By Shannon Baker and Sharon Mager
ROCKVILLE–When Kevin Freeman started working at Redland Baptist Church in 2009, he served as a youth minister. But over time, he has grown into the role of family minister, serving as an associate pastor working with youth and families. As he has grown in his ministry, so has his family.
He and his wife, Karen, now have six children, including two sets of siblings, whom they adopted (or are in the process of adopting) through the CHOSEN foster care program at Building Families for Children (www.buildingfamiliesforchildren.com). Kevin is the chairman of the Christian Life and Public Affairs committee for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
God softened the Freemans’ heart for foster care when they were serving at their previous church in Halethorpe, Md. Kevin, then a youth minister, and Karen welcomed in the children who lived near them, often sharing meals and otherwise giving them the love and attention they seemed to miss elsewhere.
“These kids had rough home lives,” Karen shared. “They always knew when to show up for dinner!”
The growing need in their own neighborhood around them overwhelmed them. As a teenager, Kevin had been interested in one day adopting children, and now as an adult, the idea floated again in their minds. They began to look into foster care as a solution. What they learned astounded them.
According to to organizers for the annual National Adoption Day (www.nationaladoptionday.org), which is celebrated on November 18 this year, there are more than 110,000 children in the U.S. who are in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families.
Moreover, the average wait for a child in foster care to be adopted is nearly three years. And more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system each year with no family or permanent home.
While Kevin was in seminary, the couple decided to attend the CHOSEN foster care training.
Afterwards, in 2012, while at Redland, the Freemans welcomed siblings Dustin and Trinity into their home. “That was when our hearts got into it,” Kevin remembered.
Yet the Freemans initially decided they would stop fostering after Dustin and Trinity. The uncertainties and emotional upheaval that come with foster care were taking a toll on them. They decided not to accept future foster placements. Fortunately, God had other plans.
Kevin’s seminary class happened to focus on the theology of foster care and adoption. He shared his lessons with Karen.
They were struck with how, as unbelievers, they once were outside of God’s family. But Jesus enabled them “to be in God’s family.”
“When we understand what God has done for us, orphan care is just a natural extension of what we do,” Kevin said.
Soon, the social worker asked the Freemans to consider taking in other children. It would mean rearranging rooms and rearranging their lives. Kevin and Karen talked with Dustin and Trinity, and the family decided to do it again.
“That’s when foster care stopped being a thing we did and became a mission we were on,” shared Kevin. They fostered 11 children, knowing they were there temporarily.
But, then the family took in a seven-year-old twin, hoping over time the girl’s sibling would soon join them. They waited 11 months. They bought a new, larger house.
And then they got the devastating news. The other foster family would not release the sibling. The other family even discredited the Freeman’s faith, ultimately taking their young girl, leaving them in deep pain.
“It was as if God wanted us to experience the pain and loss the foster care kids feel when they go into foster care and lose their parents and siblings,” Kevin said.
Soon, while the Freemans adopted Dustin and Trinity, Karen became pregnant with Olivia.
Two months later, the Freemans took in a teenage girl named Ibeth, who was separated from her brother, Kevin. Ibeth and Kevin reunited a year later, and the Freemans welcomed Kevin into their home as well.
But before Kevin arrived, Karen became pregnant with Wesley, which was significant to the younger Kevin. His other foster care mother was pregnant and did not want to keep him. “But we were saying, ‘We are having a baby, and we still want you to come in,” Karen said.
Soon Kevin will be adopted. He has chosen to be named after his new father: Kevin Michael Freeman Jr.
“I never knew I wanted a Junior until I got one,” dad Kevin said.
All the while, Redland Baptist Church members have watched and supported the Freemans as their family has grown. Others in the church are encouraged to do the same.
“As Christians, we should be leading the charge,” Kevin said. “A church family makes all the difference for foster families.”
Elliana Mae Graves looks like a little baby doll, with dark hair and eyes and a smile that lights up the room. She climbs up next to me, scrunches up her nose, and pats my computer, saying, “Pictures!”
She loves electronics, said Phil Graves, pastor of First Baptist Church, Brunswick. In July 2017, he and his wife, Kristie, adopted Elliana from an orphanage in Armenia.
The couple began talking about adoption as soon as they got married, but Kristie got pregnant quickly. First Kara was born, followed by Ethan and Owen. In 2015, they felt it was time to begin considering adoption once again.
They have friends who adopted two boys from Ukraine through “Reese’s Rainbow,” a charitable organization that advocates for the adoption of children with special needs.
Discovering Elliana has spina bifida, they were hesitant to move forward at first, but after speaking with friends, Summit Trace Church members Stephan and Kim Romanchuk, Phil and Kristie were reassured.
The Romanchuks’ son, Daniel, now a Paralympian, also has spina bifida. After a conversation with the Romanchuks, “it didn’t seem as scary,” Kristie said.
When Phil and Kristie decided to move ahead, God opened all the doors, including providing the necessary $35,000 in funding needed to adopt.
They fundraised 90 percent of that cost. Friends gave, strangers with a heart for orphan ministry gave, and even an old high school friend provided a huge amount to cover their traveling expenses. Daniel Romanchuk also contributed some of his prize earnings he received after he won his first major road race. The church also has been very supportive, and now has an adoption fund for other families to adopt.
“We were thinking, how are we going to do this, and it all fell in place,” Kristie said. “Money was one of the biggest concerns but it turned out to be the least of our worries,” Phil said.
The Graves family is thankful to God for His provisions. Even Elliana’s name is a praise. Her birth name, “Oksana,” means, “Praise Be to God.” Her new name means “My God answers.”
Mark Swan, pastor/planter of Fire & Light Church, Reisterstown, and his wife, Amy, share that their adoption story has been a long journey. In fact, it led them to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
Mark and Amy were newlyweds when their doctor informed them that they wouldn’t be able to have children. They prayed about their options and chose international adoption.
“Russia was a country open at that time, and it was one of the fastest countries to adopt from,” Mark shared.
As they navigated the adoption process, they were shocked when their adoption counselor asked them their choices—eye and hair color, complexion, and ethnicity.
“As Christians, we said, we just want the privilege of being able to raise a child in a Christian home,” Mark stressed.
“We weren’t going to the store for something to purchase,” Amy added.
They flew to Moscow then to Krasnoyarsk, which is near China, a longer flight than flying across the United States, Amy explained. There, in an orphanage with 30 other babies, lay their little 10-month-old Andrew.
“He was a tiny little baby, the size of a four month old, but he was very happy to meet us,” Amy smiled.
“The hardest thing we ever had to do was leave him there for six weeks,” Mark said. They flew home to make arrangements then back to Krasnoyarsk to pick up Andrew. They spent weeks in a Russian hotel room with a new baby going through the red tape—doctor visits, court, visas, embassy visits, passports—and then they brought him home.
In 2006, a year later, the family had a surprise. “Miracle of all miracles, Amy got pregnant,” Mark grinned. Andrew had a little sister—Gracelyn.
The Swans quickly discovered that Andrew had multiple health problems. He required four eye surgeries and had braces on both legs for years in addition to many developmental disabilities.
“That’s what brought us to Maryland in 2010—Kennedy Krieger, Johns Hopkins and the Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia,” Mark explained.
Before moving, he was pastoring a church in Appalachia in Kentucky. The family loved it there, but Andrew’s needs were pressing. “We were having to drive eight hours round-trip to go to a doctor’s appointments,” Mark said.
Mark answered a call to pastor Northpoint Baptist Church, where he baptized Andrew and Gracelyn.
Later, when they began Fire & Light Church, Mark said they were surprised to find that the area has a strong Russian immigrant population. It’s a perfect fit. Andrew loves knowing he’s from Russia and he likes learning about the country and learning Russian words.
Both children enjoy helping with the church plant, handing out water at the nearby metro station and helping with backyard Bible clubs. Gracelyn enjoys singing.
Reflecting over the years, Mark said, choking up a bit, “We really believe that if God would have answered those fertility prayers, then we wouldn’t have adopted Andrew.” Amy nods in agreement.
“We really believe that if he wasn’t adopted he probably would have died in that orphanage over there.”
CHILDREN OF THE WORLD…DID YOU KNOW?
— In the world today there are 143 million children who have lost one or both parents. That is almost one half of the population of the United States!
— Every 14 seconds an AIDS death leaves another child orphaned.
— Every year 12 million children around the world become orphans.
— 87.6 million orphans live in Asia.
— 43.4 million orphans live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
— 12.4 million orphans live in Latin America and the Caribbean.
— In Ukraine and Russia, 10%-15% of children who age out of an orphanage commit suicide before age 18.
Source: Jamesone27 Orphan Care, a ministry of Bayside Baptist Church, Chesapeake Beach, Md.
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27 NLT).
Bayside Baptist Church, Chesapeake Beach, has a JAMESone27 orphan care ministry, raising awareness and understanding about the biblical imperative to love orphans and widows.
They teach that even if you can’t adopt (and not everyone should), you can help someone who is adopting or fostering.
What can you do?
- Open your heart to God’s heart for the orphan.
- Recognize your responsibility to find permanent families.
- Prevent children from being orphaned.
- Help orphans in ways that move them out of orphanhood.
- Affirm loving, legal and lasting families by preservation, reunification, or adoption.
- Never forget the local church is key.