Go See ‘Sound of Hope’ — Then Ask God What He Wants You to Do Next

‘To adopt a child is a great work of love.’ —Pope St. John Paul II

Promotional still from ‘Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot’
Promotional still from ‘Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot’ (photo: Angel Studios)

There are many ways to change a life — perhaps none more dramatic than raising a child who is not biologically your own. If you have ruled out such a possibility, consider at least asking God to let you know if it is for you, or at least how you can help. Sometimes the answer will surprise you, as it once did me — more on that later — and as it did for Wilbert and Donna Martin, a couple whose real-life story inspired the movie Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot, in theaters July 4.

The movie shares the journey of “Bishop Martin” and his wife, who stirred the hearts of 22 families in their East Texas community to adopt 77 hard-to-place children from the foster-care system. That system is overflowing in this country. According to AdoptUSkids, approximately 117,000 are waiting to be adopted. Neglect and abuse are part of these children’s stories, so emotional scars create behavior problems to be overcome.

In an interview with Rebekah Weigel, who along with her husband Josh wrote, directed and produced the movie released by Angel Studios, she explained that the story follows the Martins as they ignited a movement in Shelby County beginning at their Bennett Chapel Baptist church in Possum Trot, Texas. The Weigels, who are adoptive parents themselves, actually moved permanently from Los Angeles to East Texas near Possum Trot to get to know these people and experience the story up close.

“We wondered why more people of faith weren’t stepping in,” Weigel said. “And that’s how I came across Bishop Martin’s story. This story captured our heart and I wanted to inspire more people to step in to help vulnerable children and for more churches to step in.”

The Weigels began researching and writing the script on speculation eight years ago, not knowing if it would get picked up by a studio.

“We just started writing,” she said. “Our hope is that it will ignite a movement to help children all over the world.” Knowing personally that adoption and foster care are challenging, Weigel explained that their goal was not just to tell the story from the parent’s viewpoint but to include the child’s perspective to help stir compassion. 

In the movie, the Martins have three children of their own, their youngest with special needs. Donna is seen being overwhelmed by the stress of childcare. Stepping out to take a breather, instead of clearing her head, it seemed that God softened her heart for the many children in need of love.

Attending a meeting with a social worker gave Donna a glimpse of the abuse children in foster care have been through. She was moved to take in some of the hardest-to-place children. Her husband, pastor of Bennett Chapel, was reluctant at first, citing Donna’s recent stress dealing with their own children. “Just pray about it,” Donna instructed him. The Lord soon spoke to his heart too.

Answering God’s Call

But it did not end with the Martins. The pastor began speaking to his congregation, sharing the statistics and stories, and calling people to respond to God’s call, noting that sometimes God asks us to do hard things. People responded.

The movie reflects that it takes more than just a good heart to go the distance. Determination, community support, and strong faith in God sustained the families in Possum Trot through difficult times when their children acted out. Research also shows that religious faith is a dominant characteristic among those fostering and adopting children and is often cited as what helps them weather the storms.

“We didn’t want to make it look easy,” Weigel said, “because as foster/adoptive parents and anyone involved knows, it’s challenging. It’s not easy, but we are called to it. We can see great change happen when we step in and do hard things and we do them together. When we stepped in as a family, we realized how much we needed the church — the body of Christ — to wrap around us and support us. Not everyone is called to foster and adopt, but we can all do something. We chose this story to ignite a movement to clear out the foster system. We have the resources including 400,000 churches and there are 100,000 children in foster care.”

In Possum Trot, 76 children were adopted between 1998 and 2000, with another adopted in 2011. In real life, the Martins have two biological children — one with special needs — and adopted four more during this time. One of my favorite parts of the movie is at the end, seeing many of the real-life people who were portrayed in the movie.

Taking in Orphans

In my own experience, a heart for the unfortunate attracted me to a degree in social work. I worked at many positions and my husband Mark and I ran a group home for delinquent boys for several years. Years later, after having eight children of our own, a missionary friend in Kenya asked if we would take in a teenager who had been orphaned years earlier by AIDS.

We said we would pray about it, and against great odds, everything fell into place — from his getting a birth certificate, to having his uncle sign over legal guardianship, to his getting a U.S. visa. He was a good son from the start, but two years later, when asked to take in his younger brother, I felt I was at full capacity with nine children. I found a family who would take him in. Mark disagreed and believed the brothers belonged together with us. He told me, “I’m praying about it.” I responded, “Fine. I’m praying about it too.”

After visiting with the family who would take him in, I knew in my heart that the boys did belong together with us. Our second son from Kenya, however, proved to be a challenge during the first year. He and I recently had a conversation and I realize he was certainly suffering from post-traumatic stress from many traumas, including losing both parents at a young age. He believed that there was no one in the world to love him. Lots of prayer helped turn things around and there was the bonus of discovering his talent for running. He was a two-time North Dakota state cross-country champion and placed first at events at the 2008 state track championship; he also earned national recognition, placing third at the 2008 Nike Team Nationals. He served four years in the Marines, earned an MBA and now works for the Department of Defense. His older brother is a medical doctor living with his wife and children in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Both have been huge blessings. When we agreed to accept them, there were no guarantees of a happy ending or smooth sailing. But the real blessing is caring for children who need us. They are God’s children.

I encourage people to ask God what your part is in caring for his children. For inspiration, watch Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot. (It’s rated PG-13. Go to Angel.com for show times.)