A Life Changed: Hank Wells

“I grew up in a rural part of Etowah County. My family was extremely poor, often going for extended amounts of time without running water or electricity. As a child, I would heat a pot of water on the stove and stand in the washtub to take a bath. I lived with my mother, stepfather and several siblings, and emotional and physical abuse were always present in the home. My biological father, who was rarely present, altogether stopped visiting me when I was in the 3rd grade. The only other time I saw him was right before he died.

In March of 1993, I was thrown out of my house. I was a teenage boy desperately in need of a place to stay, terrified and unsure of where I was going to sleep each night. I walked to a friend’s home where I was welcomed to stay during the snowstorm and then for the next several weeks. I attended church with them one Sunday at North Gadsden Baptist, which happened to be the same church where Joe and Sherry Fain attended, a couple preparing to be houseparents at Big Oak Ranch.

Joe and Sherry Fain saw the need I had for a home, for a family and stability, which I had yet to experience in life. They spoke with John Croyle and Big Oak Ranch social workers, and it wasn’t long before I was on the winding country road that led me to the entrance of the Boys’ Ranch for the very first time. I was met by people who listened to me with genuine concern for my well-being. Their actions, their character and their words told me that I mattered. Big Oak saw my need, and in it they chose me – I will never forget the feeling I felt that day of being wanted.

At 17 years old, I entered the Perkins Home and was Joe and Sherry Fain’s first child at Big Oak. Upon my arrival, I got to pick and live in my own room, an experience I never had before. The Ranch helped me get my first job at Jester Door and Trim. There I experienced people who counted on me to be consistent, to be trustworthy and work well. When you grow up without structure, it is really easy to get sidetracked. However, the Ranch family that had surrounded me, continued to be a stabilizing force through young adulthood. My boss at Jester Door, Wes Ingram, and his wife, Virginia, even ended up becoming my Resource Family for the Ranch. I loved staying with Wes and Virginia’s family for resource weekends. They treated me like I was their own – often eating meals together, visiting their extended family, working on cars and going on fun day trips. I wasn’t just a kid from the Ranch that they kept for the weekend, rather, I was a part of their family. I was introduced and treated as one of their own, and I thrived because of that relationship.

Before coming to the Ranch, I was exposed to a lot of fighting that took place between my mom and stepfather. However, my houseparents and resource parents didn’t fight that way. They always seemed to love each other and work through disagreements together. Pop Fain and Wes also prayed with and for me – they were the first men to ever show me what a relationship with Christ is supposed to look like. The first time I ever felt the love of Christ in my life came from my houseparents and resource parents. They faithfully invested in my daily life, expecting nothing in return from me, yet waiting in full expectation for the Lord to work in my life in His timing.

In high school, I met a girl named Leslie Baker who worked at a local grocery store. After making several trips there and ultimately asking for her number, we dated and went to several school dances together. After going our separate ways through early adulthood, the Lord brought us back together. Leslie says, ‘When Hank and I reconnected, my first response was to try to run him off in any way that I could. I had been through a painful situation and did not want to end up there again. Though I held him at a distance, Hank’s consistency in his character, in attending church with me and involving his boys with mine softened my heart. I realized that Jesus was telling me that Hank was safe and that He had brought him to me. Then, I was confident about our families uniting, and we were married within a few months.’

Many may look at my life and say that I have a habit of being in the right place at the right time. I would say that the Lord has been sovereign over my every step. The Ranch gave me a foundation, while my houseparents and resource family invested in me day after day. Then when I reconnected with Leslie and we began serving together, it all came full circle as I finally realized my desperate need for a personal relationship with Christ and received Him as Savior. We are pouring into our family, including one young grandson, we get to share the Gospel all across the world – from Uganda to Peru to local missions in Florida. Through those important roles, and in my law enforcement career, my prayer has been that God would use me – my story – to help others who have faced the same hardships.

After all, I have learned that children who come to Big Oak are often closed up and scared to let people in – just as I was at 17. But if they are given the chance to work through this, and choose to do it, the opportunities to be a blessing will come.”