When God chose the language to describe our salvation, he often used the picture of adoption into His family (see Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5, John 14:18, 1 Thessalonians 2:17, and James 1:27). It’s a beautiful picture of extending grace, mercy, love, and rights to those who are in desperate need. Riverside is excited to live out this beautiful metaphor through the start of an orphan ministry! To get a better idea of what this will look like, we asked Mary to share her vision and background for this ministry:
What is orphan ministry and what do you hope to see happen at Riverside with orphan ministry?
My hope is to get an orphan ministry started at Riverside, to join other believers serving orphans in Jesus’ name. A couple other ladies and me went to a conference at the beginning of April to learn more about how to do this, and we’re excited to get started! Orphan ministry includes adoption and foster care, as well as global projects that help the orphan. We’d like to connect families in the church involved in adoption and foster care, as well as encourage new families to step out in faith and start this journey. Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but the Bible is pretty clear about God’s heart for the orphan, so everyone is called to do something-support other families, sponsoring global orphan initiatives, praying for birthmothers considering adoption…the list goes on and there really is a job for everyone!
Tell us how you got involved in orphan ministry. Why are you so passionate about this?
I have always wanted to adopt since I can remember, but had sort of a fairy-tale view of it, never had spiritual reasons greater than I recognized a need and thought it was a “good thing.”
I traveled to Uganda as a teenager and got a picture of what the “Orphan Crisis” looks like; what children without parents look like, but felt overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.
I had a heart for broken families and hurting children, so I went to college for Family Studies, learned a lot, felt impassioned, but got married, got pregnant and felt like my ability to really help others in a big way was out “on hold” by the needs of my own family.
I had dreamed of getting married and having children since I was a little girl. But I had a very “dreamy” picture of what my children would be like: perfect little replicas of my husband and I, well-behaved, NORMAL, happy and healthy. I never thought about the possibilities that God would have other plans for my family. After all, didn’t God want me to be happy? Couldn’t I serve him best if things are easy at home? Didn’t I DESERVE normal children like I felt everyone else had?
Pretty quickly after we brought our first son home from the hospital, it became apparent that things we not going to be as I had imagined. He was a colicky little guy who slept little and cried in excess. It felt like there was nothing we could do to comfort him, and my hurt and disappointment grew each day.
Eventually he became a happier baby but slowly we saw him developing some behaviors that were unusual. We were going through a time of financial stress and again I felt towards God like “What are you doing?” and I was angry. I felt entitled to own a house, and have happy, normal, kids. That’s what people do, right? Rarely did I ask God what he wanted, or how my family could serve him, or how He wanted to use us. I was too caught up in my own feelings and what I wanted and thought I deserved.
As our son approached 2 years old and I had become pregnant with our 2nd child, more and more abnormal behaviors developed. Shortly after he turned 3, he was diagnosed with mild Autism. Of course we were devastated. This certainly did not fit into the image I had for our family. But we got him some help, and we learned how to help him, and I’m happy to say today, God has really healed him.
How does this fit into your passion for orphan ministry?
I tell you our son’s story, because God used him to reshape my expectations of my children and my family. Of course I never would have chosen to have a child with issues, but now, knowing that amazing little boy, who has changed so much, I am so privileged to be his mom.
So fast forward a little, we felt settled in a house God blessed us with and we started to talk about growing our family. Over time, Mark had come around to the idea of adoption, so we went to a meeting or two and researched the different types of adoption out there. We were open to adopting a child a little older than an infant, and we asked at one of the meetings what program we should be in to adopt a child under two years old, preferably from the US. We were told, “Kids that age are in foster care, they aren’t available for adoption yet in most cases.”
That hit me hard. Little children, the age of my boys, right here in my own back yard, were living each day, apart from their parents in foster homes because of neglect and abuse. I left this meeting thinking “how awful for those kids. I wish we could do something for them, but becoming foster parents just wouldn’t make sense for us.”
What prompted you get more serious and to take action?
For the next few weeks, each time God would lay foster care on my heart, I would logically, make a case against it: Our house was too small. Our car was too small. How would it affect our boys? What if the foster kids had issues I couldn’t deal with? What if I fell in love with them and they had to go back to their parents?
Mark and I would talk about how terrible a problem there was, with needs for homes for more foster kids, but quickly talk ourselves out of doing anything.
Meanwhile we made some small attempts to initiate the adoption process but my heart wasn’t in it. God had turned my heart towards foster care. This scared me, because doing foster care still didn’t make logical sense to me, and I assumed Mark was against it.
But little by little, he started to show God had changed his heart towards foster care too. Around Christmas, we decided to become foster parents and May 16th, we will finish our training!
We’re really excited to move forward and serve God in this capacity. He has changed my hopes for my family from desires that serve me, to desires that serve Him. And he’s made me okay, thankful in fact, for a family that doesn’t look like I originally imagined. I hope He continues to do so. And my prayer is that He does that in our Church.
What picture does adoption paint for you? Why is it such a beautiful image to you?
The Gospel paints an incredible picture of adoption. We were lost in our sin, heirs to our own iniquity and wandering through life with no eternal family or hope for the future. Then God adopts us at the point of salvation. He rescues us from hopelessness and a life with no future. He changes us with his love, and we inherit the riches of heaven in eternity.
For more information about orphan ministries at Riverside, email [email protected].