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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Overcoming Fatherlessness

By John W. Kennedy
June 16, 2013

By the time Bill Hancock reached 14, his third stepfather had moved into the family’s Hoover, Ala., home. His mother repeatedly married men with alcoholic tendencies and a bent toward domestic violence.

When difficulties on the home front escalated, Bill’s mother packed her three daughters and son off to live with various relatives. Usually Bill ended up with his maternal grandmother. The kids would return home when their mother and her husband separated en route to divorce.

Poor and uneducated, Hancock’s mother kept marrying for the economic survival of her children. Between husbands, she worked as a waitress.

At age 15, Bill’s latest stepfather threw him out of the house. The stepfather told the boy he could take care of himself.

“I walked out of the trailer park and kept expecting to hear Mom’s voice saying, ‘Billy, you need to come home,’” Hancock recalls. “When I reached the highway, I realized my mother wasn’t coming after me.”

Instead, he found himself homeless, and with no possessions. He spent that first night in an unlocked car behind a gas station.

To have money to eat, Hancock began working at that service station, but fell behind in his school studies. The embarrassment of low grades caused him to drop out of high school.

Early on, Hancock endured by staying with friends at their parents’ homes, camping out on different couches night to night. Eventually, a man recruited Hancock to work in construction as a bricklaying assistant and day laborer for brick masons and carpenters. Hancock and other once-homeless teenagers on the cusp of adulthood stayed in a workhouse operated by their employer.

Because of his insecurity and fear of being homeless again, Hancock worked long weekday hours as well as on weekends, doing physically demanding jobs that few others would consider. Yet the owner of the workhouse took advantage of Hancock and paid him little for his toil.

At 19, Hancock met a young lady who lived next door to the workhouse. Like Bill, Elaine had grown up in a non-Christian, absent-father home. Soon Bill and Elaine wed. But in 1980, only two years into the union, Hancock followed the family pattern of contemplating an exit strategy from the marriage.

“I was about to do the very thing my mother had done over and over,” Hancock says. “I didn’t know how to be a husband.”

As Hancock sat in his mother-in-law’s house while she and his wife shopped for groceries, he began to question the purpose and value of life itself. He flipped on the television set and stopped channel surfing to listen to an evangelist preaching. For the first time, Hancock heard a gospel presentation.

Hancock understood if God existed, maybe the future didn’t look so bleak after all. As he saw people streaming to a makeshift altar in a stadium, Hancock knelt at a coffee table, confessed his sins, and asked Jesus into his heart. At the urging of Billy Graham, Hancock uttered his first prayer ever. As never before, Hancock sensed hope.

The next Sunday, Hancock went to a Bible-believing church near his home, just as Graham had recommended. Hancock, who had never been in a church before, plopped down in the front row.

“For the first time in my life I felt as though I belonged somewhere,” Hancock remembers.

“That night he told me nothing would be the same, that he would serve God with his life,” Elaine says.

Hancock began learning about not only being a disciple of Christ, but also how to be a husband.

Two weeks later, Elaine joined him at church and committed her life to Jesus as Lord. The couple ended up at Huffman Assembly of God in Birmingham, Ala., pastored by Daniel Ronsisvalle.

“I walked into a level of joy and celebration and realized this is where I wanted to spend my life — in the presence of God’s people,” Hancock remembers. “I had a Romans 12 moment, where God gave me not just a new heart but a new mind.”

“We were led daily by the Holy Spirit to give up our old ways and become new creatures,” Elaine says. “Even in the early days of our Christianity, we felt we were on a mission.”

For the next year, men at the church discipled Hancock, and he started taking a Global University course about the life of Christ. Hancock’s Sunday School teacher, Roger Loomis, urged him to attend Bible college, but Hancock protested that he only had a GED diploma. Loomis explained that although Hancock didn’t have a formal education, he had an aptitude to learn.

“He was a bright, inquisitive student full of zeal,” recalls Loomis, a former AG pastor who now is a hospice chaplain in the Cleveland area. “He was like a sponge, hungry for teaching about God.”

Hancock still believed such a plan to be out of reach because he had no money or family support to attend college. But he worked his way through Southeastern University (Assemblies of God) in Lakeland, Fla., aided by grants from a foundation at the school and contributions from several couples at Huffman AG. Tutoring from caring professors helped him catch up for years lost in high school.

“Great professors turned my fear into faith,” Hancock says. “They made me realize no one achieves anything great without great people around us.” Hancock says Irvin Ziemann, his English and Greek professor, gave him special attention and they became friends.

“Bill had a good, teachable attitude and a contagious smile,” remembers Ziemann, who now is the longest-serving faculty member at Southeastern. He says professors can make an impact on students just by taking a personal interest in them.

“I don’t remember anything specific that I did with Bill that was that helpful, except listening and conversing with him quite a bit,” Ziemann says.

Hancock began excelling in school, and he became a leader on campus, including being elected student missions board president. His spiritual giftings came alive. Hancock says he and his wife learned much from his missions teacher, Ruth Breusch, and her husband, Percival.

While attending Southeastern, Hancock began working weekends at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home emergency shelter in Lakeland. There he and Elaine developed a heart for hurting foster children. Still in school, the couple became group house parents to 10 foster kids.

Hancock went on to graduate school thanks to a grant, and received his master’s degree in youth administration. He discovered child welfare to be an industry in crisis.

“Eventually I realized God’s plan for the church was to be a safe and stable community for foster children and families — like my mom and me,” Hancock says. “If my mother had options, my life would have been different. If there had been a local church willing to travel into a trailer park where a mom and four kids were living, maybe things would have been different for her. Part of my journey is trying to reach those children and those parents with the gospel.”

Hancock’s passion for children led him to serve as executive director of Mountain Top Boys’ Home in Sugar Valley, Ga., and his commitment to children carried through his years as executive pastor of Evangel Temple (AG) in Columbus, Ga. Earlier this year, Hancock resigned as pastor of Corridor Church (AG) in Marietta, Ga., to focus full time on foster care.

Five years ago, Hancock launched FaithBridge Foster Care (originally called Cornerstone Family Services) in metro Atlanta. The organization works through local churches to provide training, certification and ongoing operation support to foster families while acting as an intermediary with government agencies. FaithBridge is partnering with Assemblies of God Family Services Agency to tackle foster care needs through local churches (see Pentecostal Evangel, April 21, 2013, p. 20).

In February, Hancock reconnected with his mother as she entered hospice care at the end of her life. His mother and the stepfather who kicked him out of the home had divorced earlier.

Today, Hancock, 55, has been married to Elaine for 34 years. They have three adult children, who helped with foster care while growing up.

Elaine says the family never did anything conventional and took many out-of-the-box ministry efforts.

“None of this would have happened without God,” Elaine says. “This is why I can look at foster children and think that God can do great things with them. You cannot go by what you see.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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