« Previous   |   Main   |   Next »

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.”

css template

“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

css template

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

css template

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

css template

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.