By Sonja White
The arc of international flags on the front lawn of RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon, Ohio, might remind some of the United Nations. But for RiverTree’s congregation and the community, the flags celebrate children. Each flag represents the birth country of the 150 children who have been adopted by a family involved in the church’s Born in Our Hearts adoption ministry.
Born in Our Hearts is an adoption and foster care ministry dedicated to raising the awareness of children in need of adoption and helping families through the adoption process. The ministry serves anyone who is considering adoption, is in the process of adoption, has already adopted, or is providing foster care. The ministry offers information, shares resources, and gives prayer support in times of need. It sponsors social gatherings for fun and fellowship and opportunities for children to play together.
Church families have adopted children from within the United States as well as from Peru, Ukraine, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Romania, Vietnam, Philippines, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Guatemala.
“We experienced unexpected, explosive growth,” says Sue McClain, team leader for the Born in Our Hearts ministry. “The group began with five families who were all in the process of an international adoption, and within several years we were a group of more than 100 families. I don’t think anyone could have imagined the ministry that God had planned.”
With growth came challenges. “One of the greatest opportunities was for the ministry to define its scope,” says McClain. “We work hard to raise awareness, answer questions, provide information, celebrate, and support, (but) we are not an adoption agency.”
She says family events are one of her favorite parts of this ministry. “Adoption has become so much a part of this culture and community that some children now ask if a baby is coming from a hospital or from an airport!”
The group has hosted many different types of events: Easter egg hunts for children, silent auctions, guest speakers, and hayrides. There are groups that bring meals to families who have just come home. They form prayer teams and lead prayer events. Their Considering Adoption class invites families to learn more about adoption, ask questions, learn how to start the process, and determine if adoption is right for their family.
Born in Our Hearts hosts several major events a year. Recently, adoption expert and author Jean MacLeod spoke to a crowd of more than 100 people. The event featured the author sharing tips and insights regarding parenting adopted children, and also provided an important opportunity for sharing and networking.
Families in the process of adoption find great comfort and value in talking to folks who have done what they are trying to do. Many would agree this is the greatest part of the ministry. The event continued long after the planned ending time as families exchanged encouraging words, stories, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.
Born in Our Hearts also works with Lifesong, an organization established by RiverTree that offers grants to adoptive families affiliated with the church.
“Sometimes the cost of adoption can make the process seem prohibitive,” McClain says. “We don’t want that to be the case. Through this program, adoptive families are encouraged to raise funds through family and friends. That money is then matched through the grant.”
Born in Our Hearts is the only faith-based organization to win national and state adoption excellence awards for demonstrating dedication to Ohio’s children needing permanent families.
McClain encourages churches considering starting an adoption ministry to begin simply.
“This ministry started as a barbecue with five families eight years ago,” she says. “A ministry can begin by simply walking hand in hand with one couple in the adoption process. Then it is a matter of watching where God goes and what he does.”
Sonja White and her husband, Brett, have two biological sons and adopted their daughter, Anna, from Kazakhstan in 2001. To learn more about RiverTree Christian Church or Born in Our Hearts, visit rivertreechristian.com or borninourhearts.org.