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Why Is The ‘Sound Of Hope’ Movie So Hopeless?

couple holding crying child in their arms
Image CreditAngel Studios/Youtube

It’s hard to overstate how counterproductive it is to depict foster care as a joyless, draining, hell on Earth.


“Try this, it’s disgusting.”

That’s a comically unappealing phrase I’ve heard numerous times in my life, usually at middle-school sleepovers when friends were inviting me to sample expired whipped cream or Mountain Dew mixed with Tang. It’s not a phrase I expected to hear over and over again in “Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot.” Yet I did.

The newest film from the Christian production company Angel Studios, “Sound of Hope” recounts the true story of Rev. W.C. Martin and his wife, Donna, who inspired numerous people in their small town of Possum Trot, Texas, to become foster parents to the area’s hardest-to-place children. The film focuses primarily on the tender tenacity W.C. and Donna show to their foster children, particularly their especially troubled teenage daughter, Terri. The end result is a film that is heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, and, unfortunately, about as joyless as Angel Studios’ previous production “Sound of Freedom.”

Given its subject matter, one can forgive “Sound of Freedom” for being a rather dour film. The story of a man traversing the jungles of South America to rescue child sex slaves was never going to have much room for laughs or levity. But foster care isn’t human trafficking. Having fostered for over 10 years, I can say quite confidently that it fills your life with far more light than darkness and far more smiles than wails of sorrow. Speaking for myself and other foster parents I know, it’s about an 80/20 mixture of profound joy and profound hardship.

Yes, there are days when you weep and feel overwhelmed by failure. But most days are absolutely joyous. Most days involve hugs and snuggles. Most days feature moments when you are blessed to watch your biological children treat the fosters as their own flesh and blood and not as an invasive species robbing them of Mom and Dad’s attention. Yes, there are moments when you feel overwhelmed by a sense of defeat. But most days offer moments when you can see that you’re successfully giving a home to the formerly homeless and hope to the formerly hopeless.

But that’s not the impression you get from “Sound of Hope,” a film that only succeeds in making superheroes of its lead characters by depicting foster care as hell-on-earth. Look at the nonstop emotional agony this is causing brave and inspiring Donna Martin! Look at how often she collapsed to the floor in sorrow! Look how many times she needed her congregation members to lay hands on her and restore her through the miraculous power of prayer! Look how she was only able to find joy in fostering at the film’s conclusion, after years of enduring the hero’s struggle! My goodness, this film is as bleak as “Schindler’s List”! That must mean fostering is just as difficult to endure as a concentration camp. Only the strongest and best people could pull that off!

Then, after two hours of telling audiences that foster care is the most disgusting thing on Earth, the film’s producers invite us to try it. Following the tradition it established with “Sound of Freedom,” “Sound of Hope” features a post-credits appeal to fight the good fight against the societal evil viewers just learned about. This time the appeal comes from the real W.C. and Donna Martin, imploring audience members to take the next steps now that they’re informed — come join the fray. Come build a world where every child has a home. Come buy a ticket for those who can’t afford one, so that they too can try this disgusting substance known as fostering.

It’s hard to overstate how counterproductive this is. Talk to people about fostering and you’ll find that the reason most people won’t pursue it is not because they’re unaware of the need or unmoved by the plight of struggling children. It’s because they don’t believe they’re strong enough to do it. The last thing those people need is to spend two hours sludging through a joyless film that effectively tells them, “This is the hardest and bleakest thing in the world, and only the strongest people on Earth will find it rewarding.”

The great tragedy of all this is that “Sound of Hope” is an explicitly religious film. The Christian faith of the Martins is front and center in their story. Yet the film’s writers, director, and producer seem to have embraced the profoundly un-Christian idea that despair is among the fruit of the Spirit. If you are overly despondent about the sorrows you see in the world, this means you have genuine faith in the One who will one day take you out of this world of sorrow. The more certain you are that you’re living in the most evil era of human history, the more committed you are to rejecting evil. The more willing you are to stare into bleak, hopeless depictions of suffering, the more devoted you are to the Lord who didn’t create suffering. 

So let the lost keep their movies, like 2019’s “Instant Family,” that make fostering seem happy and possible for mere mortals. If you want to taste the sweetness of hope, you will first prove your worthiness by devouring two hours of disgusting bitterness.

But joy is not a future reward reserved for only the most devoted, amazing, and superhuman of Christians. Joy is a present inherence, given immediately to those who have been born again into the family of God. Joy is something all Christians do and can and should possess right now, something Jesus shows us in John 15. And if the disciples’ joy can be full even as they watch their Lord betrayed, arrested, crucified, and killed, Christians won’t have to wait for the Day of Judgment to experience joy from a vocation that is already about 80 percent joyful.

To be a good foster parent, you don’t have to be the most amazing, inspiring person on Earth. You just have to recognize that Jesus brought you into the family of God when you were fatherless, so now you can reflect that love by doing the same in your family, by feeding and clothing and speaking words of love to those God gives you. To be a strong foster parent, you don’t need to run daily marathons where you’re pelted with agony and sorrow every step of the way. You just need to trust that God will give you both the power and the wisdom to endure the outbursts of hardship that pop up here and there. To be a successful foster parent, you don’t need to turn your child into someone who never causes you anxiety or pain. You just need to turn his eyes to Jesus, the One who promises to free him from anxiety and pain, the One who has sworn to eternally heal the wounds that others tore open.

When you foster, there will be more smiles than tears. But even when the tears come, you can still weep with joy because Jesus Christ has already crushed the devil who is trying to fill your heart and the heart of your child with despair. And the more you bring your children to the devil-crushing Word of God, the more you both will be able to taste the sweetness of God’s victory as you laugh at Satan’s miserable attempts to rob you of the victory and the joy that already rests in your hands. 

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