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Seminary couple experiences trial of faith with daughter, court system

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–In November 1998, Phillip and Paula Gandy rushed their three-month old daughter, Kendra, to the hospital when their infant began having trouble breathing.
Doctors diagnosed Kendra with a respiratory virus common among infants. Severe coughing spells had left the child with blotchy red spots on her face from ruptured blood vessels. But X-rays revealed a more serious concern — a fractured rib that appeared to be on the mend.
The Gandys immediately concluded Kendra’s rib might have broken during one of her coughing spells or when a breathing tube was inserted in her throat after her premature birth. Then there was the incident about a month earlier when the couple’s 15-month old son, Joshua accidentally pulled Kendra off the Gandys’ bed seemingly without injury.
After finding no other injuries, doctors told the Gandys a social worker would be visiting their home to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, despite the fact there was no record of impropriety with the couple’s four other children ranging in age at the time from seven to 15 months.
Suddenly the Gandys found themselves under a cloud of suspicion as the social worker went so far as to question the practicality of their decision to leave careers and family and enroll in a “conservative” seminary like Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
Meanwhile, Kendra remained in the hospital for about 10 days undergoing a battery of tests. When doctors discharged Kendra from the hospital, a day that was supposed to be filled with joy turned to sorrow as Phillip and Paula watched in disbelief as the social services investigator left the hospital with their daughter, placing her in the custody of foster parents.
“When they told me they were going to take her, I got upset, but it was like God just put his arms around me,” Paula said. “I knew it was just something in God’s plan and we’d get her back.”
The following week, the Gandys attended a court hearing with hopes of bringing their baby girl home. The prosecuting attorney had no evidence of a history of child abuse and three medical specialists testified that Kendra’s fractured rib could have occurred as a result of her accident with her toddler brother.
“It was just a shamble the way she (prosecuting attorney) had thrown this together,” Phillip said.
The judge dismissed all criminal charges during the first court appearance and ordered the Gandys to “baby-proof” their home with electrical outlet covers and door gates, but stopped short of granting the couple custody of Kendra and ordered them to return to court the next week for a second hearing.
Phillip, 33, who serves as activities and recreation director at Hephzibah Baptist Church, Wendell, N.C., said he and his wife were comforted and inspired during the trial by the pastoral example they witnessed when David Black, professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern, walked up to the front of the courtroom and wrapped his arms around them.
“Dr. Black has been great,” Phillip said. “The first day of class, he tells us that most of us are going into pastoral ministry and that we will have a congregation that we are going to have to take care of and shepherd that’s going to be our responsibility.”
Phillip said he realized Black meant what he said when he told his class “You’re my congregation, you’re the ones I need to shepherd.” Black canceled class during both court hearings so he could be in the courtroom with the Gandys.
On the second court appearance, 17 days after losing custody of their daughter, the Gandys were allowed to take Kendra home after charges of neglect were dismissed.
Kendra’s foster parents, Mike and Susan of Cary, N.C., have been foster parents for more than 20 years. The parents of two children by birth and two by adoption, Mike and Susan said Kendra was a well-adjusted child and had a happy personality.
“Kendra was the only child in over 20 years and 30 children who I knew did not belong in foster care,” Susan said. “I just had to ask, ‘Why?'” “My heart just went out to them.”
Susan said she believes God has been glorified through this unfortunate incident as a result of the Gandys’ loving and patient witness throughout the ordeal.
“I learned that God answers prayers quickly, and I know that seeds were planted for more eternal purposes,” she said. “As hard as it is to live sometimes, the most important thing is people’s salvation.”
Phillip said Mike and Susan were an answer to their prayers as well. “We couldn’t have asked for anybody better. It was really a blessing to have them as foster parents.”
Two weeks after being reunited with their daughter, the social services investigator paid another visit to the Gandy home looking for evidence to solidify her case against the couple.
A few days later, the Gandys received a letter from the investigator stating that social services had dropped the case against them despite her desire to continue with the probe.
“I wanted to be mad, but I couldn’t,” Phillip said. “We never got mad. We never said anything, we never asked why this was happening. We didn’t get mad at God. We just knew this was something that was going to make us stronger or it was for the good of something. We may not ever know what.”
Phillip and Paula credit the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding” with getting them through their trying ordeal while maintaining their Christian witness even in the presence of their enemies.
“Maybe the Lord wanted to have the Gospel shared with (the social services investigator). I don’t know,” Gandy said. “If she would have gotten saved, it would have all been worth it.”
“Or if she gets saved one day,” added Paula, “I mean that may be what she needed. It was a lot to put us through, but it’s worth it. We know something good will come out of it.”
Black said the Gandys’ witness throughout their ordeal speaks volumes about God’s sufficiency and faithfulness.
“The Gandys were the embodiment of the New Testament concept of ‘meekness,’ strength under control,” he said. “Their rock solid commitment to the Lordship of Christ during their ordeal was a blessing and example to many, yes even to their detractors. They are a reminder of how the Lord uses severe mercies to cause us to look at Him in life’s dark valleys.”
And when it counted the most, the Gandys said, the seminary community was there for them. Neighbors in Fletcher Village, a seminary apartment complex, and other seminary housing communities collected $2,000 for legal fees required to defend their innocence. “Everybody at the seminary just backed us 100 percent,” Paula said.
Hundreds of letters and cards from people throughout the country who had heard of the Gandys’ plight, through seminary students sharing their prayer requests through email and phone calls, provided daily encouragement.
As Phillip looks forward to graduating from the master of divinity program in May of 2000 and pursuing post-graduate studies, he said Matt. 7:25 will always have a special place in his heart.
“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon the rock.”
“God puts us in a position (sometimes) so that we can trust Him and so that we will know He’s sufficient,” Phillip said. “God is sufficient. Just trust Him.”

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  • Bev Teer