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Open Homes, Open Hearts

Foster parents show Christina compassion to children in crisis

By Christina Quick

When Jason and Dana Mitzel became foster parents nearly a decade ago, they didn’t view it as a job or even as a way to start a family.

After years of trying to conceive, the Mitzels, who attend First Assembly of God in Fargo, N.D., sensed God calling them to open their home to kids in need.

“We weren’t thinking of adopting at the time,” says Jason Mitzel, who with his wife manages a Christian bookstore called the Rainbow Shop. “We went into it wanting to help out kids as best we can. We saw it as a ministry. We agreed to take tougher cases, kids that are harder to place.”

They became foster parents through the Professional Association of Treatment Homes, an organization that facilitates foster care for children who might otherwise be institutionalized because of emotional, behavioral or medical needs.

That’s how they met Brandon, a 4-year-old Native American who had been abused and suffered from fetal alcohol effects and reactant attachment disorder. Though caring for the high-energy preschooler was a challenge, the Mitzels soon grew to love him and decided to give him a chance at a permanent home. As they took the first steps toward adoption, they discovered Brandon had brothers and sisters.

Over the course of the next several years, the Mitzels adopted Brandon and all four of his siblings — brothers Ben and Johnny, and half-sisters Sky Rain and Alicia. The girls’ adoptions were finalized last year.

It hasn’t always been easy. All five kids have struggled behaviorally and emotionally as a result of past abuse and neglect. Today the children, who range in age from 8 to 14, are learning to function as a healthy family, even though social workers initially told the Mitzels that the siblings couldn’t be united as a functional family. In April, the Mitzels welcomed a new sibling when Dana, 35, gave birth to a baby girl, Faith.

“We’ve had to rely on God and His guidance every step of the way,” says Jason Mitzel, 37. “This whole process has really opened our eyes to His love and grace.”

In 2006, there were 510,000 children in foster care in the United States, according to the federal Child Welfare Information Gateway. Nearly half were in the homes of nonrelatives. A majority had been in the foster care system for a year or longer.

There is a need for Christians who are willing to love such children and provide them with a stable home environment, according to Randy Martin, who oversees Covenant Community Services, a foster care and adoption agency founded by Canyon Hills Assembly of God in Bakersfield, Calif.

“We see our foster parents as missionaries,” Martin says. “You don’t just sign up to be a missionary. You need a call of God. We need people who will commit to loving kids who come from some of the most horrific and challenging backgrounds imaginable.”

In addition to placing children with foster parents and facilitating adoptions, Covenant Community Services operates programs that provide housing and mentoring for young adults who age-out of the foster system, used furniture and other household items for parents who reunite with their children, and training and emotional support for foster parents. Covenant also hosts Royal Family Kids Camps, a Christian summer camp program for children in foster care.

“Foster care is a crisis in America right now,” Martin says. “Kids are being bounced around from foster home to foster home. People of faith have got to stand up. If we fail to act, we fail in our duty to help the hurting and fatherless.”

While not everyone is called to take in foster children, Martin says every Christian can help.

“At a minimum, people can pray and encourage foster families in their church,” Martin says.

Charlotte Pope, who attends First Assembly of God in Bloomfield, Mo., provided long-term foster care for 72 children in a 25-year span. In addition, she and her husband, Ed, raised two biological children and four adopted children. They also ran a local children’s home for several years.

Now 69, Pope is still involved in the lives of many of the children who passed through her home. They often stop to visit when they are in the area, bringing their spouses and children. Some are now strong Christians, while others have repeated the mistakes of previous generations.

“I keep praying for them and encouraging them to give their hearts to the Lord,” she says. “I still believe what was instilled in them while they were in my home will one day bear fruit.”

Pope says her deep concern for the safety and spiritual development of these children kept her working so many years as a foster parent.

“There was always the thought of the next one that came along,” Pope says. “Do they know God? Have they even heard of His name? I wanted to try to help them get on the right road. We could never say no if we thought there was any way at all we could help one of them.”

Rod Kilsdonk, pastor of Baker Assembly of God in Montana, says he and his wife, Lisa, recently became foster parents for the same reason.

“Usually, these kids come from homes where they don’t know right from wrong,” Rod Kilsdonk says. “They don’t know how to live in society or be part of a healthy family. Who better to teach them these things than Christians?”

The Kilsdonks, who have three grown children and a teen still at home, last year served as foster parents for three siblings. Two of the foster children have since returned to their mother, who now attends Baker Assembly and recently accepted Christ as Savior. The middle child currently lives in a group home because of behavior problems.

“Solid believers can show hurting children and broken families the life of abundance in Jesus Christ,” Martin says.

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly of God.

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