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Jerry Tucker (Photo by James Allen Walker for WORLD)

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Hope Award | Children with severe disabilities, many of them abandoned, find more than just a place to live at Galilean Children's Home

Issue: "Save the unions," Oct. 24, 2009

LIBERTY, Ky.-For Abdul Samad, the path from Kabul to Kentucky was shorter than he once imagined. Born in northern Afghanistan in 1976, Samad had a childhood marked by fear of the Soviet troops that invaded the country in 1979. In 1981, Samad says fear turned to horror when soldiers opened fire on a bus carrying dozens of civilians, including his father. At age 5, Samad became fatherless.

With his mother, two brothers, and two sisters, Samad moved south, where his mother began gleaning in fields. Poverty-stricken and desperate, his family returned north a few years later, while Samad stayed behind to work for a local farmer. He soon lost contact with his family and worried they had been hurt or killed.

Samad's troubles deepened: While walking through an Afghan field, the 13-year-old boy spotted a shiny object. He picked it up. In an instant, the damage was done: The exploding landmine ripped off both of Samad's hands and destroyed his left eye.

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More than 7,000 miles away, in a rural corner of the rolling hills of eastern Kentucky, Jerry and Sandy Tucker were busy caring for children like Samad. In 1986, the couple founded the Galilean Children's Home (GCH), a Christian organization for children and adults who are disabled or abandoned, or both. Some need a home temporarily. Some stay permanently.

The young Samad-separated from his family and reeling from devastating injuries-was about to get a new home.

Nearly 20 years later, mornings begin early at GCH. It's still dark outside, but Mr. Tucker sits at the head of a long table in a small cafeteria, reading a devotional booklet to eight attentive residents. The Bible passage comes from Hebrews, and Mr. Tucker sums up the meaning: "Life's a race. It's hard but we've got to finish it. God is the only one who can help us do that."

For these adult residents, and others still rousing from sleep in a dorm downstairs, the race is especially hard. Some are mentally disabled, but physically functional. Others are both mentally and physically challenged. All need substantial help.

For Mr. and Mrs. Tucker, offering substantial help to vulnerable people became a way of life long ago: The couple adopted their first child 40 years ago, thinking they were unlikely to conceive. A biological daughter followed, and so did six more adopted children. After the birth of another daughter, the growing, Christian family moved to a farm in southern Kentucky.

In 1981, the Tuckers adopted Elizabeth, an 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome. The couple began learning of more children from states all over the country-and countries all over the world-with mental and physical challenges, and they wanted to do more. They were driven by Jesus' words in the book of Matthew: "Whoever welcomes one such child for My sake, welcomes Me." Against that backdrop, the Tuckers opened the Galilean Children's Home in 1986 and began hiring staff and recruiting volunteers to welcome and care for a growing number of children.

The couple adopted nearly 30 of the children over 40 years. Most of those children are now adults, and many of the chronically disabled still live on-site. There's no age limit and no requirement to leave after a set period. In the last 20 years, the home has served more than 800 people, says Mr. Tucker.

These days, Mr. Tucker's job is filled with a new mix of responsibility and sorrow: His wife of 44 years died in June 2007 after a long battle with cancer, leaving Mr. Tucker to carry on the work they began. Mrs. Tucker, known as "Mom" to everyone on campus, was pivotal in day-to-day operations. "We didn't realize just how big her shoes were," Mr. Tucker says.

From the wraparound porch of a nearly finished log cabin that the couple began building together before his wife grew sick, Mr. Tucker says the new reality is hard-mostly because he misses the wife he cherished, but also because there's still lots of work to do.

That work involves managing a staff caring for children and adults with lots of needs: First, there's the Angel House, where staff and volunteers care for babies and toddlers while their mothers serve time in prison. Then there's the Blessing House, where workers care for mostly teenagers and adults-some of whom have lived here for decades-with disabilities like cerebral palsy, brain damage, Down syndrome, and spina bifida. (Some of these residents have been abandoned or brought by parents unable to care for them.)

Another dorm serves a few residents who have disabilities but can function on their own. (These residents have often come from developing countries and needed advanced medical care, like Samad.)

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