Published on 9/3/2013
By Warren Bird
The Colorado Heart Gallery displays professional portraits and short biographies of over 100 children waiting to be adopted. The galleries travel monthly to various locations to connect with prospective families and provide resources for the adoption journey.
LifeBridge Church (Longmont, CO) has found an innovative approach to a major challenge. Partnering with at least 30 other churches as well as state and local governments, LifeBridge is helping reduce the number of children who are waiting for a “forever family” in Colorado’s child welfare system, going from 875 kids on a waiting list 6 years ago to 275 children today. That’s nearly a 70% reduction in waiting children.
“The spirit of collaboration has been remarkable, as this story and the solution have grown way beyond our church and our city to the entire state,” says Brian Mavis, Director of Community Involvement at LifeBridge. “This problem is being wiped out in our state, and the church has accomplished a huge part of that.”
“We all realized this is a big problem, and there is no way one church could solve it. The Body of Christ was going to have to come together.” (Hear Brian in the video below.)
Warren Bird, research director for Leadership Network, interviews Brian Mavis, director of community for of LifeBridge Christian Church on the topic of foster care and adoption.
LifeBridge Senior Pastor Rick Rusaw was sensitive to the plight of foster children, his mother being a product of the foster care system. And Brian and his family were aware of the needs of “legally free” children—wards of the state who are free to be fostered or adopted—since they had fostered eight boys over the years.
“We were praying at night with our girls, and my wife introduced the simple prayer of ‘God, help orphans,’ ” Brian said. “God said to us, ‘I want to do that, and I want you to be part of the answer.’ We didn’t know what to do other than sponsor a child in Kenya. Then we realized there are orphans in America that need forever families.”
About that time, Brian met with a staff member from the Boulder County (CO) Human Services and Child Welfare Department about kids and foster care. “First, she thanked me for meeting with her,” Brian says. “She said she had tried for three years to get a church to accept a meeting with her, and we were the first. That was a little disheartening.”
The Adopt Colorado Kids webpage features photos and videos with children waiting to be adopted like the sibling group below that have now been happily placed with their forever family.
The woman, a former nun who had worked in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects for 20 years, had a simple and profound challenge for LifeBridge leaders to consider: Raise up enough foster and adoptive parents to care for all wards of the state, for the first time in the Boulder County’s history.
“She said, ‘Here’s my goal, and I want to see if the church is willing to help me meet it: I want to change who waits,’ ” Brian says. “What she meant was, I want the grownups to wait. I want potential parents to be on the waiting list, not kids to be on the waiting list.”
“I said, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s try to reach that goal.’ ”
Are You Tough Enough?
LifeBridge leaders taught on the biblical principles of adoption, challenging members to care for orphans. “We explained that we’ve all been adopted,” Brian says. “We’re not responding to a need, we’re not responding to a cause. We’re doing this because we’ve been loved and we’ve been adopted.”
“We’re just reflecting the heart of God in doing this.”
LifeBridge members prayed and considered being involved with adoption initiative on a 1 to 10 scale—a 1 being a commitment to pray for an orphan, up to a 9 being foster parenting and a 10 being adoption.
“This captured the hearts of our church,” Brian says. “There are a lot of good causes out there, but this one came to us. We responded because we believe God was bringing this to us. This government agency approached the church—in our community that’s like cats and dogs living together.”
“This was a very secular agency saying, ‘We need the church to respond.’ ”
And respond it did. Within one year, Boulder County had more potential parents than legally free children for the first time in its 27-year history. “It was overwhelming and almost too easy,” Brian says. “We had to work on toughening up people’s hearts, and remind them these kids have been really hurt and emotionally broken. We have to make sure you’re tough enough to do something like this.”
“Heart Gallery” Stirring Hearts
One of the primary elements God has used to move the hearts of people toward foster care and adoption is the “Colorado Heart Gallery”—a traveling display of professional photographs of some of the children available for adoption. “The Gallery turned statistics into faces,” Brian said.
Adopt Colorado Kids helps children waiting in Colorado’s foster care to find permanent, loving families.
The Heart Gallery is normally hosted at public venues like Colorado’s State Capitol, but LifeBridge leaders requested a duplicate model dedicated to churches. The State agreed, and asked Brian and his wife to manage the church version, which moved month to month to churches in the area. Two years ago, the State’s top child permanency official asked the Mavises to oversee the entire Heart Gallery project.
“She told us they no longer wanted this gallery and these kids to be viewed as the ‘State’s kids’—wards of the State,” Brian says. “She wanted the community to see it as ‘our’ gallery and ‘our’ kids.”
There are now three identical galleries that travel the state, and videos have also been added. “Now, we not only share their faces, we can help share their stories, their voices,” Brian says. The goal of the current group of churches working together is to have 100 more Colorado churches involved by National Adoption Month in November—and soon achieve the original goal of no waiting kids.
“The sub-text running through all this is that God is using the least of these—orphans—to unite his church,” Brian says. “Different denominations, different races are coming together in a spirit of unity and collaboration, and God is using orphans to do that.”