Conneaut Lake is privileged to be the hometown of two underground Superstars --Duke and Mona Opperman--who have managed to raise over 250 children without benefit of grants or state funding. At one time, when they lived in Ben Avon a Pittsburgh suburb, they had taken in 24 children. My interview with Mona was a reality life lesson in how God can personally move in people’s lives.
Mona told me she desperately wanted to escape her home life as a teenager. Her mother had had six husbands and Mona admitted to being rebellious, skipping school and dipping into activities typical of other hurt and rejected children. Marriage offered a legitimate pathway of escape and so she said she prayed for a husband (without personally knowing the Lord or even being convinced that God would hear her). However...shortly thereafter she met Duke Opperman at a dance; they had two dates and he bought her an engagement ring. They were married three months later .in 1958. Two months after that she found out she was pregnant with their first child.
“When I went to Allegheny General Hospital to have the baby,” Mona told me, “there was a girl there who was also in labor, was having complications, and had no family. Little did I know that this woman would be used as the catalyst in the start of our ministry. The nurse ran an idea by the mother and she agreed, so the nurse asked if I would take the other woman’s baby home also. Duke and I had had our baby boy, David—this baby was a boy also; therefore, we actually ended up bringing home a set of twins!
“We returned him to the mother after about three months when she recovered. But when our son was about five months old the woman called and said her brother had gone to jail, had a little girl named Frieda and asked if we would take her. There were no courts involved back then and we had this little one for about a year when I found out I was pregnant again.
“This baby girl was full term and shockingly our little Faith was stillborn January 15th of 1961. Reeling from the tragedy of this, I really felt I was having a nervous breakdown as I was told I wouldn’t have anymore babies by birth. I can remember desperately searching through that period of time. I would sleep with my head on an open Bible, just begging God to reveal Himself to me. And...I started asking for a blonde haired, blue-eyed baby girl. I said, ‘Please Lord...please Lord send me one.’ And I didn’t know anything about adoption back then. But when my nerves got so bad, Duke suggested that maybe I needed to do something I enjoyed. So I enrolled in nursing at Bellevue Suburban Hospital.
“Two weeks before graduation I was working with patients on the third floor of the hospital when the pay phone started ringing. A cleaning lady answered it. She turned around and yelled, ‘Is there an Opperman here?’ I answered, ‘I’m Opperman’ and she handed me the ‘phone. When I answered a man’s voice came on the line. His exact words were, ‘Would you be interested in a blonde haired, blue-eyed baby girl?’ The first thing I could think of was, Is this black market? What’s going on? Those were the precise words I’d said in my prayers! He explained that his name was Albert Liddle and he was a lawyer. He said we could pick the baby up at his home the following day. She was just two days old.
“Did he explain any of the circumstances?” I asked Mona.
“He told me nothing; however, I went to my supervisor and told her I had to quit. She told me I couldn’t as it was two weeks before graduation, but I said, ‘I have to. I’m getting a baby girl!’ Actually, that could have blown up in my face as I really didn’t know anything except that the attorney had used the exact words that had been in my prayer and basically I was trusting God. So, the following day we went to the attorney’s house. We named the precious baby girl Amy, which means ‘beloved’ and later we formally adopted her.”
“But...did you ask him how he knew about you—how he got the number of the pay phone?” I asked.
“Nope. We never did. We just figured it had to be God so we never questioned it. When Amy was about a year old Duke and I began to go to Holy Family Institute, an orphanage. We took our own children to socialize, baked cookies, played ball and were just strangely attracted to the orphans never dreaming we were in the beginning stages of what the Lord had planned for our own lives. One of the nuns asked us if we’d be interested in 3 of the sibling children with the possibility of adoption. Their mother was deceased and the father needed help with them. We had the girl, age 10 and two boys ages 8 and 6 for a year until the father remarried so we had to return them to their own family.
. “At the time we had no idea what the Lord had in store for us and it was heart-wrenching to give them up. But as time went on and this situation presented itself time and again, we realized we were a haven of rest for children until their parents were willing and able to take them back. But it was devastating to release them each time and I began to pray again—this time for a brown haired, brown-eyed boy. I have to admit at that point in time I certainly knew God was real, but had never accepted Him personally as my savior.
“About 2 months later I got a call again from the attorney, Mr. Liddle. He said that there was a young girl expecting a baby and she wanted to become a nun, so therefore she couldn’t take care of the baby. He said she would be due in 2 months. Were we interested? It looked like God was using him again so, of course, we told him ‘yes’. At the end of 2 months he called again and told us, ‘You have a baby boy...and he has brown eyes and brown hair.’ We named him ‘Kevin’—our Kevin from heaven.”
So the attorney, Albert Liddle, had been used a second time to fulfill Mona’s answer to prayer. And by this time word had began to spread by mouth about the Opperman’s ministry to children. Judges knew of them and referred children, people just called, sometimes from California and across the country. I couldn’t fathom how she and Duke could have managed (not just financially when not accepting state funding for their endeavor, but in patience, love and all the other resources that would take. I found out later that Duke worked 3 jobs).
Mona continued, “Early on, Duke and I found a verse in the Bible that we felt was a calling for our life. It was Leviticus 19:34 that says, ‘The stranger that dwells among you shall be one such as born to you and you shall love them as your own.’”
I shook my head in dismay. “So, did you have to keep moving to bigger and bigger houses?”
She giggled like a small child herself, “No, we lived in a three bedroom house on Forest Avenue in Ben Avon and when the Lord told us we needed to expand, we first put three bedrooms in the attic, we divided a large bedroom on the second floor, and ended up making 6 bedrooms in the basement. The final tally was 13 bedrooms. At that time we had 12 boys and 12 girls—and 1 bathroom!”
“How in the world did you manage that?” I couldn’t imagine.
“Organization! It was very regimented and scheduled. The boys went first because they were quicker and then the girls had their turn. It was amazing how God always kept order. However, I have to tell you that after the first six children I began having anxiety attacks. I never left my home for 11 years. I couldn’t answer the door; I could only interact with the kids because they weren’t my problem. It was something within me. One day a neighbor invited me to go to a Bible study, but I would always say, ‘No, I can’t.’ Finally she asked, ‘Would you be honest with me? Is there a problem?’ She kept pressuring me and so I told her about the anxiety attacks. She said, ‘We will never, ever judge you. If you want to leave you can leave.’ And then I told her...I said, ‘But I can’t read.’ Sandy, I was 37 years old before I read my first book,” she told me.
“Why, Mona?” I could scarcely believe what she was saying.
She looked out through the picture window of her home as though a movie screen of the past scrolled slowly by. “I told you I was an extremely rebellious child. One year I only attended 17 days of school. So, I went to the Bible study that day and really liked what I was hearing. That day I knelt down and accepted the Lord, but I still continued with my anxiety. I argued with God and bargained with Him about it. I told Him, ‘I’ve got these children and a job to do, Lord, and then He loudly spoke to my heart saying, ‘No! My power works best in weak people!’ It was that night that I declared, ‘Though He slay me, still will I serve Him.’ That’s when the determination set in.
“The women at the Bible study told me about the Holy Spirit and so I started praying for that experience. One night it was as though an electricity surged through my body and the Lord assured me I had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. I picked up the King James Bible and devoured it. He taught me to read—right on the spot! From that point forward everything dramatically changed—no more anxiety. In fact, I spoke at Aglow, was on The 700 Club, I was on Channel 40, Channel 60 out of Ohio...it just went on and on. And Sandy, there were probably only 10 or 12 children who came into our home out of the 250 that didn’t accept Christ as their savior. Some that are now ministers and youth leaders.” I remembered that for the Opperman’s 50th wedding anniversary over 70 of those now scattered children had returned to watch them renew their wedding vows and celebrate.
As I packed up my tape recorder, pens and pad preparing to leave, I was arrested by a striking thought. Mona had confessed to not knowing the Lord personally, but prayed for a blonde haired, blue-eyed girl and miraculously got her; prayed for a brown haired, brown-eyed baby boy and miraculously had gotten him. She had lost a precious stillborn child—but God had given her 250 more. Even before she was able to read and know that the Bible states we should minister to orphans, before she had met Christ personally, He knew her and was working in her life. As I walked to my car words echoed to the cadence of my feet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew and approved of you and before you were born I separated and set you apart...” I looked it up when I got home—it was Jeremiah 1:5 and not only did it apply to Mona, but to every single child she and Duke had raised!
Story by Sandra Ghost