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Tuesday, December 8, 2009


J. Grant Swank, Jr.

We were so excited. The baby, long awaited, was to be ours in a couple of days.

We had worked in the summer of 1962 in the Student Interracial Ministry organized by Union Theological Seminary in New York. I was a student at Harvard Divinity School when I read their poster tacked to the bulletin board.

It invited seminary students to volunteer for civil rights witness in the South. My wife and I, white, were going to live in High Point, North Carolina, pastoring alongside a black minister at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. It would be for the summer only, and then I would return to my second year in seminary training.

While in High Point, we made so many friends. The time flew by as we thoroughly enjoyed the bonding that ended up to last a lifetime.

After seminary graduation, I wanted desperately to pastor a black congregation. We spied out one in East St. Louis, sure that God would place us there. But church officialdom thought otherwise; so we ended up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

“Not many black people there,” my seminary friends quipped. That was for sure. At that time the city’s population was 365,000; however, blacks did not number in large figures.

Time moved along from pastorate to pastorate. And with that, we grew older. However, when pastoring in Fishkill, New York, we saw on television announcements urging adoptions of black children.

“If we don’t do it now, we’ll be too old,” I said to my wife.

And so we contacted the agency that put us in touch with the two-and-a-half months tiny black baby boy. Actually, he was multiracial in that his mother was white and his father was black. That was all that we knew about his parents.

As we drove up to Poughkeepsie, our hearts were beating out of our chests. We had waited nine months for this. And now it came to pass.

On Route 9, we stopped by a baby-clothing store. And there we bought the blue blanket.

We had told no one in the congregation about our adoption plans. Therefore, when we drove up to our parsonage on that Tuesday morning, a group of women was conducting a Bible study in our living room.

We opened up the front door, walked in, and showed them a blue blanket wrapped around a black baby boy, Jay. I took my first initial and turned it into the word “Jay.”

These white ladies were absolutely thrilled. They too were beside themselves with anticipation.

For the months ahead, my life revolved around Jay. I would help change his diapers. I would help feed him. I would help dress him. And when it was naptime, I placed him ever so carefully on my tummy where he slipped into his own sound sleep.

I could feel his breathing against my heart. He was ours. My soul was full.

I said to myself: He will grow up to do wonderful things for God and his people. After all, both my wife and I had cared for civil rights causes all our adult lives; and now we would have a son who would carry on the same. But it would mean much more since he himself was “one of them.”

I envisioned him to be a tall handsome fellow in his teens who would live out the exemplary life, perhaps even be a student leader in school. He would stand out for black people as one who achieved, worked hard, and was a noble citizen.

But there was a twist in matters in his mid-teens.

He came to prefer gangs instead of family, even joining one of the most notorious—the bloods and crips. Nights were consumed with chasing police cars or vice versa. Drugs. Mayhem. Threatening telephone calls in the middle of the night.

Weeks would go by when we had no idea where he had fled from home. Then all of a sudden, he’d walk into the house as if he had been gone just a few minutes. This went on for years.

Eventually, my wife and I sat in the courtroom to hear the judge sentence him to five years in prison. He did his time.

Then upon release, he broke his probation. That meant nearly two more years in prison.

Yet love never gave up. We drove thousands of miles to three separate prisons in far-flung states. We booked motel rooms and bed-and-breakfasts in order to spend a couple of days seated in the sterile visitors’ rooms. Food machines and beverage machines were our treats as we attempted to make conversation with a son who had changed into a stranger.

However, I always pictured that little black baby in the blue blanket. And I remembered the innocence, that package of joy, envisioning him to grow up before our eyes to follow in our Christian commitment. Yet all that seemed so very far distant—now impossible, actually.

We moved from parsonage to parsonage, assignment to assignment. Somewhere along the way, the blue blanket got waylaid. I wish I could find it today; but I can’t.

However, in my prayers I would lift to God the blue blanket. Then I would offer the Lord a simple petition: “Please, Jesus, bring back to us our son. Bring him back to us for we love him.”

So it is that this evening as I reminisce I thank heaven for miracles. They truly do exist in a lifetime of anguish and hope.

Today Jay is in evangelistic witness for Jesus, surrendered to the same Savior his adoptive parents introduced him to as a child.

He is married with two delightful children. The family is totally Christian. They breathe God. They live God. They reflect God’s redeeming presence.

At times when I lay my head on the pillow at the close of another day, I don’t spare the tears of gratitude.

We have our son back. We lost the blue blanket somewhere along the way; but loving over and over again found for us our son. We’ve come full circle.

Yes, we have our son back.