Orphan Care in our Church Body

It’s pretty incredible to see how God has weaved together stories of adoption, foster care, and caring for vulnerable children and families at Immanuel Church. In a church of just over 100 members, right at 20% of us have either adopted, are in the process of adopting, or are serving as foster parents.

With all of that said, we wanted to share some stories and perspectives from a few of these families and individuals. We hope that by answering a few questions about their own experiences, you will be prompted to 1) pray for them as they continue their journey in orphan care, and 2) learn about how caring for the fatherless has tangibly effected so many of the families that we are walking in community with.


Waiting Families

The Hawkins Family - adopting from Kyrgyzstan

 Paul and Katelyn Hawkins (not pictured: their baby girl, Piper, due to arrive any day now biologically)

Paul and Katelyn Hawkins (not pictured: their baby girl, Piper, due to arrive any day now biologically)

As a waiting family, how can our church body best support you and pray for you?

Mostly, for us, we always appreciate prayers for patience and discernment. We want to be sure during the waiting period we are being diligent to seek God’s will for our family and that in the unknown we are trusting in His timing for our family. We love when people check in and ask us how we are doing because it is a good reminder that even if nothing is moving forward at the moment, God is still working in ways we can’t always see. 

What would you say to families who are praying through building their family through adoption?

Pray together and seek biblical wisdom. Talk to other families who have been through the process. Do your research and pray over it. A lot of what we learned about the adoption process we didn’t learn until after we were in it. But connecting with other families who had adopted or were adopting really helped us navigate the process. Remember that there are a lot of decisions to make, and praying for God’s guidance and seeking His word above all else will help you through all those decisions. Look at your finances, look at the health of your marriage, look at your goals, and then put all that together to convey to others and the Lord to see if it makes sense. 

The Speeg Family - adopting from Honduras

 Carly and Hunter Speeg and their daughter, Lois (age 2)

Carly and Hunter Speeg and their daughter, Lois (age 2)

How did your and your spouse decide to build your family through adoption?

The Lord prepared my heart (Carly) for this from early on in life.  I've always had a heart for vulnerable children and also knew that He would have us pursue adoption.  Hunter took a little bit of time to come around to the idea of adoption, but in seeking the Lord’s plan through scripture and prayer it was kind of like, “Well why we wouldn't we pursue adoption?”  We all are commanded to care for orphans in different ways, but for us, practically, we have the resources and the love to open our family!

What has been the most challenging part of the adoption process so far? 

The long months of silence.  Updates, even if they are new updates, are beneficial for the heart.  It is easy for those who are around you daily to forget that you are adopting and that hurts a little.  Even though we have been waiting so long, this kiddo is still at the forefront of our every day minds.  


Adoptive Families

The Allen Family - adopted Mercy & Noella from Burundi

 Blake & Lindsay Allen, with daughters Mercy and Noella (age 4, home from Burundi at age 2)

Blake & Lindsay Allen, with daughters Mercy and Noella (age 4, home from Burundi at age 2)

How do I know if God is calling me to adopt?

First, it's important to remember that we, as Christians, are ALL called to care for orphans. So don't wait for a lightning bolt "aha" moment before pursuing ways your family can care for the fatherless. Instead, go ahead and do some research to help you make an informed decision. Ask other adoptive families for information about the process to find out what the journey looks like. Read books about parenting kids from hard places. Google adoption agencies to find out the financial cost. Lastly, examine your heart to make sure you're pursuing adoption in obedience to the Lord and by the power of His grace, not as a means to "rescue" a child, be a more interesting family, or heal your own hurts from infertility or other past traumas. 

Is international adoption ethical?

Sadly, sometimes international adoption is not done ethically. An estimated 90% of kids in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent, the majority of whom could be reunited with families if they're provided with proper resources. Sometimes women place their children in orphanages in a time of desperation, expecting to come back and get their children once they are economically more stable, only to discover their child has been adopted to a family in another country. Even more nefarious, some women are incentivized to place their child for adoption, promising them that their child will be better off. This devalues these mothers and strips them of their dignity that they cannot even parent their child as well as a wealthy, white American. Sometimes adoption agencies unintentionally just don't know or don't follow all of the complicated procedures of adoption when working with two national governments.

However, in spite of these struggles, international adoption CAN be done ethically, and those kids need families just like anyone else! Before committing to adopt internationally, you need to seriously vet your potential adoption agency, and be ready to ask challenging questions about the family history of the children being referred in order to ensure that the child truly is in need of adoption. It's also important to support ministries who prioritize family preservation in developing nations so mothers don't have to make the decision to put their kids in an orphanage. 

The Creekmore Family — adopted Phoenix and Kiera from India

 Cody & Liz Creekmore with Phoenix (age 5, home from India at age 3) and Kiera (age 4, home from India at age 3)

Cody & Liz Creekmore with Phoenix (age 5, home from India at age 3) and Kiera (age 4, home from India at age 3)

What has adoption taught you about your adoption into God’s family and your relationship with Him? 

Adoption is a central theme of the Gospel. The love our Father has for us is freely given and He values every being in his creation. He accepts us into His family through Christ regardless of our circumstances, social standing or geographic location. Our God is merciful in His love for us and we hope that our children receive His grace through how we parent them. We are honored that the Lord brought our children into our family from across the world and has entrusted us to shepherd their precious hearts! 

How did God work in such long wait for one child and such fast process of another?

We have learned through our vastly different experiences with adoption to lean on the Lord and accept that all things work according to His purpose. We longed and waited and pleaded with God for years for Phoenix — and in our Father’s timing he joined our family and he has blessed us indescribably. Kiera’s sudden arrival brought much need for trusting God for His provision and wisdom, and has proven what good gifts our Father gives if we are willing to be obedient. As we watch them grow everyday in their sibling relationship, we rejoice in the miracle our Father has worked in our family’s life. They complement one another perfectly and it is beautiful to see how He brought both of them to be in our family. 

The Gibbons Family — adopted Beckham from Ethiopia and Lena from Poland

 Codie & Logan Gibbons with Beckham (age 6, home from Ethiopia at 7 months), Lena (age 4, home from Poland at age 3), Sully, and not pictured, Griffin (age 2 months)

Codie & Logan Gibbons with Beckham (age 6, home from Ethiopia at 7 months), Lena (age 4, home from Poland at age 3), Sully, and not pictured, Griffin (age 2 months)

Why is orphan care a gospel issue?

From the most basic reason, orphan care is commanded of believers in the book of James. 

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
— James 1:27

But further, orphan care is a clear picture of the gospel.  It is caring for the fatherless as God chose to care for us by adopting us through His Son.  Orphan care also is a way to share in God's love for all people.  Orphans are a people group that is made up of many races, ages, and backgrounds.  Caring for orphans, although messy, is beautiful.

If we do not feel called to adopt, what can we do?

Many times, we shy away from orphan care if we are not planning to adopt.  However, everyone can be a part of orphan care.  As everyone knows, adoption can be expensive.  Entering in to an adoption can feel overwhelming because of the financial burden, so any way you can financially support families who are adopting is a blessing.  Also, praying for families who are adopting and asking for specific ways to pray reminds adoptive families that they are not forgotten.  Since adopting can take time, it often can feel lonely, so any vocal encouragement goes a long way.  Committing to walk alongside those who are adopting, whether it takes two months or five years, is a way we can care for orphans.  Once families are home, continue to support them, that is when the hard work truly begins.  Asking ways that you as friends/family can help foster (not harm) attachment, or simply asking how the family is doing goes a long way.  And when you ask, be willing to hear the good, bad, and ugly.  Many times those on the outside just see the sweet picture of adoption, which it is, but bringing a child from a hard place is challenging in a lot of ways.  Allowing adoptive families the freedom to share the struggles is very healing.

The Morton Family — adopted Erick, Nicholas, and Nastia from Ukraine

 Rick & Denise Morton with Nastia (home from Ukraine at age 14), Nicholas (home from Ukraine at age 7), and Erick (home from Ukraine at 18 months)

Rick & Denise Morton with Nastia (home from Ukraine at age 14), Nicholas (home from Ukraine at age 7), and Erick (home from Ukraine at 18 months)

How do we do deal with trauma that children have endured prior to their adoption?

Good doctors and therapists help, but we can only do this knowing we have a Savior who called us to this life and He provides more than we need. And we are thankful for grace because we get it wrong more often than we get it right.

How did you decide which country to adopt from?  

We didn’t choose Ukraine; Ukraine chose us. By that I mean that God kept turning us toward Ukraine every time we thought about some where else. People often ask how or why we made our choice, and truly God just kept confirming and leading us back to Ukraine around every corner.

Knowing what you know now, and all of the life you’ve walked through with your three children, would you do it over again?

100% yes!

The Morales Family — adopted Brighten domestically from Texas, adopting from Haiti

 Jason & Jessica Morales with Brighten (age 2, adopted at birth from Houston, TX) — not pictured, Grady (due in December 2018)

Jason & Jessica Morales with Brighten (age 2, adopted at birth from Houston, TX) — not pictured, Grady (due in December 2018)

What is it like to have an open adoption with biological relatives?

We have an open adoption with our daughter’s birth mother as well as her biological brother (also adopted and lives in Birmingham). When we began praying about beginning a domestic adoption process after 2 years in the international adoption process, we were most nervous about what an open adoption would look like. However, the more we prayed through it, we came to realize that an open adoption can be really healthy for a child who has been adopted (with appropriate boundaries, of course). When we began the adoption process internationally five years ago, we didn’t think we’d ever have information about our child(ren)’s biological families because of the nature of international adoption. That could likely still be the case with our Haiti adoption, however the fact that we’re able to give our daughter the gift of biological family is something we’ll always be thankful for. We have pictures with her birth mother from the day she was born, and we text and send pictures a few times a year. While our daughter may never be interested some of the information we have about her biological family, I’m thankful that we have answers to provide her if and when questions arise. One thing is for sure, open adoption makes us no less of her mommy and daddy, but instead allows us to share a much fuller picture of her adoption story that we imagined possible.

Additionally, getting to have a friendship with our daughter’s biological brother and his family is just about the greatest thing we never knew we wanted. We love that she has a biological sibling growing up just down the road and that they will get to always know and care for each other.

How has a five year (and counting) wait impacted your faith?

We began the international adoption process on December 1, 2013, and we’re probably three or more years away from bringing home a child from Haiti. We’ve encountered agency closures, country suspensions and closures, starting over several times with new paperwork, and a brief hiatus when we weren’t sure where God was leading us next. There have been times when we’ve felt like God was leading us to something that would never happen. Frankly, there are still days like that when doubt is king and it takes every ounce of faith we have to believe that God is big enough to orchestrate it all. Other days are full of excitement for what’s to come. Mostly, seeing how perfectly God divinely planned our daughter’s adoption has led us to a place where our trust in His perfect plan is greater than ever. As a family we have come to really love Romans 4:17 that says that God calls things into existence that do not exist. We believe this has been a theme for us — from providing a family for one child who needed a family, and Lord-willing another in a few years, to doors that have been opened and shut that truly no one could have ever foreseen. It has been a hard five years, and it will continue to be hard to wait, but God is working in our waiting and He provides grace to us on the hardest days.


Foster Parents

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Heather Hancock

How did the Lord lead you to become a foster parent?

I was in a season of transition. The Lord was pulling me away from ministry I had been doing and I knew He was calling me to something different. I spent some time going before Him asking Him to show me something that would use the strengths, abilities, and experiences He had put in my life for His glory. He led me to foster care.

What challenges you have walked through as a foster parent?

God has repeatedly reminded me I can do nothing in my own strength. My life is not my own, I am hidden in Christ. When I try to parent these kids on my own, I fail miserably. He gives us what we need daily. 

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Sarah Temple

How can our church best support you as a foster parent?

Pray and check-in. There is no question in my mind that the enemy has firmly laid plans that he seeks to accomplish in the lives of these broken families and hurting children. It is imperative that we pray. We need to pray for biological families to find hope and restoration in the gospel; for the hearts of children in care to find safety, love, and stability in the midst of constant transitions and unknowns; and for foster families to remain steadfast in providing for the daily needs of a child who many be in their home for a week, a month, or years.

Another way to support foster families is simply to check in. Ask how they’re doing and ask about any needs – whether that be specific ways you can pray, ways that you can serve, or tangible items that you may be able to provide. I’d like to share too that oftentimes we (foster parents) are not allowed to share the details of our cases, so while we deeply appreciate your care in taking time to ask questions, we may need to be vague in our responses. Please know that has nothing to do with you personally or our level of trust in you, but rather everything to do with protecting legal and oftentimes sensitive information.

How have you been able to build a support system for yourself, and what role does that support system play?

I feel confident I would not be fostering without the full support of my GC and our church as a whole. It is imperative to have community that you can trust, ask for help, share your struggles, and depend on. These friends have stepped in to meet spiritual needs through prayer and encouragement, emotional needs through intentional listening and answering texts at 3am (literally!), and even physical support through providing meals, diapers, babysitting, etc.


If you would like to get connected to one or some of these families to learn more about adoption, foster care, and caring for the vulnerable, please email us at connect@immanuelbirmingham.com and we’d love to get you in contact with them.