Florida pastors Ronnie Stewart and his wife, Krystal, were leaving their church on Nov. 6, 2015, when they noticed two homeless baby boys and their parents huddled under the church awning. Shocked and saddened, the Stewarts approached the boys’ parents and made an offer to help.
“As pastors, we have always tried to help people as much as we could,” Krystal later reflected, “but this was on a whole different level. It was bigger than us and we knew it.”
The homeless family had originally been spotted by Metropolitan Ministries chef Mark Purcell; upon first glance, Purcell thought the babies were sitting on a heap of trash.
“There were five or six bags piled right here and that was everything they owned,” Purcell told Bay News 9. “[One] child was sitting with his feet over the edge here and the older one on the car seat was right on top.” Purcell sent the family to the Stewarts’ Refuge Church in New Port Richey, Florida.
Ronnie and Krystal recognized the homeless parents as regular attendees of their free-food program, a collaboration with Metropolitan Ministries. Immediately, they offered to take the near-naked baby boys home for a warm bath and a comfortable night’s sleep. To their great surprise, the boys’ parents said yes.
Ronnie described the sorry state of the babies upon returning home. “[Krystal] had to bathe them twice, I think three times, just to get the dirt off of them,” he said, adding, “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.”
According to the Daily Mail, the brothers had been camping with their parents in the Pasco County woods.
The brothers—one a toddler of 2 years, the other a baby of 7 months—slept for 10 hours straight that night. “I don’t think they’ve ever slept in a bed before,” Krystal later told Today Parents. The Stewarts returned the boys to their parents the very next day, along with their contact information and a promise to provide a warm bed for the babies whenever it was needed.
The Stewarts also offered to help the homeless couple secure housing, but according to Krystal, they did not want help for themselves. “[A]ll we could do was pray for them,” she said.
Within days, the Stewarts’ own children, Ronnie, Riley, and Selah, were thinking of the baby boys as their own siblings. Three months after their first interaction with the homeless brothers, who were huddled under the church awning in nothing but diapers, the Stewarts sat down with the boys’ parents and a social worker and made a decision.
The parents, who were still struggling with substance abuse, asked the Stewarts to take their boys into their home on a permanent basis. “We just looked at each other and knew, there was no other option. Of course we said yes,” said Krystal.
What started out as a temporary plan to help a family in dire need had turned into a lifelong commitment, but the Stewarts took it in stride. “There’s been a bond from the first day we took them in,” Krystal told Today Parents. “We’re so grateful for this unexpected blessing.”
At the suggestion of their local community, the Stewarts launched a GoFundMe page to help cover the administrative costs of formal adoption; the campaign eventually raised $42,004, far exceeding its original $10,000 goal.
On Oct. 28, 2016, Ronnie posted an update. “Our hearts have been overflowing with gratitude by all the love and support that you have shown,” he wrote. “[B]ecause of your generosity, I am now ecstatic to announce our adoption has been finalized! We are officially a family of seven.”
Reflecting, Krystal recalled a poignant irony from the day before she and Ronnie had met their baby boys. “I was six weeks post-op from a total hysterectomy after battling an early cancer diagnosis,” she revealed, “and sadly said, ‘Well, no more kids for us!’
“What was so unplanned and unexpected,” Krystal added, “has turned into a beautiful blessing for our family.”