Wellon Bridgers has an undeniable light within her. Along with serving as the U.S. Director for Mwana Villages — a grassroots ministry based in Central Africa that seeks to provide a hopeful future for orphaned and vulnerable children — she is also an artist. The two roles — artist and advocate — often blend into one, Wellon says. After walking through an unethical adoption experience a few years ago, Wellon’s eyes were opened to the realities of the faults within the adoption process. Through Mwana Villages, Wellon is working to make a dent in that problem and paint a better picture for children who are orphaned or in a vulnerable situation. That spirit is also reflected through her art, which explores themes of finding truth in a broken world. Meet our fabulous FACE of Birmingham!
How did you become involved in Mwana Villages?
We discovered Mwana after we had walked through a three-and-a-half-year adoption process that ended in a shockingly heartbreaking and eye-opening experience. In short, we were part of a pilot program and matched with twin boys whom we discovered at the very end of the process that everything we knew of their social history was false. They had married parents and teenage siblings — not orphans in need of adoption at all! So we began researching what organizations were operating ethically and working to keep families together, equipping vulnerable women instead of exploiting them. After months of closely watching Mwana Villages, we saw some amazing instances of how their ethics, over and over again, rang true, and we knew we had to be a part of this amazing ministry.
How has your involvement shaped you as a person?
Honestly, I don’t think there’s any aspect of me that isn’t shaped by our journey through adoption and now as advocates in the world of orphan care. It has dramatically shaped how I see all aspects of life and how we as a family allocate our time, resources, prayers, priorities and family involvement. Being involved in this world has allowed me to understand the complexities, nuances and interconnectedness of very complicated issues of poverty, gender inequality, education and socioeconomic limitations. And for a girl who grew up in Mountain Brook, Alabama, to have such strong, lifelong bonds with Congolese men and women whose background and upbringing is utterly opposite from mine has been a work only of the Lord.
What’s something most people don’t know about the adoption process?
If I had a nickel for every time someone has been jaw-dropped to hear our story, we would have already built our new Mwana Refuge in Congo! Most people have no idea about the corruption and unethical practices that infiltrate the world of adoption, especially international adoption. Often, the focus of orphan care is on the children only and the belief is that adoption is the solution to the orphan crisis. But this mindset neglects the reasons that a child is orphaned in the first place, which usually is linked to the struggle of a vulnerable mother. If organizations prioritize family preservation and reunification, with adoption as a last resort, it would greatly limit the unethical practices of adoption. There is hope, though! Mwana Villages is an amazing example of this kind of prioritization and ethical adoption when appropriate.
You’ve adopted yourself. What was that process like?
If we had not walked through such an eye-opening and heartbreaking journey in our first adoption experience, we never would have learned all that we have, nor would we have our two wonderful children, Leila and Daniel! Life with four kids under eight — twins and “twiblings” — is certainly chaotic, but after nearly three years as a family of six, I truly couldn’t imagine our family any other way. It’s also been a wonderful learning experience to be an interracial family living in Birmingham! We desire to see true racial reconciliation in our society and community, and we know this will be a lifelong journey for all six of us.
You’re also an artist. Tell us about how you discovered this passion.
My mama is an incredibly talented interior designer, so I had the privilege to grow up around beautiful things. That [upbringing] eventually worked its way into my being, and I am really drawn to beautiful design. While I grew up a creative and imaginative child, I never painted until just after graduate school, when my husband and I were looking for creative ways to make Christmas gifts for friends and family! Stephen loves to study art and had wanted to be an architect. He was the “welder of the year” in high school, and I thought he would come up with some amazing new art form. As it turns out, he was terrible, and I stumbled upon something that I really loved and I was pretty good at! I will never forget his face after about an hour of painting quietly by ourselves. He looked over at mine and his eyes got big. He looked at his, then looked at mine and said, “Well, that’s pretty good.” The rest is history!
How would you describe your art?
I am consistently drawn to the play of light against dark. I think our own life experience has given us in many ways heavy hearts and minds, yet our faith gives us such joy and hope that it is a constant source of light even amidst the darkness. I have always marveled at God’s amazing creation — the original artist! So I am also drawn to ethereal representations of the natural world — “landstracts” I call them — and imagine that the prophets and scripture writers ages ago were looking at the same natural wonders as they marveled at God’s handiwork.
What’s it like being in the art community in Birmingham?
The folks who attend an art show and the folks who attend an event for orphans are typically not the same folks, so to be meaningfully involved in both worlds has been really fascinating. I sometimes have a tendency to talk about heavy topics in otherwise light social occasions (err, that one time I brought up ebola at a dinner party), so there has been more than one occasion in which a fellow art lover has learned all about the world of vulnerable families!
What’s your favorite place to grab coffee in Birmingham?
Oh, my friend Michelle and I decided we need to do a documentary about our coffee dates. We meet every few weeks and pick a new coffee spot and talk about everything from marriage to racial reconciliation to ministry to being awkward introverts! While we are loving our coffee shop tour of Birmingham, Urban Standard holds its own special place in my heart — many a cherished conversation has happened there! (And their rosemary chocolate chip scone is ah-mazing!)
What’s your go-to date spot?
While I’m a creature of habit, my hubby loves to try every new restaurant. But no matter where we go — and particular favorites include Shu Shop, Ollie Irene and El Barrio — we always seem to end our date nights at the same spot — Mountain Brook Creamery.
Describe your ideal weekend.
Ahh — the lake for sure. If I can manage to squeeze in a few hours there alone for prayer and reading time, that would really make the ideal weekend. (Introvert mama of four makes alone time pretty rare, yet cherished!) But the ideal weekend would be kids and cousins playing together, making a big Italian feast (my dad and brother are particularly incredible cooks) and enjoying a glass of wine on the porch to crickets singing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My grandmother and my mama would tell me “Bloom where you’re planted.” It was a cold day in Chicago when I was on the train, struggling with homesickness and wondering what the next chapter in our lives would hold (my husband was doing a year-long post-grad degree). I remembered those words and decided that if I’m going to really live by that, I wanted to see it in scripture. I literally flopped open the Bible to Psalm 37, where it says, “Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.” Well, that’s pretty clear. It’s been something I’ve tucked in my heart and mind ever since, an ongoing calling to live by.
If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Circumstances you may not understand in the moment still have a purpose. If we truly believe this, I think it gives us a freedom to encounter even tough things with boldness and hope.
Aside from family, friends and faith, name three things you can’t live without.
Chocolate. Wine. Alone time. All three at once, please.
And thank you to Eric and Jamie Photography for the gorgeous photos of Wellon in her home studio!