VAN BUREN, Mo. (BP) — Few people have hearts as big as Ron and Terri Robinson. In 40 years of marriage, Ron followed his calling to ministry and pastored several Baptist churches with Terri at his right hand, opening their hearts to the communities they served.
Then they opened their hearts to a new calling from God as foster parents. But their life and their marriage didn’t begin with that in mind.
Ron and Terri always wanted children, so they were beyond excited when Terri became pregnant three months after they were married. But several months later, a knot developed on the back of her leg. They discovered it was osteogenic sarcoma — a type of bone cancer.
“On a Wednesday when she was about eight months pregnant, they induced labor, and she delivered a healthy baby boy. On Friday, they took her into surgery and amputated her leg. And on Monday, the doctor sat on the edge of her bed and told her she had less than six months to live,” Ron recounted. “Needless to say, our world was thrown into a tailspin.”
Terri went through several rounds of chemotherapy, and her doctor told her the chance of another pregnancy was extremely low.
The next month, she was pregnant again.
Terri gave birth to a daughter, but a month later a follow-up test found cancer in her lungs. The second round of chemotherapy removed any chance of further children.
Eventually, Terri approached Ron and told him she believed God wanted them to be foster parents. When their eldest son, Joshua, went off to college, Terri and Ron felt they had the time and the space to commit to fostering, so they went through training with the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home and received their licenses to foster.
In the 22 years since then, Ron and Terri have fostered more than 65 children, finding their niche with special needs children.
“One of the reasons why I do what I do is I believe that every child is special,” Ron said. “We truly believe that each child is personally knit together even before they’re in their mother’s womb, that the Lord intimately knew those children and God made them the way that they are.”
But no matter how much they loved their foster kids, adoption had never been on their radar. But then McKenzie came into their lives.
McKenzie was with the Robinsons for about two years before her biological mother disappeared. The Department of Family Services approached Ron and Terri with the idea of adoption, and Ron was thrown for a loop. But he and Terri prayed about it, and McKenzie joined their family as their third child.
A few months later, McKenzie’s biological mother had another child. She walked out of the hospital after he was born, so Ron and Terri stepped in to take care of the boy they named Jedidiah. About a year later, they officially adopted him as their fourth child.
“We thought we were through as far as adopting goes,” Ron said, “but God has a sense of humor.”
One day the Robinsons got a call about a little boy named Jesse who was four months old. He had weighed only one pound, three ounces at birth, and his prognosis was grim.
“They told us he would never roll over, he would never crawl, he would never walk, he would never talk,” Ron said. “He was basically just going to lay there until the Lord took him home.”
But the Robinsons had faith, and Ron told the doctors that when Jesse began to walk and talk, they would come back and prove them wrong.
Jesse was about 3 years old before he started walking, but when the family returned to the clinic, there received an emotional reaction. “There’s just something special about seeing doctors and nurses cry,” Ron said. “He’s my miracle kid.”
Jesse became their fifth child, adding to Terri’s love for special needs kids.
“It was so cool to see the little things, the little steps that we all take for granted,” Terri said. “We just expect those development milestones to happen, and in a special needs kid, they don’t necessarily happen in the order or time frame we think they’re supposed to.”
The last child they adopted also was a surprise. They received a call about a little girl with Down syndrome who had the mentality of a four-month-old. She wasn’t potty-trained, she barely ate and didn’t talk.
They named her Johari, and in 2015 she joined their family as their sixth child.
When Ron and Terri first brought Johari into their home, they couldn’t touch her or she would sit in the corner and rock and chant for an hour. Now Johari climbs on Ron’s lap to ask for cuddles every night, and although she can’t speak, she can certainly communicate.
“She’ll grab my hand and she’ll take me to the table if she’s hungry,” Ron said. “If she wants to go outside, she’ll bring me her shoes.”
The Robinsons are aware that their lives are unusual. They’ve taken in a number of children that others might see as difficult, but Ron and Terri have a unique Christian outlook on adoption.
“If you go to the book of Romans, you will find out that we have been adopted into the family of God. For 20 years I preached it, but I really didn’t understand it until I adopted a child,” Ron said. “I realized that I have so many flaws in my life, and yet my heavenly Father adopted me into His family.”
Their adventures with fostering and adoption, though fulfilling, have not been without challenges.
Isolation from people and society is one of the issues. Many people are uncomfortable with special needs children or children who are loud or disruptive. They may not understand why a foster parent chooses to spend all of their time, love and effort on foster children. This can lead family and friends to disconnect from foster families.
“God has never called us to be comfortable,” Ron said. “When something makes us uncomfortable, maybe that’s God’s way of stretching us to become more what He wants us to be.”
The Robinsons also struggle with the legal aspect of fostering and adoption.
With their very first foster child, the court made a decision that didn’t make any sense to Ron and Terri, when the judge said he had a headache and decided to get the case over with by sending the child back to their at-risk circumstances. Ron and Terri may have been frustrated, but they had done all that they could.
“My job is to love them, provide safety for them, care for them, and protect them while they’re in my home,” Ron said. When a social worker asked him if he was OK with the decision, he told her, “Six months from now I’ll be able to live with what I’ve done. I hope you and the courts can live with what you’ve just done.”
For those who may be interested in fostering or adoption, Ron encourages them to go through training and get certified, and then continue praying about it before making a decision.
Through 22 years of joy and pain, the Robinsons say that God has taken care of them. But they also know fostering is not easy.
“Sometimes maybe God hasn’t called you to be a foster parent and I get that, it’s not for everybody,” Terri said. “But there are ways you can still minister to these families.”
With training and certification, people can serve as respite for foster families. Sometimes the parents need a break for dinner, a movie or a walk together to work on their relationship. For Ron and Terri, it has been difficult to find qualified people to come in and watch over their kids.
But even if you can’t provide childcare, Terri encourages people to support foster families by providing them with dinner or a movie once in a while. And people can always work with their churches to support the work of Baptist children’s homes.
In the end, it comes down to the welfare of the kids.
“They’re not an accident, not a mistake. God made them this way,” Ron said. “And if we love the Lord, we ought to love them.”