This is the first part of a two-part series. First, we hear from the host parents. The second post will feature the child impacted by this hosting relationship. Enjoy!
Jim and I saw the movie, Blindside, in late 2009, and were “blindsided” with God’s prompting to help children at risk like Michael Oher. Our lives were busy with two active boys, Austin, and Trevor, sophomore, and freshman in public high school. Hoffman High is the most racially diverse high school in our district and we embraced that! We also led a co-ed small group at our home through Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. We loved that our house was the “go-to house,” not fancy, but homey, and a place for people to gather. Our door opened wide to neighbors, friends, sports teams, and of course, family. We gladly served up food and love (and lots of cups of cold water) no matter the race or the age. A plaque above our front door echoed Joshua 29:16, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
We discovered Safe Families for Children through Willow Creek, and soon found ourselves interviewed, approved, fingerprinted, and expectant. In mid-January of 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, prompting our child welfare agency to partner with Safe Families to take a busload of orphans scheduled to arrive at O’Hare international Airport. Jim and I were on the list to receive two girls, but the orphans were not allowed to enter the US. Fast forward six months…
Sundays were still our busiest, most tiring days, but also the most fulfilling. From church at 9:00-10:30, to cleaning and preparing tables and lunch for the Willow Creek Hoffman House Group at our home for 55 hungry students from 1:00-3:00. Some had so much fun they stayed longer—boys played football at a nearby field and freshman girls made cotton candy in the kitchen. True community was happening week after week between students, leaders and hosts. It was wonderful to serve these spirited kids (2 of which were our sons) and encourage them in their journeys with God and each other.
Chris, the tall freshman boy often stayed at our home after 5:00—long after every other teenager left, or was picked up by their parents. He wouldn’t stop playing video games. He was the hungry student who asked for 7 helpings at lunch. He told his small group how his mother needed work and how frustrating that was. He lived in Taiwan for 7 years before moving to Schaumburg. His single mother mostly spoke Mandarin. We knew nothing about the father. It was obvious Chris needed tutoring in English, and in writing and reading Mandarin.
One Sunday, after youth group, I spotted the back of Chris’ head as he sat in a recliner reading one of my husband’s war books, and thought, well, he sure looks comfortable…like he’s part of the family!
Little did I know just how prophetic that scene was…
A few weeks later Chris and his mother were evicted from their studio apartment and sought help at Willow Creek. She was directed to a women’s shelter and Chris was referred to Safe Families because he was too old to stay with her. Hours later, our son, Austin, read an email flashing on our screen, “15-year-old boy from Schaumburg needs a Safe Family home.“Austin felt it was Chris from his small group and was proven right. We prayed about our “open house, open heart” policy, then made a family decision to take in the hungry, bold, tall, Taiwanese, now homeless child. Jim said, “we all agree that we will host Chris in whatever way God wanted—for a day, a week, a month, a year…or forever.” Jim was ready to lead and be “the father to the fatherless,” and “to take up the case of the stranger” after reading verses in the book of Job.
In August of 2010, Chris arrived at our house to live and start sophomore year. Just like in the Blindside, he would have his own bedroom for the first time, pick out clothes for the first time, get his driver’s permit and learn to drive. I felt like Sandra Bullock navigating through red tape at the DMV offering my “legal guardian and power-of-attorney” document to very skeptical clerks. Chris wanted to call me “mom” the first week, but I was reluctant and suggested “MamaC.” He insisted on “mom” and I relented, although I thought he would be reunited with his real mom as soon as she found a job and an apartment.
His mom took him out for meals and joined us during holidays, while she continued to look for work. She did find a live-in nanny position with a Chinese speaking family, but would not be able to take Chris with her. She grew to love her new “family” and Chris learned to love his new “family.” Chris’ father lives in Taiwan and is not part of his life.
Throughout high school, Chris learned to share food at the dinner table, to be on time and finish chores, and to cooperate with siblings and follow parental rules. His English speaking and writing improved. He learned how to play racquetball, football, softball, and to find and keep jobs. His GPA was decent and he passed an AP Mandarin college placement test after being tutored for 2 years. He joined the National Guard at 18, went to Harper College and even his bank account grew! Most importantly, he grew spiritually, building on his salvation at a junior high ministry retreat and baptism at Willow Creek. He continued to grow through Student Impact, plus additional mentoring and programs at other churches. He earned a BS in Economics from Northern Illinois University and continued to thrive at our home. He joined a triathlon club and completed a half ironman.
Sure, he tested all of our patience and our leadership, but he eventually came full circle and demonstrated gratitude. There were some very shaky moments where we could’ve given up, but not as many as the good times, and the laughter, and the “wow! you did it!” moments.
In November of 2017, Chris was one of the 60% college graduates who passed Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. Despite the rigors and intensity of training, Chris continued to regularly attend church and bible study. He has a godly mentor from the Navigators and grows stronger in his walk with Christ week by week.
Words can’t really describe the love we have for him and how proud we are of what he has accomplished and overcome in the 7 years he has been with us. We loved being part of Safe Families and are blessed to call Chris our “forever” third son. He is a loyal, loving brother to Austin and Trevor; and a nephew, cousin, and grandson to my in-laws.
This September, at age 23, Chris will finish his Marine officer training and be assigned to a military base with his first military position as Marine Corps Second Lieutenant. He hopes to have one month of leave before reporting to his official base and job. He will visit his biological mother who now lives in a retirement home in Rockford, IL.
We can’t wait to have him be “at home” with us for that time until his move. He really does “live here and in our hearts” and considers himself “part of our family”…just like my thought 7 years earlier!
– Carole Pye, a love warrior
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