Not If But How Can We Be Involved in Caring for Orphans?
“Sometimes I wonder how refugees can believe in God after all the suffering they’ve endured. But the answer I hear often is the opposite: they believe in God because he has brought them through horror. “I have seen too much to NOT believe in God,” our Afghan son once said.
As a Christian, I see that opening one’s home to strangers, embracing the foreigner as kin, and building a family through hospitality and adoption are evident themes all throughout the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy, we see that God is forming his community of people—the Israelites—and their inclusion of the stranger in both everyday life and worship is non-negotiable. In the Psalms, we see that God has a special concern for orphans; he is described as a father to the fatherless who places the lonely in families. Of course, there are numerous passages in the New Testament as well about believers being “heirs” of God, the Father having been “delighted” to adopt us into his family through Christ. The theme is undeniable, and my husband and I had to decide for ourselves not if but how we would be involved in caring for orphans—foster care and adoption have been right for us.”
We’re sharing the story of one woman of welcome, Mary Kaech, and her family. They have opened their home to foster unaccompanied refugee children, and today she’s opening her life to us in words and photos.
The Difficulties of Fostering
“The most difficult part has been submitting to the rules of “the system” when you know those rules will only make the child’s life harder. Our first unaccompanied minor foster placement, Angelique, was a 17-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ange arrived with minimal English and roughly a third-grade education. She was placed into ninth grade at our local public high school where resources are lacking and many other refugee students are needing extra support. She is one of the hardest workers I know, and she is an overcomer. She ran track (and loved it!) for just a few months before our foster agency required her to get a job due to her age.
Shortly thereafter, the agency required her to move out—to live on her own in a studio apartment in a dangerous neighborhood—while only in 11th grade. She was not ready for that, and the move traumatized her all over again. Her senior year was marked by struggle. I wanted her to be able to stop struggling just for a little while—to enjoy her youth, to learn healthy rhythms of work and rest, to gain more strength before being thrust into the world to defend herself again.
We fought hard against some policies that, from our perspective, were not in her best interest. We lost those fights and lost faith in our foster agency.”
The Journey Into Creating a Space of Welcome
“I’d had very little interest in anything international until 2003 when I met a friend named Gattuak who was one of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan.’ I was studying photography in college and did a semester-long project on the South Sudanese refugee community in my city. Spending many hours with them opened my eyes to histories I’d never learned, perspectives I’d never heard, and cultures I’d never considered. This sparked my desire to continue learning and exploring, both around the world and in my own community.
Like many of these Lost Boys, Gattuak came to the U.S. as a child–an unaccompanied refugee minor–and lived with a foster mother named Norma. Norma’s example made an impression on me. She was just a regular woman sharing what she had with other people–she lived simply and loved extravagantly–and it made all the difference for these young men who had lost their first parents due to war. This showed me that I, too, could create a space of welcome and refuge for people in need.
Since meeting Norma and Gattuak in 2003, I’d had foster care for unaccompanied minors in the back of my mind. It was thirteen years later when my husband and I (along with our 11-month-old biological child) welcomed Ange into our home. After she moved out, we took a break from fostering while continuing to support Ange as she finished high school and built her own life. We were the closest thing she had to family on this side of the world.
I am happy to say that our foster agency has made a 180-degree shift since then, and they have better policies now. Since I fully trust they have the youths’ best interest in mind, we opened our home again last summer.