Going to Georgia
MILNER, GEORGIA — Claudia is a truck driver in Georgia. She is running transportation logistics on a movie being filmed here. The movie, Possum Trot, is a true story about the foster care and adoption of Black children who suffered unspeakable trauma in their young lives. Claudia knows that experience all too well. At one point, sharing her story on the set, she said she remembers being so skinny from malnutrition that “I could feel my bones. It’s a real thing.”
No One Was Watching
At night, while working on the movie set, Claudia discovered an envelope that she didn’t realize she had at home: Papers that had been sent to her late mother of Claudia’s files while she was being watched by the courts. Social workers wrote that young Claudia must have been intellectually disabled — they deemed this the only possible explanation for her strange behavior.
In truth, there was sexual abuse and other mistreatment from before she wound up in the system. A court would eventually grant her father custody of her and her brother after her sister died. But the circumstances there were “torture.” She describes a beating that left her so bloodied that her father called out to his wife to “fix it,” because even he must have been terrified of what he had done to his own daughter. Later, Claudia reflects that adults simply cannot leave children’s lives in the hands of people doing a “job.” While some social workers and judges and others may be excellent, her experience is that almost no adults in her life were actually looking to see what was going on.
And children — especially ones living in inhumane conditions — can’t be expected to be able to know or to articulate what they need and to get themselves out of their cruel circumstances.
Part of Possum Trot
Claudia was bursting with gratitude about being on the set of Possum Trot. The movie is the true story of a Black Baptist church in Possum Trot, Texas, which has risen to the biblical mandate of caring for the orphans in their greater community.
On the set were some of the real-life families who stepped up to the plate, starting with the pastor, Bishop W.C. Martin and his “first lady,” Donna. Humble and elegant, these two radiate the joy of knowing and trusting God. And there is Diane Sparks, a single mother and parent who welcomed two boys into her heart and home.
Sparks emphasized that it was all possible because she wasn’t alone. She has had God, family, and her church community.
Not the Hallmark Version
I decided to drop everything in the midst of end-of-year deadlines to come to the set of Possum Trot after seeing a rough clip of a scene from the movie in progress. In the scene, a church member is having a raw conversation about how maybe the church families were in over their heads. During a scene I was present for the filming of, the pastor is addressing the regrets some of the parents are voicing as they confronted the children’s depths of suffering. From what I’ve seen and heard, this will not be a Hallmark version of adoption. It will not sugarcoat the real challenges, but it will also inspire.
When I talk with Bishop Martin, he emphasizes that he is just a simple country man. As others from the church speak, this is overwhelmingly their attitude about themselves and their community. These are not people who think they’ve done anything extraordinary. These are Christians who believe they are loved by a God who makes clear this is what to do, this is how to live. We don’t leave children alone.
And yet we do.
Not Necessarily a Christian Movie
Possum Trot is the story of the people of one small church community in Texas. But this need not be a “Christian movie.” The story is much more fundamental than that. And while it is yet a work in progress, the film should prompt reflection. Knowing there are some 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States today, who among us can make room in our hearts and homes for a child, so they can have love and a chance at a better life?
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary She can be contacted at [email protected].