Article

Orphan care and the power of the normal, supernatural local church

Nov 12, 2018

Like most newly licensed foster or adoptive parents, we got right to it. The day my wife, Julie and I, received our certificate in the mail, we contacted the Missouri social-services caseworker assigned to the girls we saw on the website, adoptuskids.org. We could not wait to see if these two beautiful children were yet adoptable. The door was still open! The girls had been living in the same foster home for two years, were healthy, and progressing in school–but still had no forever family.

Maggy and Molly’s visits to our home were filled with fear and excitement—themes that would characterize the first six months of their lives with us. The first time the girls came to our home, in November 2015, we showed them our Joshua rock basket. Joshua 4 records that when Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River, he had leaders of each of the twelve tribes take stones from the dry river bottom. Those stones were to be memorial stones for Israel, symbols of God’s providence and power behind and before them. We have a basket of rocks on our fireplace, each numbered to a corresponding entry in a journal that recounts a particular blessing the Lord has worked in our lives—patterns. The rock basket is an integral part of our family life, and we wanted to get to it straightaway with the girls.

Our visits included other things like playing at local parks, arts and crafts, and activities purposed to connect Maggy and Molly with our biological daughters. We wanted them to experience our patterns.

Home not-so-sweet home

By the first week of December 2015, the caseworkers and therapist had recommended to the judge presiding over Maggy and Molly’s future that they should be placed in our home with a view to adoption after six months. We moved the girls into our home on December 21, 2015. By Christmas Day, we were already aware that however strong we thought the patterns of our family, they would be stretched to their limits if the girls were to take our last name. The girls’ anger and defiance surfaced seemingly out of the blue. At meals they would have burping contests and exhibit other bodily noises not welcome at the dinner table.

As Julie homeschooled them along with our biological daughters, Maggy and Molly would fight, distract, and defy. During family worship, the girls would wiggle, fidget uncontrollably, and throw the rocks from the Joshua basket. The patterns were strained to the breaking point by their temper tantrums. Kids who have been abused, when corrected or emotional, exhibit physical strength beyond their years. When Julie confronted or corrected the girls, they would bite, kick, scratch, and hit her. And the walls of our home learned a new vocabulary along the way. After the girls had been with us for just one month, my already petite wife had lost considerable weight, and nights of full sleep had become a distant memory for both Julie and me.

Until the early summer of 2016, life was a roller coaster for our biological family and Maggy and Molly. How did we manage? What brought stability in the midst of tantrums, anger, fear, hatred, biting, kicking, scratching, and sleepless nights? Our local church, the body I serve as teaching pastor.

The mighty local church

I had been the teaching pastor of my church for fourteen years when I announced that my wife and I were going to pursue foster-adopt ministry. Over the years, I had been open about being adopted. One tends to use his own life for illustrations—and since the New Testament references adoption (e.g., Rom. 8; Eph. 1:1-14)—telling my story helped folks connect the dots with Paul’s statements. The church committed to support us in any way necessary—and they did.

When Maggy and Molly stayed with us for the first time, they went to church for the first time. The congregation handled them so well, treating them just like any other guests. It seemed like the church was as excited as we were about the expansion of our ministry! The church hosted a gift and toy shower and prayed with us for the day when the girls would move into our home. The enthusiastic support of our church did not wane once the girls were placed in our home—and that was when we really needed it.

Most foster or adoptive parents state that the first six months with the child or children is the most difficult. Everyone is in transition mode—and for many children, transitions bring to the surface fight-or-flight mechanisms. It would take two hands and all toes to count how often we called or texted church members pleading for prayer during the first six months Maggy and Molly were with us. Often, we saw God’s Spirit bring clarity and calmness to our home as a result of the church’s prayers.

But our church family did more than intercede in the crises. They developed relationships with the girls, creating emotional hooks the girls could grab hold of during the transition into our family. Parents of children in Maggy and Molly’s Sunday School class made sure that they were invited to all the social events and birthday parties. Older ladies in the church asked the girls to sit with them at fellowship meals. Younger ladies asked them to help with general housekeeping items and clean-up after church events. It seemed like everyone wanted to engage the girls in conversation, weaving the girls’ stories into the plot God is unfolding in our church family.

And the church was literally present when we celebrated the finalization of the adoption. The courtroom was packed—so packed that during the hearing when our attorney was asking me a set of very formal questions, he extemporaneously motioned to the audience and said, “Can you assure the court that you will continue to give these children the kind of love you and your church are demonstrating here today?”

“Yes,” I replied, with a sense of conviction rare even for a pastor.

In God’s kind providence, it just so happened that a member of our church is a court reporter in the county of our residence. She took the day off of work so she could sit in the audience and watch the proceedings. In more ways than one she had an insider’s perspective on the proceedings. She used her position to arrange for the judge—from the bench—to give Maggy and Molly gifts from our church. It is not every day that adopted kids get American Girl dolls from the man dressed in a black robe, the one everyone calls “Your Honor.”

Yes, it was a made-for-TV scene, but it represents so much more. The characteristics of the local church match the needs of orphans. Orphans have been lied to; the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Orphans have wounds; the church is a body of compassion (Col. 3:12). Orphans need instruction; the church is the original worldview academy (Col. 3:16). Our adopted daughters see in our church how the gospel shapes relationships, engenders loving service, compassion, humility, and so much more. This is the strategic position of the church.

*The above is taken from Todd Chipman’s book, The Orphan-Minded Church (Moody Publishers), scheduled for releasee in August 2019.

Todd R. Chipman

Todd R. Chipman, Ph.D., has been the teaching pastor at The Master’s Community Church (SBC), Kansas City, Kansas, since 2000. Todd also serves as an assistant professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Todd and his wife Julie... Read More