I have something very special, but also very challenging to share with you today, I did not write it, but rather someone we could all learn a lot from did. Her name is Julie, and her and her husband are heroes of mine. We often speak on this blog about living lives that are messed up for God, but rarely do we get a glimpse into a life that has done just that.
Gone and gotten all messed up for him.
I asked Julie to write this, I wanted her to share with us a bit of her heart, and help us understand what we can all be doing to help orphans.
When asked about her life in a nutshell Julie told me this;
“I’ve been living a life completely surrendered to God’s will for many years now. He has led us to adopt 11 children over the past 12 years, 6 from Ethiopia, after fostering over 50 the first 8 years. My husband and I are in our mid-thirties and just celelbrated 14 years of marriage. Our fam of 13 resides in Eau Claire, WI.”
Julie, take it from here!
How does an American Christian live out a radical life of surrender to Christ? Surely, it’s going to include orphan care, but how? Good intentions are not works or evidence of our faith. Only our actions can bring forth fruit.
We need not be ashamed to live in this blessed country. If you live here and don’t feel God calling you elsewhere, then you are where He wants you. I am so thankful for people who are called to work with orphans overseas. Having six children adopted from Ethiopia, this work is close to my heart.
We also have five children adopted from the US. We’ve done most all that can be done in the world of adoption; international, domestic infant, special needs, foster/adopt, and adopting from disruption. If you’ve heard it’s harder to adopt domestically than internationally, there can be some truth to that. Is the degree of difficulty something is a valid reason for not considering it according to the gospel? We also spent eight years as very active foster parents. Obviously, those are all wonderful options to serve in orphan care. If you truly desire to follow God’s command and care for the orphans, you’ve probably already considered these options to some degree.
Is fostering for you? Foster care is hard work and it is not for everyone. I truly believe it’s one of those things where you need to feel a true calling because that is what it is going to take. Before you rule it out, though, let me say this. If you’ve said the words, “Yeah, we’ve thought about foster care, but we just don’t feel we could handle the pain of giving the children back,” or anything like that than you most certainly have not considered it strongly enough. We don’t base what we do for God on how it’s going to make us feel. Whether or not something might break your heart is not a valid reason for not doing it. It ripped my heart out! It shredded my heart into pieces…pieces that God could mold and knit back together the way He wanted them to prepare me for my own children. God reconstructed my heart through foster care and it hurt worse than I ever imagined. Yet, I wouldn’t trade one thing I learned or one thing God did in my heart through it!
So, that’s not it? You’ve surrendered your life to God in a way that is not dependent on your own emotions and you still don’t feel called to foster? Okay. I believe you because not everyone is. What about those who are? Fifty children came in and out of our doors. Meanwhile, church folks brought meals, hosted showers, and bags full of hand-me-downs that looked like they fell straight from Santa’s sleigh to every family welcoming a new baby by birth. During eight years of fostering not once did anyone deliver a single meal to my home! Nope, not even when we would have a sibling group of several children arrive. We’d show up at church that weekend with five children under four and people would comment on how clean and adorable I managed to have every child looking as they headed out for lunch or home for their Sunday naps. They were oblivious to the fact that I had spent the last few days digging through my boxes or dragging the children out to the store for socks and underwear. It was over a month before we’d even see a bit of the monthly stipend we received for each foster child. Once we did begin to receive it, the first few months every dime went toward providing the child a basic wardrobe, school supplies, and personal items or diapers and we survived on hot dish. By the time we’d get through that, those children would leave our home and new ones would arrive. It seemed we were invisible to those around us or just too far out there. Other young couples our age went out. We were home with screaming, traumatized, broken children. It’s not real feasible to get a sitter for a child that has special needs you are just barely beginning to figure out yourself. For a while, friends came to our home, but I guess we got too radical even for our Christian friends. They stopped coming and we stopped getting invitations to their homes. You could guess we are no longer attending the church we did while we were foster parents.
If you can’t do foster care, help those who do! Adopt a foster family. It’s simple. Bring a meal when a new placement arrives. Give them your bag of used children’s clothes. Better yet, give them your used crib. Ask them how you can help. Be a friend! Support the foster families in your church through prayer. They are direct targets of the enemy because they are stealing from his camp! If this scares you, imagine how it feels for them. Yet they are willing to stand on the front lines. Serve in whatever capacity God places you, but don’t abandon your comrades. Stand behind them and help fortify their families.
There are other more involved ways you can minister to foster children such as providing respite for foster families. Offer to become certified to provide babysitting services or help with transporting children to visit birth parents. Anything at all will help the foster families in your church and community to thrive!
If you heard God when He commanded us to care for orphans, surely you’ve considered adoption. Most Christians think long and hard before coming to that decision and so should you. It’s not something you want to head into blindly. There are many ways to adopt in the United States, primarily through an infant domestic or foster to adopt program. Of course, there are also several international programs. All orphans need homes regardless of where they have been born! If you’ve entertained these possibilities, and do not feel adoption is God’s plan for your family, that does not mean you cannot minister to an orphan through the beauty of adoption. Apply the paragraph above to the adoptive families in your church. I really think that supporting foster and adoptive families is a piece that we, as a church, are missing. Many consider if they themselves are called and conclude they do not have a place leaving foster and adoptive families carrying more than God intended. They answer the call to foster or adopt, but are also left to supply all the resources. God does equip these families and many of them are incredibly skilled when it comes to raising children. It goes beyond the norm and they often juggle special needs and children who have been very damaged or broken by the circumstances that led to their orphan status. Like those who are not called to adopt, these parents are only equipped to do what God has called them. There is a place in orphan care for our more seasoned saints, who are blessed with the wisdom of age, and our young saints, who are blessed with the strength of youth. Sometimes just a true godly friend is needed, one who will put forth the creative effort to keep up the friendship, even when the adoptive parent can’t go out or get away because of what their children require. Others might be called to step up and fill a grandparent role or provide finances. Financially supporting adoptive families is one of the best ways you can minister to orphans. Adoption is expensive. It matters why, but not for the orphan they will adopt.
My husband and I adopted eleven children over 11 years. I’m not about to share the cost of something like that, but we’re talking six digits! During that time we received a total of just under $2000 from family and a few Christian friends, a few items my sisters donated for me to sell on eBay, and one meal upon returning from Ethiopia with two of our new children (made by my mother). I’m not boasting about that fact that we somehow managed to fund the rest ourselves with only my husband being in the workforce because I know God is responsible and to be praised for the provision. He is faithful to those who do His work, but it grieves me that He would reach down with His mighty hand in response while His church is unresponsive. We never asked for money. We trusted God, but everyone always knew of our plans to adopt and that it was costly. “I could never do what you are doing,” they’d say as they’d scamper off for the weekend pulling their new boat behind or gesturing with their hands as they held their $6 latte. I have no problem with people who enjoy the blessings of God. I am one and believe we are here to give and to live. It just seems that with as many Christians who consider orphan care Scriptural and as few of them there are that step up and acknowledge a call to adopt or minister firsthand to orphans, that there ought to be plenty besides who are called to funding. We should be able to fully fund our adoptive families any difference they cannot fund as well as fully support other orphan programs. I understand we, parents, get the blessing of the children. We also get the responsibility and challenges of parenting them! God may not ask you to do that, but He has not left you out of the picture and there is blessing and responsibility in it for you of another fashion.
If you feel you have nothing to give, consider what you have. Sacrifice your name brand toiletry item and go for the generic, drink nothing but water, or give up your weekly cheeseburger for a few months. Consider sponsoring an international child. My family has personally been so blessed by this. Yes, I know it can be difficult to feel secure in where the money is going. Be wise and do your homework! Just remember, for that child, they are a risk worth taking. Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and let God have control. For goodness sakes, if you are here at Bring Love In reading this, give to this work!!!
Reach out to the children around you. There are many children, even in our churches, who do not have the positive influence of a godly father, grandparent, aunt, or uncle. Who is the widow if not the single mother raising children? Who are the fatherless if not those without fathers active in their lives? There must be a reason God commanded us to care for widows and orphans in one statement.
There are some churches out there doing other cool things to meet the needs of local needy or orphaned children. Food ministries, free clothing drives, and all night shelters name a few. Part of our problem, as Christians here, is that we don’t connect with the poor. When we were foster parents we made so many connections, many which we still have today. You’re going to have to be willing to get your hands dirty. If you serve in one of these areas of ministry, you are not only providing food or clothing, but opening the door to make a connection to those who are in need. If you don’t place yourself where they are, you will never even meet them let alone build a relationship with them. Don’t wait for someone else to begin a ministry like this in your church. Just brainstorm, let God know you are willing, and follow His lead. Are you willing?
I’ve saved the best for last. PRAY. I know this can be difficult because we do not always see the results, especially not instantly. God’s word is true and prayer works. My family has been so blessed through praying for orphans. My children truly have a heart for it. We like to choose an area of the world and pray very specifically for the orphans there. We also pray for you! You, us, we are the church! We are all called to be Jesus to the world. There is a perfect heavenly Father with more than adequate provision for all of the orphans. Just do something. Try something. If it fails, try again. God will be faithful to complete any good work you set out to do. Think of the Benkert’s story and God’s faithful response to their simple yes answer to God’s command and call to care for orphans. Say yes! God will respond.