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The Gift of Family

June 22, 2023

Founder’s love for children lives on through lives touched by adoption

Years after his death, Liberty University founder Dr. Jerry Falwell continues to leave a profound impact on the Lynchburg and Liberty community as his heartbeat for children still pulses in the lives of many families who have been blessed through adoption. 

A preacher emboldened to fight for family values in the public sphere, Falwell always treasured God’s design for the family. He found ways to care for precious babies and children, including establishing the Liberty Godparent Home, a place for young pregnant mothers to receive care and counseling in making parenting and adoption plans, offering them an alternative to abortion.

Countless families have been blessed by Falwell’s kindness and generosity, and his legacy lives on in future generations of families who were brought together by this visionary and compassionate pastor.

Callie Penn, who attended Liberty in the 1970s, said this is a side of his pastor that many people did not get to see. He and his wife, Kendra (’79, ’97), are just one of the many couples who have seen the power of God at work through Falwell to meet children’s needs. The couple married in 1997 and wanted to start a family but found out soon after that they could not conceive. Around the time they learned this, they had the idea to start free child care for church members. 

Dr. Jerry Falwell at the Liberty Godparent Home in 1982.

Even though Callie worked for TRBC and Kendra was a singer who traveled for Falwell’s ministries, the Penns hoped that babysitting would allow them to serve God together. 

“We weren’t doing a particular ministry together, so we thought this would be a great way to serve people and get our baby fix at the same time,” Callie said.

But a week after they decided to volunteer to babysit, they were informed that God had made it financially possible for them to adopt a child. 

“My heart sunk because we basically had just told God that we knew we weren’t going to have children; we were just going to babysit. It was almost like God was saying, ‘Oh, yes you are. ’”

They didn’t know at the time that they would receive a double blessing.  

“Little did we know that we would end up being blessed, not only with one child, but with two,” Callie said. “God is a good God and will give you double for your trouble.”

They adopted their son Graham in 2001 and six years later adopted their second son, Jackson. Both were private adoptions, and they received the boys straight from the hospital two days after they were born. 

Callie and Kendra Penn dedicate their second child, Jackson, on May 13, 2007, at Thomas Road Baptist Church with their older son, Graham, and the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Jackson was the last baby Falwell would ever dedicate to the Lord; Falwell passed away two days after that church service, on May 15, 2007, at age 73.

“God knew Tuesday, May 15, would be Dr. Falwell’s last day here on earth, and He allowed him to dedicate that precious little gift he gave us before he passed,” Callie said.

Through the years, the Penns never knew who had intervened on their behalf to make the adoptions possible — until a couple of years ago when Callie, who now works as the senior life coordinator at TRBC, was talking with a co-worker who had been with the ministry for many years.

“Unbeknownst to us, she had the privilege of knowing our story and eventually made it known to us,” Callie said. “She and I were reminiscing of our friendships with Dr. Falwell and all the wonderful things he did over the course of his life. She asked me how the boys were doing and, after a while, she asked me this question: ‘You do know who made it possible for you to adopt your boys, don’t you?’ I honestly had to tell her, ‘No, I don’t,’ because that information had never been given to us.’ Tears began to well up in her eyes, and my heart was pounding. This was a secret that had been kept hidden for many years.  She said it was … Dr. Falwell.”

“It just amazes me how he could do that and go to his grave and not say anything,” Callie added. “It just blows my mind. But that was the kind of man he was. Obviously, he was recognized because of his platform, but there’s a lot of things he did that people never heard about, never saw.”

He said he knew then that “something had to be done in honor of this wonderful man.”

One day in his devotional time, he asked God what he could use in his life as a means of doing good to help others. He said God immediately answered, “Use what I gave you — the boys!”

The Penn family in 2008

“It all came full circle,” Callie said. “Everything that had happened with our adoptions up to this point was one big question, but now it all made sense.”

That’s when the Penns had the vision for Jerry’s Kids Adoption Foundation, named in honor of Falwell’s legacy. The name is a fond reminder of how Liberty students and all young people who were a part of the church and other affiliated ministries used to affectionately call themselves “Jerry’s kids.”

“Any kid who went through the Godparent Home, Early Learning Center, Liberty Christian Academy, and Liberty University, we were all known as ‘Jerry’s Kids,’” Callie said. “He had a heart for kids from the cradle to their Ph.D.”

The foundation launched this past Mother’s Day, May 14. Operating as an independent organization with its own advisory board, Jerry’s Kids exists to raise funds for Christian couples who feel God calling them to adopt. The foundation was established to help couples financially who are going through the adoption process with Family Life Services Adoption Agency, which is based in Lynchburg. The foundation is tax-exempt and is run completely by volunteers, with 100 percent of the funds raised going toward adoption expenses.

Callie said the entire endeavor is about honoring Falwell and bringing glory to God by helping other couples enjoy the blessing of adoption.

“I want to be able to take the kindness and generosity that Dr. Falwell showed us and turn that around and pay it forward to help other couples who are in the position we were in at that time.” 

Now 22 years after becoming parents, the couple still marvels at God’s providence throughout their lives, even when they thought their dreams were crushed.

“It took 22 years to get to this point, but now I see how God took what Satan meant for harm in our marriage and is turning it into good,” Callie said. “And that’s what Dr. Falwell would want. He would want for God to get the glory in this, because it’s not about us. It’s not even about Dr. Falwell. Although he was the vessel God used, he would point everything to God.”  

>>For more information and to donate, visit JerrysKids.US, call (434) 239-9281, or email info@jerryskids.us.

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