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Angela and John Raske’s decision to explore international adoption was not a spur-of-the-moment, out-of-the-blue idea. The idea of adopting a child from another country had been planted in Angela’s heart and mind when she was only about 10 years old.
“I grew up in a small town in rural America,” she says, “where something like international adoption was pretty much unknown. But one day I overheard an adult conversation about how a cousin who lived far away was going to adopt a child from India. I still remember where I was when I heard that news.
“I believe God planted that seed in my heart and covered it over for later,” she adds. “I don’t think I gave it much thought after that, but it was always quietly there. I grew up and got married, and we had two biological children.”
Angela describes her family at that point as “living the American dream. We had two kids—a boy and a girl. Dad’s at work and Mom’s at home.”
It was when her son was a toddler that the seed God had planted so many years ago sprouted and broke through to the surface. But although she and John had been married for more than ten years, she had never talked to him about the possibility of adoption or about her experience as a child.
Inwardly, Angela resisted God’s promptings. “It was too scary to talk about,” she says. “Once you say it out loud, it becomes real and you have to deal with it.” She even rationalized that what God really wanted her to do was pray that childless friends would choose adoption.
“I was in denial for a long time,” Angela admits. “We didn’t have close friends or neighbors who had adopted internationally, so it was a huge unknown. We had what I felt was an ideal situation, and I was afraid of doing anything that could mess that up. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to parent an adopted child well. It was really ridiculous, but I think I was just afraid of taking that first step of faith,” she says, “and the enemy had a long history of successfully using fear against me.” Yet, in spite of Angela’s fear, the idea of adopting a vulnerable child was never far from her heart and mind.
“My other fears didn’t suddenly go away,” Angela says, “but there was a tipping point when I knew that if I didn’t act on this, one day I would be a 90-year-old woman looking back and regretting that I had missed out on something good God had for me and my family.
“Eventually, I think I realized that I was probably done giving birth to children and that adoption was the way God would grow our family.” That realization became something of a spiritual crossroads: either she would bring it up to her husband and walk in obedience to God, or she would be in disobedience. “I was so nervous about it,” she says, but she took that next step and sat down for a conversation with John.
“‘This may shock you,’ I told him, ‘but I feel that God has asked me to talk to you about the idea of adopting a child. I’m not saying we have to do this, and I’m not going to try to talk you into something. But I believe God wants me to tell you what I’ve been thinking and ask you to pray about it.’”
That conversation took John by surprise. He’d always wanted a bigger family but had assumed that he and Angela would have more biological children.
“I think the idea was interesting to him, but not something he’d considered for us,” Angela said. “But while I’m a seriously slow and analytical processor, John is a make-it-happen kind of guy. It took him about twenty-four hours to say, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Angela and John began to research the idea, following Angela’s pull toward international adoption, particularly from China. But, Angela says, “you can read and research only so much before you want to see what it looks like ‘with skin on.’”
They contacted a family who had biological children and had adopted a child from China, and the family agreed to talk, honestly answering John and Angela’s questions. With what they learned, the Raskes felt ready for the next step, with the goal of adopting a healthy baby girl.
Told that the wait could be four years or more, Angela—already raising two young children—was okay with waiting, even when she later learned that the expected wait had stretched to five or even six years.
“I think John and I had been doing life in our own strength and abilities more than we realized. Our faith was important to us, but this was definitely stepping beyond what we knew we could do on our own. It really stretched us individually. It stretched our marriage. It stretched our parenting. We had to love outside of our own little pot of ability to love. But the truth is, that is as necessary for biological kids as it is for adopted children.”
A New Church Home
It was around that time that the Raskes first came to Wheaton Bible Church. They were looking for a strong, biblically based church that would support them as parents in their desire to see their kids grow in their faith. Even though it was a big church, they saw many familiar faces from the kids’ schools and the community, and realized they had found their church home.
Not long after, a sermon series by Pastor Rob had a powerful impact on Angela and John.
“He was teaching from the book of Joshua and was talking to us a lot about trading the American dream for the Kingdom dream,” Angela recalls. “That’s right where we had been—kind of at a crossroad.”
God had already been teaching Angela about walking in faith despite fear, and the series gave words to what she and John were already experiencing: giving up the false “safety” of the American Dream for something greater.
“God had invited us into His dream for us, and we had taken steps toward that. Those sermons confirmed that we were on the right path, despite our fears and the unfamiliar territory,” she adds.
While the wait for their adoption continued, Angela would visit the adoption agency’s website and pray for the hard-to-place children on the “Waiting Children” list. These were either older boys and girls or younger children with special needs that made placements more challenging.
One two-year-old became a special focus of prayer. Angela felt drawn to a little boy who had a huge grin and irresistible dimples, and was blind. Again, fear wrestled with faith. “We had said yes regarding adoption,” Angela says. “Now . . . special needs?
“Eventually,” she says, “we asked for a little more information about Isaac, and God seemed to confirm that he was to be ours.”
The Raskes switched their paperwork to the special-needs program—and quickly learned the careful process of adopting a child with special needs involved an extensive review of medical files, the development of a rehabilitation and nurture plan, and an approval process for the adoptive family.
Through that process, they sought the advice of an international adoption doctor, their own pediatrician, and other professionals—but through it all, Angela says, “we knew Isaac was ours. We were just exercising due diligence and building a team to bring him home.”
In 2008, about five months after they started the process of adopting Isaac, they traveled to China to welcome him into their family.
The Impact of Foster Care
A special part of Isaac’s story is that in his earliest years, he had been given the wonderful gift of a loving Chinese foster family. While most Chinese children waiting for adoption live in orphanages run by the government, Isaac had been placed with a foster family because of his blindness.
John and Angela have seen the incredible benefits of the love that family poured into Isaac’s life as they nurtured him for his first year and a half.
“His foster family sent us a box of pictures of him, and his foster mother wrote me a long letter. The love in what his foster mother wrote was palpable,” Angela says. “The person who translated it said, ‘There are many tears on these pages.’
“We’ve always felt gratitude for that family, and Isaac will benefit his whole life from what they gave him. I never got to meet them personally, but I was able to write and thank them and occasionally send photos and updates on Isaac’s progress.”
A Connection Continents Away
It was Angela’s gratitude for Isaac’s foster family that fueled a very special cross-cultural experience several years later.
An invitation to be part of a GO Team to Costa Rica in March of last year—to serve alongside WBC missionaries Phil and Jill Aspegren in their ministry to vulnerable children—was both attractive and seemingly impossible for Angela. It was a wonderful opportunity to see firsthand how the Aspegrens’ ministry, Casa Viva, was bringing the concept of foster care to a part of the world where it was virtually unknown.
But with three children at home, Angela found that the logistics of getting away for over a week seemed overwhelming. Beyond that, a second very expensive international adoption was in the works, and the money to pay for the trip to Costa Rico just wasn’t there. But God provided on both counts, and Angela became part of a team of seven women headed to Costa Rica.
“I went with an eagerness to rub shoulders with these missionaries and the pioneer foster parents who were doing God’s work on behalf of children in need. I wanted to learn from them. I didn’t know what I had to offer, but I was honored to go and see what God was doing there.”
While in Costa Rica the team did a lot of small projects—including tons of painting, Angela says—and hosted two special events, one a luncheon for foster moms, where the team cared for the children and freed the moms for a crafting opportunity and a time of inspiration and encouragement.
Throughout the week, the Aspegrens had gotten to know Angela, and learned about Isaac’s adoption. When they heard about his experience in foster care they invited Angela to share her story with the Casa Viva foster moms—to thank them on behalf of the foster children in their care.
“I’d never had the opportunity to thank Isaac’s foster family in person,” Angela said, “to look them in the face and express my gratitude and tell them all the ways they changed his life. So, with the help of Annabel Garza, who translated for me, I shared the impact Isaac’s foster parents had on his life and expressed my deep gratitude for those Casa Viva foster parents. None of what they do is wasted. That’s true in China or Costa Rica or here in the United States.
“I told them how children like Isaac are able to bond, love well, and become part of adoptive families—because of the love and care they received when they were part of foster families like theirs. Isaac is able to love well because his foster family loved him well.
“The foster mothers cried, and I cried. It was a powerful moment for all of us,” Angela said.
She came away from her GO Team experience with a deep appreciation for Casa Viva and for what Phil and Jill Aspegren are doing to change the face of care for orphans in Central America. “I was so impressed by their foster families, who were amazing, but also by their staff of people—psychologists and social workers and others—who are very good at what they do and who are passionate about their work on behalf of children in desperate need.”
Sharing a Passion
Angela was increasingly eager to share her passion about adoption and foster care. “I knew that in a church this big I couldn’t be the only one looking around for information about these opportunities to get involved in meeting the needs of vulnerable kids.” she says. “I think there was always a desire to get together with other families who shared an interest in adoption and foster care, but when we first brought Isaac home, we were thrust into learning how to raise a child who’s blind and were dealing with a series of surgeries for Isaac. We didn’t have energy to start anything else.”
So when Angela heard about an adoption-related activity at WBC in the fall of 2011, she was eager to be part of it. “I wasn’t personally acquainted with Sue Mitchell, the volunteer leader of the group, or Local Impact Pastor Chris McElwee, who was overseeing its launch, but I basically banged on the door until they let me in,” Angela adds with a smile. Not long after, Sue and Angela became co-leaders of the newly formed Adoption and Foster Care Ministry at WBC, jointly organized by the Local Impact and Children’s ministries.
With the recent adoption of infant twins, Sue has stepped back from that leadership role, and Angela now leads with the assistance of Toby and Murphy Meisenheimer, who have experience in Safe Families, foster care, and adoption.
“Our purpose is to provide connection and encouragement and equip people who have a heart for the vulnerable child, whether that’s through adoption, foster care, Safe Families, or other support measures,” she explains. “I don’t think everyone’s called to have a child in their home in this way, but I know how life changing it has been for me. I want to offer others a safe, non-judgmental place to explore these opportunities.”
Having welcomed Isaac into their family, the Raskes can’t imagine not having followed where God was leading. Today, with their adoption of a second child from China approved, they are eager to learn the identity of the little one—likely a girl—who will become the next addition to their family.
“God does not invite us to a life that is perfect or easy. He invites us to lose our false ideas about what makes life ‘good’ and find our true purpose and fulfillment in Him. The life He has for us is far richer and deeper than ‘perfect or easy’ can ever offer, and it starts with our own adoption: ‘When the right time came, God sent his Son . . . so that he could adopt us as his very own children.’” (Galatians 4:4–5, NLT).
Our adoption was transformational for our family. We immediately became a conspicuous adoptive family, by which I mean that when you look at our family, there is obvious cultural diversity. We also became a conspicuous special-needs family. Because of that, our children have grown more accepting and more comfortable with people who come from a different story—whether because of a disability or an adoption or just differences in general.
Adoption has given Angela a new understanding of the Gospel. “Adoption is not just a social-justice solution that we came up with. It is God’s idea. It’s at the heart of the Gospel,” she says. “God didn’t just save us and give us Jesus’ righteousness. He said, ‘I’m also going to make you my child and give you everything that goes along with that. I’m going to give you My name. I’m going to make you a coheir—a sibling—with Christ. Adoption has deepened my understanding of what it means for me to be a daughter of God and a coheir with Christ.
“It has also deepened my understanding of what it means to be a parent and love my children. Before we brought Isaac home, one day I had this thought: Lord, what if I can’t love a child that’s not born from my womb as much as I love the two kids I’ve given birth to? That wouldn’t be fair to a child.
“And I sensed God saying, ‘That thing [love] you are doing with your other two kids, do you think that is all you doing that? That’s not you; that’s me.’ And He just kind of laughed at me, as if to say, Don’t you get it? Parental love was My idea from the start. No matter how our children come to us, we love them because of and through Him.
Philip and Jill Aspegren, Serving in Costa Rica with Casa Viva
WBC Missionaries Phil and Jill Aspegren are the heart and soul of the Casa Viva ministry in Costa Rica, where they are spearheading a movement to connect children in need of a safe place to sleep with local families and churches. The ultimate goal of this “family-based model” is an expanded spectrum of care, ranging from biological family reunification to foster care to permanent adoption.
Throughout Latin America, the traditional pattern has been to care for children in institutional settings, using out-of-country funds,” Philip said. “Casa Viva is the only program in Costa Rica that is placing at-risk children into local families. We think local Christian families can become the number one solution for children in our region.”
Here’s how Phil describes the three elements that are central to the “DNA” of Casa Viva’s 11-year-old ministry:
In just a decade since that model was introduced, Casa Viva has developed a network of thirty churches in Costa Rica with families who are engaging on behalf of children and opening their homes to at-risk children. A recent Casa Viva family event had more than 450 Costa Ricans in attendance.
While this is exciting, so is the fact that in 2014, the Aspegrens anticipate that 75 percent of Casa Viva’s funding will come from within Costa Rica. The national Costa Rican churches are recognizing their role in the care of children and families. They are responding to the overwhelming need by working to become the first and primary solution—and other Latino countries are taking notice! Ministries and organizations in Mexico, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic are being trained by Casa Viva so they can introduce this Christian response to at-risk children in their countries, contextualizing it to their own settings.