As a young wife and mom, and a part-time RN, I approached our church’s leadership in fall 2003 with the idea of starting a ministry. At the time, I had no model for the type of ministry I was feeling called to start, just a burning passion to create awareness and compel action within my church, to combat the global orphan crisis and see more orphans find the love of a family.
Four years earlier, my husband and I had stood before a Russian judge and said “Da,” indicating we would welcome two orphans into our family through adoption. The culmination of an intense months-long process, the judge declared two toddler boys were now our sons.
Those early years as a family of four were sweet and challenging, as our boys grieved the loss of everything they had known and adjusted to their new lives with us. But even as our new experiences became routine, our bonds strengthened and God provided through the blessings and the challenges, I couldn’t forget the many faces of the children we had encountered in our boys’ orphanages. I knew that God’s design involving the safety, nurture and belonging of family were missing and as a result, many children were suffering.
As passion turned to advocacy, I began to realize the untapped potential of our local church to be part of the solution to provide families for children, in our communities and around the world. My appeal to church leadership was met with approval and support. In January 2004, our ministry was named Families of Promise and our mission was dedicated to equipping and mobilizing believers to live out the biblical mandate to care for orphans and vulnerable children and bring them the hope of Jesus Christ.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, local church ministries and Christian organizations with a similar mission were springing up in a variety of locations throughout the United States and beyond. Established organizations were also experiencing a new urgency to engage the church in resolving the global orphan crisis. In the same year that Families of Promise became active, 38 Christian leaders met in Little Rock, Arkansas, expressing “a shared sense of God’s desire to rouse His Church to care for orphans. God was calling them to ‘leave their logos and egos at the door’ to join in unified efforts.”
A new movement of God was being formed.
The following year a friend handed me a brochure that provided me with my first indication of the larger movement that God was calling us to join. The month before our family welcomed a daughter and sister from China, our Families of Promise team hosted our first community-wide event in October 2005 for over 230 attendees, the “If You Were Mine” Adoption Workshop, in partnership with Family Life’s Hope for Orphans division.
As our team became more deeply connected to the wider movement, we experienced the blessings of what began in Little Rock and grew to become the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), today a community of thousands of generous colleagues and friends on a kingdom-building mission together.
Over the past 20 years, God has directed our team to live out the Families of Promise mission in a wide variety of ways. We have worked to recruit foster, adoptive and kinship families and create a culture of encouragement and support around them. We have been a part of local and regional networks of church, organizational and child welfare leaders committed to working together on behalf of vulnerable children and families. We have engaged in efforts aimed at crisis resolution, family strengthening and preservation, to help more families remain healthy and intact.
In 2018, Families of Promise intersected with a century-old subsidiary of The Wesleyan Church, when I was asked to join the revisioning team of Hephzibah Ministries. As I came to realize my calling as the director in the new season of multiplication through Hephzibah62:4, I looked back over the years and realized how God had been using my journey with Families of Promise to disciple and prepare me to help fulfill his purposes in a new season of denominational impact.
Each November, Kentwood Community Church in Kentwood, Michigan, joins thousands of local churches worldwide in a special Sunday, “Stand Sunday,” to recognize the needs of vulnerable children. During and after services, opportunities are provided for everyone in our congregation to get involved in kingdom-minded solutions. This year on Stand Sunday, Kentwood Community Church will celebrate the many ways God has been faithful over 20 years of ministry through Families of Promise and cast a vision for the next season of ministry.
Taking time to look back and reflect on all he has done these past 20 years; I am filled with renewed energy and anticipation of what he has in store for the next 20!
In 2023, the Pure Religion Project was launched, combining Stand Sunday (for the purpose of calling the church to stand for children and families in the U.S. foster care system) and Orphan Sunday (for the purpose of inviting the church to care for orphans worldwide) under the Pure Religion Project umbrella, designed to help churches live out their calling to care for vulnerable children and families while growing closer to Jesus as his disciples. Rally your church on or near November 12, 2023, this year’s Stand Sunday and Orphan Sunday — and now Pure Religion Sunday.
Jodi Lewis is the director of Hephzibah62:4, a subsidiary of The Wesleyan Church dedicated to equipping and mobilizing local Wesleyan churches to transform the lives of vulnerable children. She also serves as a lay leader of Families of Promise at Kentwood Community Church, a Hephzibah62:4 partner church.