compiled by: Elaine Tomski contributing writers: Kelly Wolfe, Kelly Nussbaum, Stacey Gagnon
What does the magazine you hold in your hands have to do with a flower? You will be amazed to discover how the simple story of a tulip and many willing hearts provide life-giving love and hope to the oppressed.
Plain Values publishers, Marlin and Lisa Miller begin the story. Then at the Lord’s bidding, they invite others to join in. All of these stories are rooted in the same common ground.
A tale of adoption, a magazine, forgotten children, and a family of readers that ties it all together.
words by: Marlin + Lisa Miller
LISA: Sometimes the Lord calls us with a gentle nudge. Other times His calling can feel like a rush of a sudden wind when things begin to whirl around us, seemingly out of nowhere. The calling to adopt a child grew in my heart from the time I was a young girl. When I was six years old, I first learned (to the best of my six-year-old capacity) that there were children in the world who did not have someone to care for him or her. I couldn’t fathom that there were babies needing to be held and loved, and I wanted to rush to them! I used to dream of opening the front door to find a baby who needed love and imagined what it must be like to care for dozens of babies, to make sure they felt loved and valued.
The call to adopt steadily grew stronger as I grew older. The extra bedrooms in our home remained empty despite being readied with a crib, a toddler bed, diapers, baby gear, and tiny outfits hanging washed and ready in the closet. After five years of marriage, Marlin and I both felt it was time for us to complete our adoption home study and take those first steps to make the dream of adoption a reality.
We didn’t begin our journey to adopt children with special needs specifically, but as we completed our home study paperwork, we asked the Lord to bring us the children who needed us the most and to equip us to meet their needs. Having no idea what to expect, we completed our home study, and just a few weeks after it was approved, we were sent a photo of a little boy. I will never forget seeing his face for that first time: I knew this was our son. The next day found us driving nervously to our adoption agency to pick up our son. He was three years old, and we had little idea how much our lives had changed overnight.
As it is with adopting an older child, the first year was challenging. But we also had many times of joy. After our son had been with us for a few years, Marlin and I began to talk about the possibility of adopting another child. Since our children like to surprise us, it was just a few days after that conversation when our adoption agency called to ask if we would consider adopting a baby girl with Down syndrome who was going to be born in a few months. We were thrilled to say, “Yes!” It was less than two weeks after that call when she arrived early, and we found ourselves nervously driving to the hospital to meet her. Our daughter’s beginning was a bumpy one which consisted of an extended neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay, several surgeries, some complications, and a feeding tube. It was a joyous day when we finally were able to bring our baby girl home and settle in as a family of four.
Welcoming our daughter into our family also opened our eyes to just how big the need is for families to adopt a child with Down syndrome. We joined the NDSAN (National Down Syndrome Adoption Network) registry of adoptive families when our daughter was two. Just six months later we were matched with our second son! He was born several states away, and after a brief stay in the NICU, he was discharged. We spent the next week enjoying our vacation home-away-from-home and soaking in time with our new baby as we waited for the paperwork to be completed to allow us to return home.
After our son was a few years old, we moved to our new home and decided not to renew our adoption home study. We thought our family was complete. But then a still, small voice told us there was one more child who was meant to join our family. We prayed about adopting internationally, and although there are so very many children with Down syndrome who are in need of a family, that is not where the Lord was calling us. Seeking His guidance, we prayed that if we were supposed to adopt again that God would bring the child to us. And that’s just what He did. One Sunday afternoon, our adoption agency called us once more to tell us there was a family who wanted to meet us. A few days later, our families spent the evening together and in a whirlwind of events, we became the proud parents of a new baby boy.
Our family is now complete, and we are so thankful for each of our children and for their birth families who lovingly placed each of them into our arms. Marlin and I feel the Lord’s calling on our hearts is to do the best we can to raise the children we have been blessed with, while also raising awareness of the orphans around the world and children in our own community who need someone to care for them.
It can be so easy to list the reasons why it is not a convenient time to foster, adopt, sponsor a child, volunteer on a mission trip, donate to an orphanage, become a mentor, or serve a family who is currently fostering or has recently adopted a child. I would challenge you to take time to think and pray; to be still and to listen to where God may call you to step up and serve. Not everyone is called to adopt, and we cannot all do everything. But we can all do something to help a child in need or help someone who comes from a hard place.
MARLIN: In the fall of 2010, I had been working for a local business for five years and loved my work. Lisa was teaching first graders in our local school district, but the day our little daughter came into the world, she quit teaching in order to stay home to care for our family. Two months in a neonatal intensive care unit with your baby brings a deeper awareness of the coming costs, specialists, therapies, and needed time for additional appointments. Lisa and I weren’t sure how we would pay for all of this.
In light of our new reality, I prayed: “Lord, You brought us these kids, please help me provide for our family.”
God was faithful, and he provided for our family through the creation of Plain Values magazine. The magazine has been a blessing for us, but I wanted to bless other families, too. In our magazine, we highlighted stories of families and children who were in need, with the hope that our readers would support them. And yet I still felt there was more we could be doing for those with needs deeper than our own.
And this is what God laid on my heart: “Marlin, give the magazine away.”
Why would God want me to do something like that? In the business world, you don’t just give away a thriving business! I struggled with the idea of freely giving it away, and I wrestled with what God had laid on my heart.
Through time in prayer, I began to understand that God had bigger plans for the magazine than to only be a business that turned a profit. Giving away Plain Values magazine would, in turn, give hope and life to children around the world. When I realized this, I found peace.
I’m sure you have a lot of questions about how this will work. Here are the nuts and bolts:
You are giving the magazine away?! What does that mean and how does this work?
Lisa and I have created a non-profit called Room to Bloom (Lisa will explain the name in the next part of the article). We have gifted Plain Values magazine to our non-profit. Our mission is to help children in need by supporting organizations doing Biblically-sound work. We believe that by sharing our resources with children in need, this will give them room to bloom.
Plain Values will still be a magazine produced with ad revenue; but by giving it to Room to Bloom, this will allow us to use it as a fundraising tool by getting our message out to readers. We believe this is a path where we can make an eternal difference for children in need.
Room to Bloom is an IRS-approved 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization and your donations are tax-deductible. To ensure that we stay focused on our mission, we will have a board that will oversee the organization.
You may think I’ve fallen off my rocker! That’s ok—sometimes I wonder the same thing! But God has laid this on my heart, and I am fired up to share our plan with you.
What sort of organizations will you be supporting through Room to Bloom?
In the pages to follow you will read stories of a few teams we have partnered with already. From life-saving surgeries involving organ transplants to cleft lip surgery giving a child a greater chance of being adopted; from Asia to our very own backyard, Moscow to Kenya, all over the world there are people and families who need hope in more ways than I can imagine. Our team has enjoyed many conversations with people doing life-changing work the world over, and we will be tapping into these connections moving forward.
What if I already get Plain Values. Do I have to donate to continue getting it?
No, you will still continue to get the magazine free of charge.
Many years ago, I read a ministry’s policy on the books and resources they offered. It said, “If you cannot afford a book or resource, tell us and we’ll send it to you for free or give what you can afford.” Instead of sending us money for the magazine, please consider supporting our mission by donating to Room to Bloom (if you want to learn more ways to help, go to page 25).
Where does the name “Room to Bloom” come from?
From here, I’ll turn it back over to my wife Lisa, who will share with you the story behind the name.
LISA: One of my great joys is gardening. I enjoy growing vegetables and fruit for our family as well as tending large flower beds of perennial plants. Early one spring I was working at one end of the flower garden where we have a border of rocks. Something caught my eye, and I quickly moved in to take a closer look. There, barely peeking from under the edge of a large stone was a small tulip. It was still wrapped tightly and obviously struggling. The previous fall we had done some reworking of that area and a heavy rock had been placed over this tulip bulb.
I moved the rock away from the tulip. As the spring weather warmed, I watched as it struggled to grow. Its stem was a pale white which lay crooked along the ground instead of standing tall and green like the others. I cleared away the dead leaves, added compost, and trimmed back the overhanging shrub to allow the fragile bulb to soak in the sun’s warmth.
Over the next few weeks, I watched the tulip plant change from a sickly white to a lush green. The stem lifted from the earth and the tightly wrapped petals opened up to a beautiful flower. That year, this tulip never did look the same as the other tulips. Its stem was still crooked, and it didn’t stand as tall, but that little plant put all its energy into the best flower it could muster, given its tough start. The potential to flourish had been there all along, it just needed the room to bloom.
Love Without Boundaries
Providing Healing, Education, and Refuge to Vulnerable Children Worldwide
words by: Kelly Wolfe
While very difficult to think about, in many countries around the world, babies born with medical needs are frequently abandoned. In China alone, over 100,000 children each year are left on their own. They become orphans because of medical conditions such as premature births, heart defects, or cleft lips. While each child is precious in God’s perfect eyes, in many societies, those with special needs are sadly found unworthy and discarded.
Such was the case for tiny Ryder, who entered the world last Christmas on a cold, snowy night in east Asia. Rather than being welcomed with prayers of thanksgiving, he was left outside in the cold. When discovered by a passerby, he was in critical condition. Thankfully a call was made to Love Without Boundaries, an international charity that provides healing, education, and refuge to vulnerable children around the globe. Their team members rushed the little baby, who was blue from the cold, to a nearby children’s hospital. Ryder weighed just 4.4 pounds and was quickly diagnosed with severe pneumonia and a heart defect.
Once in the intensive care unit, Ryder was placed on a ventilator, which mechanically pumped oxygen into his fragile body. For two weeks, doctors said they didn’t know if he would survive. Countless prayers were lifted for him to find the strength to hold on, and in late January, he was finally able to breathe on his own.
Ryder remained in the hospital until late May, as he battled infections and struggled to gain weight. Tears of joy were shed when he was finally strong enough to be discharged. Ryder was then taken to one of Love Without Boundaries’ healing homes, set up for orphaned children needing extra care and interventions. What these special homes provide most of all is the one necessity every orphaned child deserves: the gift of knowing they are loved.
The first five months of Ryder’s life were difficult ones, from being left in the cold to only seeing the world from inside an incubator. But now, because of the kindness of those who support Love Without Boundaries’ programs for vulnerable children, Ryder is truly thriving. His first smiles and giggles were recently celebrated, and he is starting to babble. Ryder’s transformation from a frail infant to a now-healthy baby boy calls forth scripture from Isaiah 58: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will appear.” Ryder’s healing has indeed appeared. Ryder’s life truly matters.
There are three little words those at Love Without Boundaries believe fully: “Every Child Counts.” Every child born is a gift from Almighty God, and every child whose life is saved is a blessing beyond measure. As long as there are children like little Ryder who have no one else to believe in them, Love Without Boundaries will continue their work to bring hope and comfort to those who are often forgotten.
Tumaini Children’s Home
words by: Kelly Nussbaum
In Eldoret, Kenya, there lives a foster family. There is a father, a mother, and forty-four children. Each one of these children was abandoned and left for dead in streets, fields, latrines, or garbage dumps. These kids and their parents, Horace and Phyllis Leister, make up the Tumaini Children’s Home. A home rightly named because Tumaini means hope.
One bright smile that calls the Tumaini Children’s Home her family is named Zuriel. As a newborn, she was abandoned in a grocery bag in a field. She was not rescued from that bag for a week. Despite the desperate state she was found in, she flourished in the care of Horace and Phyllis Leister. Today Zuriel is completely healthy and has one of the most caring hearts and kindest smiles you can find.
These children know their abandonment stories, and along with their parents, they will tell you that it is only by the Lord’s hand they survived at all. Many abandoned babies do not survive or cannot recover from their injuries and malnourishment. By the grace of God, and only through His healing hand, has every child placed with the Leisters survived. These children know God has spared their lives, and they are grateful to grow up in a home filled with God’s love. They are typical children who love to draw, make bracelets, and hate math class. They have fears and hopes, just like every other child. Dad or mom’s lap is the place to be, and if both laps are full, a pillow and blanket by the fireplace are second best as the children await their evening devotions and worship time.
The Leister family is not your typical “foster family” or “children’s home.” It is a family—a large family built on the love and the Tumaini (hope) of Christ.
words by: Stacey Gagnon
I have been asked everyday about my trip. Well-intended, “How was your trip?” questions. And honestly, I find I lie. I lie and say, “it was hard, but we did a lot of good.” And the lie tastes bitter on my tongue. It was more than hard, and there was not a lot of good.
When I disembarked from the plane in Bulgaria, I stepped into this ocean of a problem and got knocked on my back by a tidal wave of crisis and emotions. And I’m sitting here choking on the water, trying to figure out where that wave came from. I was prepared for this trip; I was ready. I had packed, unpacked, and repacked several times. I had gathered supplies, letters, and created PowerPoint teaching slides and videos. But the truth is I never will be prepared, nor do I want to be prepared to see, hear, and touch what I saw in the orphanages because I should never be ready to look at an innocent child who is starving and flinches at my touch. I never want to sit holding the skin and bones of a seven-year-old-child-who-looks-like-an-infant and feel prepared. So, I have been crushed by the wave, and I’m trying to process it all.
I think back to a training I attended on disaster preparedness. A portion of the training was how to triage and tag victims of a mass casualty incident. Triage tagging is a way to effectively and efficiently distribute limited resources and immediate care until more help arrives. Each victim is assigned a color before the first responder moves to the next victim.
As we moved across Eastern Europe through several orphanages and facilities, I found myself “tagging” the victims and thinking how very little I was doing and how very many victims there were.
Immediate (red tag) – life-threatening
There were many children I saw, and I prayed for death. At the end of each day, I wondered—who was this person I had become? I have never prayed for a child to die, yet I found my soul weeping and begging for God’s reprieve. And the part I struggle with is that the reprieve would have been mine. I would have been able to unload the burden of a fourteen-year-old twisted like a pretzel with a hole cut in his mattress to hold his contorted frame. I would have been able to forget about the pressure wounds glistening with bone and ligaments and how they contrasted with his soft, brown eyes framed by thick, black eyelashes. If death had offered a reprieve, I would never have seen the five-year-old infant who lay contracted like a strung bow with nostrils flaring and air gasps. I would not have noticed her ragged breaths were the only sound in the room, nor the fact that the rest of the infant-sized children lay “sleeping” in a drug-fogged haze as drool slipped down their cheeks and pooled on their stained sheets. Had death visited, I would never have to carry home an image of a shrunken, yellowing body of a five-year-old. Eyes too large for his tiny frame, lips frothing as he labored to exist. I would not be sitting here now weeping as I type, weeping over the children I left dying in an orphanage. I could have rested in their reprieve from this life, instead of wondering if they were still in pain. Yes, I begged for their death because the weight of it all buckled me to my knees.
Delayed (yellow tag) – serious, non-life-threatening
There were so many children who were physically healthier. I looked at them and searched for hope. They were the quiet witnesses; seeming like shadows. A shadow who was four-year-old; a boy dressed in a purple sleeper taking a nap at 10 a.m. and still napping five hours later. And this same boy has not met the outside world, but lives suspended in time. He marks the days with the passing of metal cups and mealtimes and has never seen the beautiful garden right outside his window. He cannot smell the roses blooming on the vines, or feel the sun on his face. He has never learned about numbers and letters. His mind sits stagnant with the lack of stimulus.
She is the seven-year-old who does not know what it feels like to have a mother’s kiss or a daddy’s tickles. She sits rocking day after day on the sagging crib mattress, waiting to fill an empty space inside her heart. Her knuckles are raw and scabbed from where she bites them out of numb boredom. She regurgitates her food to have the sensation of swallowing. Her teeth are corroded, her hair is patchy, and her skin is sallow. She is a job to a caregiver and a burden to a system. Yet she has feelings and hurts; love and fear. Inside her is contained potential locked away by a disease called “Indifference.”
I looked at these children and saw my own son, Israel. I realized he, too, had sat suspended in time, waiting for a future. His only hope was adoption. Their only hope is adoption. If they are not adopted, most will die within institutions. Every child has a basic human right to be loved by a family, regardless of country. Children are not supposed to be raised and die in institutions.
Minor (green tag) – walking wounded
When I first went to the orphanages, I wanted to place blame on families who gave their children up for adoption. I wanted to point a finger at a mother who would just leave her baby at the hospital and walk away. As I opened my eyes and my ears, I learned about the extreme pressure placed on parents who give birth to a special-needs child. Stories of families who were told that their child would die soon or die if they took them home. Moms who were told that they could not raise their child, and that it would be a burden to their family. And I began to see how the orphanages filled with children.
We met some amazing families who chose to take their child home. These families are the ones who said, “no, I will raise my child at home” when physicians told them it was impossible. They stood up to the pressure and criticism of family and friends when they brought home a less-than-perfect infant. They have weathered years without services, therapies, equipment, and social support. They have been creative in raising their children, from constructing their own medical equipment to driving great distances for help. Many were lonely and struggling while navigating the life of a special-needs child with no support. When I shared my son Israel’s video, they wept. And when I looked at the tears in their eyes, I saw a bridge known only to parents with special needs children, and I couldn’t have been prouder of their brave love.
Morgue (black tag) – pulseless
Orphans die. Mostly we never know. They are buried without tears or fanfare. They do not leave out the front, but are bundled up and carried out the back.
Before I left for Bulgaria, I watched as God moved mountains to help one orphan named Valentina. She was in liver failure, and her conditions were dire. I tentatively began to reach out for support. It soon became obvious I might be able to help her while I was on my trip. I began to make more phone calls and the responses were amazing. One of the best pediatric liver transplant teams coordinated her ongoing care with me, and I watched in awe as people across the world donated everything necessary for her survival.
The weeks before I left, I received her specialty formula, feeding pump and tubing, money for ongoing nurse care, and prayer. The only thing we were missing was the most important part: the adoptive family. We needed a family to adopt her, and they needed to be at a specific point in the adoption process because it needed to happen quickly. And so, we prayed. The world prayed. And one morning, I woke up to a message from a friend. God had answered our prayers, and I was soon put in contact with her new family. In a flurry of excitement, I was able to secure final letters, dietitian instructions, physician orders, and every piece of equipment was ready in record time. I was going to be able to help save her!
The day before I reached her orphanage, we received a phone call from the orphanage director. Valentina had died…the girl whose eyes captured my heart had died that very night, and I sat in my room and sobbed great big ugly tears. I felt as if I had completely failed, and I couldn’t help but think she died alone. Little Valentina “was motionless for an instant; she did not cry out. She fell as gently as a young tree falls.” These words from The Little Prince were on my heart as I thought of her tragic death. I felt so defeated and tired and numb. I questioned why I had come, why I had chosen to see all these hard things, and what a fool I was to think I could make a difference.
I was sitting in the ashes of my pride and planning, and then a truly beautiful thing began to happen. I began to see how I cannot walk among these children on my own strength and ability. And so, I prayed that God would give me the strength to get up out of that dark place and do what I was meant to do. I walked up the steps of Valentina’s orphanage that day, and I loved on the living. I touched the hurting, the marginalized, the silent, and broken. I called them by name and promised them I would tell the world about them. I told them that I would be their voice. And now that I’m home, I realize the triage tagging system only works when help follows. Triage is only labeling. It’s when reinforcements come in that change happens and healing begins.
And now you know, too. You cannot say that you never knew there were places where infant-sized children were hidden away to die. You cannot say that you didn’t know six-year-olds could be transferred to adult asylums. Now you know orphans die, and you also know I will never remain silent because we are the only voice they have.
Welcoming You Into the Story
Every child made in the image and likeness of God deserves the opportunity to stretch and grow like Lisa’s struggling tulip. Every child needs the warmth of sunshine on his face. Each one longs for the embrace of a father’s arms, the soft touch of a mother’s kiss, a place to call home. Above all, every child deserves to know the grace and mercy of the Savior by experiencing God’s love within a family.
By creating Room to Bloom, Marlin and Lisa have answered God’s call to action from Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Through their non-profit, Marlin and Lisa seek to bring comfort to children affected by disabilities; help foster orphans into families; give a voice to the helpless; and provide hope and healing to the vulnerable.
These actions provide children with the means to grow and flourish. So now, the invitation is extended to you and me. We now have the opportunity to join Marlin and Lisa in giving precious children around the world room to bloom. Here’s how you can help:
1) Donate to the Room to Bloom Foundation
Write a check to “Room to Bloom Foundation” and mail it to PO Box 201, 2106 Main St. Winesburg, OH 44690. Other options for donating can be found on our website at www.plainvalues.com.
Note: If you want to double the impact of your gift, talk to your employer to see if they will match your gift; this will allow us to help more children in need.
2) Sponsor a Child
In future articles of Plain Values, we will be sharing stories of children in need. Consider supporting a child. To do so, when you send in your check, include the child’s name in the memo line.
3) Pray for Us
Please pray for us that we will continue to seek God’s will; that our board members will provide us with wisdom and ethical guidance; that Room to Bloom will be a ministry that makes a positive impact in the world and the lives of children; and that we will find people who are willing to help us support our mission.