Finding hope in the midst of hopelessness is a common theme for people during the worldwide pandemic, but for Mitch and Chelsi Myer, this need hits closer to home.
The Myers, formerly of Abilene and currently of Tonganoxie, are Forever Kids’ first Foster/Adoptive Parents of the Month. Forever Kids is a non-profit focused on meeting the needs of children and families. Mitch was youth pastor at Sutphen Mill Christian Church in Chapman when they lived in Abilene, and Chelsi was a family and consumer science agent for K-State Research and Extension.
The Myers have five foster and adopted children: two girls aged 12 and 8 whom they adopted out of foster care and three boys aged 5, 3 and 1 who are still in foster care but are in the process of being adopted by the Myers.
“For us, the quarantine has been a blessing in the sense of getting more time together, but it’s been a huge issue for kids who need to be in foster care who are in homes that are abusive or neglectful,” said Chelsi, who is an office director and county extension agent for Kansas State University in Leavenworth. She graduated from K-State with a bachelor’s degree in public health nutrition and dietetics.
“There are so many kids who should be going into the system but nobody’s seeing the evidence because they are at home,” Chelsi said. “Domestic violence during COVID is scary for a lot of people.”
While the Myers may not be able to save every child in need, they do their best to care for the ones entrusted to them. The couple’s initial impetus to adopt started when they found themselves waiting longer than expected to conceive a biological child. However, Chelsi said she wanted to emphasize that foster care is not a “Plan B” to having biological children.
The Myers’ tipping point toward foster care was when they saw the 2015 documentary “The Drop Box” which awakened them to the fact that over a million children worldwide don’t have families caring for them.
“That was when God put it on our heart to pursue foster care,” Chelsi said. “I think there’s a misconception that people only do foster care because it’s their second plan, but that’s not true for us. Foster care is a calling all its own.”
Mitch is a youth pastor at Tonganoxie Christian Church in Tonganoxie and Chelsi has served alongside him in churches and previously in a campus ministry. Though foster care is not traditionally seen as a pastoral role, Chelsi said she and her husband saw foster care as a clear ministry path from day one.
“It’s not the stereotypical ministry of sharing the Gospel, feeding the hungry or clothing the homeless. We are literally just doing the day in and day out of raising children, changing diapers, dealing with behaviors, getting therapies,” she said. “Foster care is a really hard place to see the realities of the world and how much pain some people endure in their early years, but it’s a blessing to know that our place is a haven for them where they can find rest and feel safe.”
Chelsi learned early on in foster parent training that the number one thing to do with each child is to help them feel safe, so she has made sure to tell each new placement, “We’re so happy you’re here. You are safe. And you are loved.”
Urgent care with divine provision
When biological children arrive in a family, there is usually several months of preparation, including a shower in which the parents receive many of the supplies they will need to care for their new little one.
In contrast, most of the Myers’ foster children have arrived at their doorstep within hours of the initial phone call. They picked up their foster baby at one week old less than five hours after first hearing of him. When they said yes to the call, they had very few supplies to care for a newborn.
Within days, they received a carseat, baby clothes, simple toys and more.
“There’s a temptation to doubt that the Lord would provide, but every single time we’ve accepted a placement and had new children join us, the Lord has been so faithful to provide the things we need,” Chelsi said. “I remember that when our daughters were first placed with us, a friend brought over Bibles, and they are the Bibles the girls still use to this day.
“That has been the most awe-inspiring part of each placement — to say, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but I know we’re supposed to say yes. Therefore, we’re going to trust the Lord to provide all the details and resources we need.’”
Chelsi said her faith has given her hope in the midst of real-life stories that feel really hopeless.
“Sometimes when you are in the midst of foster care with kids that come from abuse and neglect, you hear the ugliest stories. It would be really easy to lose faith but knowing that Jesus came to save the lost gives me hope,” she said.
Along with the misconception that foster care is just another way to add kids to the family for those who can’t conceive, Chelsi said one of the top misconceptions she has heard is that a plausible reason for people to not foster is that they don’t want to “get too attached.”
Chelsi said that fear should be a foster parent’s least concern.
“One of the greatest rebuttals to that is that children are too valuable to not risk loving them,” Chelsi said. “We’ve had to say goodbye to at least three placements who’ve returned home to their parents, but my pain and loss of saying goodbye is not superior to their wellbeing and their need for a safe place.”
For the Myers, the vulnerability of possibly getting attached and then having to part ways is par for the course.
“It’s definitely a sense of service where you are opening your whole heart with a risk of having to say goodbye, but it’s worth it every time,” Chelsi said. “You reap what you sow in this life, and foster care is worth every bit of investment.”
Case for Character
If the Myers’ foster children had been sponsored by Forever Kids’ Case for Character program, they would have at least arrived with their favorite belongings and character-building materials in a suitcase. With the motto “Trash the Bag,” Case for Character provides children in foster care with sturdy, classy suitcases with room for their favorite belongings, as well as character-building materials to help set them on the right path.
Chelsi said she finds the Case for Character concept wonderful.
“Most of our placements have been delivered with trash bags, and it always feels very dehumanizing. We’ve never gone on a vacation and thrown all our things in a trash bag,” Chelsi said. “Case for Character shows respect to those kids and shows that, regardless of their age, they are worthy of a nice good suitcase. It sounds so simple, but it truly is quite impactful. Instead of making their belongings look like trash, it makes them look like something special.”