A man approaches a pile of bags on the street, sure that someone has left a donation of clothes for the ministry where he works. But as he leans over to make a closer inspection, he notices something unbelievable among them.
That man was Mark Purcell, who is employed as a chef with the Metropolitan Ministries in Pasco County, Florida. And, in fact, he made a discovery that would transform many lives that fateful day.
Indeed, pastors Ronnie and Krystal Stewart are a part of Refuge Church in New Port Richey, Florida. They married at an early age and, as they were both raised by pastors, chose to dedicate their lives to the church.
In 2007, though, Ronnie decided that he wanted to open a church in the Tampa area. He moved there with Krystal, and together they began raising their family of three children: Ronnie III, Riley and Selah.
When the church opened, the Stewarts were aware that Pasco County had a high homeless population and wanted to do something to help those less fortunate. Therefore, they joined forces with Metropolitan Ministries and began serving free hot meals at the church twice a week.
In 2015, however, Krystal was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a full hysterectomy. Sadly, then, she and Ronnie acknowledged that they would never get pregnant again. But little did they guess what fate would bring them instead.
Indeed, just a short six weeks after Krystal’s surgery, the couple crossed paths with two young boys who would go on to have an incredible impact on their lives. But this story really began with Mark Purcell’s chance discovery of the trash bags, or, more specifically, what was nestled among them.
You see, Purcell found two small children sitting surrounded by the bags. “There were actually four or five bags here,” he said in an interview with FOX 13 News. “A child in a car seat was on top of a bag. The other child was sitting here with his feet cold. They were only in diapers, no clothes.”
The child in the car seat was just seven months old and his brother sitting next to him was two years old. Their mother wasn’t far away, either; she was watching Purcell from around a corner.
It turns out that the boys’ had been living with their parents in a tent in the woods. The family regularly attended the feeding program and when Purcell approached the Stewarts with what he had found they immediately recognized the boys.
So, on November 6, 2015, Krystal decided that she could no longer see the young boys suffering and do nothing. She asked her husband to speak to the parents and offer to take the children home for a bath and a night in a warm bed.
Immediately, the boys’ parents agreed, and Ronnie and Krystal found themselves driving away with the children in their car. Only after they got home did the Stewarts realize just how badly homelessness had affected the boys.
“They were covered in bug bites, head to toe,” Krystal said. “They were so filthy, that we actually had to bathe, and drain, and bathe again, two different times. The toddler who did have shoes on didn’t have any socks on. When we took his shoes off, the little skin on the top of his feet actually came off.”
The next day, the Stewarts returned the two boys to their parents, thinking that would be the end of their role in the children’s lives. However, just one day later the family approached them in the parking lot outside their church.
They were accompanied by a social worker, who told the Stewarts that the boys were to be removed from their parents. They asked the couple if they would be willing to take temporary custody of the children in order to avoid placing them in foster care.
“We just looked at each other and knew, there was no other option,” said Krystal. “Of course we said yes.”
That day, Ronnie and Krystal agreed to take the two boys into their home. Five months later, they were still there.
In March 2016, however, the Stewarts were faced with a choice. Should they place the boys in foster care, or adopt them as their own?
Believing that the children had been brought into their lives for a reason, the couple began the process to legally adopt the boys. Further, on March 28, they launched a GoFundMe campaign to cover the estimated legal cost of $10,000 – and have since raised nearly $40,000.
The adoption process was set to be finalized at the end of April 2016, leaving the two brothers happily settled in their new home. “We know that they are special, and we’re just excited to be part of their journey,” Krystal said.