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August 17, 2017

I Love You, I Care About You, I Want You Here – Adoption, Foster Care, and the Heart of God

The Church: Looking after Orphans

by Lydia Gingerich, RMM staff writer

In the last five months, a commitment and drive to care for orphans has developed at Bethel Mennonite Church in Sarasota, Florida. Members are signing up to care for, pray for, and parent the many children in their county who are in the foster system. This ministry is so new that it does not yet have a name, but to sum up the vision of this movement, Senior Pastor Shawn Otto referenced James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

When Shawn preached on this verse in December 2016, he presented the serious need for Christians to live out this call. While adoption and foster care can be exhausting, we have a God who is the perfect source of strength and inspiration. “God’s greatest demonstration of care for orphans is in his care for us—as spiritual orphans.” Shawn believes that in light of the way our Father has reached out to us, “the church ought to be at the forefront of orphan and widow care.”

This call is personal for Shawn. Four years ago he and his wife Greta chose to live out James 1:27 by adopting a son into their family. They had three biological children and, after experiencing some complications when trying to have a fourth, decided to pursue adoption. “Matthew being in our home has not only given us joy to be able to invest in what the Bible would call an orphan, it has also opened up for us a brand new appreciation of adoption language used in the New Testament.”

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“For some of these kids, this is the first time they are hearing adults tell them, I love you, I care about you, I want you here.”

Shawn was also inspired by David Platt, who challenged his church in Birmingham, Alabama, to take care of all the children in need of adoption and foster care in their county. Platt’s church rose to the task and made a huge impact within their community. He said, “It’s not the way of the American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us.”

While Bethel does not have as many members as Platt’s church, Shawn echoed the same challenge to his congregation and outlined specific ways to get involved. Shawn was amazed by the responses he received. Three families signed up to be foster parents and the church is working on offering a foster care training class later this year. When the church hosted their first babysitting event for foster children, they had over thirty members sign up to assist. The church set up a fund designated to assist families wanting to adopt, and within 24 hours $30,000 had been pledged toward it.

One couple in their sixties was encouraged to continue their journey in fostering a child. They have four grown children of their own, but decided to take in a little boy who was in the foster system. His fostering case was recently switched to adoption, and they are intending to have him join their family permanently and raise him for the glory of God. Shawn watched the huge smiles on their faces as this couple interacted with their new son; “to see their passion and commitment, absolutely inspires me and inspires the people in our church.”

Churches and individuals can respond to similar needs in their own communities by talking to a local foster care agency or family services within their local government. The babysitting program that Bethel set up might be something another church could replicate after investigating the rules and regulations in their own state or county. “Foster families often need a break, so once a quarter, they can bring their children to Bethel, we feed them, entertain them, we are allowed to teach them a Bible lesson, and then their parents pick them up.”

Supporting foster families is another good way to get involved. Showing love to foster families by bringing them a meal, getting to know their children, or just welcoming them to church can make a huge impact. Shawn observed that “for some of these kids, this is the first time they are hearing adults tell them, I love you, I care about you, I want you here.”

Prayer is also important. Shawn said he often prays that God would continue to raise up foster parents—“people that, with the heart of God, see the need to care for orphans in very literal ways.” There is also a need to pray for the families that these children have been taken away from. “Pray that these people find marriage restoration, addiction counseling, or whatever it is they need. And in the midst of getting help that they would also meet Jesus. Pray also for the children—every foster child has experienced trauma, and most often it is not of their own choosing. Pray that the hurt and pain these children have would be softened by God and that they would experience a love from a father who loves them unconditionally.”

Shawn became the Senior Pastor of Bethel Mennonite Church in April 2014 after serving nine years in pastoral ministry in Indiana. He and his wife, Greta, are the parents of two daughters and two sons.

There are many more vulnerable members of society who need to experience God’s love. Maybe God has asked you or your church to care for widows, victims of human trafficking, immigrants, poor, or homeless people. How do you live this out? Email mosaic@rmmoffice.org to let RMM know the story of how your church is impacting your community.

Foster Care: To Be Safe and Loved

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by Troy and Jen Sommers

The part of loving a kid and letting them go is hard, but being foster parents has opened our eyes to so much more. We have learned how much we take for granted the builtin support system of growing up in Mennonite families and communities. We have learned about the lifelong effects of having strong, positive role models in our kids' lives. And despite our initial assumption that fostering a child could be boiled down to simply loving and caring for them, we learned that foster children have traumatic backgrounds and raising them is not the same as raising our own kids. Accepting a foster placement is not just taking in a child, but also their experiences and their families.

Getting to know the families of our foster kids has been devastating. We've heard their stories and seen the reality of truly having nothing and nobody when you're at the very bottom. We've seen the endless and constant fight against addiction. We've seen the pain in their eyes at hearing their child call someone else "mommy" or "daddy." While it's easy to see their predicament as the unfortunate consequences of poor decisions made, Jesus has called us not only to take care of the orphans, but to stop the cycle by helping build and support their families. Our support looks different in each situation: listening to them talk about their struggles and encouraging them, helping them furnish their apartment, modeling and encouraging a positive relationship between kids and parents; and sometimes the only thing you can do is pray for them and teach their children what it is to be safe and loved unconditionally as a foundation for when they are reunified with their family.

We were able to see the foster system work when a little girl who was with us for a year was reunited with a family member. While we worried and prayed about her transition and her new life, we look back and see how we were able to teach her to be loved and how to trust her caregivers to take care of her. We were also able to help prepare her family with ways to successfully parent her and to facilitate a smooth transition. We've stayed in contact with her family and seen her flourish as she grows. She will always be a part of our family, just as we will always be a small part of her story.

Reunification and strengthening of families doesn't always happen, and sometimes we have the privilege of these kids joining our family permanently through adoption. Our family hasn't experienced this yet, and maybe we never will, but as we follow God's call for our family, we pray for the strength to love and care for the kids with whom we've been entrusted and their families.

Exposed as a Fraud:
The Joy and Pain of Adoption

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by Jeremy and Sarah Miller

I’m convinced that one of the better gifts the Father gives his children when they seek to do something noble is pain. As we launched into the seemingly glorious adoption process, we discovered a rather murky world of pain and dysfunction. The adoption process was anything but clean. People who are desperate and need help can find it difficult, and in the midst of all that you have vulnerable babies that ratchet up any left-over tension in the situation.

With most agencies, adopting couples must begin by filling out several questionnaires detailing what kinds of children you will or will not be willing to adopt. These questionnaires, more than anything else in the process, shoved a mirror in the face of our souls and demanded we take a good hard look. Several layers of self-righteous posing were stripped away as we came face to face with adoption’s realities. “Will you adopt a child with a high chance of fetal alcohol syndrome? What if the parents are addicted to narcotics? What if they have HIV, Hepatitis C, or carry the Sickle Cell trait?” demanded the questionnaires. “Wait a minute; we are just trying to adopt an unwanted child!” we found ourselves exclaiming. I (Jeremy) am a pastor. I preach about self-sacrificial love, but I suddenly felt exposed as a fraud. I couldn’t hide from the questions on our papers. They demanded answers.

God used the contours of our journey toward adoption to continue reforming our souls. Our story contained the crushing that came with losing a three-month preemie to a failed adoption. This was a baby we spent several months caring for. Our story includes adopting a black child immediately before race relations descended into a new era of public anger and frustration. In spite of these difficulties, we would not wish to change our story. Christians, including us, want transformation without pain, meaningful achievements without difficulty, and God’s blessing without his discipline. Good luck with that. The path of God is inherently difficult because overcoming evil and living out the kingdom is hard work. We are convinced God called us to adopt; but good gracious, we discovered that God’s calling is intended to reform our souls.

Life More Beautiful: Christopher’s Story

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by Eric and Monica Gingerich

We’ve been foster parents for six years, and have had the opportunity to love many children during this time. Two years ago, Monica joined other foster moms for a monthly ladies night out. In that group was a new friend who described this adorable one-year-old they had in their care who was coming up for adoption. She showed the darling pictures of this little red-headed blue-eyed boy, and wondered if we would consider and pray about being a forever family for Christopher. Hope rose in our hearts. A forever child? For us?

Seven months after placement in our home he was adopted, and now has a God-story to tell! We believe God has called Christopher out of a life of darkness and into the light, and has chosen Christopher to be used in mighty ways for his kingdom.

We learned through adoption that we are humans in need of a Sovereign God. As all parents, we often feel like we’re failing and what we’re doing is not enough. But God takes all of our small life moments and gives his grace, and makes life more beautiful and significant than what we ever could on our own. The most awesome thing we have witnessed is that in giving love and stability to the fatherless, it brings redemption to their lives, allowing us to see the big picture. The picture of the ultimate father, Jesus, taking care of us and providing for our needs as he displays his greatness in all of our weakness. It has also given us the opportunity to pursue Jesus more deeply as the center of our marriage, and in the unknowns of the future children, foster or adopted, God brings into our lives. Adoption is not just the opportunity to change a child’s life, but it has also been a way that God has radically transformed ours. Christopher’s story has changed ours for the better. Forever.

August 09, 2017

The First Will Be Last

Written by Esta Felder

This play was performed at Taste of Missions during Conservative Mennonite Conference’s Annual Conference 2017. Esta Felder,* an RMM worker in the Middle East, writes and directs dramas that are performed live as well as filmed and broadcast on the only full-time Christian television station in the Middle East.

Old Woman
The doorkeeper stands center stage. An old woman with a cane slowly makes her way toward the entrance.

Doorkeeper: (To the woman…) Greetings! Welcome to the Kingdom of God!

Woman: Oh, yes! Greetings to you! Thank you, thank you so much!

Robert enters, rushes past her kicking the cane from under her causing her to fall.

Doorkeeper: (Helps the woman to a seat.) Oh!! Are you alright?

Woman: (Shaken) Oh, uh …yes, I think so! I was just coming when that gentleman…

Robert: Oh! Am I responsible for that? So, sorry! I didn’t even notice. My mistake.

Doorkeeper: I see. Well, I think this woman was before you. If you’d like to wait?

Robert: (Clearing up a misunderstanding) Oh, you must not realize who I am. (To woman) You remember me. (To Doorkeeper) I’m Robert. I run the senior citizens free lunch program …among other things.

Doorkeeper: Okay, Robert. What’s in your hand? (One hand is tightly closed in a fist)

Robert: Oh, that just happened over time. I can’t seem to open it. I’m sure that can be fixed once I get inside.

Doorkeeper: You seem pretty sure you’ll get inside.

Robert: Well, …of course. I’ve always worked very hard! Ask anyone, I have a good reputation in my community.

Doorkeeper: Yes, actually that’s what you’re holding onto in your closed fist. And what else?

Robert: What do you mean? I’m holding what in my fist?

Doorkeeper: Your reputation. There’s pain too, other people’s pain. You’ve caused some injury along the way.

Robert: Look, if there’s been offense, it wasn’t my intention! I’ve done my best!

Doorkeeper: The best for you. I’m sorry, but in order to enter this Kingdom both hands must be open …and empty.

Robert: Seriously? (Robert tries to open his hand but it won’t open.) I thought I had control over this, but it’s not opening.

Doorkeeper: Here’s more bad news. Sin, like all disease, spreads. Your sin has spread from your hand to your heart and eyes.

Robert: That can’t be! Ask the people in my church! They would never believe it!

Doorkeeper: You do a lot for the church.

Robert: Yes! Everyone knows my name!

Doorkeeper: Do you know this woman’s name? (Pause. Robert reacts as if to say, “Oh come on.”) I’m sorry, but knowing where the entrance is, is not enough. You can’t come in.

Robert: But there must be something I can do!

Doorkeeper: It would be better for you if you cut off your hand.

Robert: What? You’re kidding? That’s a little extreme! Is it really that important?

Doorkeeper: It’s not an option.

Robert continues trying to open his hand but it won’t open.

Robert: Okay, I’ll cut it off! I don’t want this to keep spreading. Just tell me how!

Doorkeeper: Repent! That is, if you think you need to.

Robert: (Gives up trying to open hand) No, I know you’re right. I felt small and selfish as soon as I got close to the entrance.

Doorkeeper: You really do need to talk to God.

Robert: Yes, I know. I know you’re right. (Confesses with difficulty) Lord God, I confess I do love the attention of being in charge. When people listen to me, I feel powerful. I’m addicted to being needed. The truth is, while pretending to be a servant, I was really only serving myself. This is the opposite of what you taught us by example. (Pause) I am not a savior, Jesus. Only you are. I am so sorry. Please forgive me…

Robert’s hand slowly opens. He shows joy and relief over this. Looks to heaven and exclaims:

Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Father! (Turns to woman…) I’m sorry, what’s your name?

Woman: Miriam.

Robert: Miriam, you were coming in before me. Here, let me help you. (He assists her to stand) Go ahead!

Doorkeeper: But surely she’s not as important as you, Robert! She has the spirit of a child!

Robert: Then she’s better than me! I don’t deserve to go in at all!

Doorkeeper:The Savior is waiting! And He knows you both by name! Welcome to the Kingdom of God!

Miriam takes Robert’s arm and they enter together.

The First will be Last is published with the permission of the author. To learn more about Esta’s work in the Middle East and how you can be a part of RMM’s ministry, read our 2016 year-end letter at yearend.rmmweb.org.

*Name changed for security

August 04, 2017

My Field

By Eugene,* RMM worker in North Africa

This month marks half a year in North Africa for Eugene, Katrina,* and their two children. Eugene shares about getting to know their city and seeing God at work in it.

On a cool January day in Pennsylvania, I had stood in my doorway looking out across the empty farmland, and I had wondered what field (neighborhood) God was going to place me in. Just as the field in January was waiting for spring to arrive and for the farmer to come plant, I knew God had a field that was waiting for me.

Jump six months ahead. I am now standing in my field. The field is a city in North Africa, and as I walk through my field I am getting to know its type of soil. In my field I have young people who are desperate for a new start. They come from all over the southern end of the country to a university. They come with the dream of studying and then making a life for themselves. This makes my field very full and busy. Café’s with free internet are always filled with these young people studying or just hanging out. Two of those young people have graduated from the university in the last few years and are looking for work, but in the meantime are tutoring Katrina and myself. Both are bright and very helpful. We are thankful for their willingness to come teach us.

In my field there are also five young entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and went together and started a business. Their opportunity was washing and detailing cars in this dry and dusty place. This one-door garage opens at 8:00am and is always moving cars through until the door closes at 8:00 or 9:00pm. They hand wash the outside and vacuum and clean the inside until it shines – all for the equivalent of about four American dollars.

"Will God’s rain come and make the seeds grow? To these questions, I have to believe and trust that the answer is yes for myself and for the people of this field."God also knew that I would need someone who had a history with this field, someone who could introduce me to it, and someone to help me learn about it. Meet Omar – Omar is a very welcoming and light-hearted man. Every day he stands around the corner from my house. He is what they call a guardian. His job is to stand at a parking area on the corner of an intersection and help direct traffic. He is a people-person for sure. You can tell that he loves his job by the smile on his face and the friendly wave he sends my way every time I pass. I was introduced to Omar not long after we moved into our home. I was told he may be able to help find me a tutor. So I went along with a friend who knew him and was introduced. Omar has been a bright spot in my field ever since. He did connect me with the young man who is my tutor now, and he has continued to introduce me to more friends of his.

As I stand in my field, feeling out of place and inadequate at times, I wonder what the future holds for me and this field. Will God place in my hands the tools that are needed to work the field? Will God continue to strengthen my hands for the work ahead? Will God’s rain come and make the seeds grow? To these questions, I have to believe and trust that the answer is yes for myself and for the people of this field.

As you pray that the Holy Spirit would come and give life to this field, think about the field you are placed in and the ways God is asking you to labor in it.

*Names changed for security