New movie about foster care invites people of faith to take action

By Katie Yoder, OSV News

         A new film promises to open people’s eyes to the 100,000 children nationwide in need of loving homes while also inviting them to be a part of the solution.

         “We all know there’s foster care, but we’re not really aware of how it exists in our communities and what these kids are experiencing,” Joshua Weigel, the director, writer and producer of “Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot,” told Our Sunday Visitor.

         Based on a true story, “Sound of Hope” follows Bishop W.C. Martin and his wife, First Lady Donna, leaders of Bennett Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in East Texas, who inspire their rural Black congregation to foster the children no one else wants. The film tells the story of how, together, 22 families in Possum Trot, Texas, open up their hearts and homes to 77 children. The PG-13 film, distributed by Angel Studios, hits theaters nationwide on July 4.

         In just over two hours, the film puts a human face to the children in foster care, reveals difficult realities of fostering as well as the need for it, features the strength found in faith and community, and shows the transformational power of unconditional love.

Demetrius Grosse plays the Rev. W.C. Martin in the movie
"Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot." The OSV News
classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion
Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents
strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate
for children under 13.
OSV News photo/Angel

         The movie stars actors including Nika King (“Euphoria”), Demetrius Grosse (“Justified”) and Elizabeth Mitchell (“Outer Banks”). Letitia Wright, perhaps best known for starring in “Black Panther,” serves as an executive producer.

         Joshua and his wife Rebekah, who also wrote and produced the film, began working on the script eight years ago. But the Weigels revealed that their journey to create the film began 10 years ago, in 2013, when they adopted two children — siblings — from foster care.

         “That really just opened our eyes to this foster crisis we have in America, and what these children are going through and what the families are going through,” Rebekah said.

         According to data from the U.S. government’s Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) for the fiscal year 2022, nearly 370,000 children are in foster care in this country, with more than 100,000 waiting to be adopted.

         The Child Welfare Information Gateway defines foster care as “a temporary, court-monitored service provided by States to promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and youth” when their home environment is not safe.

         According to the AFCARS report, the top circumstances associated with a child’s removal, for children entering foster care during fiscal year 2022, included neglect (62%), parental drug abuse (33%), the caretaker’s inability to cope (13%), physical abuse (13%) and housing (11%).

         Rebekah was working to raise awareness and get churches involved when she heard the Martins’ story, she said.

         “I called Bishop Martin and brought him out to Los Angeles to speak at a pastors’ luncheon,” she remembered. “He just was able to really get people excited and get a lot of churches involved — and so we really saw the power in this story to ignite the movement.”

         She revealed that they, as a family, moved to Texas to tell the story after living in Los Angeles for 23 years.

         “We decided to move to deep East Texas to really ensure that we captured the heart of the story,” she said. “We’ve been in deep East Texas for the last three years, going to church with them and spending time with the community.”

         When people watch the movie, the Weigels hope that, first and foremost, they come away knowing that the problem exists. Joshua also wanted viewers to understand the experience of children in foster care who are more difficult to connect with families.

         “This story’s about kids who, in particular, were some of the most difficult to place,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re more troubled than other kids, but it can be because of their ages or they’re in sibling sets and they just kind of can become less desirable, unfortunately, to families looking to foster adopt kids.”

         “We wanted to highlight that and help people understand how important these kids are — how valuable they are — that there’s hope for them as well,” he added.

         He also wanted to address the misconception that, at a certain point, children in foster care are beyond repair or hopeless cases.

         “We wanted to dispel some of that as well, some of the myths around these kids and wanting to make sure people knew that there’s always hope in redeeming these terrible situations,” he said.

         Each viewer and every church or community can make a difference, the Weigels wanted people to know.

         “That it’s not just a movie, but that it’s an opportunity to see yourself in it and consider how you might get involved,” Joshua said. “I think because this community really succeeded together, it’s kind of the foundational idea that, when you take this on as a community or a church, there’s strength in that and you can do things that seem insurmountable.”

         People of faith, in a special way, should consider getting involved, Rebekah said. She referenced the Bible, including James 1:27 which reads, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

         “These kids are the orphans in our culture,” she said. “They don’t have anybody to fight for them, protect them.”

         She drew attention to the 100,000 children currently waiting for a family. When they don’t find families, she said, they age out of the foster system.

         “They’re vulnerable to being trafficked, often become incarcerated, homeless, and the results are really not good,” she cautioned. “God calls us to protect them and to defend the fatherless and to care for the vulnerable.”

         Joshua wanted people of faith to understand that they should not divide what they believe from what they do.

         “So often, we leave these practical issues in our lives and neighborhoods and society to either church leaders or civic leaders and government, and we really want to bring back that understanding that we’re supposed to be, as individuals, engaged in the problems around us and doing what we can do in our own lives when it comes to confronting these kinds of things,” he said. “It’s just part of who we are as followers of Jesus.”

         “We want them to see that this is what it looks like to be someone who’s actively following Jesus and calling themselves a believer,” he added, “and that there’s an understanding that when that happens, it means you’re engaging with the things around you that need God.”

         The Weigels offered advice and encouragement for couples who might be considering fostering or adopting children.

         “It’s helpful to understand what you’re up against and what that looks like,” Joshua said. “It’s important I think to talk to people who are doing it or who have done it, and it’s bearing good fruit.”

         He called on people to inform themselves and, at the same time, guard against talking themselves out of fostering by overanalyzing.

         “The more you understand what you’re up against — and you can prepare yourself for that going in to some degree — it’s not going to be a complete surprise,” he said. “Then you’re less likely to look back and think, ‘Wow, this was a mistake. We didn’t understand this. What have we done?’ and that those kinds of thoughts and fears can come in.”

         For their part, Rebekah called adopting two children from foster care one of the most challenging things that they’ve done, and, at the same time, one of the most rewarding and beautiful things that they’ve experienced.

         “We want to call people in and with the understanding that they’re stepping into something that’s really hard, and you’re stepping into a lot of brokenness and a lot of pain,” she said of the film. “But it’s also an amazing thing to do and God calls us to do hard things … the rewards are beyond what we can comprehend when we follow him.”