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Pastor Leads the Way in Foster, Adoption Ministry at Florida Church

Florida pastor and wife inspire families in their church and district to foster and adopt as they lead by example instead of becoming empty-nesters.
When the teenaged Stacia Spencer gave birth to her son, Christopher, while living at Highlands Maternity Home, the newborn swallowed amniotic fluid, requiring him to remain in neonatal ICU.

Rules at the time required Spencer to leave the hospital immediately after giving birth. But a foster couple in their 70s—old enough to be the child’s great-grandparents—volunteered to care for her baby. The couple provided a loving presence in the infant’s life for two weeks while hospitalized: they held him, took pictures of him, and prayed over his future, then continued caring for him for an additional two weeks at their home.

Upon being reunited with her baby, the Holy Spirit used their example to reveal to Spencer that she, too, wanted to someday love someone else’s baby. So, she began to pray for the opportunity.

A few years later, Stacia married Vince S. Spencer, who was youth pastoring in the West Florida Ministry Network, the area’s Assemblies of God district where Spencer served as youth department secretary. The couple went on to have three biological children and Vince recognized God’s call to the pastorate. Although Vince raised Christopher as his own, and the child chose to take Spencer as his legal name, he sensed no call to foster or adopt other children.

In 2006, Vince became pastor of New Life Fellowship, an Assemblies of God church in Chipley, a city in Florida’s Panhandle. It was there that the Holy Spirit gave their youngest child, Sydney, 8, her own prayer burden.

“For three years Sydney prayed daily for a little sister,” Vince recollects. “And every night, I said no. We’re old. Mommy and Daddy aren’t having any more children.”

Through the years, Spencer continued to mention fostering classes to her husband. What Vince describes as the “eureka moment” occurred when the Holy Spirit spoke to him during prayer time: “When are you going to allow your wife to do what I put in her heart and quit kicking against my will?”

This time, he was the one who brought up the subject to his wife, who within three minutes found the dates and times for the next fostering classes.

“I had been secretly in touch with the licensing specialist, praying for my husband to get on board,” Spencer says.

After decades of praying for her husband and her calling, Vince had not only embraced orphan care, but did so at an age when many look forward to retirement.

Meanwhile, Donna Guettler struggled.

Guettler was Vince Spencer’s assistant at New Life and then at First Assembly of Marianna, Florida, where Vince would eventually become lead pastor. Her husband, Billy, one of 16 siblings, had told her when they married that he wanted a dozen daughters. However, Guettler herself was apprehensive about adding more children to their family. Her husband had two children from a previous marriage and, together, they had three biological children.

Then she witnessed as Vince’s heart suddenly shifted. His growing burden for vulnerable children began to soften her heart and, in 2016, the couples attended foster care classes together. While the Spencers were older than most in the class, the Guettlers were by far the oldest.

The day the Spencers received their fostering license, the state placed in their home a pair of half-sisters from the same mother: Joselyn, 14 months, and four-day-old Abigail. The couple adopted the girls, God’s answer to Sydney’s prayer.

Today she and Vince, now 50 and 53, respectively, are parents to five young, adopted children and have influenced others to do likewise within the church, their AG district, and beyond.

In addition to Spencer’s biological son, Christopher, 30, and Sydney, 19, their family consists of their biological adult children Nicholas, 27, and Jamison, 24.

“They refer to themselves as the 1.0s,” Vince says.

The Spencers are also parents to their adopted children Joselyn, 8, Abigail, 7, Roland, 6, and twins Kyleigh and Karleigh, 4, whom the couple refer to as “the littles” while the “1.0s” refer to them as “the 2.0s.”

The age gap between the Spencers’ youngest biological child and the oldest adopted child is 11 years. Additionally, they have three grandchildren. While they don’t foresee adopting more children, they’re still certified to foster parent.

Donna Guettler, 59, and Billy, 66, have fostered 15 children, two of whom were adopted by New Life congregants. They have adopted two, ages 4 and 8, giving Guettlers children and grandchildren who are the same age.

“My husband has always loved children,” Guettler says. “Now through foster care, he’s kind of had his dozen daughters.”

Eric D. Porter, 47, founded Backyard Orphans, an Assemblies of God-affiliated initiative that guides church leaders to develop a foster care, adoption, and support ministry. It’s part of the AG Foster Care Network. Vince Spencer has invited Backyard Orphans to conduct annual workshops at New Life to recruit more foster and adoptive parents and create a support system for them to succeed in their calling.

Porter describes Vince as “one of my heroes.”

“Not every pastor is called to foster and adopt, but every pastor can do something,” Porter says. But Vince put feet to it. “He has a heart for the church to be more involved in orphan care and felt called to lead the way.”

“It’s a wild ride and not always easy, but we know what the Lord has led us to do,” Vince Spencer says.

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.