May 2008 – Amy Russell – Caucasian, doctor’s wife, mother of two – sat down at the mall one day to tend the baby in her arms. The newborn was African-American, and Amy was already accustomed to the sidelong glances, the occasional rude stares and the bold questions from strangers.
On this day, she was feeding the baby when an African-American woman sat down nearby. The newcomer watched Amy for a bit, then asked, “Where’d you get that baby?”
“From God,” Amy responded.
“Well, why’d He give ’im to you?”
Amy explained that she and her ophthalmologist-husband Randy were caring for the child until his parents either decided to be mom and dad or to place the child for adoption. The woman continued to try to comprehend the situation.
“But he’s black,” she said, still puzzled.
“And you’re white!”
“Well, why do you do that?”
“Well, God doesn’t see color, and we don’t think we should see color either.”
The lady was quiet for a moment, then went on to ask: “Then why are we always fighting?”
“I have no idea, ma’am.”
Amy’s new friend soon rose to go, then turned back, leaned over, gave Amy a hug and whispered, “Thank you.”
Randy and Amy Russell indeed believe God is color blind. The baby in the story above is one of 92 they have cared for since 1995. The great majority have been of another color or of mixed race.
Why do they do it? Because there’s an urgent need for Christian interim parents. (The Russells said that today, the term interim parent is replacing the earlier foster parent.) Most of the infants they parent are just as she told her friend at the mall, waiting for parents (often single moms) to do one of two things – decide if they’re prepared for parenthood or place the child for adoption. In the latter case, the Russells are committed to keep the child until adoptive parents are located. The average stay of a baby in their Oxford, Mississippi, home is seven to eight weeks.
“We were already pro-life Christians in 1995,” Randy said. “We supported pro-life causes and belonged to pro-life groups. But we felt God was calling us to do more.” They saw a newspaper article that talked about Catholic Charities and the need for interim parents for newborns, usually short-term care.
As they began investigating the possibilities, they prayed and quickly knew God was leading them to apply, and soon they were hosting their first newborn, a child awaiting adoptive parents.
Christian life lesson
That first child has his own chapter in the Russells’ book of babies. When he came to the Russell home, Randy and Amy’s birth son, Jordan, was nine years old, a third-grader in a Christian school. Jordan soon had his classmates praying every day for God to send a family “for the Russells’ baby.”
Jordan’s friends were going home and begging their parents, “Can’t we take the Russells’ baby?”
Then parents began subtly inquiring, “Why don’t the Russells want to keep their baby?”
Once that misconception was cleared up, one mother phoned Amy and asked if she could tell a friend about the baby. The mother had a co-worker – “an awesome Christian woman,” she called her. She and her husband had wanted to have children for 11 years. That couple became the adoptive parents for the Russells’ first interim baby.
God used Jordan, third graders’ prayers, misunderstandings and “coincidental” connections between the Russells and adoptive parents. For the whole Russell family, which also includes Jocelyn (a year older than Jordan), God was confirming their decision to serve as interim parents.
Randy and Amy say that from the beginning, Jocelyn and Jordan adapted well to having babies in the family.
“It’s never really been an issue,” Amy said. “It’s just been a part of their lives. They’ve both been very positive, and they’re both good with babies.”
“Our kids needed to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them,” Randy said. “Yes, they’ve had to make some sacrifices – not as many as Amy has, of course. But they have sometimes had their wants and needs made secondary to the needs of a newborn baby who didn’t have a family. For us, that’s just a Christian life lesson. That’s what Jesus would have us do.”
He is quick to point out that many Scriptures speak to the issue of caring for orphans and widows, specifically James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (NKJV).
Though interim babies may not technically be orphans, the Russells interpret the Scriptural mandate to include them as well. Randy said, “There’s no greater example of an orphan than a baby who’s in a hospital with no name, no family, not a cent to his name, nowhere to go and no one to care for him.”
The Russells work exclusively with Christian agencies because they believe their calling is to ministry. They commend the state care system, but for them, the spiritual component is a critical element. Randy says the state system exists because Christians have abdicated much of their responsibility.
Along with Catholic Charities, they volunteer with Bethany Christian Services, New Beginnings and Mississippi Children’s Home Services. None of the clients at these agencies are referred by courts or the state. They come on their own looking for help for their children. The agencies are licensed by the state and have rigorous guidelines to protect the children they place.
Of course, interim parents have to be state-licensed as well. “You have to undergo background checks, criminal checks, credit checks,” Randy said. “And your pastor has to vouch for you.” Interim parents must also attend six hours of continuing education annually on parenting skills, children’s health concerns, children with special needs or other relevant topics. Other rules hit closer to home on a day-to-day basis.
“We can’t leave babies with anyone who is not licensed as a babysitter or interim parent,” Randy said. “We can’t even leave them with my mother or with Amy’s parents overnight. Wherever we go, the babies go with us.” However, licensed relief parents are on call if emergencies require help for the interim parents.
While some would think the extensive guidelines are intrusive and restrictive, the Russells accept them as necessary for the welfare of the babies. “They are a precious commodity,” Randy said.
The Russells have cared for one child with Down syndrome and a number of babies who tested positive for drugs or alcohol at birth. However, most of their babies have been generally healthy. They sing the praises of interim parents who volunteer specifically to care for children in high-maintenance categories – special needs or older children, for example.
It would be easy to assume that the Russells are investing their time and their lives in babies who will never remember them and never be impacted by their care. It seems a cause that requires great sacrifice with little or no payback. But they’ve been at it long enough now to see the big picture.
“It’s a fact that babies need to bond from the very beginning,” Amy said. “And in an orphanage setting, there’s not enough one-on-one time. When babies bond with us, they are better able to transfer that bonding to their next mom.”
The Russells also recognize that their experience has the potential to change not only the baby’s life, but also that of the birth mother. They may well be a desperate young mother’s first introduction to authentic Christian compassion. “The first reason we do it is so the birth mother won’t have an abortion,” Randy said. “And getting the babies placed in good families is what God would have all of us do.”
Then, there’s the positive impact on their children, Jocelyn and Jordan. Or the impact on a stranger who sits down by Amy at the mall and is awed by the Russells’ ministry.
They are aware of families who have been moved to try interim parenting after observing the Russells’ experience – Amy’s sister and brother-in-law, one of Randy’s patients, church friends and those who’ve heard Randy speak in pro-life venues.
They have received many accolades – Bethany Christian Services Volunteers of the Year, Southern Christian Services Volunteers of the Year and the Angels in Adoption Congressional Award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. They don’t take pride in the awards, but they do welcome the attention brought to the issue.
Clearly, the Russell legacy is having an impact that improves the lives of babies and inspires others
For more information, the Russells welcome inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following statistics come from www.fostercaremonth.org. The latest available numbers indicate that there are 153,000 licensed interim care homes in the U.S. and about 513,000 children in interim care (including group homes).
▶ There are an estimated 12 million interim care alumni.
▶ 54% of those leaving the system return to birth parents or primary caregivers.
▶ Fewer than 70% finish high school.
▶ They experience one or two placement changes each year.
▶ They score 16 to 20 points below peers on standardized tests.
▶ Only 3% earn a bachelor’s degree soon after leaving care.
▶ They spend an average of 28.6 months in care.
▶ 24% lived with relatives.
▶ 60% of those adopted were adopted by interim parents.
▶ African-American children are four times as likely as Caucasian children to be in the system.