Kansas City author, pastor and seminary teacher Todd Chipman returns with hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber to continue the discussion of his new book, Until Every Child Is Home: Why the Church Can and Must Care for Orphans.
In this episode, Chipman hones in on what it takes to create a serious presence of child adoption and foster care in our local churches, highlighting the importance of pastoral involvement. He also sheds light on how Christian adoption and foster care can help redirect and transform victims of human trafficking.
Chipman’s own experiences as both an adopted child and an adoptive parent bring extra layers of credibility to his perspectives on adoption and foster care ministry which should be helpful for both individuals and churches looking to get involved.
Find out how to give to the Ministry Adoption Fund by visiting sendrelief.org/foster-care-adoption/.
Speaker 1: Welcome to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Exell and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Well, welcome back to our second part of the podcast with Todd Chipman. As you know, Todd wrote Until Every Child Is Home: Why the Church Can and Must Care for Orphans. Todd, we were having such a great conversation with you, we didn’t want you to leave.
Todd Chipman: Thank you for having me.
Lynette Ezell: Oh listen, we’ve asked you to stay and talk with us a little longer. This book has really taken the idea of the sanctity of human life, and spiritual warfare, and race relations, and leadership within the church, and so many other topics and brought them altogether.
Tera Melber: Right, and if you remember from our conversation, Todd has so many lenses from which to bring this book. He is an adopted person himself, he is an adoptive dad, and he’s a pastor and a theologian. So all of these different lenses that he can view this topic on have brought this incredible content together that everyone is really going to enjoy.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah. So Todd, thanks for being back with us.
Todd Chipman: My pleasure, ladies.
Lynette Ezell: So let’s pick up with James 1:27. We always kind of tend to go back to James 1:27, Psalm 68:5, you know, our verses that we adoptive parents stand on. But God’s people are scattered, we see that. They’ve lost their sense of community and most everything familiar. But they also face the loss of their possessions, and very deep poverty. But in the midst of this, we still read to visit orphans and widows in their time of need, James 1:27. So through such hardship, how could the Lord ask them, and us, really the church, to visit orphans and widows in such a time of need?
Todd Chipman: Yes, Tera. And the question brings up, again, these different lenses through which I write the book. If your listeners were unable to catch the previous podcast, there are these four lenses that you just mentioned here that I’m writing the book through. One is someone who is adopted, one is an adoptive parent, one is a pastor and one is a theologian, someone who teaches scripture and teaches at a seminary. So these four lenses sort of intertwine, and they stimulate one another, and these were formative for me in writing the book. All of these were working together to help me to just see how strategic this ministry is from scripture, and for local churches.
This takes us to James 1, and somewhat of my reflection on James is not so much from the adoptive parent perspective. For many of your listeners, when they think about James 1:27, they are thinking from the lens of an adoptive parent or a prospective parent.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right. Yeah.
Todd Chipman: Adopting or fostering. That’s their lens. When I think about James 1:27, I’m thinking about James more as a New Testament theologian. And this is something that maybe your listeners and those who read the book don’t think quite so much about, but James presents two needy groups throughout the book. So this is just, if I’m writing a commentary on James, these are the kinds of ideas I would bring up. This, I think, provides a biblical rooting and really a robust power source for your listeners.
And here’s the logic of James. There are two needy groups. One of those are orphans and widows. They have practical needs, as you just mentioned. They are scattered. The community is scattered. There’s poverty, there’s a lack of resources. These folks need our attention. But throughout James, not just here in 1:27, throughout James, the church is needy, the church is needing to practice its faith. That’s why God sends trials.
In the logic of this book, if I’m just teaching it in a New Testament survey class, I’m trying to help students understand that God wants to show off his power to meet people’s needs as they trust him by working out their faith. This synthesizes what follows in chapter two about the sin of favoritism and not looking to someone who might be rich to come in and bail out the congregation in a hard time, but rather to trust God and even favor the poor person. But all the way through the end of James, I think your listeners would be encouraged.
You, foster and adoptive parents, who are encouraged from James 1:27, read James 5. Look at James’ logic about the faithfulness of the Lord and waiting on the Lord, considering Job, and how Job got it all back at the end. The Lord is faithful. Consider Elijah. Consider the God who answers prayer. These Old Testament examples that surface at the end of the letter are written by the same author who wrote about orphans and widows, and their needs. The Lord knows the churches’ needs. This is why He brings trials, so that He can meet our needs, and develop our faith, and help us to be pure and undefiled from the world.
This brings us back to that second clause in James 1:27. It’s not just looking after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. That is James’ major idea, to be different than the world, to be Holy, to be complete. And by looking after orphans and widows, this is one way we can do that. And this ministry will provide enough trials, as your listeners know.
Tera Melber: It will give us lots of practice.
Todd Chipman: That’s right. And we have seen, we could sit for hours, the three of us with our spouses, and exchange story after story of how we’ve seen God meet our needs. That’s one of the tasks I tried to take up in the book. Twenty-one chapters, nearly all of these include a profile of someone who has done this ministry.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, I love that about the book. I can connect with those. I get it through the stories, you know?
Todd Chipman: Yes. And that’s what I wanted folks to see, is in this kind of ministry, in motivating folks to think about the strategic nature of adoption and foster care, what is going to motivate them is hearing how other people have done it, their successes and their failures, the hard times and the great times, and how these stories exemplify strategic points in this ministry, like the great commission, like theological development, like preventing sex trafficking and so forth.
Tera Melber: Well, on that line about sex trafficking, you really make some really astounding remarks in the book about that. You talk about the fact that kids in foster care are relationally vulnerable, and that Christianity is a relational religion characterized by a vertical relationship with God and horizontal relationships inside and outside the church. So because kids in foster care are relationally vulnerable, and that is often what leads them into sex trafficking, that Christianity can come in because we are a relational religion, and together we can fill that vacuum, I would think, of sorts, for that child to not be continuing to go back to this or to be caught up in it.
Todd Chipman: That’s it, Tera. That is exactly it. When an author writes a book, I’m learning there are stages that authors go through, and one of them, after they get the contract, they agree with the publisher, “Okay, here’s kind of what I want to do with the book,” everyone sort of recognizes, “Okay we are setting out on a journey, and there may be a change in the course at some point.” Authors learn as they write. And I knew before I got the contract, and we set out the outline, generally, I knew that this issue could be one that would be fruitful to pursue and that readers may want more information about or it could be helpful for readers to know about.
I had heard a local, and I live in Kansas City, a local children’s hospital nurse speak at an event here in Kansas City for The Global Orphan Project. It’s a worldwide ministry, but it’s based here in Kansas City. And they had an event, and this nurse spoke and she spoke about the connections with foster care and sex trafficking. So once I started into the book, I contacted her and asked if I could interview her to get more information. That day, I still remember that interview so well because it impacted me. I heard ideas I had never heard before or never thought of. In fact, I recall sitting in her office interviewing her, and at one point looking around the room just subconsciously for a trashcan, I really thought I was going to become ill.
What I heard her talk about, of children who are in the sex trafficking pipeline of foster care, and I left that interview thinking, “Boy, this is a professional woman. She’s in a hospital, a local children’s hospital with a great reputation. Could this all be true what she’s saying?” So I began to do some research, and I found out that it is true. It’s documented by not just nurses, but law enforcement, the FBI. And I write about the way that foster care provides environment for pimps to have a supply chain for their businesses, and how pimps are astute business people, how they have recruiters.
The process often looks something like this, Lynette and Tera. These kids are raised early on in an environment of drugs and crime. Because of drugs and crime, children are neglected. These ideas just go together. Well, Department of Children and Families or Children’s Services, whatever the specific department would be in that part of the country, steps in and pulls the kids because they are being neglected or abused or just in an unsafe environment, parents are arrested, etc. Well, they pull those children, and they are often placed with a kinship placement. That’s the standard procedure for foster care, to look for a kinship placement first.
Well, the problem is many of these kinship families are characterized by the same patterns of life: drugs, crime. Therefore, children are abused and neglected. So Department of Children and Families steps in and pulls them from that family, then they are to a foster home. But by this time, these children are four, five years old, perhaps six, and what these kids know in these early periods of life, what they have learned and what they have sort of settled in their mind are that drugs and crime equal power.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah.
Todd Chipman: And a part of that power is abuse and neglect of me. That’s their grid. That’s how they operate. That’s what’s comfortable for them. So when they get to this foster family, this third placement, what often happens is that they are completely uncomfortable. Their world is upside down just from a relational transition, but this foster family may not have the drugs, crime, abuse, neglect grid operating, and they feel uncomfortable.
Tera Melber: Right.
Todd Chipman: It’s actually is strange to them. And they run. They run because they can’t get their way, they’re naturally selfish, and they run away. This leads them to being placed in another home because they run. Well, now a pattern is established, and these kids might be eight or nine years old, 10, and where do they begin to run to? They begin to run to what’s natural. They begin to run to drugs and crime.
Many of the children who are trafficked are in their early teens, and this is their history: multiple placements, drugs and crime have characterized their early life, along with abuse and neglect, perhaps one of those other foster families had some abuse and neglect going on as well. And these kids run to the streets. On the streets, if a pimp is a CEO, the COO in his business model is a woman. And this is so sad, even recently it was reported that Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire who had these issues, had women that worked for him to recruit girls.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, they came as a caregiver.
Tera Melber: Right.
Lynette Ezell: They appeared as a caregiver. Yeah.
Todd Chipman: That is exactly what happens on the street with these girls. Some woman takes them in, and begins to give them a sense of identity. So here’s where relationship comes back in, and here relationship is similar to what they experienced early on with drugs and crime because pimps give girls drugs through these women, they get them hooked on drugs, train them for the craft, and then begin to use them.
And this nurse who I interviewed, who I first heard speak and informed me about this, she comes into contact with these girls when they come to the hospital because of a disease, and she has to try to care for them. But many of these girls, they find themselves back on the street afterward. It’s a vicious cycle. The steps I’ve set out here can be summarized in four or five steps. And different FBI reports report it differently, but generally that’s the pattern.
Here’s where the church comes in. If we can quantitatively increase our participation in foster care, and we could be the third home for these kids, believing families that are part of local churches have the relational capacity to come alongside of these girls, these boys as well, to try to build into them a sense of stability and identity that does not include drugs and crime, abuse and neglect, but includes they’ve been made in God’s image, that includes, “We are going to be patient with you. We are going to help you. We are going to begin to participate in what you enjoy that’s moral. We are going to participate in your sports. We are going to be a part of your schooling. We are going to bring you into our lives.”
At the end of the book, I write about these five relationships that a family could cultivate as they look to foster or adopt, and I encourage folks to look at relationships in their church that are across the age spectrum and get those families involved. That placement, if we’re the third placement for one of these kind of vulnerable kids, and we can get people who are 20 and 30 years older coming over every week, maybe multiple times a week just to hang out, just to be there, play games, do something, go out for ice cream, if we can get families to come over whose children are the same age as the children we’re taking in, do those same kinds of things, what we can do is overwhelm these kids with relational connections. Not in a sense of inappropriate overwhelming, but showing them that adults and children can relate on terms that do not include drugs, crime, abuse and neglect, but include just fun activities in life.
We rework the matrix of relationships over time in their lives. That’s the hope. Sex trafficking is such a difficult issue to address, I know, I hope I haven’t offended any of your listeners, but this is true, this really happens, and it happens in cities across the United States. I document it in my book. But churches can step in, and we can do a good bit of prevention, and some of your listeners may be called to take in kids who have been trafficked.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely, yep.
Todd Chipman: The day after I received my author copies from Moody, my wife and I are still on the foster care information loop for the State of Missouri, we got an email asking for a placement of kids who had been trafficked. They had just been picked up. And so this happens, your listeners may not realize, but it happens. The day after I got my books, we got an email asking, “Hey, do you know of anybody who could take in kids who’ve been trafficked?”
Lynette Ezell: You know, we have, here at the North American Mission Board, and through Send Relief, several centers set up to help victims who have been trafficked, but also kids who age out of the system. A really encouraging a ministry we’ve seen in New Orleans, is they figured out that when a child ages out of the system, a lot of times that they’ll just hit the streets. And when that happens, what was it Tera, within 36 hours a pimp will pick them up?
Lynette Ezell: Well this center has gotten their pickup time down to 24 hours.
Tera Melber: Right.
Todd Chipman: Yes.
Lynette Ezell: So they’ve tried to intercept what could happen there, and try to be beat evil to the door.
Tera Melber: But Todd, you think, you know, we have trouble sometimes getting people to volunteer in the church nursery, and so this is vastly bigger, vastly harder. And when you said that about James 1:27, and that not only are widows and orphans in need, but that the church is needy, that’s really astounding to me. I think, you know, this is the hardcore stuff that Jesus did. He wasn’t hanging out with the clean cut, easy going people. He was hanging out with sinners that people were talking about Him because of who He was around. And we have to, as believers say, “I am going to get my hands dirty. I’m going to do something that’s really hard. And as I do it, the Lord is growing me in my sanctification.”
But that’s not an easy pitch to get people out of their very comfortable, whatever it is that they’re doing with their families on a regular basis. To enter into the messy of somebody’s story makes you sit down and cry in the middle of the night, it makes you want to be sick to your stomach, it makes you not be able to sleep. It’s the hard things. And so how, as a pastor, are you encouraging and engaging these people within your congregation to enter into this really hard story?
Todd Chipman: You know, Tera, the way I’m doing it is trying to think in a scaffolding perspective, giving folks a vision for how everyone can be involved, even if they’re not necessarily taking kids in, and starting there. And we’ve seen this in my church, I try to just thank the church for how they’ve been there for me, but giving them a vision for what they might be able to do further.
But I think, and this comes to what I write about in the book in the last section of pastoral leadership, and I interviewed several pastors, including Kevin Ezell about the role of pastors and leaders in this ministry. If a pastor is going to champion this cause from the pulpit, it’s such a difficult cause that he really needs to be in the mix himself. Otherwise, it’s asking the church to do something he may not be willing to do himself, and just not good leadership.
Tera Melber: That’s right.
Todd Chipman: It’s something where a pastor has to sort of jump in. But again, to your listeners and pastors who may be listening, I have found, and others who I interview in the book, they have found that it’s helped their ministries. Boy, it’s challenging at times, but it’s helped. It’s helped to provide an example for people. And for most pastors, that’s what we want. We want to be exemplary. That’s what the grid of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is about. Those qualities are there not just so they can be checked off, but those qualities are there because they provide an example for how the church should live. As pastors, we have an opportunity to provide an example in how we parent. Most pastors, if they’re honest, they want attention, they want people to watch them because they want people to follow them. And that’s right. That’s from God. And this kind of ministry provides a platform for that that is completely unique. They can model how God acts, how He cares for us, and set an example for the church to jump in.
So I try to model it. I’ve tried to scaffold and show folks how they can be involved in different ways, but I’ve also continued to state that the real need that kids have is homes, bedrooms, parents, not so much backpacks. This kind of relational support is extremely helpful, people involved in their lives, just coming over, hanging out. But they ultimately need parents.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah.
Tera Melber: Right.
Lynette Ezell: One other tough subject that you cover in the book is orphan care and race relations. You say in the book that the gospel is the answer for racial pride and division surfacing in any culture. So how can foster care and adoption help the “Big C” church move beyond racial division?
Todd Chipman: By taking in kids, there’s a great chance that we will take in kids of a different race. The proportion of African American children in the foster care system in the United States, it’s disproportionately high in terms of African Americans. Now, that doesn’t mean that folks taking in kids are certainly going to get a minority child, but they have to be willing to think about that just by the nature of the math. What that provides for many churches is an opportunity to see this new race coming into their church, hanging out, being in their class with their kids and so forth, and it provides us a way to relate together, and show that the gospel is bigger than racial division.
Churches are notorious for that, sadly, in our history. But here, are these kids are right with our kids, we’re hanging out, we have time together. But it also provides the church a way to think about race relations beyond just these kids, and having them in their church. For me, as an adoptive parent of minority children, I have seen issues of soft racism that I didn’t really know existed, but I’ve seen how they’ve sometimes been treated.
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Todd Chipman: And churches who don’t have experience with racial minorities easily overlook the kind of soft racism that still happens in our culture. If my daughters are in a store with me, and they wander off for a moment, my African American daughters, and a store clerk comes up to them, I’ve seen how a store clerk speaks with them, or how on the swim team, a clerk of the course organizing the next race speaks to them until I walk up wearing a suit, coming from my office or something like that, and then their demeanor changes immediately. But when those girls are alone, the way they’re treated is not like my Caucasian biological daughters are treated.
Our eyes are just opened, and we become sensitive, and we can say, “Oh, I need to put myself in another person’s shoes.” That’s, again, speaking from a New Testament scholar perspective, that’s a lot of what Paul is writing about in Romans 15.
Lynette Ezell: Yes, yes.
Todd Chipman: Consider the other person. So I try to walk through passages in the New Testament Epistles, Romans and Ephesians, where these ideas come up. And again, I interviewed some great leaders and folks who have walked this path with minority children, and not just African American, but Indian American, and the complexities of racial relations. I hope that’s helpful for readers.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, I really agree with you. I have it written here, one of my favorite pages, page 143, “As we help kids, we help ourselves understand God’s eternal plan for all nations.” And that is so true.
Tera Melber: It is.
Lynette Ezell: It really is a picture of the gospel. Well, Todd, thanks for being with us again today. We barely scratched the surface of the content of your new book.
Tera Melber: That’s why we’re doing something really special with this book. Lynette, you want to share?
Lynette Ezell: Yeah. Just a reminder that November is Adoption Awareness Month, a perfect time to focus on foster care and adoption in your church and in your community. We had this opportunity to sit down with Todd Chipman, the author of the new book Until Every Child Is Home, and we are so excited to share it with you. It will prove to be an outstanding resource for individuals and churches who are already serving in adoption and foster care, or are perhaps sensing a call from God to get involved. This book will help polish your “why” for stepping into the lives of the vulnerable.
So as our gift to you, we’re giving away 100 copies of Todd’s book to our podcast listeners. To receive your free copy, text Chipman to 888111. That’s Chipman, C-H-I-P-M-A-N, to 888111. And if you would also leave us a review, we’d appreciate that too, and we’d be happy to send you a copy of this book.
Tera Melber: Todd, thanks so much for joining and sharing your story. We really look forward to how the Lord’s going to use this resource in the hands of many.
Lynette Ezell: Yes, absolutely.
Todd Chipman: Thank you so much, Tera and Lynette. It’s been my pleasure. Appreciate your work, and the encouragement I get from listening to your podcast whenever I’m able to. I trust this will be a blessing to your listeners. It’s been a great privilege for me.
Tera Melber: Oh, you are a blessing, with your transparency and just bringing us back to the truth of God’s word, and the heart of our Savior. Thank you so much.
Speaker 1: You have been listening to The Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit sendrelief.org.