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 Ezell and Tera Melber.
Tera Melber: Today, we’d like to welcome Laura Maxwell. She’s joining us today to share how God drew her family to Himself in a powerful way. Her childhood would serve as a backdrop to his calling on her adult life. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, Tera. Laura’s story truly is amazing, how the Lord brings healing to her family. And it all begins when a friend on a school bus invites her to church. And there, Laura meets Jesus and then she begins praying for her parents to be released from their addiction and to turn to the Lord. And through that first step of faith, a ministry begins years later that will change the lives of thousands of foster children forever.
Tera Melber: So Laura, thanks for joining us today.
Laura Maxwell: Thank y’all for having me.
Tera Melber: So tell us about yourself.
Laura Maxwell: So I was born to a couple who were struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. So I was raised seeing all the things that those type of lifestyles lead to from physical abuse to domestic abuse, violence where guns and drugs were involved. This was a pretty normal part of my childhood. I recently even got into my attic and pulled out my childhood diaries where I actually recorded a lot of it, and it really made me sad. I felt like the Lord wasn’t there as I wrote prayers in my diaries. Even though I’d never heard of the Lord, I still prayed to Him, I guess because He is omnipresent and with us even though I did not really know Him.
So that … My life was that way from birth all the way up until I was in the fourth grade. When I was in the fourth grade, several things began to transpire in my life from teacher concerns with things they saw, employment concerns with my parents, and family concerns as to what was going on in our home. Believe it or not, once people started getting concerned, things seemed to almost get worse. So I really understand the safety that the children we serve in foster care, how they feel safer with their biological family where it’s super scary than they feel often with strangers.
But once those different groups got involved, things began to change. We begin to depend heavily on grandparents and extended family for care. Never went into a foster care type situation, but would stay with family off and on. My father went to rehab which was really difficult. We had never been away from him so it was scary and sad. Both my parents became unemployed and we began to have to depend on the government to survive.
Tera Melber: So even though all of this was, your life was really going crazy, you’re still … Your safe spot in your own mind was in the chaos, what we would consider chaos but wasn’t chaos to you? It was your norm.
Laura Maxwell: It was normal. So I really have empathy for the children we serve who understand … I’m able to understand how you can love someone deeply who is hurting you daily and that you don’t want to be separated from that person. There’s this … You always have this glimmer of hope of change and that the Lord’s going to come through.
In the seventh grade, a little girl who rode my school bus invited me to youth group. So my parents let me go. Her parents took me. This was my first church experience there in the seventh grade. I remember at the end of the youth group sermon and all of that and after games and fun, the pastor offered everyone in the room the prayer of salvation if they had never prayed it. As my head was bowed and I raised my hand that I wanted to pray that prayer, I will never forget that feeling that I had just heard it for the first time ever.
Tera Melber: Wow.
Laura Maxwell: No one had ever shared salvation with me before. I really thought that everybody in the room was probably raising their hand as well. They did the typical close your eyes and raise your hand if you want to pray. I was really shocked to find out I was the only one who raised their hand because that’s how … I don’t know how foreign and alien that topic was to me.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Laura Maxwell: I just did not know.
Lynette Ezell: But the Lord had been drawing you for such a long time because you even saw that you’d written prayers-
Tera Melber: Yeah, in your journal.
Lynette Ezell: … to a God that you didn’t know.
Laura Maxwell: Right. So my prayers I found, I started writing at about age eight, so two years before any significant change would start to happen as far as my parents beginning to heal and get better. After that prayer and that night, I began to attend youth group regularly. My parents would let me go every week. My parents began to really change as well. My parents’ ability to stay sober began to increase, which I can only attribute to the prayers I was praying at this point-
Lynette Ezell: That’s right.
Laura Maxwell: … to a God I really knew. My mother went back to college and got a degree, just things I know she never could imagine for her life. My parents’ marriage began to really stabilize even though they did not know the Lord.
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Laura Maxwell: The next year, I’m in eighth grade now and I’m still very active in my youth group with my friend. A friend of the family lost a child in a hunting accident, and he was just a little bit older than me, maybe ninth or tenth grade. Ironically, he was the child of my mother’s first husband. My parents had remained friends with this family. When we went to that funeral, it was my only experience besides youth group. I had never attended church on a Sunday morning. It was my only other experience really hearing a sermon even though it was at a funeral. It was my first real memory of that. I remember everything the pastor said just about.
At the end of that service, the sheriff in town who knew my family well attended that church where the little boy attended. He came and greeted my parents and how they were doing and invited my parents to start coming to church with him-
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Laura Maxwell: … and his wife. They went. I don’t know what made them decide to go. Honestly, I think it was the first time somebody just asked them.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, gosh.
Laura Maxwell: I don’t think anybody in their life was active in church. All their friends were just like them. No one went to church. So once my parents started going on church, my life really began to change as I saw my parents become very involved in church. Everything was very, very different. The church rallied around my family and loved them right where they were and accepted all of their brokenness. My sister would come to know the Lord that year-
Tera Melber: Wow.
Laura Maxwell: … my younger sister. My parents both rededicated their lives to the Lord and were baptized. We were all baptized over the course of the next few years. Things were just very, very different because my parents knew the Lord as a personal Lord and Savior. So my sister and I were raised in church and raised going on mission trips and youth trips and to be very bold in our faith.
Lynette Ezell: Just someone on your school bus that said “I see you. I care about you. I want you to be my friend” and invites you into her world changed your entire family.
Laura Maxwell: Right. The impact that a child could even make-
Tera Melber: Absolutely.
Laura Maxwell: … who knows the truth. So many times as we work with children through Call to Care, often our prayers that they would come to know the Lord at an early age because then they can share Christ with their parents and their friends and family too, that they are soldiers too.
Tera Melber: Well I think too about our own children and teaching them to have eyes that see-
Lynette Ezell: Yeah.
Tera Melber: … and looking for the Lord at work around them and being able to say, to look at someone who’s hurting and know that they’re hurting and that they themselves as children can be involved in bringing someone to church or leaning into the messy of life.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, and to love on that birth family. You could have easily been removed from your home and put in the foster care system, but you see because the sheriff, he could have gone another way with that, but he invited your daddy to go to church.
Laura Maxwell: Right.
Lynette Ezell: It changed the entire course of your family because when daddy comes to know the Lord-
Tera Melber: Exactly.
Lynette Ezell: … the home is changed.
Laura Maxwell: Right. Like I said, it was a 180. Things were already improving just with sobriety and I know my prayers, but having my father get involved in church made all the difference.
Lynette Ezell: Laura, I can really see how your background and how your home was when you were young before you came to know the Lord, how that really gave you a soft spot or just a love for children in hard places.
Laura Maxwell: Yes, exactly. The funny thing about all of that is it took me years to realize that, years after Call to Care was started before the Lord began to open my eyes and let me see how He turned all that chaos into my calling and pulled me out of that, and that even though I felt so isolated and alone for years and He wasn’t hearing me, that He was there. He was there if nothing else but protecting me from death and protecting my parents and my sister from death.
Tera Melber: Well Laura, I know that Call to Care is the ministry that you lead and it’s really a picture of Ephesians 3:20 that says “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work within us.” So we’d really just like to see the Lord utilized this childhood that you had to bring you to a calling to do something with what you knew. So tell us about how those early days of you all having a desire in your heart to do something to engage in the foster care system or with vulnerable children and how that looked as you began what you thought it would be and how the Lord kind of drew you into what it has become.
Laura Maxwell: Sure. So I was actually just sitting in the nursing room with my second-born who’s almost 11 now at church when I very clearly heard the Lord calling me to an orphan care ministry. At the time, I had been a bridal consultant for about 15 years after a former career as a teacher. So this was going in a way nother direction-
Lynette Ezell: I’d say so.
Laura Maxwell: … than my current career path and I didn’t really know where it was coming from. Well I did know where it was coming from. I just felt burdened, just instantly burdened and weighty for orphan care, not even knowing any orphans or any adoptive children. I didn’t know one child in foster care.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, that’s just … I love the way you put that. You felt burdened and you felt weighty. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. I mean that’s … He’s doing something and all you can do is just take the next step. So I just … Keep sharing — I’m sorry — how you took the next step.
Laura Maxwell: You’re good. So I finished nursing my baby and I got up and I headed down the hallway to the main office of our church because surely all of them had felt called to start this as well. They looked at me like I had three heads.
Lynette Ezell: Exactly.
Laura Maxwell: They were like “Is this women’s ministry? Is this children’s ministry? Where does this fit in the framework of our church?” So nothing happened. Nothing happened. So this is in 2000 and … Let’s see. 2008. This is in May of 2008. So I fiddled around with it a little bit, trying to do some research and figure out what even is orphan care ministry. That’s not the word the Lord gave me. That was the word I found as I researched ministries that serve to vulnerable children. It just went nowhere.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, Laura. I know that waiting upon the Lord is very difficult, but even when there seems to be a season on silence, I know the Lord’s still working. A couple years later at Wednesday night fellowship when God had everything ready and the right pieces began to come together, the Call to Care team is born.
Laura Maxwell: Wednesday night, I’m eating dinner in the church and I’m just still thinking about all this and what is the Lord going to do and how am I going to do this. I don’t have a business degree. I don’t really know how to do anything as far as starting any kind of ministry. I overhear someone talking about a girl in our church is going on a mission trip to an orphanage in Uganda. So I go seek this girl out who I knew because I did her wedding many years ago so I knew her. I go seek her out and I was like “You love orphans? I love orphans. Tell me what are you doing. What are you doing?” She said “Well actually, our new pastor’s wife is an adoption consultant.”
So soon we’re in my living room and there’s seven of us: one who has a heart for foster care, one has a heart for missions to the unadoptable, one who’s domestic in adoption, one who’s international adoption. It was the orphan care everything. It was all pieces of the pie. So Call to Care was born in October of 2013 in my living room.
Lynette Ezell: Well I love what you add on your website. Tera and I totally agree with you that small steps can add up to huge impacts. So what are some of the small steps? You saw that grow with seven people in your living room, but what are some small steps the church can take to help keep children, what is Call to Care doing to help keep children out of the foster system?
Laura Maxwell: That’s a great question. So one of the things we are doing now in our community … And we’re now in 20 counties in south Georgia.
Lynette Ezell: That’s amazing.
Laura Maxwell: We have Call to Care chapters serving. So what we are actively trying to do is when DFCS calls on us to serve a case that’s under investigation or family preservation or reunification even, we are actually looking on our city map at the physical address of that family. From there, we are looking for the nearest church to their front door-
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Tera Melber: That’s a great idea. I love that plan.
Laura Maxwell: … because what we have found is that most of these families are definitely in poverty which led to a lot of things or either a lot of things led to their poverty. The reality of them coming to a big city church like even I attend — I attend the First Baptist Church where there are a couple thousand people in there on Sunday — it’s very intimidating. They’re probably more … It’s more realistic that they would attend a community church most within a rock’s throw of their front door and that the demographics of their church would also be very similar where they would feel very comfortable there.
So we have started building relationships with pastors in churches in our communities with the knowledge that they know that we will call on them to serve a family that is right there with them. So we are actually doing that with many families. So just here in [Tifton 00:16:55] today, I’ll be actually helping to pick up a mom to show her how to make a grocery list and then we’re going to go grocery shopping where another mom from a pharmacy is coming to work with her about her children’s medications and their healthcare. So getting community partners that don’t attend their church that have knowledge to serve them and also getting the churches in their communities to come and serve them.
We tell the churches they don’t have to put any money in it if they don’t feel able to. Most of our churches are very poor and most of our pastors are bi-vocational in our small towns so they don’t have a ton of funds to put into missions and serving their community, but they have a lot of love and lot of serving hearts. So we’re able to match donor dollars with these people that can be the hands and feet of Jesus, to go and serve and deliver beds and deliver meals and to transport moms to doctor’s appointments and things like that.
Tera Melber: I love too that you’re working through the body of Christ-
Lynette Ezell: That’s right.
Tera Melber: … because that’s where it has to begin, the body using its gifts and talents to serve the community in the name of Christ. It doesn’t just provide a physical need.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Tera Melber: It provides a physical need through the body of Christ so that this family can be attached to this body just like your family was when you were growing up.
Laura Maxwell: That’s right.
Lynette Ezell: Well you have just grown in leaps and bounds from 10 counties in our state to over 20.
Laura Maxwell: That’s right.
Lynette Ezell: That’s incredible.
Laura Maxwell: Yeah. The first, we didn’t really start going going until 2014 and we worked with 24 children who were all in foster care that year. I hadn’t pulled our numbers from the end of December, but we were close to 1000. We were already at 900 and something going into December between those 20 counties. So those are children who are adoptive children, children in care, children unifying, a lot of family preservation, preventing children from coming into care for lack of resources and not from any kind of abuse or anything. They just didn’t have the resources and knowledge they needed to parent.
Tera Melber: That’s really amazing. Family preservation is so important.
Lynette Ezell: It really is. It’s the key to it. In closing up here, I’m thinking about you and your seven of you meeting in your living room.
Tera Melber: Right.
Lynette Ezell: I keep going back to that because Tera and I have sat at my kitchen table or at a Starbucks or just through texting, just trying to help families in our area, but what are some thoughts or some suggestions that you have for those wanting to do something like this within their own community? To me, looking at the map, here’s where the struggling family is.
Tera Melber: Right.
Lynette Ezell: Here’s where this family is that needs support. Here’s the closet church. That is beautiful, Laura. So what suggestions would you give to our families who are listening how they can take the first step toward helping those in their own backyard?
Laura Maxwell: Yeah. So what we suggest every time we launch a chapter in a new county is to set up in a meeting with your local DFCS office, with your local director, and ask them “If you could have three things, what would it be? Like your three big wishes?” You’re always going to hear more foster homes.
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Laura Maxwell: You’re typically going to get a few more things, and start there. When we started in Tift County DFCS, honestly it took me from that October to April to get someone to call me back because they are very overworked and very overwhelmed.
Tera Melber: So keep calling.
Laura Maxwell: They almost just don’t have time to do anything else. They don’t have time to answer the phone for people who are not doing something for them-
Tera Melber: Right.
Laura Maxwell: … or they don’t need to do something for. So we sent lots of donuts and they called me back. Monthly, we sent them. So they called me back and she gave me her three things, and we started with the small things.
Tera Melber: Yeah.
Laura Maxwell: It’s hard to recruit foster families in the beginning. It’s not for us now. We’ve recruited hundreds of foster families within all of our counties, but they wanted a very beautiful visitation room because there’s was pretty yucky. So we had that done in a month. We rallied our churches and our people and redid the rooms, and they wanted a journey bag and a clothing closet program which is what we call it now. So those are the toiletry bags for every child in their care and the set of clothing for every child that enters care.
Those things, establishing those small things which are easy to do and they don’t seem Christ-focused, I mean there’s no one sharing the salvation and decorating a room or packing bags, but it enabled us to build a relationship with our local office where they begin to trust us and see that we were not a flash in the pan which was something they told me in our first conversation, that people come to them all the time wanting to do something and they don’t have time for one-and-done ministry.
Tera Melber: We hear that all the time.
Laura Maxwell: They need consistency. We need you to answer every time we call. So our programs with just physical needs were a tool to show them that we were in it for the long haul, and we were able to hang the scriptures on those rooms. Actually, we’re about to launch our first bible study at the DFCS office five years in-
Tera Melber: Wow.
Laura Maxwell: … because they’ve begun to see that we are real about our faith and what we want to do to serve them no matter what, even when we get in rifts and we don’t agree, that we’re consistently there just like the Lord is. So just starting something small, whatever they need, and just being consistent in doing what you say you’re going to do and finding a way to do it and also being afraid to say “We can’t do that.” I now meet with our DFCS staff leadership quarterly where they tell me their new wishes, and some of them are the same ones that’s been on the list for a while and sometimes there’s new things. So just knowing what your boundaries and what you can and can’t do are really important too so you don’t get what they call mission drift. You don’t want to go down this road of doing all these other things that are good but not exactly what your ministry’s called to do so you can stay focused and continue to do good work and do it well.
Lynette Ezell: Laura, you have a quote on your website. I just love it. I’m from the Mississippi River area so I think this is why I connected with it, but you said that foster care, helping these kids is like standing at a river and seeing children float by, then trying to pick out which ones you can actually save. Eventually, you have to find out who’s throwing the kids in the river and work on that.
Laura Maxwell: That’s exactly right.
Lynette Ezell: I just love that, and that’s what you’re doing. So we urge everyone, our families to check out Call to Care and to look on your website because this can be duplicated and I’m sure you’re available to help people all over North America who would want to get in their own backyard and like [Paul to Titus 00:23:55], to learn to devote yourselves to good works, to help these urgent needs so that we’ll not be a church that is unfruitful.
Laura Maxwell: That’s exactly right. We’ll be more than willing to help anyone launch their own local orphan care ministry so they can start serving the people in their own backyard.
Lynette Ezell: Well Laura, thanks for your time today.
Tera Melber: We sure do appreciate it. We’re praying for you as your ministry continues and asking the Lord’s kindest blessings.
Laura Maxwell: Thank you so much. We appreciate the opportunity to share what we’re doing here in south Georgia.
Tera Melber: Thanks, Laura.
Lynette Ezell: Thank you.
Laura Maxwell: Thank you. Bye-bye.
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.