'Bringing Up Bates' father: Why we had 19 kids – and why we want cameras in our home

by Michael Foust |

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – When Gil and Kelly Jo Bates were married nearly 30 years ago, they certainly didn't plan on having 19 children. In fact, their attitudes toward family life and childrearing were in line with that of many Americans – get a nice job and a nice house, and then, perhaps down the road, add a few kids.

But soon – Gil said -- they began exploring what the Bible says about children, and they began seeing things differently.

"My wife one day said, 'I think God wants us to trust Him on having children,'" Gil Bates, the father in the UP television show "Bringing Up Bates," told the Christian Examiner. "I said, 'Wait a minute. We could have 20 kids. You just can't do that.' ... But then I read through the Bible, and I saw that God called children a blessing. I was kind of looking at children as a hindrance instead of as a blessing.

"I remember someone said, 'If God told you He was going to give you a blessing, and it was $100 bills, how many blessings would you want?' And the answer is a truckload. But if you turn it to children, well, you say, 'I don't know if can handle that.' God really began working on our heart, to charge our heart's attitude."

Reluctantly, Bates said, he and his wife chose not to use any form of birth control and to just see what happened. A few months later, their first child was born.

"There's only two things that are going to last forever – God's Word and people. We went down a path, and we didn't know anyone else in the world thought this way, but we were convinced it was what we should do," he said.

Bates, though, said he wants others to understand: Trusting in God doesn't mean you have to have tons of kids.

"You may be asked to trust the Lord in having no children; you might not be able to have children. It's not a matter of how many children God gives you; it's really a matter for us of finding God's will for your life, and being willing to trust Him in whatever He's asked you to do," Bates said. "How did we end up with 19 kids? It was really nothing we planned for, but it was something we believe God led us to trust in Him. We didn't know it would be 19 kids, but I don't think we would have seen and experienced some of the amazing blessings we've seen in life had we not chosen to trust God."

After this week's final episode in season two of "Bringing Up Bates" the family planned to head to New York City to explore Times Square and other sites.

The Christian Examiner talked to Gil Bates recently about the series and why he and his wife chose to allow cameras into their home. Following is a transcript, edited for clarity:

Christian Examiner: What attracted you to the idea of allowing cameras into your home?

Bates: We as a family were very reluctant and hesitant to even consider allowing cameras into our home. We actually were approached to ask if we could consider it, and we really wrestled with, No. 1, how we would do it, and No. 2, how it would affect our family. It really seemed impossible. We prayed about it, and we had some family meetings: "What do you guys think about it? Would you consider doing it? Do you think it would be a good ministry? Maybe it would encourage somebody." We ventured out a little reluctantly. We just try to be real. We talked to the network and said, "If you will not take God out of the shows, and we can be who we are on the show, then we would consider trying it." So with a lot of shaking knees and a little reluctance, we moved forward one step at a time. It was a drastic change for our kids, but it's been a wonderful experience so far. It's been a positive for our kids and for us.

CE: So, you do have say in what is put in the program?

Bates: What happens is the film crew takes our calendar. We say, this is what our family is doing over the next six months or a year, and if these are things you're interested in – if you think it's something that would strengthen somebody or uplift somebody – then you're welcome to film it. That's how it goes. They just follow us around. We just go through life, and they capture the moments and turn them into a show.

CE: How often are cameras in your home during a month?

Bates: They're here maybe three days a week – maybe Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or maybe Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And if we have something special going on during a weekend, they would be here for that. It's usually two or three days a week. They try to be really mindful of our family, realizing that our primary goal is to raise our family and live for the Lord. The show is kind of an outreach from our family.

CE: Do you view this as a way for the larger culture to see how a conservative Christian family lives?

Bates: For us, it is a ministry, because we see it as, "This is how we have sought the Lord and how we think He'd like us to raise our family." We certainly don't have it all together. We have the same challenges everybody has, but I think trying to keep Christ first and trying to keep harmony with your husband and wife and harmony with your children is one of the most valuable and lasting benefits you will ever have. A lot of our shows are about relationships – how you get through life. We're learning as we go. The Bible has all the answers; we haven't figured them all out yet.