Rebekah shook her head. She refused to tell her life story to a group of people she had just met—most of whom were retirees and three or four times her age. But the project coordinator on the Jamestown, Tennessee, United States, Maranatha Volunteers International project, where nearly 50 people had gathered to build a new church, kept nudging Rebekah to share her testimony during worship.
“I fought with this. I thought, no, I’m not doing worship. I get kind of nervous. I fought with this for several days. She asked me every morning and every evening,” Rebekah says.
Then, almost a week into the project, Rebekah opened up to one of the volunteers. She told him about what had led her to this mission trip, what had preceded it, and why she was there. When she finished speaking, he promptly got up, grabbed the worship sign-up sheet, and crossed his name off.
“He took a Sharpie and wrote my name in,” Rebekah says.
That night, 15-year-old Rebekah gave her testimony. And what a testimony it was.
For as long as Rebekah can remember, her biological mom and dad were addicted to drugs, an affliction that resulted in much physical and emotional abuse on the family. They were violent. They were negligent. They were unfit to be parents, yet they had six children crammed into a filthy, one-bedroom apartment.
“We never had food or clothes very often. They had food stamps and Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages, and government support, but my mom would sell the money off the food stamps for cash, so that she could get more drugs” Rebekah says. “We would always get our clothes out of the garbage … I only remember, like two times, ever taking a bath.”
As the oldest, Rebekah felt a sense of responsibility for her siblings. She did her best to protect and care for them, even stealing food from time to time. But her courage could only hold up for so long, especially when she had to go to school, which was another minefield of cruelty. Other children teased her about her clothes, smell, and lack of academic ability. She remembers crying often, wishing for something more.
“I always dreamed about a home where we could run and play outside. It’s funny because I’d always dream of having a lot of siblings because I loved kids, and I was like, I want to have a lot of siblings, and a family that would just love me,” Rebekah says.
Then, when Rebekah was 9 years old, the family took a trip to Walmart. By then, she, her siblings, and mother had been living in a domestic violence shelter for a couple of months. In the store, her little brother’s request for plums sparked an outburst from her mother. “She got so mad at us … and she picked him up—I believe he was only 6 or 7—and she slammed him in the cart and then she punched him in the stomach.”
For Rebekah, the abuse was par for the course. She barely noticed anything out of the ordinary. But the other customers certainly did, and they notified the authorities, who hauled the entire family to the police station.
As she rode in the state trooper car, Rebekah rested her head against one of the windows. A memory came to her of when a neighbor had taken her to a Vacation Bible School program. She had only attended so she could eat the snacks, but otherwise Rebekah didn’t believe in God. But in that moment, as she peered out and watched the street flicker by, she had a thought.
“I was like, ‘Okay God, if you’re there, why are you doing this to me? Why would you be letting this happen to me? … If there was a God, then you would not be like this and let this happen to me.”
Shortly after, Rebekah and her five siblings were placed in foster care.
The year was 2010 and Catherine and Dale Delaney had recently married. It was a second marriage for both, and they were ready to start a new life in a new place. So, they moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to a sprawling, 25-acre property in rural Kentucky, where the newlyweds began to imagine what the future could hold. One thing they both agreed on was the decision to go on a Maranatha project. That next year they joined a North America project at the Eden Valley Lifestyle Institute in Colorado, where they helped with campus renovations. The experience was spiritually rewarding, and they returned home invigorated.
“It changed our lives. It just made us want to do more. I can’t think of one opportunity that we have ever had in life that has been so blessed as working with Maranatha. I mean, to us, it changed our lives forever. It made us feel like we were part of God’s team. So it was quite a blessing,” Catherine says.
The experience was a catalyst to take action on an idea that Catherine and Dale had discussed before: adoption.
“We just had a burning desire in our hearts to really do more for the Lord and that was part of it. That was kind of the path that led us toward adoption,” Catherine says. “We had an empty house. Our kids, both Dale’s grown children and my grown children, were out of the house. So, we came home to an empty house all the time, and we felt like we had a lot to offer, and we discussed adopting.”
“These children need a home. They need a place to call home, they need guidance, they need someone to help try to teach them in the right direction — show them Jesus is the most important thing,” Dale says. “If you can make a difference in a child’s life or in a young adult, to help them in that direction, that’s what we’re striving for.”
So, in 2012, Catherine and Dale began the process of becoming licensed foster parents.
“We started out with a couple of placements and then those placements turned into those children needing permanent homes,” Catherine says.
This was when Catherine, Dale, and Rebekah’s lives began the crawl toward each other, aiming to intersect.
After the encounter at Walmart, Rebekah and her siblings bounced through a couple of foster homes and were eventually split, with two brothers going to separate homes and the rest ending up in another. While Rebekah’s foster parents provided a home and food on the table, the situation was not ideal. But the security that came from a more stable situation reaped benefits for Rebekah. She was able to focus and her grades steadily improved. Soon she was earning solid As and Bs.
Then, one day in April, Rebekah came home from school to find her younger sister gone. Her foster parent refused to tell her what had happened except that she had been relocated.
“She said, ‘She’s gone, and she’s never coming back, just stop asking me.’ And I remember crying myself to sleep,” Rebekah says. But the pain didn’t stop there. Two weeks later, she returned from school to find another sister gone. There were only two kids left now—just Rebekah and her youngest sibling, a little brother.
A month later, Rebekah came home to find her social worker waiting for her with news. Rebekah and her brother were going to be transferred to a new foster home in a matter of weeks. Rebekah was apprehensive, but she had no choice in the matter.
On her last day of fourth grade, Rebekah’s social worker showed up at the school’s gymnasium, where Rebekah was competing in a spelling bee. The social worker had a guest in tow—a woman with a sweet smile. As she peered across the room, checking out her new foster mom, she thought to herself, Maybe this won’t be so bad?
At the spelling bee, Catherine remembers making eye contact with 9-year-old Rebekah and trying to assess her newest foster child. She was nervous. Catherine had fostered plenty of kids, but it was always tough when a child was older. They were more set in their ways, leaving more room for emotional collision.
“I was kind of worried how she was going to perceive us, and you know, how everybody would get along,” Catherine says.
After the spelling bee, Catherine and Rebekah formally met. They picked up Rebekah’s little brother, then stopped for lunch. Then, they went shopping to pick up a few items, before continuing toward home. During the hour drive, Catherine made conversation by talking about the property—about the chickens, dogs, and cats. The forest with endless trails. The pond. She told Rebekah about the other children at home, some of whom were her age.
When they got closer to the house and rolled down the dirt road and up a long driveway, Catherine could sense Rebekah getting excited, incredulous that the big green lawn, miles of trees, and two-story farmhouse was going to be her new home. It was like a dream—it was like her dream, the one Rebekah had imagined as her forever home. The one she had prayed about to a God she wasn’t sure existed at all, at least not for her. But here it all was, her dream coming true.
Then Catherine said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you something.”
If Rebekah thought she was in a dream before, now she was in heaven.
“We pull up, and then we park, and she goes, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you something,’” Rebekah says. “Literally right when she says that, my two younger sisters that I had been separated from for two months come running out of the house.”
Rebekah tore out of the car and embraced her sisters, weeping and shouting for joy. They told her they were so glad she was finally there. They told her they had been waiting for her.
Two months prior, Catherine and Dale had been asked to foster one of Rebekah’s sisters. Two weeks later, they were asked to take on the other. One month later, the agency asked the Delaneys if they had room for Rebekah and her little brother, too.
“We didn’t tell her just simply because we wanted her to be surprised, and initially going into it, we weren’t even sure how long the girls were going to be with us, and there was so much uncertainty,” Catherine says, about the decision to keep the details under wraps. “The agency told us the siblings were going to be up for adoption. There’s a lot of legalities to that and termination of parental rights, and there was a lot of road ahead of us. So, you know, telling her too much, too soon, could have been harmful because she may get her heart broken.”
But it ended well with hearts restored. Within weeks, Rebekah was calling Catherine and Dale “mom” and “dad.” Within months, the titles became official. In time, the Delaneys located Rebekah’s two other brothers and ended up adopting one and keeping in regular contact with the other.
They were the Delaneys. They were a family.
By the time Rebekah was 15 years old, she had been a Delaney for six years and gained a couple more adopted siblings, bringing the total number of children in the household to 10. Catherine and Dale had also introduced the kids to God, and Rebekah loved worshiping with her family every night and going to church on Sabbath. She also enjoyed watching “Maranatha Mission Stories”with her family.
“Maranatha has done a lot for me, spiritually… I told Rebekah that she might think about that, because she had a big interest in some of the same thoughts that we had,” Dale says. “So, I had her look at the project, and then I showed her some of the DVD missionary trips for Maranatha, and that seemed to really inspire her.”
“It was something that every time we watched, we felt we needed to tell our kids, ‘This is what you need to be doing,’” says Catherine of the program. “And Rebekah’s the one who really had such a desire to work in the mission field.”
So, when a family from church offered to take Rebekah on a Maranatha mission trip to Tennessee in 2021, she jumped at the chance. It was there that Rebekah reluctantly shared her testimony with her fellow volunteers and opened her life to more family, more love than she could have ever imagined.
“Rebekah was really on fire after she came back from the Jamestown project. She was super excited and wanted to do more. She just had such a wonderful experience,” Catherine says. “The people there, they embraced her. She was able to share her life with them and them [with her], and they all became very close.”
The volunteers were so touched by Rebekah’s story that when they heard about her hope to one day serve in Kenya, they secretly organized an opportunity for her to join an upcoming Maranatha trip to the Kajiado Adventist School and Rescue Center in Kenya.
“Unbeknownst to all of us, they all gathered up funding to help support her trip. And by the end of the [Jamestown] project, they presented her with this wonderful gift of this trip to Kenya,” Catherine says.
And two months later, Rebekah was on a plane to Kenya, where she met an entire campus of young girls who had also escaped a life of fear, abuse, and denigration. Young women like her, who were aching for family and finding love in the compassion of strangers and hope in a mighty God. Each day, between hauling blocks and mixing mud, Rebekah connected with the girls through play and conversation.
She wanted them to know that “God could show us that He can definitely change our situations and turn them into good,” as He had certainly done for her.
Since Kenya, Rebekah has been on two more mission trips with Maranatha. After Kajiado, she joined a team to Peru in February 2022. In July 2022, she returned to Peru for her first Ultimate Workout, Maranatha’s mission trip for teens, where her mother reports she had “the time of her life.”
“I think ever since she started the project in Jamestown, I think it has spiritually just grown her in so many ways,” Catherine says. “She … has more of a desire to serve the Lord. She’s trying to gear her life to be in missions … it has changed her tremendously. I think being able to be around so many like-minded people and spending time helping others has been a real blessing in her life.”
The experiences have shaped the trajectory of Rebekah’s life. “I really still want to keep traveling the world. I have a passion for going to foreign countries and sharing the love of Christ,” she says. She’s considering becoming a nurse or maybe a midwife so that she can travel and serve overseas.
With her stellar grades and drive, there’s no doubt Rebekah will achieve her goals.
It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, sitting in the back of a patrol car, Rebekah had wondered about the existence of God, about His presence in her own life. Today, there’s no doubt in her mind that God was with her all along.
“I can only picture God sitting in heaven, kind of laughing. And He’s like, ‘My precious child, just give me a little bit. I’ve got your back. I’m there with you,” she says, with a smile. “He always brings back into my mind when I first questioned Him. He’s like, ‘Just give me some patience. Remember what I did with you before. I was there with you, and you thought I was leaving you. But look at what I’ve done for you and what I am doing for you now.’”
The original version of this story was posted in Issue 3, 2022, of The Volunteer magazine.