Slow, Hard Growth…Just as God Intended: Church Orphan Ministry in West Michigan

Jodi Lewis helps lead the orphan ministry at Kentwood Community Church in Grand Rapids, MI.  We’ve been friends for years, and I recall hearing weariness in her voice at times.  But she recently expressed a sense of wonder at all that has happened, seeming suddenly, after years of slow growth.  The journey has been hard and slow at times.  But now, as she looks back on it amidst truly amazing happenings, she can’t help but conclude it all was just as God intended.  Here’s what Jodi shared, in her own words:

I didn’t consider myself a leader, by any stretch of the imagination.

This was well-illustrated in the common theme in comments received from college professors: “Needs to be more assertive.”

But something struck a chord when my husband and I adopted our amazing children— two sons from Russia and later, a daughter from China

A powerful passion developed. So in 2004 God called me to begin an orphan ministry at Kentwood Community Church in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area called “Families of Promise.”

In the beginning I simply envisioned inspiring more Christians to provide loving homes for orphaned children, and I was ready to shout the message from the rooftops!  I had what some might have considered grandiose plans, to launch a church-wide initiative from the start, but over and over our ministry was gently encouraged to lead a grassroots, one-step-at-a-time effort.

As hard as that may have been to hear given the depth of my passion, in the following years we focused our efforts on most every opportunity that did come along, from the smallest bulletin announcement to events for hundreds in the community.

In the growing church orphan ministry community, we allowed ourselves to be inspired and to inspire, to be mentored and to mentor.  And over time we began to capture a glimpse of the beautiful story that God was weaving us into and how He was using that story to grow our faith and understanding of Him.

And of course, it was so much richer than we ever could have scripted. We experienced more orphans finding the unconditional love of families, more churches in our area starting similar ministries, more Christians supporting each other in these endeavors and the founding and growth of Orphan Ministry Alliance, West Michigan.

Then early in 2012 our lead pastor, Kyle Ray, approached us with the news that is probably every church orphan ministry leader’s prayer and dream–that God was calling him to do a sermon series focused on the global orphan crisis.

Kyle attended the orphan Summit for the first time in May and was further challenged and inspired by the insight he gained there.

In the fall Kentwood Community launched the 3-week sermon series. As part of the series, we recognized Orphan Sunday for the first time as a congregation and nearly 3,000 people viewed the “Faultless” documentary.  Congregants were visibly moved, and one long-time KCC staff member stated that she had never seen so much activity at a church informational fair as she did the one on the weekend of the Faultless showing.

I can’t even begin to tell you about all the doors that God has opened through and beyond the recent activities.

In the past few months, Families of Promise has had the opportunity to follow up with and support over 200 people on various levels for a core team that has historically included two  regular volunteers. Out of those 200 or so, over 50 people responded at the end of fall sermon series that they would prayerfully consider adoption, foster care and Safe Families and many more were interested in volunteering with our ministry, supporting adoptive and foster families, mentoring and becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate or mentor.

The growing pains are significant and real, and the work can be exhausting. We are now immersed in the challenge of building a solid foundation of leadership for the tremendous growth that has occurred in this area, to continue to support and enable those who are responding to God’s call. We now have the strong volunteer leaders to move forward with plans we’ve prayed and dreamed about for years, and those leaders need to be trained and directed. But I can look back now and be thankful for how God used the early years of going slow to grow my faith and ability to lead.

I still have much to learn but I’m so thankful for all the CAFO members and organizations who have poured into me and our ministry in the past years to prepare us for a time like this.

See a recent article on orphan ministry at Kentwood Community Church and watch a short video of Pastor Kyle Ray share about the impact of orphan ministry upon the church community.