by: Elaine Tomski
An open door is a welcomed invitation. But what if entering means walking into darkness? What if stepping through the door brings difficulty? What if the voice we hear calling us to walk through that door belongs to Almighty God? Such is the story of the Gagnon family. Their tale is not about what they’ve done, but about what God is doing through them. They promote rescue. All because they walk through open doors to a welcoming God who generously guides their steps.
Like all other families, the Gagnon family started with two. Darren and Stacey began their married life as schoolteachers with hopes for two children. They embraced the dream of a lovely little family of four. Their first child, Bailey, was born with a very rare heart condition. Stacey says, “We didn’t know if she would make it, or not.” The way to health for Bailey required trust in God and medical professionals. Darren and Stacey also learned new medical practices to care for their new little one. Thankfully, Bailey pulled through, and baby number two was a healthy son named Silas. The Gagnon’s were living the American dream.
Open Doors to More Blessings
After Stacey had become familiar with medical practices, she decided to re-enter college to become a nurse. Then the door opened for this family of four to welcome medically fragile foster children into their home. One of their first foster children was a newborn named Isaac. He came to them frightfully broken. His skull was fractured, his brain injured, and he had only a fifty percent chance of survival. Even if he survived, the diagnosis was a life of disability. Yet, now he’s a strong, healthy boy in the gifted program at school. In amazement, Stacey says, “Look what love can do.” They adopted Isaac after loving him back to health for two years, and he became Gagnon number five.
Next, Ellie came to the family, allergic to proteins and food. She was dependent on a feeding tube and considered to be too sick for adoption. But now, Darren says, “She’s just the happiest kid you’ve ever met in your life.” And she’s Gagnon number six.
Joel came next. Gagnon number seven was born with craniofacial impairment, without an ear, and had hearing loss in his existing ear. Stacey says, “The first time we met him, he was eighteen months old, and we knew he was supposed to be our son.” Darren adds, “He came to us with severe disabilities, but he doesn’t let those define who he is.” Still, because of his different appearance, children often stare and reject Joel. The Gagnon family wrote a story about the courage from which children, like Joel, need to draw. Illustrated by Seth Yoder and published by JPV Press, the Gagnon family’s adorable picture book is called Cowboy Joel and the Wild, Wild West. Its message reminds us all to be compassionate and brave.
Opening the Door to Bulgaria
Stacey met their next son in Bulgaria. She says, “I walked into that orphanage, and there were dead silent, dying babies.” Imagine a large room with rows of cribs, the unexpected silence of infants, a lingering stench of urine, large heads on skinny, sore-infested bodies being fed only a liquid diet, and little legs tied to crib posts. These images ripped Stacey’s heart and haunt her to this day. But she also saw beauty. The beautiful souls our God creates are never a mistake. Beautiful souls were imprisoned in each one of those cribs. How could she take just one child out of the orphanage and leave all of the rest? The door was wide open, and it looked very dark on the other side, but Stacey and Darren knew God Almighty was calling them to step through.
They had to start with one. Even if the couple couldn’t rescue all of the orphans, they could save one. In 2016, Darren and Stacey adopted a precious four-year-old boy born with spina bifida. Their new son Israel was paralyzed from the waist down, had never chewed food, or been outdoors. The moment Darren carried Israel out of that orphanage, he said to Stacey, “He’s never coming back here. He’ll forever be our child, our son, and not their orphan.” Israel is Gagnon number eight.
The other five children embraced their little brother. Darren says, “He’s just a normal kid who had a bad circumstance.” It took a month of washing to get the stench out of poor little Israel. The fantastic news is that Gagnon member number eight is now thriving, growing, and learning about life with his forever family. Stacy says they want their children to know, “You’re one person in this huge world, but you can make a difference.”
By stepping through doors, Darren and Stacey have learned a valuable lesson. Darren says they’ve discovered, “You have a lot more capacity to love a kid than you think you do.” The people of Bulgaria have not learned this lesson yet. Stacey says, “In Bulgaria, children born with special needs are placed in an orphanage. If they’re not adopted between the age of four and six, they are transported to an adult mental institution. And within a year, eighty-five percent of those kids die. There’s no value for handicapped children. They’re actually considered a curse from God.”
In 2016, Darren and Stacey returned to Israel’s Bulgarian orphanage to rescue one more child. Do you remember how the Gagnon’s hoped for a lovely little family of four? And, after Israel joined their family, Stacey says, “We laugh because we said we were done, but God told us otherwise.” You see, there was a sweet two-year-old girl, also tied to a crib in Bulgaria, who was born with limb difference. Only her right arm and hand were complete. Little Zorey needed to be in a safe place fast because of claims that medical experimentation was taking place on this precious child. Stacey says, “Because we were home-study ready, we could get there fast.”
Little Zorey is blessed to be Gagnon number nine. Stacey says, “She’s amazing. She just perfectly rounds out our family. She’s supposed to be ours. I don’t have a doubt in my mind.” Zorey is not a curse. She is not worthy of bondage or medical experimentation. She is a human being, created in the image of God. She is a blessing. Her soul continues to sing despite what people tried to do to her.
Why Lost Sparrows?
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matthew 10:29).
The scriptures tell us our God knows the value of even one lowly sparrow. Of course, He sees the worth of a child deemed by people to be lost. There is eternal value in these little ones hidden away, yet no one knows, and no one cares. Perhaps that’s why He invited Darren and Stacey to walk through the darkened door of a Bulgarian orphanage. God knew their hearts. He was fully aware of their willingness to trust Him. The result of their faith is a non-profit organization named Lost Sparrows.
The organization’s mission statement reads, “Lost Sparrows is dedicated to improving the lives of orphans and those with special needs through education, proper medical care, and adoption.” Their current focus is in areas of Bulgaria and Eastern Europe. Their website reports 7.3 million orphans in Eastern Europe (2015). Lost Sparrows has so far raised $87,000 to fund their work, and 862 families have been trained so they can keep their children rather than hand them over to government institutions.
If addressing the orphan crisis in Eastern Europe seems overwhelming to you, know that it was overwhelming to Stacey Gagnon as well. She says, “The answer to the overwhelming orphan crisis is in seeing the one. The one is the child sitting in an orphanage without a family. We want to be the difference to one.”
Stacey heard a thirty-year-old man speak at an event in 2013. His testimony continues to challenge her. This man aged-out of an orphanage, and these are his words. “When I grew up in the orphanage, it was Christians who came and built nicer buildings, Christians who bought us beds, clothing, and provided money monthly for food. It was a Christian, who wrote a letter in a shoebox, who first told me I was loved. It was the Christians who met all my physical and material needs in that orphanage. But it was also Christians who neglected my biggest need. Children in orphanages don’t need more money, nicer buildings, or better clothes. I am not an orphan because I lost my home or provisions. I am an orphan because I lost my parents. I needed a mom and a dad. I needed a family. Christians treated all my temporary symptoms of need but never cured my long-term disease of being an orphan. I am still an orphan.”
“And so Lost Sparrows was born out of the idea that my husband and I can’t adopt every child in the orphanage, but we also didn’t believe we wanted to throw dollars and time into sustaining orphanages,” says Stacey. “We wanted to support the family. We wanted to support moms to keep their children and raise them, and we wanted to support society seeing the worth and value in children who have special needs.” Lost Sparrows works to promote foster care, adoption, and what they call “first families” in countries. They do this through education and support groups for families. The aim is to affect societal systems in Eastern European countries and stop the flow of children into orphanages in the first place.
Stepping into Bosnia
“It’s been incredible!” Stacey visited Bosnia in February and says, “We met with government officials, and we’re doing a really large training with hundreds of people this April in Bosnia.” People will be attending from other countries as well. Stacey says, “We will not only be training on parenting children from what we call hard places, but we will also have a panel of government officials and community changers to project vision.” With a plan comes accountability, and excitement for what can be. Change happens when people have a vision.
While in Bosnia in February, Stacey says Lost Sparrows honored over thirty-five women who bravely chose to keep their special-needs children, rather than place them in an orphanage. When a country’s only answer is to hide these precious babies away in institutions, there are no resources or help for moms or families who decide to care for their special-needs children. Many of these women left careers to keep their children, and most became single moms because their husbands rejected and abandoned them.
Lost Sparrows honored these courageous women with a lovely dinner. Afterward, each mother received an overflowing gift basket. Stacey stood to speak, “This is not from me. This gift is from moms in the United States who want you to know they see you and value what you’re doing. They value your children because your children are worthy.” Tears streamed down the women’s faces. One mother rose to speak. She said, “What you’ve done has been life-breathing. No one in our country has ever recognized what we do as good. They think we’re crazy. The fact that someone in your country sees worth in our children means everything.” Stacey responded, “God designed these babies; He created them to be who they are to be. And He doesn’t make mistakes.”
According to Stacey, the people of Bosnia are currently living in survival mode. It’s a war-torn country. She says, “It’s not that long ago they were having hundreds of bombs falling into the city every day.” Attempting to return to a healthy life again, Bosnians not only need to learn how to care for children with special needs, but they also need to learn how to work through the life trauma of living in a war zone.
In the coming year, Stacey will return to Bosnia, Bulgaria, and Russia to train on Trauma-Informed Parenting. Stacey writes on the Lost Sparrows website, “I am often asked what this training looks like. The best way to describe it is to say it’s the same training that we provide in the United States for caregivers of children from hard places. Trauma-Informed Parenting understands that early childhood neglect or abuse causes the brain to be altered. This can look like bad behavior and manipulation in a child. Our training helps parents and caregivers to understand the science behind the changes in the brain.”
Opening Doors to Indiana
Warm Arizona had always been home to the Gagnon family. So why did they move to chilly northern Indiana in 2019? Stacey says, “We felt God say, move to a more economical place to live.” Although they had a village of people helping them in Arizona, Darren and Stacey trusted God’s plan and walked through the door to a new home, new schools, a new church, and new blessings in Winona Lake, Indiana. Stacey says, “God’s been so faithful in giving us direction.”
It still takes a village of people to sustain the Gagnon family, and that’s just what God has provided. “Some of our very, very dear friends from our church in Arizona moved out to our new neighborhood to support us,” says Stacey. In six short months at their new home, God has provided people who feel closer than family. Stacey says, “It’s been amazing. God has definitely put a village around us.”
As you can imagine, many challenges face the Gagnon family. Stacey says, “I have to make sure I’m doing what I’m called to first, which is raising my children to follow the Lord. Making sure the family is supported, and Lost Sparrows is supplied can be a juggling act at times.” Answer to prayer is what keeps the family and the organization going. God is answering prayers and supplying needs every single day. Stacey says, “With non-profits, there’s always the fear that there’s not enough money to do this or that, and we have seen God send people who answer the call to give. He’s in all the little details. People stop by to offer to do exactly what’s needed!”
Recently, on the day Stacey returned from Bosnia, jet-lagged and exhausted, she received a phone call from someone who said, “I’m signed up to bring you dinner tonight. I’m on my way over.” That night a random couple brought love in a meal to their house. Darren and Stacey didn’t know them. They didn’t go to the same church. But this couple met a need and offered to be involved in Lost Sparrows. Stacey says, “That’s the beauty of God’s people. When we’re asked to do something that might seem so simple, what a blessing that is.” God is faithful in the small details, but to Stacey, “They’re actually the big details.”
God’s provision is crucial to raising a family while directing a non-profit organization. Lost Sparrows is a 501c3 charity, and no salaries come from the donations. Stacey says, “Every penny given goes to training and families. We’re always looking for families who want to come alongside and support us financially.” Lost Sparrows also desires our prayers. “We go into hopeless, dark places,” says Stacey. “And Bosnia is over ninety percent Muslim. We welcome people who will go before us in prayer.”
Stacey says, “At the end of the day, we’re not out to support orphanages, we’re out to support orphans. We will affect change by seeing the one. If everyone is helping the one, there’s a tremendous ripple effect.”
Opening Doors to the Heart
For Stacey, who has offered home and family to five orphaned children, Israel was the one. His hurting, hopeless situation was the one that ripped her heart open. She says, “Seeing him and rescuing him, in so many ways, rescued us from ourselves. We are called to so much more than what we were doing. We’re not supposed to be living the American dream when we’re following Christ.”
Yes, the day-to-day is hard. Stacey has a son in a wheelchair who she’s continually lifting. She’s changing diapers on an almost nine-year-old. But Israel has also helped her realize that the service, sacrifice, and love she has for her son is like God’s love for her. Stacey says, “To me, adoption is the picture of the Gospel. Christ recognized me and saw me in my most broken and vulnerable state, and he still continues to care for me in the muck, in the grind, in the day-to-day when I need him so much.”
Isn’t this true of us all? To Jesus Christ, each one is an orphan who needs the Father. Stacey says, “We are the one. Christ sees us and pursues us no matter how broken or hurt we are. We are worthy because of Him, not because of ourselves.”
It is Almighty God who opens doors to people, places, and hearts. The Gagnon family demonstrates how we trust. When God calls, faith always obeys. In the small ways of our every day, in significant ways as the little things add up, making a difference to one orphan, one family at a time, we answer the call to rescue lost sparrows. And God provides.
P.O.Box 751 / Winona Lake, Indiana 46590 / (928) 301-7030 / www.lostsparrows.org