Jill Bryant’s life began in 1985 with a too-young birth mother who loved her daughter enough to let go. The mom knew she couldn’t give her child the best chance for a fruitful life and made the hard choice to place her for adoption at birth.
Through Highlands Adoption Agency (now COMPACT Family Services), Jill spent the first six weeks of her life in foster care with a family that kept detailed records for her soon-to-be adoptive home, sharing everything from milestones to photos. When the baby went to her new permanent home, the foster family sent along a little pink Bible, a small box of mementos, and pictures they had taken.
From the beginning, Jill’s new parents, Tom and Jean Ralls of Springfield, Missouri, assured the child that God planned for them all to be part of the same family. Still, as the girl entered childhood and adolescence, she struggled to find where she fit.
“The devil plays a lot of mental tricks on adoptees,” says Bryant. “He loves to make us think that we are abandoned or unlovable because we were placed up for adoption.”
Bryant grew up in Springfield with older brother, Jeff — Tom and Jean’s biological son. She attended Central Bible College for three years and studied music, preaching, and evangelism. While at CBC, she belonged to the school’s touring musical group, HeartSong, and had the opportunity to travel and perform throughout the continental United States and in Barbados.
A blind date set up by a friend introduced Bryant to her husband-to-be, Jeffrey, in 2006. They immediately felt a deep connection.
“Jill was not like any other girl I had dated,” says Jeffrey. “She has a genuine love for God. She was the Proverbs 31 woman.”
Married in 2007, the couple served as youth ministers at Green Forest First Assembly as well as Otter Creek Assembly of God in Little Rock, both in Arkansas. They later assisted with planting Brookside Church in Branson, Missouri, followed by ministry as youth directors with Calvary Church in Springfield, Illinois. Eventually they served as lead pastors at First Assembly of God in Clinton, Arkansas.
While living in the Natural State, Jill worked in the Arkansas District Teen Girls Ministry and spoke at ministry conferences. Through her continued communication with other adoptees, she has found that the struggle for identity is a common thread. She shares her story whenever the opportunity arises to help others know they are not alone, and they can find wholeness through God.
Jeffrey, 39, a graduate of North Carolina College of Theology and a Gallup-certified life coach, has been working the past 2½ years with I Pour Life, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth and youth aging out of foster care. His program, called LifeStrengths, helps young people learn how to overcome barriers and reach a place of self-sufficiency.
“Jeff has had a profound impact on the way I Pour Life serves foster youth,” says David Gurian, national director of the organization. “He is excellent at welcoming foster youth who have little or no social capital into I Pour Life. He makes them feel like they truly belong, and that, maybe for the first time, an adult believes in their potential.”
“Watching youth enter the program lost and hopeless with huge concerns for their future, and then complete the program a totally different person, gives me energy to keep going day after day,” says Jeffrey, an ordained AG minister.
With four children ranging from 18 months to 11 years old, Jill enjoys being a stay-at-home mom. She has been home-schooling as well as teaching private voice lessons for the past 6 years. The family attends James River Church, where Jill serves as a worship leader, using her powerful singing voice.
“Leading worship is a calling God placed on my life before I was born, and I have been following that passion since the 7th grade,” she says. “I never tire of watching lives transformed in the presence of God.”
The Bryants say their common mission is to help others recognize their value and know that God has a purpose for everyone.
“I want people to remember that no one’s life is a throwaway,” Jill says. “God has intricately woven the details of our lives to make a beautiful picture.”