One Church Responds to the Orphan Crisis
About the Guest
Pastor Matt Carter says that his church alone has enough families to absorb and adopt all the orphans and foster kids in the counties surrounding Austin, Texas. Hear how Matt and his friend and colleague Aaron Ivey caught the infectious passion for orphan care, and encouraged their church to join them in that mission.
Hear how Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey encouraged their church to join them in the mission of orphan care.
One Church Responds to the Orphan Crisis
Bob: Austin, Texas, pastor, Matt Carter, says, “When you look at the issue of adoption, by the numbers, something is not adding up.”
Matt: There are over 250 adoptable children in the city of Austin. We have 8,000 people that regularly attend The Austin Stone Community Church.
Dennis: Just in your church?
Matt: Yes, sir. That’s just in mine. We’re not talking about the other 250 evangelical churches in Austin. I’m talking about ours. I made the challenge to our church and the churches of Austin: “Why should it not be the other way around? Why should not the thousands of Christians in the city of Austin be lined up to be adopting 250 kids?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today what one pastor and one church is trying to do to care for the needs of orphans. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, seeing our friend, Paul Pennington, in the studio—I think I know what we’re going to be talking about today; don’t you?
Dennis: You know it’s good to have you here, Paul. Thanks for giving leadership to Hope for Orphans®.
Paul: Well, thank you for letting me be here.
Dennis: He’s a champion for those who have no voice. Joining him is—are you his pastor? I mean, you really are. You want to claim that you are Paul Pennington’s pastor. [Laughter]
Matt: Absolutely—with pleasure.
Dennis: We could take you under church discipline, right now! [Laughter]
Matt: I’m guilty.
Dennis: Yes. Well, that’s Matt Carter, who is pastor of Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. Welcome to the broadcast.
Matt: It’s good to be here.
Dennis: And your worship leader here, Aaron Ivey, joins us. Aaron—
Aaron: Good to be here.
Dennis: —glad you are here.
Aaron: Thank you.
Bob: And I just have to imagine—did you know what you were getting into when you shook hands with Paul and welcomed him into the church?
Matt: Not at all——had no idea. Didn’t know I was going to end up on the radio, but it—
Bob: You should have called because I would have told you, “If you don’t have an outreach to orphans, it’s in your future.” Once Paul is in the church, that’s kind of a—it’s going to happen. But was it already happening, Paul, when you got there?
Paul: Well, I will say this, “What I never expected was that one day, in my life, as a Longhorn, that my pastor would be a Ross Volunteer.” [Laughter] That’s what—which for the listeners, you might need to explain about what a Ross Volunteer is.
Bob: That would be an Aggie. Would that be an Aggie?
Paul: That’s an Aggie.
Bob: Yes, that’s right. And you—
Dennis: So, you really are under authority—
Paul: I am.
Matt: Of a Texas Aggie.
Dennis: —of a Texas Aggie. We want to be real clear about that. Have you got him to “Whoop” yet? [Laughter]
Matt: No, but the Lord called me from Texas A & M to the unreached people group of Austin, Texas. So, that’s why I’m there. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, you two guys are in cahoots together and really are wrapping your arms around this orphan issue. Tell us—first of all, beginning with you, Matt—how did you get off into it?
Matt: You know, it’s interesting—I was listening to—today, to congresswoman, Michele Bachmann. She talked about how—
Dennis: Let’s just interrupt you there. Let’s explain what he’s talking about.
Bob: That’s right. We’re recording this program at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit IX, which took place, as our listeners are listening to this—it took place, back in May, in Nashville, Tennessee. There were about 2,400 people who gathered for the Summit. We had the opportunity to interview Congresswoman Bachmann as a part of the Summit. So, that’s what you were listening to; right?
Matt: That’s right. I’d never heard her speak. I thought she was amazing. One of the things that she said today was that—for every person, who engages in the plight of the orphan, at some point in time, God breaks their hearts for the orphan. And for me, that happened about four years ago—maybe, five, at this point.
I was taking my first sabbatical as a pastor. I started the church ten years ago and had been running and gunning for a long time—young church, growing really fast. My elders encouraged me to take some time off. So, I took a month off and—
Dennis: Let me just explain something to our listeners. They went from zero—or I guess, two people—
Matt: Yes, sir.
Dennis: —you and your wife—
Matt: That’s right.
Dennis: —to 8,000—
Matt: That’s right.
Dennis: —in 11 years.
Matt: That’s right.
Dennis: So, we’re talking about a lot of Longhorns? [Laughter]
Matt: That’s right.
Paul: A lot of Aggies, too. [Laughter]
Matt: Lot of Longhorns.
Dennis: You did need a sabbatical, though?
Matt: Yes, sir, I did.
Dennis: That kind of jet-sled start can result in serious physical and spiritual fatigue.
Matt: And honestly, that’s the reason I did take the sabbatical. I think I was at a time when I needed that break—and was physically and spiritually fatigued. Took a month off, went to—had a friend of mine, in the church—that provided a house for me, up in the mountains. I went.
And there was just a day—I was sitting, there, on the side of a mountain. I was reading the Old Testament. As I sat there, one of the themes that I noticed over and over again, as I read the Old Testament, was God’s heart for the orphan, and the widow, and the least of these. Then, all of a sudden—and you compare that to the New Testament—and you start realizing, “Okay, there is a reason that God says this is pure and undefiled religion.” I put the two together.
God is showing His heart for the orphan because that’s what He’s showing us a picture of in the New Testament—is our adoption into His family. So, I just got a heart for the orphan. My heart was broken for the orphan through the Bible.
Dennis: And we want to hear more about what you’ve done. Aaron, tell us about you. How did you go near the orphan?
Aaron: Well, my wife and I have been married for 12 years. Even before we got married, adoption was a part of some of our conversations. We had known a few families that had adopted. So, we just kind of assumed that that would be something that would happen later on in our lives—after our kids went off to school or something like that—that maybe, we would pursue adoption.
We were living in Nashville, Tennessee, for about six years. There were a lot of our friends that were adopting from China, at the time. So, we went into an adoption informational meeting—had no idea what we were doing. We had a 15-month-old son—biological son. Jamie was pushing him in the stroller, but we’re in this informational meeting. God just began to stir our hearts for adoption and for building our family with adoption being the center of how God would build our family. So, that’s really what catapulted us into it.
Bob: And Deacon was your first adopted child?
Aaron: That’s right.
Aaron: That’s right.
Bob: You thought you were going to bring home a servant to start off with. [Laughter]
Aaron: That’s right. Deacon was our first adoption—domestic adoption. We, actually, were there for his birth. We drove all the way to San Antonio, Texas, and met his birth mom. We were there for his birth. So, my oldest son—he was the first one to hold Deacon at the hospital.
Bob: Wow; wow. Then, two children—both adopted from Haiti; right?
Bob: Tell us that story.
Aaron: Yes. Amos and Story are their names. We first—
Dennis: Now, wait a second. The names are Amos, and what’s the other one?
Dennis: That’s cool. I really do like that.
Aaron: Thanks. Thank you.
Dennis: I have to know why, though.
Bob: I bet there is a story behind it. [Laughter]
Aaron: My wife was the first one of us to go to Haiti. She went on a mission trip to Haiti—a short-term mission trip. She went, and her heart was just broken into a thousand pieces by what she saw and what she experienced. She came back, and she said—she told me story after story of kids that were growing up there with all sorts of severe malnutrition, and abandonment, and neglect. That broke her, as a mom. She came home—told me these stories.
Slowly, we began to see God connect us, personally, to the country of Haiti. We became really good friends with a missionary family there that run a rescue center—where they bring in malnourished kids from the village, nurse them back to health, and then, eventually, send them back to their parents in the village.
We were reading their blog one day. I remember it clear as day. I’m sitting on the couch, in my living room. Right there, on the front page of the blog, was a picture of a little boy that was severely malnourished. He was abandoned there. He had no relatives that lived in the village. The blog just said: “This little boy is in need of a mom and dad. If you know anybody that would be interested in pursuing adoption, let us know. Email us back.”
So, me and Jamie—we live in a small two-bedroom house. We have two kids, at the time; and we jumped out there, on a huge step of faith, and emailed our friends—said, “Again, we don’t know what we’re doing, but we feel like we should adopt this kid and pursue him.” And we did. That was a two-and-a-half year journey of going through all kinds of bureaucracy, and red tape, and hurricanes, and eventually, an earthquake, before he could come home.
Dennis: We talk about issues of faith, here, every day, on FamilyLife Today, calling people to believe the Bible and really build their homes on the Rock and on what He said—what Jesus Christ said. As you were talking, I was thinking about
Hebrews 11, where it says, “Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That’s what you and your wife did. You stepped out and had the faith that God was going to provide. Then, later on, in verse 6 of Hebrews 11, “And without faith, it is impossible to please Him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”
And Matt, you might want to comment on this—that there are a lot—I think—a lot of believers today in the church who can live a whole lifetime and, maybe, never take a giant step of faith—or it’s a baby step of faith—as Aaron and his wife did—to take God at His Word and step out. It’s the adventure of a lifetime, though, to take God at what He has said; isn’t it?
Matt: It is. And what’s interesting about—that you brought that Scripture up—is I walked with Aaron through that process—not only was I his pastor, but I was his friend. He and Jamie would both tell you that it was that adoption that was probably one of the greatest tests of their faith, of their entire life, because of the bureaucracy in Haiti. They kept hitting wall, after wall, after wall, after wall—kept hearing the word, “No,” over, and over, and over again.
There was a point where Aaron and I were walking in the office together one day—and it had been about two years. They just didn’t know if they were going to get their son home or not. He said, “Matt, I am struggling, as deeply in my faith, as I ever have in my whole life. We’ve begged God to move, and nothing is happening. Man,” he said, “I’m struggling.” Within just a few short weeks, the—
Aaron: The earthquake, 2010.
Matt: —earthquake in Haiti happened. It was through the earthquake that a series of events happened that moved the Haitian government to the point to release Amos and to be able to bring him home. So, God literally moved heaven and earth to bring that boy home and sustain the faith of this amazing family.
Dennis: I still want to get to why the name Story.
Aaron: Well, all of our kids’ names have some significance and meaning, obviously; but as we were walking through all these adoptions, the story of where these kids came from, and how God has been so faithful to them, even in such early childhood, where they’re not even able to think or make decisions yet—you can see how God has masterfully written their story.
I didn’t just come up with the idea to adopt them or rescue them from some country; but you can look back, and you can see the story of God’s grace and His kindness to take them through this journey—to where, now, they are sitting in my living room and a part of a family, where they are actually tasting and seeing the goodness of God. I mean, that’s an amazing story. So, for our last kid that came home, we were like: “Her name has to be Story. She’s got a story to tell. “
Dennis: It’s a good story.
Dennis: It’s a great story of redemption.
Bob: Paul, you have an opportunity, in giving leadership to Hope for Orphans, to see how churches, all across the country, and ultimately, around the world, are engaging in the plight of the orphan. Some are involved in overseas orphan care, orphanages—taking short-term mission trips. Some are involved in adoption ministry and making that easier—more convenient for folks in the church. Some churches are embracing foster care as their point of passion.
Tell me about what your home church is doing and how that compares to what you’re seeing happen, nationally.
Paul: You bet. You know, my family has been going to Austin Stone, now, for about a year-and-a-half. I told Matt, earlier today, that I would have never thought that some of the greatest experience of teaching and worship, in my life, would happen in the gymnasium of Austin High School—and that’s been our experience.
And I love these men, as a person who attends and worships at his church, because they have had the audacity—the courage—to believe that they can see God do a work for the Gospel in Central Austin and have been doing this for ten years. To see the Gospel proclaimed in that culture and in that place has just been a testimony to me.
For three Sundays, in a row, this fall, they did a series on “Adopted”. The first two messages were from Pastor Matt. The third, which was quite interesting, was from Aaron. A lot of people showed up that day because Aaron doesn’t usually preach very often. It was really, really cool. They had informational meetings. Hundreds and hundreds of people came to informational meetings about “How can God use my life?”—
Matt: It was 1,200 people—
Paul: 1,200 people—
Matt: —that came to informational meetings.
Paul: Twelve hundred people responded, immediately, in this church. In our church—you know, I’m like almost from the nursing home at this church, Dennis. These are millennials—these are 20-somethings. They don’t want entertainment-based, narcissistic Christianity. They want to be engaged where there is an opportunity to experience the reality of God. That’s what these guys have modeled.
For example, on Easter—this last Easter—the one time of year that all the campuses of Austin Stone get together is on Easter, at the Erwin Center. I’m not sure, Matt, how many were there—like 15,000 or something?
Matt: It was about 13,000.
Paul: 13,000 people—
Dennis: This is the basketball arena for the Longhorns?
Paul: This is where the Longhorns play—13,000 people. When they are walking into the stadium that day, they see information about how to engage around kids in foster care. Matt challenged the church: “Our church, alone, should be able to take care of waiting kids in the three counties around Austin.”
Dennis: There you go.
Paul: I thought that was wonderful.
Dennis: That’s right stuff.
Paul: Isn’t that cool?
Bob: But it’s interesting—Easter Sunday?
Matt: Yes, sir.
Bob: That’s not—you know, the pastor doesn’t typically stop and—
Matt: No, I didn’t preach that on Easter. I preached on the Resurrection, but what we did is—we had a picture of a foster child, from the city of Austin—in every seat in that 13,000-seat arena. So, every single person that walked in that arena had a picture of a foster child, in Austin, sitting in their chair.
Bob: And they see the picture, and your hope is that the Spirit will just do whatever He wants to do?
Matt: Well, we sent them to the resources that they could go to find information about how to become qualified for foster care, for respite care, and a way to adopt if they so choose.
Dennis: I love the courageous leadership you’ve taken because, in my opinion, this is what has to happen if we, as a believing community, are going to ultimately see a spiritual awakening in our country. We’ve got almost 500,000 kids in foster care today, in need of families paying attention to them and giving them a place to belong to. As I mentioned earlier, the greatest predictor of homelessness is aging out of the foster care system without having a family.
These are matters of, really, life and death for 16-, 17-, 18-year-old young people who, even at those late stages of life, can really find meaning and a place to belong to in a believing family and a community of faith like yours.
Matt: Dennis, I realize that there are over 250 adoptable children in the city of Austin. We have 8,000 people that regularly attend the Austin Stone Community Church.
Dennis: Just in your church?
Matt: Yes, sir. That’s just in mine. We’re not talking about the other 250 evangelical churches in Austin. I’m talking about ours. We have 250 kids lined up to be adopted. I made the challenge to our church and the churches of Austin: “Why should it not be the other way around? Why should not the thousands of Christians, in the city of Austin, be lined up”—
Dennis: Yes, I agree.
Matt: —“to be adopting 250 kids?”
Dennis: I agree. I think what you are doing, as a church, is—you are engaging where God is already at work.
Dennis: I mean, we’re here, at Summit IX Christian Alliance for the Orphan—that is celebrating the needs of orphans around the world. The only institution, on the planet, that would have any chance of addressing those vast needs is a local church.
Matt: That’s right.
Paul: It’s not Hollywood.
Dennis: No, it isn’t. And it’s not—and I’m not speaking disparagingly of politics—but that’s not the solution—
Paul: That’s right.
Dennis: —either. Aaron, just real quickly, give me one lesson you’ve learned, as a man, because you stepped out in faith and adopted Amos—Story—all these three that you’ve adopted.
Aaron: One lesson that I’ve learned is that adopting is very difficult. I think I imagined it being something that was very glamorous and something that would be easy—and whenever adoption was finally finished, that we’d all just have this happy, perfect family. You know: “We did our thing and that was good. And family would just work.”
What I’ve learned, as a husband and as a father, is that bringing kids into your home and becoming their father means a lifetime of commitment—not just to rescue them or to save them from a broken place—but it’s a lifetime commitment to embrace their suffering. I used to view adoption through the lens of: “I want to help save someone,” or, “I want to help”—
Bob: I want to rescue.
Aaron: —“I want to rescue someone.”
Aaron: And that’s really shifted for me for me. As I look at the Gospel, my role is not to save them or to rescue them from that—it is to take on their suffering—to walk, with them, through it. That’s really shifted my view of parenting all of my kids, whether they are adopted or biological—
Dennis: Yes, it is.
Aaron: —is to say: “Your suffering is now my suffering. Your story is now my story. So, I will willfully walk through this with you.” That’s been a change for me.
Dennis: You’re really living out what we were commanded to do by the Apostle James in Chapter 1, verse 27, of his book: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction”—suffering—“and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” When you go near the orphan, you go near the heart of our Heavenly Father—
Aaron: That’s right.
Dennis: —because He’s all about redeeming us, as spiritual orphans, back into His family. That is the ultimate adoption.
Bob: Paul, if a church wanted to get some ideas on, “How could we embrace this?”— that is what Hope for Orphans is all about; right?—helping churches do that?
Paul: Absolutely. At Hope for Orphans, our mission is to serve every church, to love every orphan, and to give them the tools and the on-ramps for how they are able to lead their congregations so that they can be involved in a Gospel-centric ministry to orphans.
And I just want to mention one thing that really stood out to me when Matt preached, this fall, about the subject—is after talking about the relationship between being a spiritual orphan with physical orphans, and talking about the need, and how that could be met. In his second sermon, he challenged the whole church, like we said earlier, to be engaged for kids waiting, in our own geography.
But what really stood out to me was at the end. He said: “You know, after giving this challenge, my wife and I have been praying about this. We’ve prayed and sought the Lord. We have realized that God is not calling us to adopt.” I thought that was so powerful. I want to just commend you for that because, as we have helped to train over 15,000 leaders, in ten years in orphan ministry, you made it clear that you shouldn’t adopt unless God is calling you to adopt.
In fact, it’s not just about adoption. It’s about everybody in the church, from the little kids to the old people, being involved in loving kids that don’t have a family and don’t have a voice. That was very powerful.
Dennis: And it’s back to what Aaron said, “When you adopt, you engage in the suffering of another human being.”
Dennis: And you better know for sure. You better know for certain—
Paul: You know, I can—
Dennis: —Almighty God has called you and your spouse to do this.
Paul: Absolutely. And that’s what stood out to me about Aaron’s message. I’ve heard you say, many times, Dennis, that, “Adoption is one of the most wonderful things that ever happened to me, but it was one of the hardest things that ever happened to me.”
Paul: And one of the few times I’ve heard someone articulate that very clearly was Aaron Ivey because he discussed that in his own life. I thought that was great modeling, as well.
Bob: You know, we’ve got a link on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com. If folks would like to see Aaron’s message, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Paul: Absolutely. We’ve got links for both men.
Dennis: And we also have a link there to find out about how to start an orphan ministry in your local church. Paul and his team have put together a booklet that—what is it eight steps?
Paul: It’s launching orphan ministry in your church—Eight Steps to Launching a Ministry Around Orphans in Your Church as a Lay Leader—right. And we also, actually, have a church orphan ministry starter kit which folks can order, as well.
Bob: Well, there you go. That makes my part really easy. All you have to do is go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link you see there for “Hope for Orphans”. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the “Hope for Orphans” link, and all of the resources we have available are listed there—lots that’s available for free download.
So, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or if we can help you by phone, call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Now, let me just make sure I say a quick, “Thank you,” here, for the folks who pitch in. You know, it’s a little bit like we run a spiritual soup kitchen, here, every day. Everybody who tunes in—we try to provide a hot, healthy breakfast or lunch, depending on—or dinner—whatever time you are listening to FamilyLife Today. We trust that it is helping, and we trust that God is using it in your life. We just want to say, “Thanks,” to the folks who make the soup kitchen possible—those of you who, from time to time, will get in touch with us and support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate your financial partnership with us. You make this ministry possible.
And this week, if you are able to support us with a donation, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a couple of CDs that feature a conversation we had, not long ago, with Dr. Steve Farrar. We talked with Steve about how you anchor your family in Christ for generations to come. We’ll send you those CDs as our way of saying, “Thank you,” when you make a contribution to support FamilyLife Today this week. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone, and ask for the CDs with Steve Farrar when you do. Or you can request the CDs when you make a donation by mail. Our mailing address is: Post Office Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas. And Arkansas is “A-R”. The zip code is 72223. And again, thanks for your support of the ministry. We really do appreciate you.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We’re going to talk more about the needs of orphans, around the world. We’re going to talk to a pastor from South Korea, who joins us tomorrow. I hope you can join us tomorrow as we talk about God being at work, rescuing orphans throughout Asia.
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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