God’s Call to Adoption
About the Guest
Some decisions you make as a family. One of those would be the decision to adopt. Hearts at Home founder, Jill Savage, talks about the amazing leap of faith she and her husband, Mark, took when they decided to adopt Kolya, an 8-year-old boy from Russia. See how God continued to confirm their decision and how He generously provided the funds to bring this little boy into their home.
Some decisions you make as a family. One of those would be the decision to adopt.
God’s Call to Adoption
Bob: How many parents, who think about adoption, are focused on their desires for their family? Jill Savage said there was a paradigm shift in her thinking when, instead of thinking about her family; she started thinking about the very real needs of real orphans.
Jill: Honestly, that was the moment I became an adoption advocate because I realized that there are more families out there that need to understand they may not need another child, but there’s a child who needs a family. There are a lot of families that can offer that to children. That was really a profound experience for me.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Jill Savage joins us today to tell us about the journey her family went on that brought a new son home. We’ll hear her story today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There are some decisions, that you make as a family, where if you sat down and you did the list on paper of pros and cons, and, “How logical is this?”, and, “How much sense does this really make?”, you’d go, “No. It’s probably not a good decision;” but you make them anyway because God says you don’t walk by your list, you walk by faith.
Dennis: Whatever is not of faith is sin. It’s not saying we’re to blindly step off into the darkness without having used our minds; but to your point, Bob, when it’s all said and done, God expects us to trust Him with the future and with big decisions. That’s why prayer really matters and why our walk with Christ matters.
Jill Savage has written a book called Real Moms…Real Jesus. Jill, you really believe that real prayer works, too; don’t you?
Jill: I sure do. I’ve seen it work in our lives in many ways.
Dennis: You’ve actually seen prayer work in regards to adoption. Where did adoption come from in your life? You work with moms through Hearts at Home®. You have a ministry to thousands of moms across the country—have five children—but you have a story about adoption that is powerful.
Jill: Yes, actually, adoption never did fit into our lives, at least as far as we knew it. Because my husband and I have four biological children, as far as we were concerned, we were finished. At that point in time, in my life, I thought of adoption—adoption was for families that couldn’t have biological children. That’s the way they built their family. I never once had thought about adoption for the sake of a child who needed a family, but God was going to change that perspective in the journey that He eventually led us on.
Dennis: As a young lady growing up, you’d never thought about it as a teenager?
Jill: No, never crossed my mind. Mark and I—I don’t even think Mark and I—at this point in time, we would have been married 20 years. I don’t think that we’d ever even uttered the word adoption.
Bob: So, what happened to cause this idea to show up on your radar screen?
Jill: Well, I was actually speaking at a mom’s group in our community. A woman walked up to me. She said to me, “Jill, you wouldn’t happen to know of a family who’d be interested in adopting an eight-year-old little boy, whose best friend is a little girl who was adopted by a family in our community several years ago? They’ve been looking for a family for this little girl’s best friend.” I said, “No, I can’t think of anybody who would be interested in adopting an eight-year-old little boy.”
She said, “Well, in case you do, here—here’s his picture.” She handed me a picture. It had contact information. “If you think of anybody, you let me know.” I said, “Okay.” I went to turn and put the picture away. As I glanced down at the picture, it was as if God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Oh, by the way, Jill, I almost forgot to tell you. Let me introduce you to your new son.” I mean, it was just like I knew he was ours. He looked like my boys.
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it! Hold it! Wait a second. You had never, ever entertained the thought of adoption—and you turn a picture over and look into the eyes of an eight- year-old boy—
Jill: —and I said, “He’s mine.”
Dennis: —“He’s mine”?
Jill: But I couldn’t say that aloud nor could I really admit that. All I did was get emotional. That’s what’s going on in my head. I’m thinking, “That’s about the most insane thing I’ve ever thought in my entire life!”
I stood there just—I mean, I was almost frozen—just looking at the picture. I had a friend with me. She walked up to me and said, “Why are you getting emotional about that picture?” I said, “I don’t know. Put it away.” She said, “Well, if you are going to get emotional, I think you should put it in your Bible and pray about it.” I said, “I think you need to go home right now.” (Laughter)
Dennis: “What kind of friend are you?”
Jill: Yes, exactly! She tucked it in my stuff, and I went home. I couldn’t stop thinking about this little guy. My husband came home in the middle of the afternoon—the kids were all at school—and he came home. I said to him, “Honey, I had the weirdest thing that happened to me,” but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the whole truth—okay?
So, this is what I told him: “Somebody handed me a picture of this little boy, and I think we must know the family who’s supposed to adopt him.” He said, “Oh, really? Let me see it.” I went and dug it out, and I gave it to him. He got really quiet; and he said, “Jill, this little guy looks like he belongs in our family.” I said, “Don’t say that because, now, I have to tell you everything that I sensed and I felt!”
I got honest with him; and I said, “This is what my experience was. That’s about the most insane thought I’ve ever had in my whole life!” Both of us—I mean, honestly, we didn’t even know what to do with it. We just said, “Okay, I guess we just need to pray about this because this is like insanity. Why would we even be thinking this?”
We did. We both agreed. We prayed together at that moment. Then, we decided we were just going to talk with the Lord about it individually for the next few days. We would come back together that weekend. We came back together on the weekend and said, “Alright, what do you sense?” Both of us said, “He’s ours. We’ve got a kid on the other side of the world. We’ve got to go get him.”
It was just—still—I’m still pinching myself, going, “This is craziness. Number one, by the time we’re going to adopt him, he’s going to be nine. We’re going to drop a nine-year-old into our family?” He speaks another language. He was in Russia. We never even thought—
Bob: He was in Russia?
Jill: He was in Russia!
Bob: So, his best friend, this little girl, used to live in Russia. She’s now living in Illinois?
Jill: Yes, just down the street from us. We didn’t know their family at all. We thought, “Well, it’s—we better bring our kids along.” We called a family meeting that weekend—little did we know how God was preparing our kids’ hearts ahead of us. You see, from the time—our daughter, Anne, was almost 18 at this point in time—and from the time that she had been about 14, she would say to us, “You know what? I don’t think our family is complete.” We’d look at her like she had two heads. We’d say, “Honey, trust us.” She’d say, “I know that, Mom, but I just don’t feel like our family is complete.” It’s like, “Well, you’re entitled to your feelings, but you’re wrong.” (Laughter)
Then, our son had inherited a set of bunk beds from his brother about two months before this. We would tuck him in every night. He would say, “Who’s going to sleep in that other bunk?” We’d say, “Austin, nobody is going to sleep in that other bunk. That’s for when your cousins come and visit. That’s for when your friends stay over the night after school.” “No, somebody is going to sleep in that other bunk.” We played this little game every night for the last two months.
Dennis: So, even though you had never had the thought about adoption, your kids were pressing the envelope about filling your family out with another child and filling the bunk?
Jill: We really didn’t even see that. We sat down with our kids. We told them the story that had unfolded in the weeks previous and said, “What would you think if you had a brother?” You know, when you have older kids, their first thought, “Are you pregnant?! Ooh, that’s gross!” (Laughter) “No, I’m not pregnant. What if he was nine years old? What if he was from Russia?” They are just like, “What?!”
So, we unfold the story. By the time we finished the story, Annie puts a fist on the table. She says, “I told you our family wasn’t complete!” Austin says, “That’s who’s supposed to sleep in my bunk bed.” It had not crossed Mark and my thoughts that either one of those were a prelude to what we were doing. So, we knew, without a doubt. That was confirmation for us. He was ours. We began to pursue adoption. We said, “Yes,” before we knew the price tag.
Bob: The price tag was?
Bob: Your husband is a senior pastor?
Jill: At this point in time, a senior pastor in a new church plant.
Bob: You’re a stay-at-home mom?
Jill: Yes, stay-at-home mom, and that $34,000 exceeded his annual salary. So, we had no finances to do this. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my friend—a friend of mine—and I was saying to her, “Julie, this is financial suicide. This is craziness. I cannot believe we’re doing this. Yet, if we don’t do it, we’re going to completely be disobedient to what God is pressing on our hearts; but we don’t have the money.” She said to me, “Jill, our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He just needs to sell a few cows to make this happen.”
I’d heard that verse before, but I’d never thought about it in the form of God selling cows. Do you know—within about three weeks, we came up with a family fundraiser—and we made $5,000 on this fundraiser that we did.
Bob: Now, wait. There are families going, “I’d like to do one of those fundraisers. What did you guys do?”
Jill: You know what we did? We made—one night we were playing cards. My grandfather had made these little blocks of wood that had slots in them. So, when the kids are—their hands are too small, they can’t hold a deck of cards—they can put their cards, their hand, in the slots of wood. The kids said, one night as we were playing Uno®, and several of them were using the slots of wood, “Hey, what if we made these and sold them at the Hearts at Home conference coming up?”
We were about a month out from a Hearts at Home conference, where we were going to have almost 5,000 moms at this conference. We said, “I wonder if we could do that?” You know? My husband began to look into it. With the help of our church and every member of our family, we made a thousand of those babies. We sold them for $5, a piece, and made $5,000.
Dennis: There’s a lot of card playing at your conference; isn’t there? (Laughter) You guys have too much fun.
Jill: Those things—I still have women, seven years later, asking me if we still sell those things. (Laughter) We don’t—maybe somebody would like to take over on that.
Bob: Next time you’re going to adopt you’ll do that; right? (Laughter)
Jill: Oh, my goodness.
Dennis: How did God supply the other $30,000 or so?
Jill: Well, you know, within two weeks, we learned about an organization that did grant matching. If you raised $5,000, they would match $5,000. So, within a couple of months, we had $10,000. We did send out letters to family and friends.
We also did another fundraiser—our daughter came up with it. She called it Cooking for Kolya. She created a little menu of our family’s favorite meals. She sold them as freezer meals to her teachers at school. I remember one teacher—we’d put the little story of what we were raising money for on the order form. One teacher at school bought a $6 pan of brownies for $50 because he caught the vision. By the time we made our first trip to Russia, $19,000 we’d raised. We were just amazed that God had sold that many cows.
Dennis: Walking into a Russian orphanage, though—that is an emotional scene.
Jill: It was very emotional. It was very emotional to see the number of kids who did not have families of their own. That was probably the first time I’d ever really seen poverty. Probably, where my throat got kind of closed off and the emotion hit was when I walked into a room. Kolya wanted to show me his bed. His bed was one of 18 beds in a room. He proudly walked over to his bed to say, “This is where I sleep.” As I looked at this room, that was just full of beds, I thought, “Who sits down and tucks these kids in at night?” Then, I realized, “Nobody does. There’s nobody to tuck them in at night, and everything that Kolya owned fit into his pockets.” That was eye-opening to me. It really was.
Honestly, that was the moment I became an adoption advocate because I realized that there are more families out there that need to understand they may not need another child; but there’s a child who needs a family. There are a lot of families that can offer that to children. That was really a profound experience for me.
Now, I will say I did not instantly bond with Kolya. I mean, I enjoyed my time with Kolya, but I wasn’t bonded to him. So, we got a knock on our door—the way that this worked out is Kolya could stay with us. He stayed in the hotel with us for three days so that we could bond with him—we could get to know him—and, ultimately, make a decision whether we really wanted to adopt him. So, you go back for the second trip.
We got a knock, meaning it was time to go to dinner. Kolya misinterpreted that. When we said, in our limited Russian, that it was time to go—we told him it was time to go to dinner—he thought we were leaving for real. He began to cry. He began to cry, and he was inconsolable. I finally said to Mark, “Go get an interpreter. I don’t know what he is not understanding here.” As Kolya just cried and cried, I found myself scooping him into my lap—just like I would when the kids were really little.
Without even realizing it, I began to just rock him, and hold him, and began to whisper the words, lyublyu, into his ears—which, lyublyu in Russian is, “I love you.” I realized in that moment that, “This was my child.” He needed me just as much as my other four, across the ocean. I had not seen that kind of emotion out of him, but that emotion really connected with my emotion and my nurturing side. That was a very bonding moment for us as mother and son—pretty powerful experience.
Bob: Hearing you tell this story can stir somebody’s heart. I just want to make sure, that while we’re stirring hearts, we’re also giving a little reality check because there may be some moms or dads listening who are going, “Is God tapping me on the shoulder?” If he is, you need to be listening and paying attention; but the wise builder counts the cost—just give us a reality check about introducing a nine-year-old boy into a family of six, already.
Dennis: A Russian nine-year-old boy into an American family.
Jill: Yes, it was exhausting. Our older daughter, who was actually in college by the time we adopted Kolya, and our youngest son, actually bonded with him immediately. They were also the two that had that vision ahead of time—immediately bonded with him. Our two middle children struggled.
Probably, about two and a half months in, my son came to me—and he was 16 at the time. He said, “You know what mom? It feels like he’s the neighborhood kid who doesn’t go home.” I thought, “Wow!” You know what? That’s a pretty accurate description for what it sometimes feels, even for me. I really appreciated his honesty. I affirmed his honesty; and I said, “You know what? Evan, that’s the way it sometimes feels for us, as well; but we’re in a season where we have to choose to love. We know that God brought him to us. I know that over time that’s going to happen—that we’re going to be able to see him fully integrate into our family.”
I will tell you a funny story that happened about nine months after that conversation with Evan. Our family went out to have ice cream. I heard one of the kids say, “So, Kolya, in Russia, did you have ice cream?” He said, “Yes, we had ice cream; but in the orphanage, we didn’t get it very often.” They went on to ask some more questions.
Before long, Kolya’s saying, “Yes, sometimes, I had to like dig through garbage cans to have food.” I’m thinking, “That’s actually not true.” He didn’t have to dig through garbage. I’m thinking, “This kid is spinning a tale.” I’m listening, and he’s talking a little more. He is just pulling the sentimental out them and the pity out of them. They’re just like, “Really?” He’s like, “Yes.” Then, he goes on a little more. “Really?” Finally, he says, “Nope. I’m just kidding you.” (Laughter)
I will tell you what—that was a bonding experience for those kids because they realized that he could dish it out just like they could. He became their brother in that weekend. They still look back on that and tell that story of where they realized, but that was a year in before they had that bonding experience. I would say we turned a corner with that. It began to be a more positive experience for them.
Dennis: Well, the regular listeners to FamilyLife Today know this is a subject that we have a tender heart for. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep one’s self unstained from the world.”
I don’t understand it, Jill. I’m sure you don’t either, but there is something about going near the orphan that puts you very close to the heart of God. For those who are called to adopt, that’s a great privilege. It will not be as easy as you thought it might be; but for all of us, I think—I think we are called to go near in various ways—either to help the orphan through giving, through coming alongside those who do minister to them, foster care kids. Some of our children, who are now adults, are thinking about getting in the foster care system and, perhaps, adopting.
I would just challenge the listener if, indeed, as Bob said, “They’ve been touched”—maybe not as profoundly as you were by looking at Kolya’s picture—but if they’ve been touched by this, they need to ask God, “What do you want me to do?”
Jill: I agree.
Dennis: “What do you want me to do about the 140 million orphans there are in the world?” This is a catastrophic, humanitarian need that only the church, only the body of Christ, is capable of addressing today.
Bob: Well, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, we’ve got a link to the area of our site where we can help you think through how you can respond to the issue of orphans—what you can do. In fact, we’ve got information there that offers ten ways that you can go near the needy child—the adopted child. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about our Hope for Orphans® outreach and how you can play a part in caring for the orphans around the world.
Dennis: Jill, I want to say, “Thanks,” to you and Mark for being obedient to God. I think you mentioned the word, “crazy”, about ten times; but ultimately, it was a step of faith. By the way, I understand what you’re talking about there. I just appreciate you, your ministry, and your book, Real Moms…Real Jesus. You’re a real person. Thanks for being on FamilyLife Today.
Jill: Thank you. Thank you.
Bob: We have got copies of that book, by the way, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order a copy from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request a copy of the book, Real Moms…Real Jesus—great book to give to mom as a Mother’s Day gift. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order, or call us at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
I have to tell you our team here is—we’ve been very busy in the last several weeks. We are finishing up a project—actually, hoping to finish it up this month. We’ve been working on taking themes from Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, and making that into a video series for guys to go through in the men’s group at their church or with a group of other guys. If you’ve got three or four friends, just invite them over and go through this together.
We’re pretty excited about how this is shaping up and so are some friends of ours. In fact, we’ve had some friends of the ministry who have come to us recently and said, “We want to make sure that this Stepping Up material gets finished on time. We want to make sure that you’ve got the funds you need to do what needs to be done.”
So, what they’ve done is they’ve put together a matching-gift fund, which has $650,000 in it. They’ve said, “During the month of May, any money that your listeners donate to FamilyLife Today, we will match that dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $650,000.” Of course, their hope is that you’ll be excited about what’s happening here at FamilyLife and that might motivate you to go online or to call us and make a gift this month. Of course, knowing that that gift is going to be doubled—that it’s going to be matched dollar-for-dollar—that should provide some additional incentive, as well. Would you consider doing that? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation; or call, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY. I just want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you’re able to do in helping us take full advantage of this matching-gift opportunity.
Now, tomorrow, hope you can be back with us. We’re going to talk about generosity. We’re going to talk about how we, as parents, can help our children develop a heart of generosity—cultivate that as a character quality. Brad Formsma joins us tomorrow. Hope you can be with us, as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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