It’s no surprise Jason and Jill Thomley have adopted children or that their boys, Ethan and Wyatt, were all for it.
And it’s no surprise they see the call to adopt — and the love shown by it — as an appropriate subject for the Christmas season.
“Adoption is a Gospel thing,” Jason Thomley said. “The good news is God sent Jesus his son so we could be adopted into his family. That’s Christmas: God moved in as a baby to be with us then laid down his life as a man so we could be forgiven our sins and become part of our Heavenly Father’s family. Christmas is a celebration of life, of sharing life, and life is beautiful and life is hard. It can be both.”
This is our journey of obedience. It can be really hard. Sometimes our kids get made fun of. But the Lord has shown us our brokenness and we’ve embraced it and said heal us, but heal us here with people you’ve called us to reach. We won’t hide it, we’ll all grow together.
Jason Thomley is pastor of Awakening Fires Ministries and of Redeeming Hope Center, Awakening Fires’ inner-city fellowship and outreach at 404 Church St. in the Fort Hawkins-Fort Hill neighborhood of Macon.
Both he and Jill Thomley said for years they saw themselves moving toward adoption and toward the ministry they’re now part of. They said they believe both are expressions of God’s love, which is a love that both “moves in” and “adopts.”
“I knew I’d adopt even before Jill and I got married,” said Jason Thomley. “I heard a presentation on orphans and adoption in college and was dumbfounded by the numbers — I was surprised how low the number of orphans was. I don’t remember what the number was, but I never forgot the question that was asked. They asked, ‘Aren’t there that many Christians, that many sprit-filled Christian homes that could adopt a child like God adopted them?’ When I heard that, I knew it was one of the most godly things you could do.”
Jason Thomley is from Lizella and was attending Oral Roberts University where he played baseball. Though he said he was a “well-known sinner” during his first year there, a personal encounter with Jesus changed his life.
It was at ORU he met Jill and the two were married in 1999. Both graduated from ORU and went on to earn master’s degrees before moving back to Middle Georgia. Jason Thomley worked at Harvest Cathedral Church, led an inner-city youth outreach called Powerhouse and was involved in other ministries.
With degrees in social work and counseling, Jill Thomley worked at the Phoenix Center in Warner Robins then took a job in Macon.
“In 2008, I went to work at Covenant Care, a Christian adoption agency,” she said. “The director, Iris Archer, had hopes I’d train and become director, and that’s what I did. I loved the work. Covenant Care serves all of Georgia and I got to work throughout the state with Covenant Care’s incredible staff. I worked with birth mothers and with families considering adoption. We say we find a family for a child in need rather than find a child for a family. The Lord was certainly ministering to my heart while I was there about the need and the beauty of adoption.”
Time progressed and the Thomleys had Ethan and Wyatt but the idea of adoption continued to gel. Finally, through contact with a friend who operated an adoption agency in Haiti the time seemed right after the devastating earthquake there in 2010.
“I wanted to adopt and I was married to a social worker who worked for an adoption ministry — it all seemed to be coming together,” Jason Thomley said. “We thought why not Haiti? Why not now? I figured I couldn’t rebuild Haiti but I could be daddy to a child who needed one.”
The Thomley’s said the decision led to five years of waiting. They said it’s called a “paper pregnancy” in adoption circles and can be long, drawn out and both joyful and painful.
“At the time, Ethan was 5and Wyatt was 3,” Jill Thomley said. “We all spent nights praying for Sarah to come home to us. We knew who she was and we were able to visit on several occasions. For their birthdays, Ethan and Wyatt would say they wanted their sister to come home. For Christmas, the same thing. They and their friends would make things to send her.”
The waiting period brought several changes to the Thomleys, including what Jill Thomley called the very hard decision to leave Covenant Care in 2014. She began homeschooling their children and the family decided to move from their pleasant middle-class neighborhood to an inner-city address. For years they’d been involved with reaching out to Macon’s blighted inner-city spots through kid’s clubs, tent meetings and other means, but they said God put it on their hearts to not just reach out, but to live with those they wanted to love and to reach.
They said this brought full circle what they saw as God’s heart for incarnational living, through being one with others as well as the adoption characteristic of God’s nature.
“Then word finally came all was approved and we could bring Sarah home,” Jill Thomley said. “We were so excited, but we were in for another surprise, too.”
Jill Thomley said her friends at Covenant Care contacted her at the same time and said they had an emergency need for a foster home for a 2-year-old boy, Kedrick. Would they take him in? The Thomleys agreed.
“Our hearts began to turn to him right away and we felt like we were to be his family forever,” Jill Thomley said.
Jill Thomley said they weren’t given preferential treatment and had to go through all the paperwork and steps of adoption, but that things did move quickly.
Considering the foster care period, the Thomleys became the parents of two “adoptive children” within a week.
Now Ethan is 12, Wyatt is 9, Sarah is 7 and Kedrick is 5. Plus, seven month ago Jill Thomley gave birth to a son, Asher.
A number of families have joined the Thomleys in Fort Hill, but in early 2017, the Thomleys plan to move to the Pleasant Hill neighborhood where Awakening Fires intends to open its second Hope Center.
“In the adoption world, the idea has really shifted from getting a baby for a family to the idea of ministering to the birth mother and the adoptive family, as well as finding a home for a child,” Jill Thomley said. “We’re all broken people in need of God’s healing love. We all need help along the way. In the same way, our idea about ministry in the inner-city changed. We have to be incarnational and be there, bring God there, even though we’re not perfect — even though we are broken and being healed by God ourselves.”
Jason Thomley sees the journey of his life, marriage, family and ministry as part of their commitment to following where Jesus leads.
“God doesn’t call everyone to do what we’ve done, but he does call all of us to obedience,” Jason Thomley said. “It’s not about paid ministry, it’s about each of us living our lives for God. This is our journey of obedience. It can be really hard. Sometimes our kids get made fun of. But the Lord has shown us our brokenness and we’ve embraced it and said heal us, but heal us here with people you’ve called us to reach. We won’t hide it, we’ll all grow together. That’s one big way the ‘hood is different from other neighborhoods. In the ‘hood they can’t afford to cover up their brokenness. You can at least try to in other places.”
Along with the hardship, the Thomleys said there comes a richness.
“Our lives have been richer here and richer for making Sarah and Kedrick part of our family,” Jason Thomley said. “They’ve all seen God do amazing things in hard places. We’re together as a family helping other families. They’ve seen tough things but seen God work. We go to church together and worship together as families, not split up. Our children and neighborhood children get to see fathers worshiping. We’re all being honestly broken but made healthy by grace. We’re getting to do things to help everyone become an asset to those around them. You think of it at Christmas but it’s always true: God’s wisdom in becoming Emmanuel, God with us, and his love that wants to make us his own.”
Contact Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.