Mike and Wyndy Buckner
learned 25 years ago that they couldnt bear children, but
that didnt prevent them from investing in the lives of little
ones. Responding to a plea from a Christian agency, the Buckners
agreed to serve as foster parents for a newborn. That first year,
they cared for five additional foster infants.
Since then, the Buckners,
who attend New River Assembly of God in Red Wing, Minn., have cared
for 30 foster children in all. They have provided a home for babies
of different ethnicities, preschoolers, adolescents and teenagers.
"Its the most rewarding
thing weve ever done," says Wyndy Buckner, 50. "God has planned
for every baby that has come into our home."
According to the Department
of Health and Human Services, 556,000 children are in foster care
across the United States, 47 percent of them in a home with a nonrelative.
The median length of stay is 20 months. Eventually, 43 percent of
foster care children are reunited with a parent or principal caretaker
while 20 percent are adopted. The remaining children fall into several
smaller categories, including long-term foster care, emancipation,
and guardianship by relatives.
The most difficult part
about being a foster parent, Buckner says, is having to relinquish
the child. "You do it with a lot of love, but there are a lot of
tears," she says. "We have to trust God is going to take the seeds
of faith we planted and not let Satan snatch it."
Usually the Buckners
keep a child for two to three months. They have cared for several
"high-risk" children who have been sexually abused or addicted to
For nearly a decade the
Buckners tried to adopt a foster child, but encountered obstacles.
Once they couldnt adopt a 4-year-old girl because they knew
the mother. Another time a social worker mixed up paperwork and
granted custody of two toddlers to another couple. The Buckners
had an 18-month-old boy for nine months and had nearly finalized
the adoption when they learned the birth mother wanted the child
back. The mother, a former drug addict, reformed and attended college.
"We felt God told us
if this mother had turned her life around this drastically to seek
her child we should relinquish our rights," Buckner says. "We want
whats in the best interest of the child, and in this case
the mother had to have the opportunity to have him back."
Ultimately, the Buckners
adopted a son, Michael, now 12. And in August, the Buckners finalized
the permanent foster care placement of four siblings: Jeffery, 8;
Justice, 7; Joseph, 6; and Teanna, 4. "Originally they just needed
emergency foster care for the weekend," says Buckner. Wyndy cares
for the five children, all of them American Indian, while Mike works
as a nuclear power plant trainer. The blonde, blue-eyed Wyndy, the
child of an Indian mother and white father, grew up on Pine Ridge
Reservation in South Dakota.
Buckner says she and
her husband dont distinguish between foster children and adopted
children. "The goal is to provide a home that gives a child a feeling
of stability and love," she says. "Weve all been adopted into
the family of God." Because of Wyndy and Mikes involvement
in foster care, Wyndys daughter from her first marriage, Connie
Simmons, has adopted two children herself.
care programs in some states mandate that foster parents must provide
birth control if a teen in their home requests it and they cannot
force a child to attend church. State foster care regulations are
likely to become more restrictive. For instance, in August, the
California legislature passed a bill that would make foster parents
submit to "sensitivity training" to better serve "gay, lesbian or
transgendered" youth. Gov. Gray Davis vetoed the bill.
While foster parents
must submit to laws, even a brief Christian influence can turn a
childs life around, according to Miriam Golden, founder and
executive director of Koinonia Foster Homes, based in Loomis, Calif.
Praying parents model behavior that many foster children have never
witnessed, she notes. "Children will never come to know that their
Heavenly Father loves them unless they enter a home where that is
modeled," Golden says.
Koinonia Foster Homes,
now in its 20th year, currently supervises 970 children. Golden,
who attends a Foursquare Gospel church, recruits parents through
churches, including dozens of A/G congregations. With 33 offices
in California and Nevada, the private nonprofit faith-based Koinonia
acts as a liaison between counties and prospective families, training
the foster parents and placing the foster children. Orientation
of foster parents takes about three months, and Koinonia workers
do everything from teaching first aid to arranging for a criminal
Golden, 64, says Christians
are biblically mandated to care for strangers and youth. "If children
dont go into a Christian home they may go into a dysfunctional
home that isnt much different than the one from where they
came," she says. "There may be opportunities to abuse drugs and
Jack and Donna Cates,
who attend Englewood Assembly of God in Independence, Mo., have
no qualms about helping. Even before they married 36 years ago the
couple decided to adopt no matter how many biological children they
had. Their plans got sidetracked when they had three children in
eight years. But after their 19-year-old son died in an auto accident
in 1987 they contacted Highlands Child Placement Service in Kansas
City, Mo. Highlands, which is under the auspices of the Assemblies
of God Benevolences Department, is a residential maternity home
for expectant mothers and has facilitated more than 600 adoptions.
"We wished we would have
done it earlier," says Donna Cates, 54, a childcare provider. "Weve
enjoyed every minute of it." The Cateses have watched 64 foster
babies in their home through Highlands, never more than one at a
time. The newborns stay an average of three to six weeks with the
family, until a permanent adoptive home is finalized. "A piece of
our heart goes with them when they leave us, but we know they are
going to be cared for and loved," Cates says. "We really bond with
them, whether we have them for one day or six weeks."
The Cateses have adopted
two children, Darcie and Scotty, both now 9. Scotty arrived at 3
days old, a foster child with a hole in his heart and a drug-addicted
mother. As they do with all foster babies, the Cateses took Scotty
forward for prayer the first Sunday he lived with them. At Scottys
next medical appointment the doctor couldnt even find a heart
murmur, let alone a hole.
Susan Orr, associate
commissioner of the U.S. Childrens Bureau, which oversees
distribution of federal foster care funds, says while requirements
vary from state to state, all potential foster parents must undergo
training so that they understand issues of child abuse and neglect.
Families also must provide a separate bedroom for the foster child,
"We are certainly in
need all across the United States of more families who are interested
in becoming foster parents," Orr says. "A lot of foster parents
fall in love with these children, and when the children become available
they adopt them. Then the parents no longer are foster parents.
"There certainly is no
better way for people of faith, if they believe God is calling them,
to open up their home to a child in need," Orr says.
The Buckners remodeled
their home to accommodate their enlarged family and may adopt again.
"Our goal is to impact children eternally by teaching them the love
of Jesus," Wyndy Buckner says. "Children arent a hindrance;
they are a gift from God."