The silver van pulls into the church parking lot and comes to rest. Eleven-year-old Makala climbs out of one of the sliding side doors while seventeen-year-old Ashley unfastens four-year-old Harmony from her car seat. Parents Roger and Shanell Cook close the van doors behind them and say “good morning” to their twenty-year-old son Jackson, the couple’s sole biological child who drove separately. Harmony jumps into her father’s arms as the family of six is greeted with smiles, handshakes and hugs from their fellow church members at Fellowship Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
There are several more members of the Cook family to welcome on Sunday mornings than there used to be. Makala, Harmony and Ashley were fostered and later adopted by Roger and Shanell who have opened up their home – and their hearts – to boys and girls as a Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) foster care family.
“After our first call to BCH, Danetta Christmas came to our house,” Roger recounts of their initial inquiry with BCH’s foster care staff member. “She walked us through each step and held our hand that entire way.”
It has been more than four years since the couple finished foster care training and licensing through BCH. Completing the process enabled the Cooks to care for children who have been removed from their families, for their safety, by the N.C. Department of Social Services (DSS). BCH case managers, like Danetta Christmas, serve as advocates for their foster families.and work directly with the DSS social workers tasked with finding placements for the approximately 17,000 children in N.C.’s foster care system.
When the Cooks received a call in February 2018 about Makala, BCH arranged for a weekend visit with the then six-year-old child at the family’s home.
“I think before she went to bed that night, she came and sat on my lap and she called me ‘daddy.’ and you know she had never had that,” Roger remembers. “She just looks at you with those big eyes and we fell in love with her immediately.”
A little more than a year after they began fostering her, the Cooks adopted Makala in April 2019 making her a permanent member of their family. And on August 1, 2019, Makala became a member of God’s family when she asked Jesus into her heart.
“Her coming home and telling us that she had accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior at Vacation Bible School was one of the proudest moments that we’ve had as parents,” Roger gushes.
“So many of the children don’t know God when they come to us,” Shanell says of the 19 children they have fostered so far.
One day, Shanell received a call from BCH about a seven-month-old infant named Harmony who had been severely neglected. DSS needed a foster family for Harmony immediately. Worried that it had been years since they had cared for a baby, Shanell texted Roger, who was at work, to share her concerns and ask for his feedback. After a few moments, her phone lit up with his response.
“God laid it on my heart to send her a text,” Roger divulges. “I simply said, ‘Shanell, God is calling. Are you going to answer the call or let it go to voicemail?’”
“I answered the call and said, ‘yes,’” Shanell recalls tearfully. Harmony has been with the Cooks ever since. They adopted her at age two after her parental rights were terminated by the courts.
Not long before the toddler’s adoption was finalized, the Cooks received a call about Ashley. Where Harmony was only an infant when she came into their home, Ashley was a teenager who had been through a tumultuous time. After coming to live with the Cooks, it did not take her long to realize that they were the family she wanted in her life.
“I think there was always something I was missing, and I guess I didn’t really find out what that was until I moved in with mom and dad – Roger and Shanell,” Ashley shares. “All I needed was a family and to be loved because I hadn’t had that for so long.”
That family extends to the congregation of Fellowship Baptist Church where Roger recently answered a calling of his own – he became the church’s bi-vocational pastor in July.
“Our church has been an amazing part of our journey,” Shanell says. “Every time a child (comes into our family), whether we fostered them or adopted them, they just greet them like they are part of the family.”
The Cooks are quick to recognize the essential role churches play in their family’s journey. Whether it’s the support of their home church or N.C. Baptists across the state who collect an Annual Offering for Baptist Children’s Homes, they are grateful for the statewide gifts and prayers that make it possible for them, and hundreds of other N.C. families, to foster and adopt.
“The Thanksgiving (Annual) Offering is an amazing way to give back,” Shanell explains. “I know not everyone can be a foster parent but they can help those that want to be.”
“Without the donations and without all the work that’s being done by N.C. Baptists and Baptist Children’s Homes, we wouldn’t have the family we have today,” Roger says smiling. “We would still be a family of three instead of a family of six and growing.
by Blake Ragsdale, Director of Communications, Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina
Editor’s Note: The Annual Offering is vital to the many ministries of Baptist Children’s Homes which serves vulnerable children, families, single mothers, expectant mothers, intellectually/developmentally disabled adults, aging adults, and others. The offering supports the Every Child Foster and Adoption Ministry, a partnership between BCH and N.C. Baptists. Churches can find Annual Offering resources (slides, social media posts, videos featuring the Cooks, etc.) at bchoffering.org.