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By Candi Brown and Steve Blanchard

The dictionary defines adoption as: “the action or fact of legally taking another’s child and bringing it up as one’s own, or the fact of being adopted.” But a dry legal definition doesn’t even begin to tell us what adoption is. Its definition is probably as broad as the number of reasons individuals or families have adopted children. For this feature, here’s a glimpse at how two of our staff members might define it as they have welcomed children into their homes. These stories may help define adoption, but it is so much more. In their cases, it’s a journey of love.

Candi’s Story

Adoption has been a central focus throughout my life. I was adopted as an infant and raised in a Christian home where I was loved and accepted. Later, during my college years, I became interested in learning more about foster care, specifically foster programs that would hopefully lead to adoption. I completed a year of social work training at an adoption agency and after working with so many precious children, I thought that I might be interested in adopting a child one day.

Life moved forward and after being married 17 years, and having three biological children, God moved through an amazing series of events to give our family the opportunity to adopt. In 2009 through our refugee ministry at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, I became friends with a Burmese man, Kasim, and his two young sons. They knew no English at the time and were struggling with their adjustment to life in Richmond. I worked with them for several years, helping them make appointments, shop and invited them to do things with my family. Then in 2015, the boys’ father became too ill to take care of them.

From an unlikely friendship with a Muslim refugee, God provided a place for Kasim’s boys. They were first placed in foster care in our home, and once their care plan goals turned to adoption, we knew that they were meant to be part of our family. The adoption of Thomas and Jason was finalized in December 2017.

I’ll admit that there have been adjustments for all of us, including our three biological children. We face challenges, as all parents do, but I hope that we are teaching our children the importance of love, family, sacrifice and acceptance of others. Recently, I asked Thomas what adoption meant to him. He told me “I don’t know. I guess it’s just like having another family who cares for you. It’s not losing your parents; it’s just gaining new ones who love you more.”

Journey of Love: Stories of Adoption

Steve’s Story

In 2001, my wife Susan and I began seriously considering the prospect of adoption. At the time, we had no children and the thought of adoption was something we both embraced. We did our homework and finally decided we would like to adopt a child from China. We began the process with mountains of paperwork and procedures, correspondence with home and foreign adoption agencies, and lots of travel to meet with various adoption services. Finally, after about 16 months, we received news of our placement along with a picture of our new child who was not yet a year old. We were absolutely thrilled and totally filled with joy.

In 2004, we traveled to China, along with nine other families from around the U.S., to meet our daughter, Molly. The friendships we formed during our trip have endured ever since. And in 2007, those friends led and supported us in adopting our second daughter, Menley, who was 13 months old at the time.

Just like many other parents, we endured sleepless nights, changed a ton of diapers and heard our share of tantrums while, at the same time, we have embraced their first steps, watched as they amazed us with their creativity, and stood broken hearted as they struggled when they first entered school. But trust me, the joys have far, far, outweighed the difficulties. We even considered adopting a third child, but overseas adoptions began to close.

Our extended families have totally embraced our children. Molly and Menley quickly became grandchildren, cousins, and nieces. They have asked questions about their biological parents, mostly out of curiosity, and we have always been as open as possible with them about their heritage and their culture. We were even able to return to China in 2018 to visit the cities where they were born.

The amazing thing is that they are truly sisters, even though we adopted them at different times and from different parts of China. They love each other and love us as their parents. I cannot imagine life without them. They are our true joy and I am so proud of them for the young women they are becoming. I realize our experience of adoption is not unique, as we have many friends who have traveled down the same path. I know that every process is not always easy but I sincerely believe that every kid deserves a chance to grow into the individual God wants them to be with a family who loves them. All that to say, I am a truly blessed man.

Journey of Love: Stories of Adoption

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Story by Beth Allen Cuthbert.

Betty Allen sometimes describes herself as a “Connecticut Yankee.” She was the last child born in the 18th century house in Guilford, CT, where her father’s family lived for over 250 years.

Betty’s mother, Claudia, who grew up in Arlington, Virginia, certainly didn’t think of herself as a Yankee – she yearned for her Virginia home. When Betty’s Virginia grandfather died and her father was invited to join his late father-in-law’s real estate and insurance business, Claudia claimed she never said anything to her husband to encourage the move. She simply closed herself in a closet and prayed. Betty, however, always doubted this story because Claudia never kept a thought to herself! In any event, the family moved to Virginia, and Betty was soon joined by a little brother, Billy.

A good student, Betty graduated as valedictorian in the first graduating class at Arlington’s Washington and Lee High School. She was 16 years old when she left for Duke University at the end of that summer.

George and Betty AllenBetty met George when he traveled to Arlington to visit his uncle who was married to Betty’s great aunt. They had a date on a Sunday night, and George wanted to take Betty to the movies. Betty’s mother was a strict Southern Baptist. She loved movies, but not on Sundays. On this particular evening, however, she made an exception to her rule: Betty and George could go to the movies. Instead, the couple changed plans and went dancing at the Shoreham, which was much worse. Betty never told her mother what happened.

A year later, after Betty had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke, she and George married, George having sold his car to pay for Betty’s engagement ring. They settled in a small apartment on West Grace Street, in Richmond, where Betty kept house and George practiced law with his father in the Mutual Building.

Housekeeping was new to Betty. Until her marriage, she had never made a bed or helped with the cooking because she could never meet her mother’s high standards. But as a new bride, she was a quick learner. Soon, she and George were inviting other newly-wed couples to dinner in their home. They took dancing lessons at the Country Club of Virginia and enjoyed evenings out playing bridge at friends’ houses. George and Betty spent a wonderful 52 years together raising four children, Beth, Margaret, Ted, and Meredith.

George served in the state legislature for 27 years. With this job came special opportunities. Betty’s favorite was meeting Queen Elizabeth when she visited the United States in 1957 to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Betty still has the kid gloves she wore to shake hands with the queen.

Betty AllenService to community is important to Betty. A member of First Baptist, she was honored to be one of its first women deacons and to hold leadership positions in Woman’s Missionary Union. She served on the board of The Virginia Home for 40 years. Until 2015, she sent Christmas cards to every resident. An art history major, Betty led docent tours at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and also served on its Council and Board of Trustees.

After George’s death in 1990, Betty carried on with her busy life and spent time enjoying the company of her seven grandchildren. In 2002, she moved to Cedarfield Retirement Community and continues to entertain friends with her upbeat outlook and great sense of humor.

Read related story:A Few Good Women


Beth Allen CuthbertBeth Allen Cuthbert, Betty Allen’s daughter, grew up at First Baptist and was involved in GAs and youth activities. She was a lawyer for 30 years, most of that time in Petersburg, where she now lives. She has two grown children, who live in the Richmond area. Beth is retired and takes classes and teaches at The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

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By Nancy Mairs. Photos by Paul Bickford and Susan Brown.

The First Baptist family is a diverse group of individuals, joining together as one body of believers seeking their paths with Christ. The story of three different couples – Spencer and Caroline Budwell, Carl and Ann Evans, and Todd and Robin Ritter – highlights how this seeking also brings a deeper friendship with other believers. And sometimes even marriage.

The Budwells

The Budwells

Spencer and Caroline Budwell. Photo by Paul Bickford.

Spencer Budwell was involved with other singles in forming a new Sunday school class at First Baptist. So involved that it didn’t occur to him that through this involvement he would meet his future wife.

At the time, several of the young singles felt a growing need for a class that would provide them friendships with others who had been on their own for some time – with a goal not of meeting their life partners, but of sharing their experiences of seeking Christ.

Caroline Budwell, a lifelong Baptist, was attending another church in the area, but was looking for a deeper fellowship with others at her same stage of life. She decided to visit First Baptist, and attended the new Sunday school class where she found what she had been seeking. In the class, she and Spencer became friends, but it wasn’t until they both participated in a mission trip that their friendship began to deepen.

Through activities with the mission team and the Sunday school class the Budwells found their friendship was blossoming into a romance that later led to marriage and the arrival of their two daughters.

The Evanses

Carl and Ann Evans met through their involvement in a Sunday school class that was started by participants in the Divorce Recovery Workshop (DRW).

The Evans

Carl and Ann Evans. Photo by Susan Brown.

Carl was the first to attend FBC, learning about the DRW from an old friend at a high school reunion. “The friend encouraged me to go to First Baptist and check out Divorce Recovery,” Carl remembers. It was some time after this that Ann visited DRW through the urging of some of her friends. After attending her first meeting she knew she would come back. “I walked into the meeting feeling all alone and could see immediately that there were 150 to 200 people in there that were o.k. I knew I would be o.k. too!” remembers Ann.

Both Ann and Carl had attended other churches in the area. But as they became involved in the DRW, particularly in the small groups formed as part of the program, they found FBC was starting to feel like home.

When they joined the Sunday school class, neither had any intent or thought of meeting someone special and getting remarried. Through the closeness of the class and particularly their participation in many of the activities outside of the class, the Evanses developed a special closeness which led to marriage.

Now their “community is expanding and growing,” they explain. They volunteer with the DRW, are part of Fellowship Friends, help with Grace Fellowship, go on mission trips, and through Carl’s love of motorcycles, are part of First Riders.

The Ritters

The Ritters

Todd and Robin Ritter. Photo by Susan Brown.

Todd Ritter’s theatre job led to his moving to a new town each year for the first several years after college. When he settled in Richmond, he remembers his mom kept urging him “to go to a big church so I could meet a nice girl!”

Todd emphatically told his mom that he was not planning on going to church just to meet a girl, but did decide to visit First Baptist since it was the church nearest his home. Some months later he visited again and decided to attend one of the Sunday school classes. Todd found a friendly, close-knit group of folks seeking a relationship with Jesus. He began attending regularly.

Robin had grown up in another Richmond church, but decided to visit FBC on her sister’s recommendation. Robin visited the same Singles Sunday school class as Todd and also liked the closeness of the group.

It wasn’t long before both Todd and Robin were joining with many of their friends from the class in other activities – but still with no thoughts of pursuing any type of romantic relationship. It wasn’t until they attended a weekend retreat that they realized they had much in common and that they were starting to have deeper feelings for each other, feelings which eventually led to marriage. Todd laughs today at the thought of how his mom was right after all!

The common thread among all three couples is that they came to First Baptist to find Christian fellowship. Through their involvement in small groups, such as Sunday school classes, they found a group of friends to share with their love of Christ. As Ann Evans puts it, “it really was through the small group fellowship that I found a ‘family’ here at First Baptist.”


Nancy MairsNancy Mairs joined Richmond’s First Baptist Church more than 20 years ago and is a member of the Disciples class. She works in the Regulatory Affairs group at Dominion Virginia Power, and enjoys hiking, canoeing, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jim, and son, Jack.

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By Elizabeth Lipford.

Monument Market families

Vendors offer home grown and home made items at Monument Market. Photo by Skyler Cumbia.

Monument Market, sponsored by Richmond’s First Baptist Church, began its second season May 7th in the church’s parking lot at the corner of Monument and Robinson. It is one of many regional farmers’ markets that are springing up in urban areas in response to people embracing healthier lifestyles and wanting to support local growers and businesses. However, for the FBC families involved, it is much more than providing local products. It is about being a good neighbor, running a small family business, and building new relationships.

We are “friend-raising” said Linn Kreckman, the visionary behind the market. Linn, also a vendor, as is her son John, saw the potential for bringing a market to the Fan. Through her efforts and with the support of the Recreation Team and staff facilitator Buddy Burgess, the market was launched in 2010 with the goal of connecting with the community while supplying a need.

With 90% of the customers being walk-ins, not drivers, the market quickly became a neighborhood gathering place on Saturday mornings. It is a relaxed atmosphere in which many conversations take place about happenings at First Baptist. Suzanne Acosta, site manager for the market, recalled a conversation she had with a customer who later visited the Young Adults Sunday school class. Anne Burgess, like many, often brings her dog for a stroll through the market. As she has gotten to know the customers, she has seen many participate in FBC’s Classics in the Courtyard, Upward Basketball and Indoor Soccer. For Vicky Nicholau the market is a place to raise money for FBC’s Community Missions by selling homemade Greek pastries, a sell-out every time.

For our family, and the families of Allen and Hope Cumbia and Bryan and Renee Smith, the market is also a perfect venue for a family business. In this setting we teach our children valuable lessons about hard work, customer service and economics. Michael and I see our children experience the joy of having people want to purchase things they have produced themselves, as well as the disappointment of having spent a week working hard, only to have little profit to take home. Allen Cumbia describes it as “a good family bonding time.” The Smith girls agree that learning to determine prices and make change are some of the new skills they have learned.

Monument Market families 2

Monument Market is as much a social gathering as it is a farmers' market. Photo by Anthony M. Nesossis.

Some of the vendors are also forming new relationships. Rick Nesossis, creator of eclectic birdhouses, quickly became a friend to all. New friendships also led to some creative negotiating. Our girls traded perennials for herbed oil, and the daughter of a vegetable vendor bartered fresh flowers for a necklace made by Lydia Smith. We help each other set up and clean up, and we all make our weekly purchases before we leave. Buddy Burgess says “the market reminds me of Jesus in the marketplace, talking and connecting with people.”

Good food and good lessons, making friends and connecting neighbors with the FBC family – the Monument Market is something you will definitely want to experience!

Elizabeth Lipford and her husband, Michael have been members of FBC since 1993. She home schools their three daughters, Aylett, Ellen and Mary Michael. Elizabeth has been a leader with Girls in Action and Vacation Bible School and helps with youth events throughout the year. She is a member of the Disciples Sunday school class. Currently, she is helping her daughters manage the “Lipford Family Gardens” booth at Monument Market.

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