ABCH’s Watson knows firsthand how family ministry changes children’s lives

ABCH’s Watson knows firsthand how family ministry changes children’s lives

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Dana Watson has seen things a child should never have to see.

He was 8 when he hid around the corner and watched as his uncle began to hit his mom, with her boyfriend joining in too. Watson ran out into the street, looking for anyone who could help.

He found no one.

Watson remembers his terror ramping up as he weighed his options. He thought about trying to defend his mom with a Wiffle ball bat. When her boyfriend went outside to his truck, Watson locked the door behind him.

He didn’t foresee the man breaking the windowpane, letting himself back in and turning his anger on Watson.

God’s protection

The moments were tense but God protected them. His mom, with her face cut and bleeding, led Watson and his sister down the street to a pay phone.

“I was terrified,” he said. “When you’re a kid, your imagination runs wild about what could happen.”

But he said that all changed the first time he stepped on the Mobile campus of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH). Once his mom placed him in ABCH’s care, everything was different.

“I could lie in my bed at night and know that no one was coming in,” he said. “I was protected, I was nurtured and over time I was restored.”
Watson also never had to worry about where his next meal would come from.

“When I was living with my mom, I remember one Saturday morning looking for something to eat and the only thing I could find was a little bag of corn meal,” he said.

So he got a pan out, put the cornmeal in it, poured some water onto it and made it into a patty. He cooked it for a little while, scraped it off the pan with a fork, put some ketchup on it and ate it as his meal for the day.

“At the Children’s Homes we got up and ate meals together,” he said. “We had a schedule and a routine. I felt like a real person. We loved each other and kept each other accountable.”

And now Watson leads the very place where he learned about the love of Jesus and found his purpose in life. He serves as chief operations officer for ABCH’s South Alabama campus and he was recently awarded Alumnus of the Year by the Coalition of Residential Excellence, a national organization representing children’s homes and boarding schools.

Rod Marshall, ABCH president, called Watson a “very good leader.”

“He is never afraid of having difficult conversations to ensure all of the programs under his supervision are excelling,” Marshall said. “He is a good husband and a great father who takes great pride in his four beautiful daughters. He wakes up every day committed to ensure that they see him living out the gospel on a daily basis.”

A living testimony

Watson said it’s a privilege to serve as a testimony of how God can redeem a life.

“When I was a kid I thought it would be great to be a superintendent here,” he said.

And as he grew up, he realized more and more that’s exactly what God wanted him to be.

“It was not because of anything I could give but had everything to do with what Christ called me to do,” Watson said.

Much like the rest of his life, the journey to get there wasn’t always clear or easy, but he said it always had purpose. He had to leave a previous job at ABCH because of cutbacks, but that allowed him the opportunity to work at Mobile County DHR for three years.

That’s enabled him to understand both sides of social work and allowed him to care for the children at ABCH even more effectively, he said.

“I thought I was in a tough spot and off track, but God used that experience at DHR to prepare me for the Children’s Homes,” Watson said.
He also faced losing his mom to terminal cancer, but before she died he shared the gospel with her and she accepted.

“It builds your faith and trust in God’s plan for your life to know He’s in the middle of everything and always has a plan,” he said. “The tough times may be hard, but they help to build my faith.”

Watson shares that message with the children in his care now — that God has a purpose for their lives.

“The kids know that I grew up here and that is a source of inspiration for them, but that’s not going to help them write their story,” he said.

“I tell them, ‘You’re not me, you’re you — but there’s a plan for you just like there’s a plan for me. All you have to do is prepare yourself and God will be your provider and source of strength.’”