Mike and Joy Connell, together with their daughter Josephine, share their story of reconciliation—testifying of how God can turn situations around when we obey Him.
By Dawn Seow
It was a love story that seemed to go wrong at every possible turn. Like Romeo and Juliet, they were two young lovers forced apart by their family backgrounds. To make matters worse, they brought a baby into this world; a baby they decided not to keep. But unlike other stories, this one has a happy ending, because God intervened and turned tragedy into triumph.
In 1962, Mike and Joy Connell were freshmen at a university when they met in school and fell in love. But because Connell was from a Catholic family and Joy from a strict Brethren background, their families were against their relationship.
“We were both the eldest in the family and we faced a lot of pressure from our families,” Joy recounted. “There was tremendous resistance between the Protestants and Catholics at that time, which caused strong religious opposition in both our families; so we kept breaking up and coming back.”
Six years later, they made a mistake and Joy found herself pregnant.
“I was in shock, fear and shame, thinking to myself: what do I do? We made a silly decision and that was to hide in secrecy and not tell our family. We were living away from home and so I managed to give birth to the baby without anyone knowing,” she said.
While Joy made a decision to bring the baby into the world, she decided not to keep her. “We gave her up for adoption. At that time in New Zealand, the law was such that if we gave up our baby (for adoption), we will never be able to see her again. The law restricted all access between the two families.”
Thankfully, God made a way for the young couple to eventually get married, as their parents felt they had been together for so long. Even though Joy felt like a backslidden Christian, there were people who knew about their problems and were praying for them. “And one day I did feel the Lord said he (Connell) has a heart after God and it was okay to marry,” Joy said. “I felt a release.”
To pacify both families, the couple decided on a joint service by a Catholic priest and an Anglican minister. “On the day I got married I gave my life to Jesus; I realized that we will never make our lives work unless Jesus was there. So I made a commitment to Christ at the service just before we got married,” said Connell.
This is the love story of Mike and Joy Connell, now the senior pastors of Bay City Outreach Center in Hastings, New Zealand. Their names are not unfamiliar at City Harvest Church. Connell is an internationally recognized teacher of the Word who moves powerfully in the prophetic, deliverance and inner healing gifts. His ministry has brought great healing to the hurt and broken-hearted.
While he was at CHC to minister over the weekend of Jun. 2 and 3, his family shared with City News the story of how he and Joy came to reconcile with the firstborn they gave up for adoption.
Reconciliation Begins with Healing
“After coming to the Lord, I realized how wrong I was (to give the baby up for adoption). I believed in my heart that the Lord will make a way for her (the baby girl) to come back, even though the law said otherwise. So I came into deep repentance, and made a commitment that when she came back in our lives, whatever I was doing, I would make it public and be completely open with everyone, because the sin was in the hiding, and repentance meant doing the exact opposite.
Eight years after they were married, the Connells were called to start a Christian school in the same year they started pastoring a church. As life moved on, they never talked about how the trauma of what happened affected both of them.
“We were working with a few married couples at one time and decided to have a marriage renewal service, looking at the foundations and helping these couples make a fresh commitment towards each other,” Joy shared. “And that was the first time we look at the foundations of our own lives and we realized how much damage had been done in terms of the grief and pain because of what happened. We resolved our hurts and shortly after, the laws (that restricts parents from meeting their children after giving them up for adoption) changed! God knew that the laws were changing and He got us ready for the change.”
The Connells wrote a letter to the social welfare. Interestingly, the mother who adopted their baby wrote them a letter as well, almost at the same time, to ask for information.
Josephine Brown, Connell’s daughter, was already 18 at that time, and was finishing her first year at university. Normally, the welfare services would not let them make contact until the child was 21 years old, but because there was interest on both sides, they allowed contact to be made.
“When I was born, I had a splint and had to be in bed for 10 weeks,” Josephine shared. “When my parents came to adopt me, the doctors couldn’t tell if I would develop some kind of disability. When they told their parents they wanted to adopt me, their parents were quite resistant.”
Unlike other adopted children, Josephine had always known that she was adopted. “It was not good or bad, just facts I knew. But as a child I always wondered who I was. In New Zealand, there are people who came from so many backgrounds, it’s like people have traveled here from England, Ireland or Wales so people always discussed if they are Irish-half or English-half and I never knew who I was.”
When Josephine found out that her mother had received a letter from the social welfare that her biological parents have six more children, questions started reeling in her mind: who were they? What do they looked like? Do they look like me? “It’s insane, when you don’t have information, you just fill in with your imagination.”
Eventually, Josephine flew up to meet the Connells after her exams that year. She arrived in town on Connell’s birthday.
“The week before she came, we openly told the church our story and everything came to light. After that, many of those who had problems sharing their past brought their secrets into the light as well,” said Joy.
As Connell came clean with his family’s past, God brought a lesson to his mind. “This was what the Lord asked me after we told the church, ‘You know what would happen if you had not shared with your church?’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t thought about that,’ to which God said, ‘If you had kept this in secret, it would have been a betrayal of trust for all under your leadership once they found out the truth.’”
Humility and Giving Honor
Over the years, the Connell family maintained contact with Josephine. She did not grow up in a Christian family but whenever she visited them, she would go to church with them.
While she felt moved by the presence of God at church, becoming a Christian was a struggle with the issue of loyalty for Josephine. “I grew up always wanting to please my parents, and I didn’t want the decision (to believe in God) to please other people; I wanted it to be for myself. So it took a long time to come to that point of not worrying about what my parents thought as well as what Mike and Joy thought.”
The change came when Josephine met her future husband Steve Brown, who shared his testimony with her about being healed at a church service. “I thought to myself, this is a guy who can help me grow spiritually. It was so important to me because if I got together with the wrong guy, it would be harder (to become a Christian).”
Their wedding in October 2008 was the first time Josephine’s biological and adopted family met. “I wanted my dad to walk me down the aisle and Mike to take the service.”
But things did not turn out as well as everyone hoped. Connell could still remember the tension he felt in the air at the initial meeting. “I said to God, ‘Help! You have to help me solve this!’ And I didn’t actually get an answer until the morning of the wedding day itself. The Lord showed me how to approach it with the principle of honor.
“There was the uncertainty of her siblings and her parents, and everyone was thinking: what’s he going to say, and I’m thinking: what am I going to say?
So the Lord showed me to start by placing honor on Josephine and her parents, because when you humble yourself and honor people, their hearts will be softened. I spoke words of value to her parents, her brothers, and to Josephine and Steve. The presence of God came and I felt the tension just lift. Hearts were softened and you could feel the love in the place. It was what I asked God for: all the walls were broke down and people just cried. It was so good.
At the reception, her mother stood up to speak and people just started to weep. She had faced her own conflicts because of her mother’s objection to her adopting Josephine, but deep down in her heart, she knew that this baby would be ok.”
Josephine and Steve were baptized by Connell at their home on Easter Sunday last year. “We are now putting down our roots and learning how to pray and walk with God,” Josephine said with a smile.
It is inevitable that people make mistakes, but as this story has shown, God is always there to turn mourning into dancing and sorrows into joy.