JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Nicholas Garrard’s adoption was the subject of the Florida Baptist Children’s Home Mother’s Day Offering video in 1998. Fourteen years later the 16-year-old is preparing to spend the summer as a mission volunteer in St. Marc, Haiti.
Nicholas will help construct a school in the seaside village with other volunteers with Teen Missions based in Ft. Myers. This six-week mission adventure, June 20-Aug. 8, will be his second mission trip to the island nation. In 2010 he worked with House of Blessing Orphanage to build homes in the mountains of Calabasas.
“I’m looking forward to meeting other kids in St. Marc, but I’ll miss talking—texting, actually—to friends here,” he said.
No electronic devices, including cell phones, are allowed on the trip.
The St. Marc site was Nicholas’ first choice of projects. He was asked to name his top four choices of mission projects, and building a school in St. Marc was the most attractive, partly because he will be able to go to the beach there, he said.
He has become accustomed to living near the ocean in Neptune Beach in northeast Florida. He is an A and B student at Fletcher High School where he runs track and cross country. He is an active member of the youth group of Chet’s Creek Church in Jacksonville.
His parents, Jerry and Ruth Garrard, are proud of Nicholas’ accomplishments at school, but they are most thrilled with his spiritual growth, according to his father.
“He is a typical 16-year-old and makes good decisions and wise choices. He is the most laid back person on the planet. He doesn’t worry about anything,” Jerry Garrard said. “He is moving from dependence on his parents to dependence on the Lord.”
The Garrards adopted Nicholas when he was two years old, when Jerry Garrard was pastor of Celebration Baptist Church in Tallahassee and serving as president of the Florida Baptist State Convention.
Ruth Garrard ministered to Nicholas’ birth mother, of South American ancestry, while she was pregnant, and Ruth Garrard was in the delivery room when he was born. The supportive relationship continued after Nicholas’ birth. The Garrards kept Nicholas during the week while his mother attended college, and he stayed with her on the weekends. The Garrards received training from Florida Baptist Children’s Homes that also counseled the birth mother. After two years, she decided adoption by the Garrards was best for her child.
Although his birth mother maintained contact for a few years, Nicholas has no real memory of her, according to Ruth Garrard.
“I know she tried to take care of me and couldn’t, so she gave me to my parents for a better life. I would like to meet her, though, to know where she is,” Nicholas said.
Since Nicholas’ adoption, the Garrard Family has lived in Seattle, Washington, and in New Orleans, where Jerry Garrard was vice-president of institutional advancement at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary 2006-2011. He has served as interim pastor of God’s Way Baptist Church in Jacksonville almost a year.
Ruth Garrard, “a counselor all of her life” according to her husband, received a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at NOBTS, while also home-schooling Nicholas. She is now a partner in a counseling ministry located at Chet’s Creek Church, and a volunteer counselor at Beach Resource Center, a local pregnancy resource center and at Fletcher High School.
Some people at the school assume they are Nicholas’ grandparents, she said. They are also parents to three adult children, Teresa Coker, Clay and Chris Garrard, and six grandchildren. Nearby Atlantic Beach is home to Chris and Lan Garrard and their two children.
Jerry Garrard, who was 50 when he adopted Nicholas, said their 16-year-old son is “the uncle, the ‘big daddy’ to the grandchildren.”
“Being older parents is tiring, but is certainly keeps me in tune with my grandchildren,” Ruth Garrard said. “In some ways we are more lenient with Nichols than with our older children, and in some ways we are less permissive on things that are important for building character.”
As Nicholas continues to prepare for his mission adventure, he said he isn’t worried about being away from home six weeks, and he said he may consider being a career missionary someday.
“Whatever I do as a job, I can always be a short-term volunteer,” he said.