A Call to Defend the Orphan

Joy and Kevin McClain, who have adopted seven children, spur church leaders and adherents to take foster care seriously.

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Sexagenarians Joy and Kevin McClain are parents to seven adopted children, ranging from age 17 to 27. Three of the children were adopted through local foster care, one is a member of McClain’s extended family, and three came from Eastern Europe. Two of their sons have Down syndrome, one is on the autistic spectrum, and several have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“At different times, I have stood at opposite ends of the adoption advocacy spectrum,” says Joy, 61, “from extolling the belief that ‘everyone should adopt,’ to the opposite extreme of ‘nobody in their right mind would adopt.’”

Sensing a call to missions as a child, McClain never suspected children would turn out to be her life’s mission field. From her earliest years, she helped in the church nursery and often baby-sat. In junior high, she repeatedly read The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss, about a couple who adopted a dozen children of different races and needs. She never tired of the stories of Assemblies of God world missionary heroes like Lillian Trasher as well as Mark and Huldah Buntain. Those missionaries established orphanages that cared for hundreds of children through the years.

After high school, McClain completed her nursing studies at the College of Southern Idaho and then majored in missions at Northwest University, where she graduated in 1984. In the decade following, she worked as a registered nurse and served on several Missions Abroad Placement Service trips. Kevin, now 60, attended Valley Christian Center in Hazelton, the church Joy’s father, Wesley Johnson, pastored.

The couple married in 1994, when Joy was 33. She wanted to be a mom, but struggled to get pregnant. After seeing an advertisement for a meeting about fostering in a local newspaper, the McClains attended, then began their training.

In 1996, their fostering journey officially began when a 20-month-old special needs boy joined their family. When the boy’s active little sister was born that year, she found a home with the McClains, coming directly from a hospital. Three years later, the McClains adopted the siblings.

The Lord began to reveal to McClain that helping vulnerable children had become her mission, even though she initially didn’t realize adoption would serve as the avenue. She enrolled in the master’s program for intercultural studies with an emphasis in children at risk at Fuller Theological Seminary and earned her degree last year.

She and Kevin take every opportunity to advocate for fostering and adoption. The church they attend, Hagerman Christian Center, has been supportive of their efforts. Pastor D. Isaac Tellez, believes it is important to consistently create more awareness of these issues.

“Kevin and Joy have been amazing, not just to organize any event related to this cause, but in keeping our church and culture current with the issues and families we can help,” says Tellez, 52.

Among other activities, the couple work together to operate Solid Grounds, the church’s coffee shop. The proceeds from sales directly benefit various ministries, including Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge, Speed the Light, Promise Water, and LifeSong for Orphans. The McClains also make and sell coffee baskets plus organize fundraisers to benefit multiple child-related projects. These funds may be used to provide presents for foster children, to purchase much-needed gift cards for social workers for food for children when transporting them, or to supply money for a foster family’s immediate needs.

McClain has written letters and contacted ministry leaders to raise awareness. She has spoken at retreats and hosted tables at conferences. She is the Orphan Sunday coordinator for southern Idaho, volunteering with Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO).

One of McClain’s biggest tasks is finding leaders and churches already involved to build connections. Earlier this year, she reached out to the Assemblies of God Foster Care Network to try to locate others involved in this ministry. She connected with U.S. missionary Ted B. Stackpole who is on special assignment to the foster care community in Palatka, Florida.

Stackpole encourages congregations to utilize National Orphan Sunday and Stand Sunday through CAFO. In addition, he recommends reaching out to AG missionaries specializing in foster care and organizations such as COMPACT Family Services to offer training and awareness.

“Local churches many times only see recruitment of foster families as the answer and opt out because of the size and/or demographics of their church,” says Stackpole, 51.

He recommends the AG Foster Care Network website as an effective way for churches to be involved and increase the stability and well-being of at-risk children.

McClain hopes to see continued awareness — especially among AG leadership — to stimulate conversation and mutual aid in a common passion.

“There are many practical ways to be obedient to this call,” says McClain. “But we cannot over-sentimentalize orphan/foster care. It is inherently messy, but eternally significant.”