball and football.
After four years at Christ’s Haven, I left home to attend Oklahoma Christian University. (Mom and Dad had saved for years so that my brother Scott, sister Christy and I could benefit from a Christian education.)
Fast forward to 2007: Mom and Dad — known affectionately as “Nanney” and “Papa” to their seven grandchildren — will mark 25 years as house parents in July.
In a high-stress, low-recognition ministry where most couples move on after two years or less, that’s an eternity. Unlike the egocentric teenager of the 1980s, today I could not be more proud of the God-led path my parents chose.
Mom and Dad have lost count of the exact number of children for whom they have cared. Some have come into their home and stayed just a few days. Others they have raised from preschool through high school graduation. In all, more than 250 girls have lived in my parents’ cottage.
My mother said she and Dad always wanted a mission to bring people to Christ. At Christ’s Haven, they found it. They study the Bible with all the girls in their care, and Dad baptizes many of them.
Over the years, Mom and Dad have labored mostly in obscurity, content to fulfill their 24-hour-a-day ministry outside the limelight. It probably wouldn’t have surprised them if their 25th anniversary as house parents had passed with no mention or fanfare. Thankfully, the Keller church and Christ’s Haven made sure their milestone did not go unnoticed.
So, here I am, watching a slide slow of my parents’ time at Christ’s Haven — including pictures of me with much more hair and much less belly. And I’m overcome with emotion, realizing just how much this precious couple has influenced my life and those of countless others.
“A friend told me one time that everything you do matters,” Christ’s Haven executive director Kelly Moore tells the crowd, “and we see that every day in the people that were in Bob and Judy’s cottage at Christ’s Haven and the difference they made in their lives.”
Keller minister Kyle Bolton then reads a tribute to Mom and Dad: “God has used you to impact the lives of so many, beginning of course with your own family. You have often sacrificed your time, your money and your energy to serve others.”
Even after 25 years, Mom and Dad never expected this kind of recognition. They certainly never anticipated that their service would lead to sand and seashells.
Dad chokes up with tears and Mom leans her head back in shock when Kyle reveals that the Keller church, the children’s home and a host of friends have collected money to send my parents on an all-expenses-paid cruise. The Greenwood church, a rural congregation where Dad preaches, also offers a special gift.
After we sing We Love You With the Love of the Lord
, Dad can barely talk.
“We don’t do this for recognition,” he says, “but it sure is nice to be recognized.”
Bon voyage, Mom and Dad. Thank you for showing me — and all 250 of your children — what it means to live for Christ.
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].