What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

I’ve long held the belief that adoptive/foster parents are missionaries. When I tell people about our international adoption, I like to say that not only did I visit the country, but I also brought some natives home.

This true for all adoptive/foster parents. We don’t clock out and go back to our dorm or hut or whatever the missionary lives in. We also don’t get on a plane and go back to the comfort of our own home.

What if We Treated Foster Parents as Missionaries_

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

If we change the way we think about adoptive/foster parents and slide them into the missionary category, there will be changes in four areas:

Our Prayers

First, adoptive/foster parents will be prayed for more often. Think of how often we pray for missionaries. We tack their photos up on the fridge to remind us to pray for them daily. If we see adoptive/foster parents as missionaries, we will do the same for them.

  • Pray for safety. Adoptive/foster families need a hedge of protection prayed around them. They are in the midst of a battle.

“The protection of children isn’t charity. It isn’t part of a political program fitting somewhere between tax cuts and gun rights or between carbon emission caps and a national service corps. It’s spiritual warfare.” – Russell Moore

  • Pray that they can minister the gospel. It’s tough to be in the middle of the battle and keep ministering the gospel at the same time. While there may not be actual bullets or bombs, foster and adoptive parents face many spiritual and emotional battles.
  • Pray that adoptive/foster parents will be able to teach and reach across cultural lines. Kids that have come from hard places have come from a different culture. Many of them have come from a culture of abuse and neglect. They don’t speak the same language or believe the same things. Most often when a kiddo is being fostered and he is brought to church with the family, the assumption is that he will immediately speak the language of religion. He won’t.
  • Pray that “the natives” will trust them enough to listen. Once these kiddos walk through the doors of our homes, we expect them to feel safe and secure and attach immediately. They won’t — and beyond that, they can’t. When kids come home through foster care or adoption, the foster parent isn’t automatically held in high esteem. Mom and dad aren’t regarded as trustworthy. They may be viewed as just another pit stop for kids with a garbage bag full of belongings. These kiddos may be thinking that these people will hurt/abandon/molest them too. These kiddos have never felt safe. Why would they feel safe with foster or adoptive parents they just met?

“With “normal” families, you can assume that if they haven’t asked prayer for something specific, they probably don’t have any really urgent needs. But foster/adoptive families kind of habituate to a higher level of chaos and urgency, and you feel like this is what they signed up for, so they won’t usually ask prayer for specific things.” – Kristin Peters, adoptive parent

Our Expectations

If we really, fully understand the full-time ministry that is fostering or adopting, we won’t be shocked when these families aren’t at church every Sunday. We would just assume they are doing their job.

Sometimes foster/adoptive parents are so deep in the trenches, they can’t escape. They’re working so hard on attachment with these kids that any break — even just to come to church — can destroy the work they have done. When my newbies first came home, we didn’t go to church or homeschool group for a while. After a while, I heard the gentle grumblings of the leadership wondering when I was coming back to teach.

When we did come back, I kept my kids with me. It was my primary job to attach to them. All of my other commitments were secondary.

Our Contributions

If we view foster and adopted parents as missionaries, we will do everything we can to make sure they are equipped spiritually, emotionally, and physically before going on their “mission.”

When my family traveled to Poland to adopt our four, we had Rubbermaid containers of supplies, suitcases, and books. On the second trip, the children’s church filled those same containers with supplies to leave at the orphanage for the kids and staff.

Missionary families need physical supplies. They also need training. Would you travel to another country to preach the gospel if you didn’t speak the language or at least have an interpreter? And wouldn’t you go to a Christian source for training instead of a secular one?

So, why don’t we offer spiritual and physical training from a Christian perspective for our adoptive/foster missionaries? It does exist. Why not offer it within the four walls of the church?

Our Involvement

Finally, if we view foster/adoptive parents as missionaries, we will consider it an honor to invest in their journey.

“God asks us to reach out to those who need Him. Adoptive families have done this in a more sacrificial way than most people could even comprehend. It is the right thing for the body of Christ to support those who have given themselves so fully to the care of the little ones God has sent them.” – Elizabeth King, missionary and adoptive mom

This is probably the most difficult one for the body of Christ to swallow. I’ve been told that since I chose to adopt, I just need to suck it up, so to speak. In case you are wondering, I did not receive or ask for money from the church to fund my adoption. But I sure wish it were available for other families. We pay monthly support to missionaries so they can do their thing. Why not do the same for foster/adoptive families on some level?

And there are other ways to invest in foster care/adoption, too.

“You’re either called to bring a child into your home or support those who do! – Real Life Foster Mom

You can take them dinner, offer to babysit, buy school supplies, get them a gift card, buy Christmas gifts, or — my favorite — take a foster/adoptive Mom out for coffee and LISTEN. Not all investments require tons of money. What they do take, however, is time. Sacrifice a bit of your time for those who have surrendered all of theirs.

“Adoptive parents are like missionaries on steroids. There is no furlough from this job, no let-up in sight. If missionaries should be honored and supported, adoptive families – especially those who have adopted children from trauma – need our love, our respect, and our support just as much – and likely more. Maybe finances aren’t an issue. But finding time for friendship when you know your friends will never understand what you’re going through anyway and the demands at home are overwhelming – it’s just so hard.” – Elizabeth King





24 thoughts on “What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

  1. Wow, the last quoted text regarding friendships is spot on. Since I’ve been fostering, actually kinship, my very good friends have been MIA. This post is beautifully written.
    Thank you

  2. My husband and and I are 63 and 57 years old. Our last two of six biological are teens and at home. For the past two years we have been fostering a very wounded now eight year old. This article hit home. Although we have felt support from our agency for desperately needed respite, many faithful prayer warriors and offers to help with little guy in desperate times, it remains to be a very isolating life. Our season is unusual given our age. Do we have the army necessary to do this long term?
    It validated much of how we feel living full time with such deep and demanding needs of this child.

  3. We adopted three kids in our fifties. Tears flowed as I read this article. I feel isolated, and misunderstood a lot. Great friends continue on in their lives: working in their yards, redecorating their house, taking trips, enjoying their retirement. It’s like we don’t have anything in common anymore. In the meantime; our three are now adolescents. Trauma resurfaces, trust becomes critical, and we continue to sacrifice everything for them as we seek counselors and help. It can become exhausting. Thank you for this post. Now? I know why I feel lonely amongst my friends. They don’t get it. No one does. But God does! And He is always enough…

    1. You are not alone! So glad this article ministered to you. We know how rough it is to feel isolated!

  4. As the mother of both bio and adopted kids, I find this article deeply disturbing. Although raising children in general (whether bio, adopted, or foster) is a calling, so to speak, it is certainly not a ministry. I can’t even imagine how heartbroken and upset an adopted or foster child would feel at being called a “ministry.” It almost makes me physically sick to think of my sweet kiddos being told they are just another ministry. The purpose of adoption and fostering is NOT evangelism. And I say this as a devout follower of Jesus. This saviorism mentality is not only troubling but deeply offensive and hurtful to children. Yes, Jesus calls us to care for the orphan and widow, but if you are adopting or fostering only as a “ministry” then you should not be adopting or fostering. And for the love of God, please stop referring to your children as “natives.” There is so very much wrong with this.

    1. Hello Emily,

      Here at The Whole House, we approach every task as a ministry and evangelism. We believe that wherever your feet are is where your ministry is. We believe that we should be viewing every day as a chance to point the people around us to Jesus.

      This particular article never referenced ministry as being the sole reason for fostering or adopting but we refuse to act as though ministry is not part of any parenting process (whether bio kids or not).

  5. Thanks! As a mom of 60, with a 11 year old adopted daughter from trauma, this hits home big time. We are isolated, can’t really participate in other ministry, house in shambles, friends? When? Who? Others are age have a different life. We also have adult adopted and bio with some very big issues. Add in aging parents that need us. A lot of hats get dropped.

  6. Loved this post. As a mom of 7 ( 3 adopted) and a mom to the girls in our orphanage ( over 100 have passed through our doors) I can so relate. We live on site and have these needs presented daily. It is so difficult to watch the trama resurface again and again. Even when they move on, they are so vulnerable to dealing with distrust and making poor choice. God tells us to reach out to the least of these and unto HIM. I highly esteem those who do this, quietly committing to a life time of sacrifice for LOVE.

  7. This is very on point. What was left out (not complaining) was how we sometimes end up ministering to the families of the children in our care. I have a mom who I have developed a great relationship with, she just needs a “mother” mentor. She wants us to remain in her and her child’s life after they are reunited, she knows that her child loves us and we love her. I have talked diet, discipline, school issues, personal growth, all with parents whose children were taken because the home was “unsafe.” Loving on parents whose children have been removed by CPS is HARD but is a ministry. It can be so unsettling and breaking when a child is moved from your home to literally God knows where. I have gone over to friends’ houses after a child was returned, and just wept for hours on the floor. This ministry is more personal than most, it makes us more vulnerable. We were very overwhelmed our first 3 years of foster care. We ended up having to take a 5 year break to heal. We were so lonely, had little support, and people would tell us how amazing we were but then left us to struggle with the toll of emotional damage having very broken children in your home can cause. The pain and anger of seeing your children abused by the children you are trying to help. Being on a pedestal is very isolating. This time around has been amazingly different. Our church has a ministry support on call for those fostering and wrap arounds to support those families. Being able to call on or reach out to people who have already jumped into the trenches with you is a whole lot easier because they are already walking through it with you.

    1. Wow! Thanks for sharing. I’m sure there are many people who need to hear this. I’ve talked to many foster parents who “parent” the bio parents. It’s such a beautiful thing. Yes, it’s difficult and messy and lonely. Thank you for doing what you do!

  8. Thank you for this. We feel so isolated and this was incredibly validating and spot on. The needs, opening our safe place to invite the hurt and chaos in…it can be so tiring. Having a covering of prayer would be so helpful. It feels like a lot to carry, even in prayer.

  9. I love this I am a new foster parent this was very insightful Thanks for sharing it has gone pretty well so far but it has only been 1 week I am staying on the positive side and trusting God that it will stay as good as it is right how but I know there will be bumps in the road after all I am fostering a teen so it is to be expected but it is nice to have such great support

  10. Yes, yes, yes! Preach it, sister! I’m going to share this with our pastoral staff. Our lead pastor’s family is primarily built through adoption, so I think he will be sympathetic. There is a family in our church who are struggling with their daughter who was adopted at 4 and has pretty extreme reactive attachment disorder. She just turned 12 and is taller than her mother. They are overwhelmed, to say the least. I’ve been helping because I have learned a lot about children from hard places and I’m adopted and I adopted a child myself. Plus they are wonderful people I’ve grown to love. Thanks for specific ideas on how to help.

  11. Excellent article! My husband and I are in our 60’s, we have adopted 17 kids with a variety of special needs. Reading this brought tears to my eyes and touched my heart- what a blessing it would be! Thank you for writing this! Bless you!

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