Beth Guckenberger spoke at our women’s retreat this week. I wanted to adopt her, except she is married with 10 children (adopted, foster and biological, combined). Her talk was about God’s faithfulness in the mission field where she and her husband, Todd, work with Back2Back ministries.
Fresh out of college, Todd and Beth had headed a youth mission team to Monterrey, Mexico, where they found themselves painting a church the same color it had been when their team painted it the year before. Frustrated and with only one day left before returning to the states, the young couple grabbed a taxi, asked to be driven to a local orphanage, and soon found themselves on the porch of a rundown building.
They introduced themselves to the children’s guardian and asked if he could use the help of 20 teens, $200 and some prayers. So began their passion to serve the orphans in Mexico, an involvement that led to their attempted adoption of two young sisters, but after months of paperwork, they were denied. (More on that next week.)
Fast forward a few years to when Todd, Beth, and three-month-old daughter settled in Monterrey. In the fall they returned to Ohio where Todd was a principal at a Christian school and their Mexico orphanage fundraising efforts were taking off. In their absence, a young woman volunteered to live in their Monterrey home to help with some caretaking duties.
No sooner were they back in the states than Beth received an emergency call from the Monterrey caretaker. One of the young orphan girls had been hit by a truck. Within three hours, Beth and baby daughter were on a flight to Mexico, leaving her husband a note on the kitchen counter: “Headed to Monterrey. Will call tonight.”
While there, Beth received a phone call that a three-month-old Mexican boy was available for adoption. Beth called Todd who flew to Mexico to join her to meet their baby son. Even though he had “pretzeled legs, bent arms that would not unfold curled hands and mold on one side of his face,” the adopting couple called him the “most beautiful baby ever.”
Returning to Ohio, intense therapy began, but their young son cried nonstop. A trip to a neuro-surgeon was not good news. Antonio was in the “severe” category of spina bifida. He probably never would talk or walk or be able to care for himself. Todd and Beth needed “to be prepared for the worst.” The news, although devastating, was more reason to pray.
One day when the occupational therapist visited, Antonio was on the floor with a toy. His sister grabbed the toy and went to the other side of the room. Antonio wailed. Beth retrieved the toy and took it back to her son. After an hour of observing this behavior, the therapist told Beth that she was making it too easy for her son. As long as she did everything for him, he would not have to do anything on his own. When the therapist left, Beth sat on the kitchen floor, crying out to God while Antonio lay on the living room floor, crying for his mom.
But then Antonio’s crying changed. Beth walked into the living room to watch her disabled son wiggle-crawl toward his sister on the other side of the room. When he neared the couch, he clutched its skirt bottom and pulled himself up. By now, Beth was on the floor a few feet away. Antonio turned and walked toward his mother.
Beth shared that it wasn’t a normal crawl, pull or walk. Still, it was a far cry from what she ever expected. She quickly loaded the two youngsters into her car and sped to her husband’s school where Antonio showed his dad what he could do. “You know what I’m going to do now, don’t you?” asked Beth.
“I’m pretty sure I do,” answered Todd.