VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (BP) -- 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 African teenager's white parents, they look stunned. Then parents Roy and Shirley Smith exchange a timeworn glance and simply say, "Can't you see the family resemblance?" The Smiths adopted Georgina among the first babies placed in Door of Hope's care after they and North Carolina Baptist Men helped organize the Johnannesburg ministry in 1999.
"We prayed that God would bring a family to adopt Georgina when she was a baby," Roy Smith recounted. "God answered that prayer with us."
Today Georgina is among about 1,000 babies that Door of Hope has rescued in a city where up to 100 children per month are abandoned.
Although the Smiths have two grown sons, one with children of his own, they 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 family home 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.
For Richard Brunson, executive director of North Carolina Baptist Men, the Door of Hope ministry may be more than 8,000 miles from his Raleigh-area office but it couldn't be closer to his heart.
"Baptist men and women are known internationally for their help with disaster relief," Brunson said. "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 contain an array of letters from supporters, many of whom let it be known that they are not Baptist.
"They give because of the work that God is doing," Brunson said, adding, "Baptist men and women give because we are called to share Christ with a needy world."
Roy Smith, who now serves as associational missionary with the Norfolk Area Baptist Association, and his wife formerly worked with North Carolina Baptist Men in conjunction with the International Mission Board in Johannesburg where they worked with Berea Baptist Church to address the problem of abandoned babies.
Grinding poverty and other social ills can cause mothers to abandon babies in refuse heaps, the river, even storm drains, Smith said. He and his colleagues worked to open Door of Hope where babies could be nurtured in a loving environment.
The Door of Hope features a window-shaped opening on the street where a mother can leave a baby in a comfortable bin without revealing her identity. Once the baby is inside, a sensor alerts the staff who rush to the baby's aid. Mothers who leave their babies at Door of Hope do so out of compassion that overcomes a wave of shame, Smith said.
The ministry provides the baby with any needed medical treatment and, ultimately, a foster home, which they call a "forever family." While the state oversees the process, which can be quite rigorous, Door of Hope screens prospective parents for their commitment to the baby and their commitment to the Lord.
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," Shirley added.
The Smiths began to sense that they should adopt Georgina. They remember the day they waited in a courthouse in Johannesburg so long that they 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 them 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 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 in foreign relations.
Whatever she does, she said ministry won't be too far off her mind. She visited the Door of Hope with her parents not long ago and asked to spend time with the babies.
Realizing that she was once one of them moved her. "I said I would definitely be coming back when I turn 18."
Michael Ray Smith is professor of communications studies at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Additional information on Door of Hope or other ministries of North Carolina Baptist Men may be obtained by visiting www.ncmissions.org or calling 1-800-395-5102, ext. 5613.
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