Wanted: loving Christian houseparents
MOUNT DORA, Fla. — In their 29 years of marriage,…
ORLANDO, Fla. — Children’s homes hold a special place in my heart.
In the late 1970s, I was just a boy when Papa, a decorated World War II veteran, and Grandma, a talented seamstress, left their home in the southeastern Missouri Bootheel and moved to Paragould, Ark., to serve as houseparents with Children’s Homes Inc.
I’ve told part of this story before, but I’ll repeat it for the one or two who might have missed it in 2007 (smile).
In 1982, the summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved to Christ’s Haven for Children in Keller, Texas. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” was big at the box office, and I was a devoted Cincinnati Reds fan — soon to begin a long-suffering love affair with the Texas Rangers.
By age 14, I had become accustomed to moving. Dad’s Air Force service and later his work as a minister meant frequent changes of address. I had lived in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina before returning to my native Texas.
Shy and awkward as a teenager, I can’t say I was excited about starting a new school and trying to make friends again. I can’t say I was thrilled about my mother and father becoming houseparents.
Yet I suppose I was selfish at that age.
Part of me resented sharing my parents with these misfits who always seemed to rebel and never seemed to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to offer them warm beds, hot meals and — most importantly — true Christian role models.
Another part of me hated the way people in the community — and even folks at church — looked at us when our long white van arrived at the grocery store or Sunday morning worship. I sometimes longed to explain that I was a houseparents’ kid and thus not deserving of the pitiful looks that I thought should be reserved for the real orphans.
Despite my reservations, I made friends at Christ’s Haven and enjoyed the amenities: a swimming pool, a gymnasium and a ready supply of pals to play baseball and football.
After four years at Christ’s Haven, I left home to attend Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City. (Mom and Dad had saved for years so that my brother Scott, sister Christy and I could benefit from a Christian education.)
Deep down, I understood that Mom and Dad felt a calling to care for abused, neglected and abandoned children. I knew that my parents loved me and that this love wouldn’t change with strange kids suddenly filling the bedrooms next to mine.
In all, Mom and Dad spent 25 years as houseparents.
In a high-stress, low-recognition ministry where most couples move on after just a few years, that’s an eternity. Unlike the egocentric teenager of the 1980s, today I could not be more proud of the God-led path my caring and humble parents chose.
Mom and Dad lost count of the exact number of children for whom they cared. Some came into their home and stayed just a few days. Others they raised from preschool through high school graduation. In all, more than 250 girls lived in my parents’ cottage.
Mom said she and Dad wanted a mission to bring people to Christ. At Christ’s Haven, they found it. They studied the Bible with all the girls in their care, and Dad baptized many of them. My parents remain close with many of the girls.
Mom said she and Dad wanted a mission to bring people to Christ. At Christ’s Haven, they found it.
Over the years, Mom and Dad labored mostly in obscurity, content to fulfill their 24-hour-a-day ministry outside the limelight. I pray they know how proud I am of them.
Fast-forward to present day: When I started noticing even more ads for houseparents than usual in The Christian Chronicle, I became curious.
I asked children’s home leaders I know about it. They suggested I attend the recent Network 1:27 meeting in Orlando to learn more. I eagerly accepted the invitation.
Children’s homes, after all, hold a special place in my heart.
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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