Every day is a victory for Tirrell.
With John and Erin Stuebe, his North Carolina Baptist Children’s Homes foster and soon-to-be adoptive parents, surrounding him with love and support, the 14-year-old is thriving in ways that would have been impossible earlier in his young life.
Few would ever look past Tirrell’s bright smile and perceive the darkness that shrouded his childhood.
“Tirrell’s past basically has been defined by neglect,” Erin Stuebe says.
Erin and her husband, John, live in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where Tirrell grew up. It is in this same community where the boy was kept isolated within the bedroom of his childhood home for a decade of his life.
His family members rarely took him outside. He was not allowed to go to school. They fed him rice for every meal. Not even the people who lived near him knew what the child was enduring.
Tirrell’s entire world could be measured within the space between his bedroom walls.
“The only toys we know about were a set of blocks,” John Stuebe says, his voice swelling with emotion. “He had nothing.”
This continued for years until one day Tirrell began to develop sores on his legs and feet. The condition became so extreme that a family member in the home had him admitted to the hospital. It took his physicians several days, with the help of wound-care specialists, to successfully treat him.
When he was ready to be discharged, his family could not be found. A staff member at the hospital called his family to let them know he was well enough to return home. Their response: “We don’t want him.”
‘Every Child’ partnership
The hospital contacted the Department of Social Services (DSS) who removed Tirrell from the family’s custody and placed him in the North Carolina foster care system. Because he was so far behind relationally and academically, DSS was finding it a challenge to identify a home that could meet Tirrell’s extraordinary needs.
Baptist Children’s Homes foster care supervisor Jessie Chilson felt the weight of that challenge when she first became aware of Tirrell’s case.
Chilson is one of the many BCH foster care staff members across the state responsible for connecting children with “Every Child” foster families. “Every Child” is a partnership with North Carolina Baptists where BCH comes alongside churches to train and license couples in their congregations to be foster parents. The mission is to provide foster care children with caring, Christian homes.
Feeling like she could not find Tirrell an appropriate family, Chilson passed over his file on two different occasions. The third time, however, the Stuebes came to Chilson’s mind because of Erin Stuebe’s previous experience as a teacher. Plus, the couple were already actively fostering through BCH.
“I don’t think we could do this without Baptist Children’s Homes,” John says. “The support we get is unbelievable.”
When Chilson called the Stuebes about Tirrell and shared the traumatic details of his childhood, the couple’s hearts were deeply moved.
“We learned that when Tirrell’s family members were asked why they didn’t send him to school, they said it was because he wasn’t worth the gas money to take him,” Erin Stuebe says tearfully. “As a previous teacher, I just really wanted to see Tirrell grow up and have an opportunity at life.”
That opportunity began when Chilson drove Tirrell to the Stuebe’s home.
“I’ll never forget when that car door opened,” John Stuebe recalls. “He got out and gave us hugs. His feet were wrapped up because he had wounds, and they gave him a walker. He walked into our front door, put his walker down and never used it again.
“When he walked in this house, there was no looking back — he owned it. He just walked in and became part of the house.”
“They were just as eager and excited for him to come as he was to be going,” Chilson remembers. “God had prepared them for such a time as this, and they embraced what He was doing head on.”
This included doing whatever it took to help the boy who had never attended school begin to learn and grow academically. It also meant teaching him many of life’s basic fundamentals.
“When he first came, his verbal skills were lacking. He mostly pointed and said only a word or two,” Erin Stuebe said. “In every aspect of his life we’ve had to train him. He didn’t know emotions when he arrived.”
John and Erin Stuebe both worked jobs but were able to tutor Tirrell with the help of John’s mother. Erin finished out her responsibilities to her employer and left her career to homeschool Tirrell. He recently completed his second grade studies and is working on third grade.
One of the greatest joys for the family has been making memories. Tirrell already has several photo albums filled with snapshots of the many “firsts” he has experienced with the Stuebes: first fish caught, first bicycle ride, and even his first birthday party.
“Foster parents struggle with not getting to experience the earlier stages of life with their children,” John Stuebe explained. “We’re getting to experience all of that, and it’s awesome.”
The most significant first Tirrell has experienced is hearing the gospel. Through the discipling of the Stuebes and the family’s involvement in church, Tirrell has been learning about God’s grace and mercy while also memorizing Scripture.
On June 16, 2023, Tirrell asked Christ to be his Savior.
“Tirrell’s excited about life,” John Stuebe says. “The other day, he came up to my wife and said, ‘I feel like I have my life now.’ The direction of Tirrell’s life has changed because of the people that have given to Baptist Children’s Homes.”
Erin Stuebe agrees.
“And that is multiplied greatly because there are so many other children that Baptist Children’s Homes ministers to,” Erin Stuebe said. “It’s touching so many lives and those lives are being pointed to Jesus.”