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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

FBC Sandusky pastor, wife change ministry direction to head children’s group homecomment (0)

October 15, 2009

By Grace Thornton


After 16 years as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Sandusky, in Birmingham, Ricky Thacker was ready for a little more “Hannah Montana” in his life.

He just didn’t know it yet.   

As a pastor of a close-knit community, Ricky was used to going to Wal-Mart at night with his wife, Debbie, to pick up a few things and spending an hour talking to church people in the aisles.

And he was used to spending his days in sermon preparation.

“We love our church — can’t say enough good things about them and what they have meant to us,” Ricky said.

But then the call came — the call to mop. And make meals. And fix twin beds.

And watch “Hannah Montana” with a bunch of children who aren’t his and might have come from tough situations, homes that don’t know real love.

He wasn’t ready to give in at first. Ricky had already raised four children of his own.

Oh, he definitely knew about the vital ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH). Debbie had worked in the ABCH main office as a secretary for the last seven years.

“I thought, ‘Why would you want to take that on, to raise someone else’s kids?’” Ricky explained — kids who might be there for a couple of years and then, in a moment’s notice, be gone again.

He wasn’t ready for that.

But back in July, those kids were ready for him. The houseparents at ABCH’s Gardendale group home had left, and couples were filling in the gaps until a new set of houseparents could be found.

So Debbie signed herself and her husband up for a week.

“I already knew then that I would like to do this full time,” she said with a smile.

Debbie had been watching the administrative end of ABCH for a while, seeing the needs from behind her desk while Ricky was behind the pulpit.

And she began to pray about the desire she felt — that they both might need a new perspective, a slight change of ministry venue.

“I felt early on that this was a calling,” Debbie said. “And I knew Ricky was a jack-of-all-trades and could bring a lot to that role as a hands-on father type to those kids.”

C.O. Jones, deacon chairman at First, Sandusky, agreed that Ricky is the type who just knows how to take care of things.

“He’s a good Bible preacher, and we’re going to miss him for that and for his friendship, but he also could do just about anything around the church, whether it be fixing the air conditioner or something else,” Jones said. “I can’t think of two better people to be houseparents.”

It wasn’t long before Ricky saw it and felt the call, too, even though he’d questioned leaving the pastorate.

“I fell in love with the kids as much as the job,” Ricky said. With the full support of First, Sandusky, the couple decided to stay on at the Gardendale home through August, just to try it out and see if the fit worked.

It did.

“We didn’t see this coming, but it was a great opportunity for us to step back, re-evaluate and redirect our lives — to get on the front lines of what I’d been preaching about,” Ricky said.

Debbie agreed. “I had a longing to be more involved.”

Thackers, welcome home.

Now they’re at the Gardendale home for 10 days at a time, then off for four days, then on for 10 more days. The home, nestled just behind the local high school’s band house and close enough to the football field to hear the games on Friday nights, looks like a normal-size home on the outside.

But on the inside, it’s sprawling. Several bedrooms with twin beds play host to girls and boys between the ages of 6 and 12 mostly, but sometimes teens, too. Right now, there are five kids — mostly girls — and Ricky said they keep him and Debbie laughing.

“This group is one generation removed from our own kids,” he said, noting that their youngest is 26. “They keep us entertained and they have so much energy.”

Houseparenting is a different life, different from the 8-to-5, Debbie said with a laugh.

The couple are still trying to settle into a routine, but Debbie is up most days at 5 to have some coffee and her quiet time before she and Ricky wake the kids at 6:30 to get ready for school.

At 7, there’s breakfast, as well as a morning devotional time. Then it’s off to the different schools, and Ricky is running the carpool.

“We have about a half-hour to talk after that, and then we have to get busy again,” Debbie said.

If it’s pretty, then there’s yard work. If it’s rainy, then there’s housework. And there’s always meal planning and cooking and picking up the kids to take them to football, church or counseling.

At night, it’s dinner and homework with the kids and then crashing in the two familiar recliners in their bedroom — the only pieces of furniture Ricky and Debbie have moved with them so far to their new home.

As for their new life?

“It’s such a blessing,” Ricky said. And Debbie agreed.

Already the two of them have embraced the joys and challenges that go with loving kids unconditionally, especially kids who aren’t their own.

“These children all need consistency and they need unconditional love,” Debbie said. “Your motivation can’t come from affirmation from them. You have to be willing to get up, love them through the day and go to bed without hearing anything positive.”

You don’t feel like hugging them 24/7, “but you don’t even feel like hugging your own kids 24/7,” Ricky said with a laugh. “There are good times and there are harder times.”

But God sends the kids through their door for a reason, Debbie said, whether they are there for a week or three years.

“We’ll always be a part of their lives, a memory. And this is a wonderful opportunity to embrace them and show them the Lord,” she said. “We can show them what a family looks like and that Jesus in a relationship can bring love and happiness and wholeness.”

It’s a role Louise Green, ABCH vice president of special programs, said will come naturally for Debbie.

“She’s a nurturer. And that will benefit those children at the group home because she will nurture, mother and love them, and it will just overflow into their lives,” Green said.

The love the churches show for the kids gives the Thackers another inroad to sharing Christ with them.

The couple already have a deep personal appreciation for all their gifts, whether small or great, of time or money.

Three women from nearby Gardendale’s First Baptist Church come every Tuesday afternoon, pick up the kids and take them for a Bible study, a snack and tutoring.

“They have no idea what a blessing that is to us,” Debbie said.

Another church gave the couple a gift card to Cracker Barrel, and they were able to take the kids out to eat when they were in Moulton for a cross-country meet recently, Ricky said.

“Just getting to do that and tell them that people loved them and had given them that as a gift, that meant a lot.”

And while unloading a box of donated food with one of the girls, Debbie said she pulled out a 12-pack of chicken noodle soup and the girl’s eyes lit up.

“Chicken noodle soup is her favorite — she could eat it for every meal,” Debbie said. “I said, ‘Look, God sent you some chicken noodle soup,’ and she said, ‘He sure did!’”

For more information about the ministry of ABCH or how to be a part of it, visit abchome.org.

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