Abandoned at Birth
The story of an orphan who had a difficult childhood,
survived Vietnam, found his natural mother after 30 years,
and faced the ultimate test of cancer.
This dramatic true story was originally presented on
"UNSHACKLED", Pacific Garden Mission's award-winning radio series
heard on over 1,200 radio outlets around the world.
The Tom Munson Story
On Mother's Day most people honor their mothers with phone calls, flowers or a gift. Mother's Day came for Tom Munson when he was thirty years old and went to see his mother for the first time. With trembling heart he approached the apartment building where she lived, pushed the buzzer and waited. The voice he had longed to hear all his life came through the intercom, "Yes?" He identified himself as a minister out of Clearwater, Florida and said he wanted to talk with her. Her curt response dismissed him, "I'm kind of busy right now." Again he pushed the buzzer and again she responded, irritably this time, "What do you want?" "Do you remember a Tommy Lawrence McCoy?" This time her voice was tremulous, "I--I'll be right down."
While he waited for the mother he didn't know, the mother who had abandoned him when he was an infant, Tom thought of all the foster homes where he had lived, the loneliness, the fear of being rejected time after time. He would just get used to one family when, without warning or explanation, he would be sent to a new home. Each family talked about loving him but failed to keep him, nonetheless. How he longed for a mother and father to love him enough to keep him.
When he was nine, he came home from school and found the social worker waiting. As she drove him to yet another strange new place, she tried to reassure him. “I’m sorry it didn't work out with that last family. You were there so long, I thought you might stay permanently." His blank stare spoke volumes. "Where am I going this time?" he asked. She spoke kindly. "There's not other home available, so you're going to the orphanage..” “The orphanage!.” “Don't worry. They'll take good care of you." He fought back the tears. "What's wrong with me!?.” “There's nothing wrong with you, Tommy. Sooner or later, someone will come along and take you home."
At the orphanage, one of 14 boys with only one dorm mother, he was lonelier than ever. Hurt and confusion were daily companions. He blamed his mother for his sad life. If only she hadn't left me, he kept thinking. Then one day, when he was ten, a couple came to the orphanage and spent some time with him. They came to visit a few more times before they finally took him home to their farm. After he'd been there a while, the social worker arrived, spoke alone with them, and then came into the kitchen where Tom was peeling an orange. “Tommy, these people would like to adopt you as their own son." They would?! The joy that leapt in his heart was quelled by a fearful thought that he voiced: "What if they change their mind?" The farmer's voice was firm. "We won't change our mind, Tommy. We want you to be our son.” “I don't know”, he spoke honestly. "Nobody ever asked what I wanted.” “You'll be part of our family," the farmer reassured him. "We'd like that." They let him think about the adoption for a time, and he finally agreed. His new parents were kind to him, and being on the farm was a healing experience; but he carried emotional scars - especially his birth mother's abandonment. The years of rejection had taken their toll, and by age 14 he was deeply depressed.
One day, watching the cattle on the farm, he asked his dad how the calves knew which one was their mother. "Animals have a sense about that," the farmer offered. "They can always tell which one is theirs.” “Too bad people don't have that sense," Tom retorted. His feeling of despair grew until one night he snuck a knife from the kitchen and took it to his room, determined to end his life. Instead, in desperation, he fell weeping to his knees and cried out to God: "Save me! Forgive me and help me to be loved!" After that he felt hope for the future, but the bitterness toward his birth mother remained stuck in his heart, an emotional splinter he could feel but not reach to remove. The years passed, and Tom graduated from high school. He knew there was something he had to do with his life, but what? The Vietnam War convulsed the country then, and he enlisted. He knew his parents loved him by the worry hidden in their eyes. "Won't be the same without you," his dad said. "Maybe we'll sell the farm and move to Florida."
He reached Vietnam on January 13, 1968 and was sent to Cu Chi, the base camp of the 25th Infantry Division. There Tom drove an armored recovery tank in a convoy to another base camp called Tay-Ninh along the Cambodian border. When they reached base camp, Tom entered a hooch, looking for a place to shave and clean off the filth from his days of travel. Inside he found a young soldier cleaning his weapon and asked if he could borrow a basin to clean up. "Been here long?" Tom inquired. “Too long," was all the soldier said, as he handed Tom a basin. Tom went outside to wash up for chow with his buddies. Although they were vulnerable to mortar attack, they were glad to be in a place that was relatively secure. Suddenly, a rifle shot scattered the tired men. “Sniper! Run for cover!" Tom and several others ran inside the hooch where a gruesome sight stunned them."Ain't no sniper. That guy killed himself!"
Tom was deeply troubled by that suicide, something he himself had once considered. He tried to tell himself that everyone was discouraged at times in Vietnam, seeing death all around; so how could anyone know for sure that someone was contemplating suicide? Between the mortar attacks and booby traps, everyone was fearful for their lives and under stress. Still, he had been the last one to talk with that despondent soldier, and that bothered him. He prayed for another opportunity to share the way of peace that he had found. Some time later, another opportunity came. One of the men on patrol stepped around an armored tank right onto a land mine, which set off another land mine. His buddy was bleeding badly but was conscious as they rushed him back to base camp for emergency surgery.
"I'm expecting some religious books in the mail soon," he murmured. "Guess I need 'em now, huh?" The other men were gathered around him, trying to disguise the fear in their hearts. "You're gonna make it, buddy. You got your ticket home now.” “Yeah, don't worry," said another GI. "Doc'll fix you up." Tom longed to tell the injured man about Jesus but didn't have the courage with all the others standing there. He decided to wait and come back later to share the gospel when the others were gone. But when Tom returned later, it was too late. The soldier had died.
This was an event that was to change the course of Tom's life. As much as he grieved his buddy's death, Tom also grieved his failure to share the good news before it was too late. He told the Lord that if He would spare his life, he would never again pass up an opportunity to share his faith in Jesus Christ. He read the Bible more and more and prayed for guidance and protection. His father had a heart attack and Tom flew home on emergency leave. His dad was out of the hospital by the time he arrived, and Tom found it easy to confide in him about the missed opportunities to help others who were lost and struggling.
"I blew it, Dad.” “Sometimes you have to wait for the right opportunity," his father offered. Tom's heart was still aching. "You don't always get a second chance," he replied. That insight about the need to be a bold witness began to shape his life. After he finished a second tour in Vietnam, he used his veteran's benefits to attend college. By the time he graduated, he knew he wanted to serve God in his work. The restlessness in his soul led him to such a close relationship with the Lord that he would sometimes go to a nearby cemetery, where it was very quiet, just to talk with the Lord. It was there one night that he fell to his knees and cried out to God. Suddenly he realized that it was his longing to find his mother that was coming between him and the Lord. "Forgive me, Lord, for the bitterness and anger I've had for my mother. Help me to love her as You love her. I will no longer search for her, Lord. If You want me to find her, You will have to do it. I pray that somehow You will save her."
His work took a new direction. “I want to minister to people everywhere, including politics, business and business leaders," he announced to an old friend named Ruby while he was visiting back in New York State. "They have special problems because of their work and the pressure it brings." He had been helping out in political campaigns and began to see behind the scenes what life for those in public service as really like. Ruby was both amazed and amused. "The Bible says we're to pray for those in authority, but minister to them?” “'For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty,' 1 Timothy 2:2," Tom quoted. She considered this. "Maybe we'd have better government if more of us prayed for those in power. Maybe we do need a ministry like the one you envision."
But Tom was clearly bothered by something. "First the Lord wants me to deal with my own problems.” “You mean finding your birth mother?” “Yes," Tom said. "For years I thought she robbed me of my childhood. But God has changed my heart. I've forgiven her. I'd still like to find her, but I'm leaving it in the Lord's hands.” “That's good, Tom.” “If I could find her, maybe I would have peace in my soul. Maybe I would understand why she abandoned me. But how will I find her? I don't even know her name or what she looks like..” “What would you say to her?” “I'd tell her what Jesus did for me.” “That's a good place to start."
Ruby offered to help find Tom's mother, and they began a search. Tracing back through the foster parents he'd known, they learned her name through a marriage certificate and a certificate of annulment. But they still didn't know where she lived. Tom continued to pray for his mother's salvation, and God blessed the ministry he founded to help those in government. He traveled to conferences and conventions, seeking the spiritual welfare of those in leadership. On one trip, he stopped by to visit his old friend, Ruby, who had a surprise for him.
"Tom! Guess what! I was looking through the obituaries at some familiar names, and among the surviving relatives was a name that appears to be your mother's. I saved the clipping for you." Tom was electrified with hope. "She's in Syracuse? This is an answer to prayer!" From Ruby's he drove to Syracuse and now, there he stood, outside her apartment, waiting with pounding heart for her to appear. Thirty years of longing were about to be fulfilled. He was praying for the right words to say when suddenly there she was, obviously nervous as she opened the door.
In a somewhat shaky voice she said, "Tommy? Is that really you? I thought you would have blonde hair and blue eyes like you had as a baby." Years ago he would have heaped accusations and blame on this woman for the pain of his lonely childhood; but God had changed all that - had filled his heart with compassion for her. As they talked, Tom shared a little about his unhappy childhood. “I thought you were adopted as a baby," she said. “Things didn't quite work out like that. But I'm glad because God worked in a special way in my life."
She listened without speaking as he went on. "I didn't come to mess up your life, Gwendolyn. I came to tell you that I love you. God has given me a special love for you. I don't know what happened back then, but I forgive you for leaving me so long ago. “I promised God that if He would let me find you, I would tell you what He's done for me and what He can do for you." Her nervousness faded as he continued. "Jesus came to set us free. I was bitter toward you for many years and so depressed that once, when I was 14, I tried to commit suicide.” “I'm sorry," she managed to whisper. “That’s when God saved me. I cried out to Him, asking forgiveness, asking Him to help me. The Bible says, 'and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
He described his years in Vietnam, how God had taught him to share the gospel with the brokenhearted, how he had been praying for her. "I've been praying that God would let me find you and help you, Gwen. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted ... to mend families like ours. Do you understand what He did?.” “I-I'm not sure," she stammered. Then he explained how God put our sins on Christ who took them to the cross where they died with Him. “The penalty for sin is death," he explained. "So Christ died for us. He rose from the dead, victorious over sin and death, proving the debt was paid for all who believe in Him. 'For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.'" By then she was weeping. “Would you like to receive Christ now, Gwendolyn?" Tears flowing freely, she nodded and prayed to receive Christ as her Savior. God had answered his prayers beyond his expectations.
Right away he called and told his adoptive parents, and they supported his decision to spend Christmas with his birth mother. He also called Ruby, who was delighted to hear the good news. A few months later, he visited other friends in Florida who were eager to hear about the reunion with his mother and how God had worked in their lives. They had a houseguest, a nurse from Canada named Betty, and Tom liked her immediately. She had heard about the momentous meeting with his mother and listened joyously as Tom told of God's goodness. “If I had not given my bitterness to the Lord, He couldn't have used me the way He did to help my mother..” “Forgiveness is the key that opens the door to peace," she agreed. “But that's not all," Tom said. "God really started restoring our family. We found my half-sister who was also adopted as a baby! And then, since we were on a roll, we decided to hunt for Gwen's sister, my aunt." His friends were amazed. "You mean your mother's family was lost, too?" Tom nodded. "They were all separated during the depression, so Gwen was raised in an orphanage. It explains a lot, doesn't it?.” “How did you find her sister?.” “It wasn't easy, but we found her in a state home. She cried and cried when she saw us..” “There's no end to the fall-out from broken lives," his friend agreed. “There is with Jesus," Tom said. "My aunt got saved, too!"
Tom and Betty became friends and were married in 1979. Not long into their marriage, however, he began having constant pain in his leg. A tumor was discovered by x-ray, and he was admitted to the hospital for a biopsy. This was a fearful time for the couple who was looking forward to having a baby, but Tom's faith in the Lord never waivered. A gracious pastor took them in and allowed Betty to stay with them while Tom went through the ordeal of surgery and tests. The pastor asked Tom to visit a teenage boy in the hospital who was dying of cancer. His own spirits low, this was the last thing Tom felt like doing; but when he arrived at the hospital, his room was not ready so he went to the boy's room, where all the family was gathered around. As Tom tried to reassure the seventeen-year-old, the boy gave him a reproachful look as if to say, "You don't understand.” “I do understand," Tom said. "I too, have cancer." Then he began telling them about his relationship with Christ, and how the Lord had given him an inner peace. By the time he left the room, everyone there had accepted Christ as their Savior. Tom realized that even with his illness, God could still use him.
They were devastated when the biopsy revealed a virulent form of cancer. Surgery was not an option because the tumor was involved with the main artery, so the doctor wanted to start chemotherapy immediately; but Tom and Betty didn't want to go that route. “God allowed this for a reason, Betty," Tom said, trying to reassure his wife. The doctor was incredulous. "This is a very rare and aggressive cancer. Treatment must begin immediately." "We're trusting in the Lord," Tom replied. "He has the final say in all this. We want to go home for the weekend to pray and to seek His will." "You can trust in your God, or you can have confidence that we know what we're doing," the doctor retorted.
Against the doctor's advice, Tom went home that weekend. He had no intention of going back to the hospital. Instead, he sought advice on proceeding the healthy way, continued with his ministry, and held a banquet to honor elected officials. The guest speaker was a U.S. Senator. Seeing Tom come in on crutches, the senator learned of Tom's illness and told him about a cancer treatment center off-shore that was having good results.
With the help of friends, he and Betty and their infant son flew there for a six-week program. There he found a fertile field for sharing the gospel because most of the patients were frightened about the prospect of facing death. In spite of his own pain, Tom and Betty began a ministry to these patients. They would hold church services several times each week and after church, they had a barbecue for them and ministered in prayer and fellowship. Tom would speak to each patient about the Lord's grace and love, and many people came to know Christ. He also spoke in some churches on the island. When others asked how he could minister while he himself was in pain, he had an easy answer. "If my life is going to be short, then I'll make the most of it."
Tom received half the normal dose of radiation and double the dose of God's touch, and the tumor finally disappeared. Later he learned that some doctors would have given him only a couple of months to live in which case he would not have seen his son. Not only did he enjoy his firstborn, Tim, but two other sons, Daniel and David followed.
God blessed the ministry, and several years later they established a retreat in Tennessee for those in public service and for church groups to get alone with God and with each other. Groups come from all over the southeastern states, and Tom shares his testimony with many of them. He speaks in churches across the state and around the nation urging people to pray for their elected officials. Tom has remembered his promise to never pass up an opportunity to share his faith in Jesus Christ with all whom the Lord puts in his path. Mountain Lake Ranch has grown to include chalets for guests, staff housing, a chapel and 2 group lodges. Tom and Betty and their three sons serve the Lord faithfully and have their home base at the Ranch.
Tom and Betty were happy to be able to raise Tim, Daniel and in 1986 David, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Raising boys in the country where they could experience nature, pets of all kinds and run off endless energy was an answer to prayer. A lot of construction was done during those growing up years as the “Ranch” was just a farm with a farm house and two barns when we arrived. Over the years Tom had chapel services and the Mountain Lake Chapel-Drive In to minister to those at the ranch and a number of local families in the area. This had a great influence on our sons and their decision to accept Jesus as their Savior. Many other lives were changed as well. With the help of various mission organizations and other workers, he built Mountain Lake Chapel and it’s outreach ministries, including the facilities we have today where churches can house their groups make their own meals in our lodge kitchens and minister to them inside the fellowship halls or in our Worship Center. As the boys grew they learned a lot from watching and then helping in the building of various structures and since there was never a surplus of funds, they learned how to do many things themselves. It was fun watching them grow up and develop their own interests and skills. Big brother Tim was such a big help to his dad as he had a five year start on the others. He was quite mechanical, excelled in math and had a real interest in flying. Funny thing was, he couldn’t care less about getting his driver’s license but couldn’t wait to get his pilot’s license! Since the boys went to a Christian school 18 miles away, Mom was anxious to have him drive as he was a very responsible young man and I looked forward to not having to drive 18 miles each way each day! He complied and became a very good driver as well as a pilot and still enjoys flying whenever possible. Years later a separate profit making business was established to help support the cause of Christ. Tim became the head of our water plant and really shows his talents in so many fields, all of them useful in the multifaceted task of running a plant like ours. Tim also joined his Dad on a mission trip to Ukraine where Tom spoke on many occasions. Later, Daniel joined Tom and Tim on a mission trip to the Philippines where Tom again had many speaking engagements sharing his story and the Gospel message.
Daniel excelled in school and his interests leaned towards theater-arts, video production and computer technical skills. We would be lost without his expertise in so many areas of business and ministry as his technical skills are so useful. He also works for a newspaper, as well as freelances with his own video production company, DLMProductions.com. He is also an asset, working at the plant along with Tim. In the summer, he teaches gifted kids in film and videography, his area of expertise.
Then there was David, the youngest and definitely a character all his own. Early on, David had a desire to become a police officer and spent time getting to know officers in neighboring towns before being accepted by Knoxville Police Academy. He later was hired by KPD where he loved his work and seemed well suited to being a police officer. Sadly, he also loved riding his motorcycle and on October 28th 2013 he lost control and was instantly killed when he hit a guard rail. He left Christina, his wife of five years and he left us, and he is sorely missed. Even his dog, Callie, laid on his clothes and moaned for days. This is the toughest thing that God has ever called us to walk through. I confess I thought we had had our share of trials with Tom’s cancer, then Dan’s difficult birth which included being on a heart monitor for 6 months, later my bout with breast cancer, I just didn’t think I would lose a child. We have met so many couples since David’s death, who have lost a child. I could never imagine what it must be like but now I know. I don’t think anything could be worse. Only God could get us through this and give us strength one day at a time. There isn’t a day, probably not even too many hours that he is not in our thoughts. Everything around me reminds me of his caring, his sweet spirit and protectiveness of me. He cared enough to help me, would always notice my mood especially if I was down. He would want to know why and usually had a solution to offer. Each time I arrive at the ranch, I remember that it was David who dug up the front yard and placed the plastic and the tons of rocks where the grass would not grow and always looked bad. It was a big job but he stuck at it until it was done and it still looks good. He also picked out my car, which I love.
We have learned that God’s grace is sufficient, even in the most horrendous situation. We are blessed to know that David is in glory with our Lord and we will see him one day soon. We are also blessed to have two other wonderful sons who are so thoughtful and caring and able. We are amazed at the gifts and talent God has given to them, and of course Tim’s family, our two beautiful grandchildren, Grace and Ty, and their sweet mother, Melody who keep us going.
Now, Tom is the chaplain for the DAV, Disabled American Veterans, of Sevier County, Tennessee and speaks to different groups and churches about veterans’ causes as well as TV and radio interviews sharing their need. We started the Veterans Christian Fellowship to educate the public about what is happening to our veterans and the number of suicides among them. We provide our facilities here to help veterans and have an annual DAV picnic here.
Our Alkaline water has been made available to veteran organizations for fund raising to help meet their needs. This special water really contributes to physical health. We praise God for the opportunity to help people both physically, through the water and spiritually through the ranch.
Psalm 147:3 says “The Lord mends a broken heart and binds up our wounds”. He did that for Tom as an orphan and He can do it for anyone, including those who put their life on the line.
Someone Cares ... For You!
Jesus loves you. He died on the cross for your sins so that you could spend eternity in heaven with Him. He knows your present circumstances. He knows your very thoughts. And He is calling to you now: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," Matthew 11:28. Rest - real rest - from the burdens of life, is what Jesus Christ offers you. Freedom from fear and guilt, from worry and frustration, from loneliness and disappointment. If you are struggling under life's pressures, He offers to bear your burdens with you: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light," Matthew 11:29, 30.
Yes, Jesus cares for you. He, God the Son, became a man to redeem you from the consequences of sin. In His 33 years on earth, He suffered rejection, abuse and cruelty. He endured hunger, thirst and pain. And He died upon the Cross of Calvary to fulfill God's plan of salvation. Ask Him to save you, to forgive you of your sin and come into your heart and let His Holy Spirit teach you and guide you. He will. He has promised that we can KNOW that we will spend eternity with Him if we become as a little child and surrender to Him. If my story has had an impact on your life, or if you would like more information on the Christian life, write us:
Mountain Lake Ranch
2865 Mountain Ranch Drive
Dandridge, TN 37725-4031
(865) 397-1000 Fax (865) 397-4208
Call or write today for more copies or information.
Tom is an evangelist with experience in speaking to a wide range of groups from the Pentagon to churches, missions’ conferences and various others. Let us know if you would like him to speak to your group.
Here's what you must do to receive Christ as your Savior and Lord,
Simply invite Him in by praying something like this: "Lord, I know I'm a sinner and need Your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I now invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name, Amen."
As a reminder of your decision to trust Christ, sign your name to this declaration: "Realizing that I am a sinner, and believing that Christ, the Son of God, died for my sins, I here and now receive Him as my personal Savior. I yield myself absolutely to Him, and by His grace I will serve Him faithfully and will acknowledge Him before others."
"He healeth the broken hearted, and bindeth up their wounds." Psalm 147:3