Busy with duties as leader of a youth summer camp, the last thing on Casey Gibbons’ mind was orphan care and adoption. She and her husband Scotty were heavily involved in on-staff ministry at James River Assembly of God in Ozark, Missouri. Casey, already mother to two daughters under three, was pregnant with their third child. Still, as she worked online, a pop-up message on the screen that mentioned waiting children piqued her interest. According to Casey, “I had never thought about waiting children or orphan care, but I began to read about the needs here in America and around the world. I was overwhelmed with a call of God to do something, even though I sat there pregnant with my third baby and had a one- and two-year-old. It was purely God at work.”
A Call to Orphan Care
Casey didn’t know it at the time, but God was working in a similar manner in her lead pastors’ lives as well (John and Debbie Lindell):
There was a young foster boy who came into the church and had caused some trouble in class. When Debbie went to her office prepared to lecture him, she was met by a small body and big brown eyes that looked innocent and lost. She took him in her arms and talked with him about the Lord, as well as how to be in class. From that day, she and Pastor John knew it was time the church started reaching out to these hurting children in our community. It was divine that the Lord was stirring all of our hearts at the same time.
During a meeting at the Gibbons’ home, the two couples decided to move forward in prayer and research. After much hard work, James River Assembly birthed Cherish Kids, a ministry dedicated to bringing hope to foster and orphaned children around the world.
Cherish Kids accomplishes this in three main ways: by promoting awareness of the need for orphan care locally and globally, by connecting potential families with necessary resources, and by supporting foster and adoptive parents before, during, and after a child is placed with them.
That she is currently a joyful homeschooling mother of five daughters demonstrates God’s purely transforming grace in Casey’s life. She spent her teen years focused on herself, school, and activities — including winning the Miss American Teen national pageant in 1998. Though raised in a Christian family, she came into marriage without much training or experience with young children. Casey found herself pregnant with her second child just three months after her first, despite suffering a broken back, reconstructive surgery, and postpartum depression.
In the midst of this, the Lord led her to search through Scripture for God’s heart for children. In obedience and surrender, Casey promised the Lord she would obey him and have as many children as he wished to be a resource for his purposes. God brought this prayer to fruition in the couple’s biological children, as well as the nine children that have come to their home for respite care. Although several young children have come through their lives, so far, other people have become the children’s permanent families. Casey’s prayer is that one day she and Scotty will be chosen as the family for one or more children waiting for an adoptive home.
At its launch in 2008, Cherish Kids relied solely on volunteer help. In the beginning, Casey was involved in the day-to-day operations. Soon, though, the ministry was flourishing, and a full-time staff member, Marla Robison, was added in addition to the dozens of volunteers that offer their time and help to move things along. The Gibbons, now homeschooling parents to five girls ages two to ten, are involved in several other ministry duties at James River Assembly of God. They serve together as Student Ministries Directors, while Scotty serves the church on the Executive Leadership and preaching teams. Casey is on the Executive Team for women’s ministry. In addition, they both write books and travel to speak to churches and conferences. Currently, Casey is involved as an advisory board member and networking waiting children with adoptive families at Cherish Kids.
Casey’s heart for children is evident as she recounts this story of the early days of Cherish Kids ministry:
When I was still in the research stages of Cherish Kids, I visited the local county office to learn more about the needs of our area. One of the workers greeted me but apologized that she couldn’t talk long, because there were three young children on the other side of the door waiting in her office for a foster placement. It was less than two hours away from the office time of closing, and there still was no place to send the children.
Cherish Kids at Work
According to the most current AFCARS (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report) report released in July 2012, there were approximately 400,540 children in the U.S. in foster care on September 30, 2011. Nearly 2000 of these children were located in Missouri alone. The need for foster and adoptive parents is staggering. The staff and volunteers at Cherish Kids are working hard to change this.
In 2012, through Cherish Kids’ efforts, 200 families offered to volunteer, foster, adopt, or provide respite care. A November 2012 expo saw twenty-eight foster care and sixty-eight adoption inquiries. God used a Cherish Kids Adoption Expo to speak to Kimberley and her husband. “My husband and I were at the Cherish Kids Adoption Expo a few weeks ago and started the adoption process!” she writes. “We were always planning on adopting, but God really spoke to us on that day and it all started in motion.”
Marla Robinson, Cherish Kids’ Assistant Director, loves her job. When asked about a typical day at Cherish Kids, she simply states, “As for an average day . . . they do not exist.” Marla adds, “God has gone before us and given us great favor with local state agencies and adoption agencies. Many days of the week, I receive phone calls or emails requesting assistance in finding an emergency home for a child. I receive calls from foster families asking for much-needed items for their new child coming into their home or just a request for a gift card for clothing for the child. I am always working on the many details of our next event, and I’m excited to promote it in the community and invite families to come and be encouraged on their journey.”
Cherish Kids offers a number of services to help children.
Quarterly “Foster/Adoption Connection” events raise awareness of the need for adoptive and foster families. One major fundraising and outreach event hosted by Cherish Kids is a 5K/10K walk/run. The walk/run is held at James River South Campus, in Ozark, Missouri. A Kids K for children twelve and under allows for participation by the whole family. The day also includes live music, kids’ activities, giveaways, and a silent auction as well.
Part of the Cherish Kids’ duties include maintaining an active Facebook and Twitter presence in order to encourage families, raise awareness of specific needs, find families for children in emergency situations, and appreciate sponsors and donors. Recent posts have included placement requests for children coming into foster care, furniture and equipment needs, donated items available to families, and words of encouragement. Cherish Kids also helps foster families locate necessities such as beds and school supplies. Another important service that Cherish Kids offers is distributing gift cards and camp scholarships for foster families who are receiving a new child into their care. Families can call the Cherish Kids’ office, and they will be helped with the financial assistance they need.
The ministry has built relationships with their county office in Missouri. Marla receives Cherish Kids’ intake forms from families interested in foster care. After she emails them to the county, county officials follow up with a phone call to the family, answer any questions, and help the family sign up for foster classes. Casey notes:
God has blessed Cherish Kids since its beginning in 2008, which is no surprise when you consider how close orphans are to the heart of the Lord. The state reps in Jefferson City have noted and honored the ministry as one of the Top 3 organizations making a notable difference here in Missouri. One of the things that makes Cherish Kids unique is our relationship with the state. Our heart is to partner directly with the government workers to bring more foster and adoptive families, as well as encourage the work they are doing to help children.
God Moves through Cherish Kids
Not only have children found permanent homes through the work Cherish Kids has done, but some have been introduced to the Lord as well. Shalene, sixteen, states, “I found God through my foster family.” Shalene’s foster family attended James River Assembly of God. Though at first she had no desire to attend church or hear about the Lord, her foster parents continued to pray daily that she would come to know the Lord. Her foster parents prayers were answered when, during a Sunday morning service, Shalene raised her hand to receive salvation. God filled a void in her life that nothing else could. According to Casey, “Shalene knows that her Christian foster parents gave her the opportunity to have a family that loves her, cares for her, and ultimately showed her Christ’s love for her. She found God because she was in a Christian foster home.”
One Cherish Kids family, the Gillmans, stepped out in faith and were blessed in return. “Our journey was long and it stretched us farther than I ever thought we could be stretched, but we saw God move in mighty ways. He provided funds at just the right time, he drew us closer to him and closer to each other. Our daughter who journeyed this process with us offered her heart to Jesus, and two children once alone in this world were no longer fatherless. I still can’t tell you why our journey was so long or why we started out with El Salvador and ended up in Ethiopia. What I can tell you is that God knew exactly the two children who should come into our lives and he knew exactly what we would need to walk through in order to be ready for those two children he had in mind. I could provide you a lot more detail regarding our adoption, but the ending would be the same with or without that . . . it would still be this: We have been changed! We have been blessed!”
Catching God’s Vision for Orphan Care
Casey Gibbons’ heartfelt desire is to raise awareness of the nearly 2,000 orphans in the state of Missouri in need of a home. “We need families and individuals to open their homes and help on this rescue mission. We would like to have more television, radio, and billboard ads to let people know that we can ALL do something.” When asked if there is anything else she would like people to know, Casey’s plea is for everyone to seek God for their role in orphan and foster care:
I want people to be open to stepping out in radical faith to rescue children. There is a young family with three biological children four years old and under that has stepped out in faith and has now adopted three teenage girls! And there is another couple in their mid-forties that had already raised their three children and now have adopted three siblings under the age of five! Single people can help too. Sally N. is a twenty-something single businesswoman who heard God speak to her heart to become a foster parent, and she has been able to influence babies, children, and teens in the past couple of years. When God calls you to do something, it doesn’t matter what most people say or do. He will help you and guide you!
Since their first meeting with Pastor John and Debbie Lindell about orphan and foster care ministry, the Gibbons have seen their vision grow. Casey remembers that early on, she thought that setting aside a Sunday at church to promote orphan care and encourage families to foster and adopt would be a huge step forward. But, as she says, God’s ways are higher than our ways. He had a full-time ministry planned that would do much more than just a one-time Sunday service could. Casey observes, “My vision has been to see hundreds of children and teens fill our church as they are introduced to Jesus and loved in a safe family. We are beginning to see that vision come true. A couple of Sundays ago I counted out seven children in just ten minutes that passed me, who were either adopted or in a foster home. We have a ways to go, but many children are being saved not only from their family struggles, but also from eternity apart from the Lord as they are entering Christian foster families. It is beautiful!!!”
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27 NKJV).
Cherish Kids Mission
Cherish Kids is a non-profit organization committed to a threefold mission:
- RAISE AWARENESS of the needs of children in crisis locally, statewide and around the world.
- OFFER RESOURCES by providing credible information and guidance to families and individuals who desire to help.
- PROVIDE SUPPORT by assisting children in crisis with essential needs and providing financial, emotional and spiritual support to families and individuals in their effort to foster and adopt.
Resources for Starting an Orphan Care Ministry
How to Help
- Adopt, foster, or offer respite care for waiting and foster children.
- Pray for children in crisis as well as foster and adoptive families.
- Take meals to newly adoptive families.
- Give gifts at Christmas or other holidays.
- Mentor a teen in foster care.
- Send notes of encouragement to foster families.
- Start a Bible study at a children’s home.
- Help renovate state offices where children play during visits.
- Make financial gifts to organizations who are working to make a difference in children’s lives.
- Provide needed supplies or services for foster families.
How to Contact Cherish Kids
James River Assembly of God
6100 North 19th Street
Ozark, MO 65721
(417) 581-KIDS (5437)
Finding Cherish Kids Online
Originally published at Hedua.com.