Called To Serve: Couple "Adopts" 2 Men With Down Syndrome While Parents Serve Mission

by | Dec. 05, 2018

Mormon Life

Emma Sargeant and her husband, Heath, were asked the same question over and over again: “You’re in the prime of your life. Why are you adopting two adult children for a year?” The question is no doubt valid but, in their minds, there was no other option.

Emma Sargeant had been employed by Dave and Rosemary Smart as a life skills coach for their two adult sons for only one year when the Smarts decided they wanted to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was only one problem: They needed to find someone willing to move into their home and take care of their sons, Tim (27) and Matt (25), both of whom have Down syndrome.

Dave and Rosemary

Dave and Rosemary Smart met when they were 14-year-olds in student council. They both went to the University of New Hampshire, and as a couple have lived at 23 or 24 different addresses around the world due to Dave’s service in the United States Army. Rosemary was raised Catholic and Dave was raised in the Unitarian church, but after marrying, the couple didn’t attend church at all.

“We were nothing when we got married, and happy about it,” Rosemary says. “It was the children, I think, that started making me want to know not only that I could talk to God . . . and receive his help as a mother but also to teach my children.”

She began looking into different churches when she noticed a family down the street had a bumper sticker that said “Happiness Is Family Home Evening.” She asked this neighbor, whose husband was also in the military, for information about her church. The lady invited Rosemary to a fireside. Soon Rosemary began meeting with the missionaries, but Dave still had no interest in religion.

“We were 10 years into our relationship, having met in high school, we had gone to prom together and we had gone to college together and we had moved around a couple times already together. This was the first thing in our life that she would be doing without me, but it didn’t stay that way,” Dave recalls.

Three and a half years later, Dave also joined the Church.

In the early 90s, the Smarts remember learning that couples could serve missions. But it was also in the early 90s that they gave birth to their 6thand 7thchildren, both boys and both with Down syndrome. With that, their dreams of a mission seemed to be dashed—or rather, changed.

“I will be the first to say that I thought there would be no hope, especially when Matthew was born,” Rosemary admits. “Knowing that with two of them, that was going to be my mission for the rest of my life.”

Tim and Matthew

The family describes Tim and Matthew as “the glue” of their family. At the time of their births, Dave and Rosemary had three teenagers, one middle schooler, and an 8-year-old, but it was their two youngest who kept the teenagers close to home.

“As [the older children] went off to college and on missions and I wrote weekly emails, they couldn’t wait [to hear], ‘What are the boys doing? What are they saying?’ And it’s still like that,” Rosemary says. “I’d like to think that we still would’ve been a strong family, but there’s something to be said for the bond that [Tim and Matt] brought to all of us.”

Michael Smart, the boys’ oldest brother, was 17 years old when Tim and Matt were born. He describes his brothers as “great priesthood holders, great uncles to all of their nieces and nephews, great examples.”

“As soon as you’re around them, you feel more at peace,” Michael says. “, Your own evaluation of yourself becomes a lot lighter and easier because of the way they see the good in everybody.”

As for the boys’ relationship with each other, those who know them best say there has never been any competition between the two brothers.

“They came to earth for each other,” Emma says. “They balance each out so well. It’s amazing to see that Tim’s strengths are Matthew’s weaknesses and Matthew’s strengths are Tim’s weaknesses. They’re super patient with one another, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen them get snappy with one another and they immediately hug and make up.”

It is clear upon meeting them that Tim is the talker and Matthew is quieter, yet their bond is apparent. When asked if they usually get along pretty well, Matthew wraps his arms around Tim and replies, “Heck, yes!”

Heath and Emma

The day after Heath Sargeant graduated from law school, Rosemary Smart approached Heath’s wife, Emma Sargeant, in the church parking lot. The two families attended church together but didn’t know each other well. But Rosemary, who needed someone to do a day program with Tim and Matthew, had heard that Emma was looking for a job. Emma replied that she wasn’t really looking for a job, but when Rosemary asked if she would like a job, Emma said yes.

“And I said, ‘But you don’t even know what it is yet,’” Rosemary recalls. “And she said, ‘Well, tell me.’”

Rosemary explained that she was looking for help with her sons, and Emma said she would like to do that. Rosemary told Emma that she could work 8 or 30 hours per week. Emma replied that she would like to work 30. Rosemary was surprised by her eager response until Emma said, “Sister Smart, do you know that I had a sister with Down syndrome?”

Emma had been very close to her sister, Hannah, who had passed away just five years earlier.

“When Hannah was born, I was 12-years-old and I’d never dealt with anyone with a disability,” Emma says. “In fact, when my parents told us that she had Down syndrome, I had hardly any idea what that was, and I feel like that was a seed that was planted, that was sown in my heart. As I’ve grown up, I’ve been able to have experiences and I’ve been put in situations where I’ve been able to work with these people and with these children. It’s like something that is growing.”

She keeps a quote on her fridge by President Boyd K. Packer that reminds her of this privilege in her life:

“You parents and you families whose lives must be reordered because of a handicapped one, whose resources and time must be devoted to them, are special heroes. You are manifesting the works of God with every thought, with every gesture of tenderness and care you extend to the handicapped loved one. Never mind the tears nor the hours of regret and discouragement, never mind the times when you feel you cannot stand another day of what is required. You are living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in exceptional purity. And you perfect yourselves in the process.”

Emma says working with Tim and Matthew is part of that process, part of becoming perfected through their spirits.

“I think that people with disabilities are here on earth for those of us who do not have disabilities,” Emma says. “I believe that they are here so that we can prove ourselves, no so that they can prove themselves.”

After Emma began doing the day program with the boys, which includes everything from karate to Zumba to video games, the couple began having the two brothers over to spend the night. The Smarts began hiring the Sargeants to do some respite care, and it went so well that they eventually left Tim and Matthew in the Sargeants’ care for five days—the longest they had ever been away from their mother. It was then that Rosemary began to think she might be able to leave them in someone else’s care for a longer period of time.

Rosemary remembers the first time she mentioned the possibility of Emma and Heath taking care of the Smart boys while the couple served a mission, and how she felt bad for putting Emma on the spot with her excitement. “I said, ‘You don’t even have to mention this again if you don’t want to. Just think about it.’”

As it turns out, the young couple didn’t need much time to think about it.

When Emma approached her husband with the idea, his reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “Heath immediately was like, ‘Emma, we have to do that.’ And when Heath said that, I was like, ‘You know, we do have to do that.’ It just made sense,” Emma recalls.

Heath also remembers his reaction clearly: “[I said,] ‘Of course! Look at how it’s all lined up! It has to be us.’”

It only took one week for the Sargeants to commit to taking care of Tim and Matthew for a year. “Go on a mission,” they told the Smarts. “We would love to stay with your boys.”

Dave and Rosemary Smart were soon set apart to serve as military support missionaries—a world they know all too well—in the Chesapeake Virginia Mission, and the Sargeants were set apart to stay with Tim and Matthew.

Rosemary Smart describes it as “the best year of her life.”

“For us to have lived our life and had all the experiences we did, but then to finally be alone together. . .to be set apart from the things of the world and it could be just [Dave] and I living small in an apartment with the focus of making other people’s lives a little happier—a little easier—together was the best ever. It was a vacation, honeymoon, and serving the Lord all at once,” Rosemary says.

Six missionaries

On October 29, 2017, Dave and Rosemary Smart left for the MTC while the Sargeants moved into their home.

“The role, I imagine, in Matthew and Tim’s minds must have been just kind of mind-boggling,” Heath says. “It was interesting to see them piece it together like, ‘Mom and Dad are gone, yay! Our friends are moving in. This is great!’”

With what they describe as big shoes to fill, Heath and Emma had to learn to adapt—something they were promised they would learn in their setting apart—as they went from part-time to full-time care of Tim and Matthew.

“Being with them all the time, morning and evening, not only do you see them at their best and worst, they see you are your best and worst,” Emma explains.

Overall, the couple found that they were strengthened, continually finding things to be easier than they would have been otherwise, because they were supporting another couple in their desire to serve the Lord.

If you ask Tim and Matthew about their time with Heath and Emma, they’ll likely start by telling you about Scotty, the Sargeants’ dog, then they will tell you about the Christmas they spent with Heath’s family and how much they like Heath’s brother, Dane. They will tell you how Heath and Emma took them on road trips to Cape Cod and to the Sacred Grove. They will also tell you they’re happy their parents went on a mission in Virginia.

“I love my parents and their mission. It’s good,” Tim says.

Dave and Rosemary frequently received texts from Emma, letting them know that their sons were happy and healthy.

“I felt completely at peace the whole time,” Rosemary says. “I never had any worry about how they were being cared for, and Emma was great about just sending a picture with a little text when they were playing pickle ball or when they were making dinner downstairs—little glimpses.”

One such glimpse was a picture sent not long after the Smarts left. It was of the foursome, Heath, Emma, Tim, and Matthew, at a stake dance. The dance was 20s themed, and the Sargeants took the boys to thrift shops to pick out matching outfits that looked like they had come straight out of Newsies.

“And that’s kind of the way it was the whole time,” Rosemary says.

When Dave and Rosemary returned home from their mission, all six received missionary plaques and returned to their “normal” lives with a renewed testimony of God’s plan.

“I think what we want to say is we had the desire. We offered, and Heavenly Father needed us. And He didn’t just open a window, He opened all the doors and all the windows. He did it all,” Rosemary says.

He did it all with the help of people who were willing to be used.

“There really is a grand plan,” Heath says. “We all get to choose to play our parts, but it’s amazing to see all of these little intricate details.”

So to those who have asked why the Sargeants were willing to put their lives on hold, you’re not alone. They have asked themselves the same question. After all, they want to have a family of their own, but they also trust in that “grand plan.”

“We’ve received confirmation that this thing was not a hold but a continuation, this was progress in our life,” Emma says. “This is where God wanted us to be, and is there anything more wonderful in your life than knowing that you’re doing what Heavenly Father wants you to do?

“Even better, we get to do it with Matthew and Tim, and even better, because we’re able to do this for the Smarts, Dave and Rosemary were able to go serve a mission. And to think of the countless lives through generations that will be blessed because of their service in the mission field. I would do it a million times, I would sacrifice that year and our freedom and our date nights and all of those things so that they could go and do that.”

Images Courtesy of Michael Smart and Emma Sargeant.
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Morgan Jones

Morgan Jones comes to LDS Living after writing for the Deseret News since 2014. She published more than 480 stories and served as Senior Web Producer prior to her departure from Deseret News. Jones is a passionate storyteller and loves having the opportunity to share stories that deserve to be told. She is the host of the All In podcast. 

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