When a Child’s Life is Turned Upside Down: A Calvary Chapel in Rural Idaho Actively Supports Foster and Adoptive Families—Part 1
Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos by Steve Shambeck
This is Part 1 of a two-part story on Calvary Chapel Emmett, ID, which actively cares for foster children and encourages adoption as a whole-church ministry. This story first ran in Issue 71 of Calvary Chapel Magazine in Spring 2017. Look for an update in Part 2 tomorrow.
*The name is fictitious to protect the privacy of the person.
Between leaving their birth parents and arriving at Mike and Shannon Hughes’ home, 4-year-old Joshua and 2-year-old Hannah moved five times. Whenever friends visited, the confused toddlers asked if the guests were their new parents. “They would disengage from us because they thought they were leaving,” explained Mike, who pastors Calvary Chapel Emmett, ID. “After the people left, that’s when the chaos would begin: yelling, throwing toys, breaking things, refusing to obey, and not wanting to be touched.” The Hugheses were already pursuing adoption, but it took months of reassurances before Joshua trusted them enough to pray that they would be his forever family. A week later, they discovered that, though led to believe they were the only ones pursuing adoption, a social worker had neglected to mention that a relative was considering being the adoptive placement. As a family member, that request outranked the Hugheses’. They said goodbyes knowing they would likely never see the children again. Worse, Joshua was brokenhearted and bitter, his childlike faith crushed.
Steve enjoys playing with his son, who was in foster care with the Hughes family. Pastor Mike Hughes of Calvary Chapel Emmett, ID, and his wife, Shannon, help birth families stay involved in their children’s lives.
A few months later, however, the relative decided it would be best for Joshua to go back to the Hugheses’ home. They eagerly took him back. Joshua leapt into their arms, beaming. “Do you remember what you prayed?” Shannon asked.
His face crumpled. “Yeah, God didn’t answer my prayer.”
Smiling, Shannon reminded him, “Buddy, where are you now?” His face lit up with realization. At Calvary Chapel Emmett’s next foster care support meeting, Joshua boldly prayed that Hannah would come home, too. Soon after, his prayer was answered, and both children were adopted, joining the Hugheses’ firstborn, their older brother Isaiah. Mike reported, “Joshua’s faith has been very strong since then—he knows God answers prayer.”
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble. James 1:27
At CC Emmett, caring for foster children is a whole-church ministry. Each November, their Orphan Sunday event revisits Scripture’s mandate to care for orphans, and their commitment to follow it. Some of the fellowship’s many foster parents share their testimonies. A wall of photographs displays children available for adoption. After the service, a foster care organization’s representative answers questions from prospective parents. This past Orphan Sunday, Mike taught on James 1:27. He commented, “There are 1,600 churches in Idaho, and 1,300 children without a placement. As a church, we stand at a pivotal place to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We can’t change these children’s pasts, but Jesus can change their meaning, and can give them a future and a hope.” The impact of this roughly 400-person church on its community started very small, sparked seven years ago by one woman’s impassioned speech.
At a National Adoption Day gathering they had at CC Emmett, Mike and Shannon talk to a mom who adopted children during the event. They had the opportunity to share the Gospel with her.
God Will Care for Your Heart
“Adoption has always been on my heart,” said Dara Sund, who co-leads CC Emmett’s youth group with her husband Trevor. “Being adopted into a Christian home deeply affected me.” The Sunds became foster parents to care for a cousin’s children, but by the time they had completed the process, those children were already being adopted into a loving Christian home. Instead, the Sunds received Gracie—a deaf 3-month-old placed with them because of Trevor’s family’s familiarity with American Sign Language. “The first time I visited Gracie, she was with a woman who had fostered over 200 infants. It was so hard to lay Gracie back in her crib and wait until the next day to get her. That woman counseled me, ‘Dara, if for some reason Gracie can’t come with you, God will take care of your heart.’ Knowing you could possibly lose these kids makes you want to hold your heart back, but God wants you to love them unconditionally and to trust Him to care for your heart.”
Pastor Mike prays over breakfast after getting the kids ready for Sunday services.
Soon after adopting Gracie, they requested a Down Syndrome child and received Kiya, a blind infant, and her mute 3-year-old sister, Emma. Gracie’s hearing was miraculously restored, Kiya’s eyesight drastically improved after many surgeries, and Emma began speaking. “Somewhere in the middle of that,” Dara stated, “God began speaking to my heart from Scripture about His commands to care for orphans. I started thinking, Why aren’t more people in the church opening their homes to these kiddos?”
Pastor Mike allowed Dara to speak to the congregation, which was then half its current size. “Dara’s announcement lit a fire in our church,” Mike testified. “It changed our church culture, awakening a desire to help.” In the next year, 10 CC Emmett couples trained as foster parents, including the Hugheses. They soon started a foster care support group. “We didn’t know how overwhelming foster parenting can be,” Mike confessed. “People need a safe place to sit down and talk through the difficulties.”
Mike shares a message about God’s heart for orphans during Sunday service. A display at the event encouraged attendees to pray for specific children; some are now being adopted.
As these families care for their foster children, the CC Emmett church family cares for them. Dara reported, “Any time I get a new placement, I know I’ll have at least a couple weeks of food from our meals ministry. But it goes beyond that—people bring food, clothes, and beds. They give cars to families that get a large sibling group. They offer to clean the house, babysit, iron. It makes fostering so much easier because I’m not in this alone. When things are hard, I never feel like I’m putting someone out when I need something, because there’s an overall attitude of wanting to help.” That attitude has spread beyond the church to ministries such as a local Royal Family Kids Camp, a one-week Christian summer camp for foster children where many from CC Emmett have served.
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15
One Kid Is Worth It
Each Thursday, Aaron Granden travels to the Patriot Center, a juvenile home, to offer Bible teaching to the 36 boys living there, most of whom are foster children. “There’s no set program,” Aaron explained. “Whether we’re teaching through the life of Bible characters like Joseph and Daniel, watching apologetics videos, or doing Bible trivia, I try to work the Gospel into every visit.”
Shannon Hughes’ son shows her a craft he made during the Foster/Adopt Support Group.
Usually less than 10 of the children decide to attend, but Aaron stated, “I’ve never been discouraged by the numbers. What if that was my kid? Wouldn’t it be worth it? There’s only one time that nobody showed up, but I’d been talking to one of the boys and knew he was going through a rough time. I asked the guard to see if Brent* wanted to talk one-on-one. He did. It takes quite a few visits for these kids to open up to you—they know you’re just one more person coming in and out of their lives. But Brent told me about the abuse and rejection in his past. His mom had just gotten out of rehab; he was so excited about going to live with her. She backed out on him; it crushed the kid. ‘Even my own mom doesn’t want me,’ he said.” That day and in many other one-on-one talks, Aaron reiterated to Brent that he is not unwanted and unloved but has a heavenly Father who created him for a purpose. Brent eventually professed faith in Christ.
Aaron continued, “When I was asked to take over this ministry three years ago, my initial reaction was that it wasn’t for me. I prayed about it, though, and God put a burden on my heart for these kids. Their parents have not been able to care for them. Society has set them aside. These children need to know they have a Father who cares about them and won’t give up on them.”
Mike and Shannon pray with the Masis family at the Foster/Adopt Support Group. The Masises have two adopted children and recently began providing foster care to four siblings.
Let God Build Your Family
During the years the Hugheses struggled with infertility, a woman prophesied that their children would be a light to their family. When Isaiah was conceived a little over a year later, they assumed the prophecy was for him. However, as their home has filled with unexpected children, fostered and adopted, their definition of family has broadened, and their children’s light has reached farther to more people than they even imagined. “When people think about foster care,” Mike declared, “they think about the difficulties instead of the tremendous open doors for the Gospel not only to the kids, but their birth parents, foster parents, case workers, and everyone else you meet in the process.”
The Hugheses built a relationship with Joshua and Hannah’s former foster mother, Dawn. Eventually they invited her to CC Emmett’s Easter service, where she accepted Christ. She has been active and growing at that church ever since. Following the Sund’s example, the Hugheses involve birth parents in their children’s lives to the maximum degree that is safe for the children, whether that involves weekly supervised visits, inviting them to Easter dinner, or simply sharing pictures on Facebook.
Dan Church holds his daughter at the Foster/Adopt Support Group.
Shannon remembers at an early doctor appointment for a sibling group in their care, which the birth mother also attended, “I started automatically answering the doctor’s questions. Then I caught myself. I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry—this is their birth mom. She knows way more than me.’ She’d seemed uneasy and leery of me, but that instantly softened her. On the way to the car, I asked her, ‘Is there anything you want me to tell your kids before I put them to bed every night? Feel free to call any time.’ I asked if I could pray for her, and while I was praying, she started crying. I comforted her, saying, ‘We’re really rooting for you, and I want you to know I’ll do everything I can to help your kids.’”
When the parents regained custody, they treated the Hugheses like family, inviting them to birthday parties and other family gatherings. Sadly, they relapsed and lost custody again, but were comforted that their two sons were with the Hugheses. They requested that the Hugheses adopt their sons if their rights were permanently lost. They visited CC Emmett where the father, Steve, professed faith in Christ and was baptized. Since then, the parents have separated. With the Hugheses’ support, Steve has been working hard to regain his parental rights. Mike related, “It’ll be very emotional either way. We love these boys; we also love Steve. The entire extended family knows, though, that if we adopt the boys, the family will stay involved in their lives.”
Dara Sund and her children stack firewood for a single mom, whose daughter, Lilly (center in black blouse), is fighting leukemia.
Dara added, “After adopting Gracie, I felt God was telling me, I didn’t just give you Gracie—I gave you her mom, too, to love and support. I visited Tammy on a monthly basis for a year, making sure she stuck to her recovery plan. I told her, ‘The ball’s in your court. If you want to be in Gracie’s life, you must make good choices.’ She started attending church with us, eventually was saved and baptized. She still struggles sometimes with making the right choices, and we’re still learning to navigate that struggle. While protecting our girls is our top priority, we also remember that God’s given us a chance to show their parents His love, mercy and forgiveness.”
“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18
At the support group, Shannon (right) prays with Angel O’Brien (left) and Brenda Folwell (middle). Both recently were told that their foster children would be returning to their birth parents.
Last summer, the Sunds adopted Ava, a 15-year-old foster child in Calvary Chapel Emmett’s youth group. Ava had weathered a great deal of rejection, but as she watched her youth leaders with their adopted daughters, she believed there might be a family in which she could truly belong. Ava was unaware that when she asked the Sunds to adopt her, they had already been praying about it for months. “After Gracie,” Dara continued, “I began praying for all the children God had for me, wherever they might be in the world. I knew with each of my daughters that they were the ones God had for us. There were other children I wanted to adopt, but God warned me from the beginning that they weren’t mine, and He found homes for them. When Ava came along, Trevor and I knew, OK, this is who we were waiting for. She completes the picture. Let the Lord build your family. If you’re trusting and seeking Him, He’ll show you what to do.”
To read Part 2 of this article, click here.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
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