Today 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. If you missed it, catch Part one here.
Proximity Changes Everything
“When we started foster care again, we began with a week of respite care for a 17-year-old from Guatemala and her young daughter. She taught me how to make cantaloupe agua fresca. Then, in August 2021, we welcomed Ali, from Afghanistan.
I feel deeply burdened by the crowds of children who desperately need someone to let them in–to simply give them shelter, food, respect, and a place to belong for a season. The stories of how these youth fled their homes and came to the U.S. always shock people—and how wonderful these youth are also impresses people. But these youth and their stories are not unusual! There are thousands upon thousands of unaccompanied youth just like them, waiting to be given a chance–waiting for someone with a spare bed to say, ‘Come on in.’
It can be hard because of how unusual it is to be a foster parent–how people think that what we’re doing is somehow amazing or radical. It’s not. I still go to work, and my husband and I still go on dates. We just live our lives, allowing a child in need to live with us. For anything we may have sacrificed along the way (which is not much), we have gained a hundred times over in blessings from these youth. I wish I could make people understand that these youth are a blessing, not a burden–but I think that’s something you learn only after you get close to them. Proximity changes everything. So that is hard for me: because so few people do this program, I sometimes feel lonely not being able to share and process my experiences with others. I long to see foster care normalized, especially in the Church.
A Front-Row Seat to God’s Love for the Fatherless
Just a few months after our Congolese daughter arrived in the U.S., she was part of a summer camp where foster youth expressed themselves through art. In their final performance, she wrote and performed a powerful song about God’s faithfulness to her as she was abducted by rebel soldiers and separated from her family, eventually escaped captivity, and ran to a foreign country by herself—at age 13. I basically held my breath through the whole performance. Afterward, the camp directors told us how she was a leader in that year’s cohort—the other foster youth gravitated toward her, and she radiated light. Just a few months ago, our Ali was selected from among his graduating class as demonstrating “outstanding leadership.”
These were some of the world’s most vulnerable people–defenseless children seeking refuge in a foreign country–and they’re overcoming all kinds of obstacles and ascending to leadership among their peers. How is that not the power of God? You know, the Scriptures consistently describe God as the defender of the weak and fatherless—he loves them fiercely! I’ve had a front-row seat to this, and it’s powerful. You will see this fierce love when you get close to the weak and fatherless. I have watched God provide for our foster youth, surrounding them with good people, opening doors for them to flourish, and nourishing them. I am watching him work in their hearts and strengthen their faith. It is amazing to witness this.
More Joys than I Could Ever Count
We have experienced far more joys than I could ever recount! Honestly. Parenting these kids is the greatest honor and greatest joy—they are such treasures. I love feeding them and making them tea in the evening. I love watching them mature and make wise choices (and have someone to fall back on when they make unwise choices). I love celebrating with them milestones like high-school graduation or their first job and taking them to explore other parts of the state or country.
I love watching them figure out who they are and who they want to be—as they ponder important life questions, change their hair or clothing style on a whim, or goof around with our two young daughters (now aged 3 and 6). I love hearing them sing to themselves in the bathroom or finding them napping on the couch on the weekend. I love hearing them speak Kinyarwanda or Dari on the phone. I love that my young daughters hear different languages, see different skin colors, and try different foods all the time, and that they’re growing up with a culture of biblical hospitality.
Our Afghan son came home one evening and told us how good it feels to have a place to belong … to know that we are waiting for him to come home. I’m learning that belonging is a fundamental human need, and I can meet that need for a child with relatively minimal effort. This can change the trajectory of their future and their future generations, and that astounds me. He graduated high school this past May, and we just moved him into a university dorm where he will study public service and public policy. My little daughters had a hard time letting go! Of course, it’s hard when they move out–my heart feels sick for a little while; my emotions are all ping-ponging around. But we’ve told them a hundred times they always have a home with us, and we still see each other regularly.