A mission to care for foster children
By Deborah Leuthold, Photos by Amy Dillman | Oct 21, 2021
You’ve probably heard stories of childless couples getting pregnant after seeking to adopt a child or becoming foster parents.
They weren’t childless, but that’s what happened to Chad and Jana Murrell when they began the foster parent licensing process through Arms of Love Foster Care, a ministry of Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries (ABCS). At the time, they were living in Lake Havasu, where Chad was on the staff of Calvary Baptist Church. He is now the senior pastor at First Southern Baptist Church of Scottsdale.
Although he and Jana were not seeking to expand their family, they had decided to become foster parents. Knox, the Murrells’ only son at the time, soon became a big brother to Declan.
With the arrival of Declan, Chad and Jana decided at first to provide respite care for foster families rather than diving right into taking children into their home.
“We took care of foster children for several families for short periods of time, allowing the foster parents time away to care for other obligations or for rest,” Chad says.
After he became pastor in Scottsdale and their move was completed, they decided the time was right, and they got their first foster child.
Chad says fostering is a life of pursuing sacrificial love, not one of comfort. That commitment became more real when they received their third foster child.
The child, 14 weeks old, came with significant health issues. As a result of severe neglect and abuse, the child required multiple doctor visits and consultations with specialists.
Before a year was out, a sibling joined the foster child already in their home. It wasn’t long before a strong bond formed within the whole family.
The experience with the siblings was painful, says Jana. After loving and nurturing these children for 18 months, the court ruled the children would go back to their birth parents.
What seemed like a crushing reality was in the hands of God. Within a day of hearing the news, they had to turn over the boys to their parents. Through the trial, it was determined the neglect and abuse had been at the hands of others and not the parents.
“We were devastated,” Jana says. “We cried, we mourned, we grieved. But I was determined to maintain a relationship with the parents, to keep contact with the fosters, always with the hope of sharing the gospel with the family. The mother is Buddhist, but the father has no religious aim. We pray for the whole family regularly.”
One might ask, “Why do you do this?”
With all the ups and downs of fostering children, accompanied by a rollercoaster of emotions, the Murrells’ answer is simple.
“First of all, God commands us to care for widows and orphans in James 1:27,” Chad says. “As for us, we’ve always had a heart for children who are hurting. We approach it with the thought, ‘If we don’t do this, who will?’ … We must do this!”
There are many children in foster care in need of a loving family, he says. On any given day, there are thousands of children in foster care and approximately only 4,500 foster families.
“Sometimes, people will say to us, ‘I could never foster a child. It would be too heartbreaking to let them go back to their parents after bonding with them,’” Chad says. “I just say this, ‘These children are desperate. They need love and Jesus more than I need to protect my emotions.’”
- Opportunities to show the love and hope found in Jesus are endless as Arms of Love foster families serve children, birth families and all those involved in the child’s life.
- Raise awareness about the need for foster families and advocate for children.
- Prayerfully consider becoming a licensed foster family. The need is great.
- Learn how to live out the biblical mandate to care for orphans. Here are ways your church can support the cause of orphan care:
- Dedicate a service or sermon series on defending the defenseless, including children without homes in the community.
- Mobilize members to support foster children and parents within your church.
- Volunteer to provide childcare for foster families at church, or at Arms of Love Foster Care events and trainings.
- Inform the congregation and foster families that Christian licensing agencies are available to support them in caring for the growing number of children in care.
- Request an Arms of Love speaker and host an orientation. Invite interested families to contact ABCS about fostering and adopting.
- For more information, call 800-678-0648 or go to abcsfostercare.com.
- Give generously to God through your church. When you give to your church and your church gives through the Cooperative Program, 7% goes to ABCS in support of its mission “to provide hope and care to hurting children and families through Christ-centered ministries.”
Deborah Leuthold, a freelance writer living in Litchfield Park, is a member of Avondale Baptist Church.
Amy Dillman, owner of Arizona Wildflower Photography, is a member of Northern Hills Community Church, Phoenix.