Journey Church and adoption: “It is in our DNA”
JONESBORO – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
In 2011 Dan Reeves began his first sermon series from the book of James. As head pastor of the newly launched Journey Church, the future ministries of the young congregation were still unclear.
Unclear, until Dan read from James 1:27.
“As a brand new, closely knit body of believers, we were collectively convicted to ask God to empower us to obey the command,” said pastor’s wife Veronica Reeves. “We wanted to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.”
The church prayed for the Lord to call and equip five families from Journey to adopt. As a reminder, Journey set up five empty picture frames in its foyer.
“I remember standing in front of those frames, praying for those five families and asking God to empower me to help them,” said Veronica. “I had no idea that I had a daughter waiting for me across the world in an orphanage in Latvia.”
Veronica recounts that God was present in every detail of their adoption story from the first conversations to their airplane ride home.
“God led us every step of the way, opening doors and closing others, until at just the right time we found our daughter, and He made it clear that we were to adopt her,” said Veronica.
Journey Church now has 25 families who have grown through adoption, including one family who adopted before the church was launched.
Andrea Brown never felt “called to adopt.” After graduating from college, she started working as an occupational therapist in a facility that served many children in foster care.
“There was a particular child that I was very close with that was in a bad situation,” said Brown. “Eventually, there was enough evidence to remove her from her home and place her in foster care.”
Brown immediately registered for classes and opened her home for the sole purpose of fostering this child. After getting through all but one class, she discovered the child was moved to therapeutic foster care, a more specialized foster care for children with significant emotional, behavioral or social issues or medical needs. Therapeutic foster care also requires more training and classes for those seeking to foster.
Brown switched gears to become a therapeutic foster care parent, but realized that the child she wanted to foster was facing difficulties that needed one-on-one attention 24 hours a day.
“Being single, I had to work. I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to take her,” said Brown. “I questioned why the Lord had me go through two different foster care entities just to lead me to a dead end.”
Brown decided to keep her home open on a respite basis only. A few months later, she received a phone call from a therapeutic foster care agency.
“They said, ‘We have a 4 year old little girl that we feel would be a good fit for you and your home. We would like you to consider taking her. Please let us know in the next 24 hours.’ That was it. No details. No story. Nothing,” Brown said.
Accepting a child in therapeutic foster care is a one-year minimum commitment because the child needs stability.
“It was a lot to think about, but in February 2008 I said Yes,” said Brown. “I walked into an office to a little girl with a princess crown on playing with a dollhouse.”
A year later, Brown’s foster child was available for adoption, but Brown was hesitant.
Later, the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) called to arrange a meeting between the child and a potential adoptive family.
“I was extremely defensive and didn’t understand why they wanted her adopted so soon,” said Brown. “I remember the DCFS worker said to me, ‘Andrea, if you aren’t going to be her forever family, then we have to find her one.’ At that moment the Lord so sweetly used this worker to lay the call to adopt on my heart.”
Brown adopted her daughter in July 2009.
“The healing process of adoption is just that,” Brown said. “It’s a process.”
According to Brown, the first six months were full of tantrums.
“I learned quickly to not take her little words personal and to continue to pray for her behavior and for healing,” Brown said. “It was like she had to try all of her tricks that got her removed from other homes before she really believed me when I said, ‘You’re not going anywhere.’”
Little by little, her daughter started to show signs of trust and understanding of rules and boundaries.
Knowing the Reeves through the college ministry at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Brown began attending Journey when it began.
“Dan stated from the very beginning of Journey that we would be a church that cares about the orphan and supports families who feel the call to foster and adopt. Journey has done just that,” said Brown.
Like Brown, another Journey family was gradually led by God to adopt. It started with Aaron Baker on a flight back from China.
“Once I boarded the plane, I found that the entire flight was full of families returning to America from their adoption trips,” said Baker.
An international flight full of young children is not desirable. Although the flight was loud, Baker enjoyed talking with the new fathers.
Once he returned home, he discussed the trip with his wife, Beth.
“I explained the flight and marveled at the joy and hope that the parents had for the children they were bringing home,” said Baker. “That conversation sowed a seed that would be watered and grown over the next years.”
The Bakers began looking into adoption and filled out paperwork for more than one agency. Repeatedly, the doors would close instead of open.
Even after the birth of their twin girls in 2009, the Bakers still felt God calling them to adopt.
“Beth’s heart continued to run to the kids here in Arkansas who were struggling to find a home. From her time in the school system, she saw kids that needed someone to tell them they were created for greatness,” Baker said. “My heart would take a little more time. However, God opened my eyes and heart to foster care.”
The Bakers opened up their house as a foster-to-adopt home. Their second placement was a little boy, and from early on, they were in love with him. In January 2017, the Bakers adopted him.
“He has challenges, but when he smiles and laughs, you can see true joy in a deep way,” Baker said.
The Bakers are still undergoing training through the Unplowed Ground program offered by King’s Ranch, a non-profit organization that provides support, education and training in therapeutic parenting tools.
Unplowed Ground was developed by Eddie and Lee Anne Cooper, members of Journey.
After they began their own adoption journey 15 years ago, the Coopers compiled what they have learned through the years working with children with histories of trauma, loss and abuse. The Coopers focus on equipping families to help their adopted children heal.
“Every adopted child, no matter if an infant or a 16-year-old, has a history of trauma on some level,” said Veronica, who works as church and donor partnerships coordinator for King’s Ranch. “At Journey, we emphasize the importance of training for all our adoptive families.”
The program also serves traditional families who are struggling with behavioral difficulties.
Through the partnership with King’s Ranch, Journey provides every family with a scholarship for their Unplowed Ground therapeutic parenting training and coaching.
“We believe that for every family called to adopt, God calls several more to surround that family with care, support, encouragement and provision,” said Veronica. “God has answered our prayers and called some Journey families to adopt, but all of us have clear ways to obey James 1:27.”
Church members can show their support by taking a meal to an adoptive family, mowing their yard, helping cover expenses and being trained to provide therapeutic respite care.
“Adoption is and always has been a key component of the culture of Journey,” said Veronica. “It is in our DNA.”
Contact Sarah Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.