Growing a Heart for the Orphan
About the Guest
Adoption is good, but it’s not for everyone. So thought Pastor Johnny Carr until a missionary spoke to him about the desperate needs of deaf orphans in Belarus. Feeling burdened by what he heard, Johnny shares how he and his wife, a teacher to the deaf, came to adopt three special needs children to add to their family of four.
Johnny CarrWhen pastor Johnny Carr took a position as pastor of ministry and leadership development at one of the fastest growing churches in the Florida panhandle, in 2004, he never dreamed that God would change his heart so drastically for the orphan. While at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., he led the church in establishing its first orphan care and adoption ministry. Through this, the church serves many orphaned children internationally, and believers have changed vocations to serve childr...more
Pastor Johnny Carr shares how he and his wife, a teacher to the deaf, came to adopt three special needs children to add to their family of four.
Growing a Heart for the Orphan
Bob: What are you doing, as an individual, to care for the needs of orphans, as we’re instructed to do in James 1:27? Johnny Carr is on a mission. He wants every Christian and every church to be actively involved in doing something to care for the needs of orphans.
Johnny: We never want to make guilt part of this, but we do want to expose what the Scripture says; and then, again, what is the reality? What does that mean to us here? Maybe, for the small church of 75—that’s mainly senior adults—every year, on Orphan Sunday week or May, as Foster Care month—they prepare meals for the social workers in their area and just go down and say: “Hey, here’s lunch. We love you. We appreciate you. How can we be praying for you?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What would God have you do to care for the needs of orphans? We’re going to explore that subject today with Johnny Carr. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, over the last decade or more, we have spoken many times about the needs of orphans, about adoption, about foster care. In that decade, I’ve had the opportunity to be introduced to some of our listeners and to meet some of their children. They have said to me: “One of the reasons we have this child in our home is because of a program I heard on FamilyLife Today,where you guys were talking about the plight of the orphan. God used that to just confirm for us that that was His plan for our family.”
Dennis: I think I’ve mentioned this on a previous broadcast, but I ran into a young mom at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit last year in Nashville. She said she was on her way, at nine o’clock at night, going to Wal-Mart®. We had a show on—talking about the orphan. God met her in the parking lot and worked her over. She didn’t just get what she went after when she went into Wal-Mart. She came home with a vision. Her husband was kind of like: “Whoa! What happened in that ride?”
Bob: And we should mention that we’re both going to be at the Orphan Summit in early May, this year, in Chicago; right?
Dennis: Yes, that’s right—at Willow Creek Community Church. We’re excited about that. We hope to have a ton of students from Wheaton Bible come join us and maybe from Moody.
Bob: You’re talking about Wheaton College.
Dennis: Yes, Wheaton College and Moody Bible Institute. We’d love to have as many of those college students as possible come join us.
Last year, we had to turn away people. We had 2,500 at the summit. This year, we’ve got room for you!
Bob: If folks would like more information about the Orphan Summit, which comes up in early May, just go to FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link on our website that will take you right to where you can get information about it.
Dennis: Yes. We’ve got a guy who’s a flaming evangelist for the orphan movement. Johnny Carr joins us on FamilyLife Today. Johnny, welcome to the broadcast.
Johnny: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure to be with you.
Dennis: Johnny is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Help One Now ministries. You’ve been all over this subject of orphans over the past—what?—couple of decades or so?
Johnny: Yes. I started full-time, I would say, in the orphan care arena in 2007.
Dennis: Yes, but you ended up—actually, you and your wife—adopting three of your five children. You’ve also written a book called Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting.
I think this is such an important topic because a lot of folks adopt an orphan, but they’re not really fully-prepared for the issues they can face when they do adopt. Take us back, though, before we get to the subject of your book, just to how you got a heart for orphans. I mean, you grew up in the South. Did you hear a big message from the church, back then in the South, about orphans?
Johnny: [Laughter] Well, no! I did not. It’s interesting that you say that, too, because after the first message I ever preached on orphans, a World War II veteran came up to me afterwards. He said: “Johnny, I’ve been going to church all my life. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard a message on, not just spiritual adoption, but actually adopting a child.” It was kind of great to hear that!
Our story, though, Dennis, started—
Dennis: Well, to that point, you’d never heard a sermon on orphans?
Johnny: Not until I preached one.
Dennis: I’m thinking back, and I’ve probably heard a few thousand sermons.
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard one.
Dennis: You know, this is really a modern movement that’s taking place today. But go ahead—take us back to what happened in your life.
Johnny: Yes. There were some adoptions in our family, but they were private adoptions. It wasn’t something that we really talked about. So, this was not something that I had really given a lot of thought to. However, in college, I met my wife. I saw Beth at the Baptist campus ministry. [Laughter] Yes! Almost every adoption story starts like that; right?
Dennis: It does start there! That’s the way ours starts. [Laughter]
Johnny: So, I saw Beth. She was doing sign language—she was a sign language interpreter. I saw her at our Baptist campus ministry. Actually, the girl she was signing for was Heather Whitestone, who would soon become Miss America, right after that.
Johnny: But I thought Beth was prettier than Miss America. So, I chased her around for a while. Soon, our relationship started going fairly deep. One of the things she said to me, in the beginning, was, “You need to understand that whomever I marry needs to agree that, one day, we will adopt a deaf child.”
And I thought, “Well, you’re so pretty; sure! [Laughter] Whatever it takes to get you to say, ‘Yes.’”
Dennis: You were under the influence.
Johnny: I was very much under the influence. You know how those things go. When you’re dating, you have dreams—
Johnny: You have these things—
Johnny: You just agree. We got married, and God blessed us with two kids by birth. Beth got her degree in Deaf Education and was teaching deaf children in the public school system. After that, God brought a missionary through town. My mission’s pastor came to me and said: “Hey, I want you to meet this guy. He’s working with deaf people in Belarus.”
I thought: “Well, that’s fascinating. I know that Beth would love to do that.” So, we go to dinner. We’re sitting down; and he says, “Johnny, not only am I working with deaf people, but these are all deaf orphans. I’m working in this orphanage, and it is all deaf children.” Dennis, it scared me to death. I thought, “Man, I’ve got to get out of here!” [Laughter]
Dennis: Did you feel like this was, maybe, a set-up?
Dennis: Like your wife had set this up?
Johnny: And I could see the lights going off in her eyes. I am thinking, “Oh, no!”
Dennis: Did you make eye contact with your wife, at that point?
Johnny: I think I did. I really do because I remember, instantly though, thinking about that conversation that we’d had when we were dating. We came home from that night, and it really began the conversation again. I’ll be honest—because I know you guys do a lot of marriage and family stuff—it had become an issue in our marriage—one where she really felt like this was more than just a dream you have at night. This was something God had placed in her heart.
My resistance to that, through the years, had really put a barrier in our marriage. It had become a real sticking point that we had to deal with through the years. She had kind of come to the point of kind of forgiving me, but that dream was dashed in her heart. So, that night began another conversation. A month later—I’ll never forget it—the first Monday night of February, I came home from a deacons’ meeting. The kids were in bed.
She said, “You know, let’s have the conversation.” We started talking and, you know, I was scared of the home study. I was scared of the cost—financial—that was the biggest part for me.
Dennis: Why were you afraid of the home study? What is there about that to be afraid of?
Johnny: Well, you know, typically, women are the large majority of social workers—a woman coming in my house and telling me whether or not I’m fit to be a parent—that was the part that just kind of frightened me. I guess I was just really being defensive, you know?
Dennis: Yes. You hadn’t yet bought-in, in other words.
Johnny: No, not at all. And then the cost, you know?
Dennis: I get that!
Johnny: You hear all of the horror stories, you know? Everybody’s got that crazy uncle, who’s got a bad story about everything in life. So, I had heard all of these stories about adoption. I was just frightened about it all.
I told her—I said, “Tomorrow I’ll call and, at least, start asking some questions.” The next day, I did. I got on the internet and searched “Belarus international adoption.” I found an agency in California—called the guy up and told him our story.
He said: “Well, Belarus is shut down. You can’t adopt from there. What are you thinking?” I said, “Well, a child under the age of six”—because we kind of want to keep the birth order going—“with no other disabilities but deaf because we just feel uniquely qualified to adopt a deaf child.”
He said, “Well, if I ever hear of anything, I’ll let you know, but that’s fairly specific.” Ten minutes later, he called back and said, “Check your email.” When I did, that’s when I opened up a picture of James. He was four years old. He was in an orphanage in China. Seven months, to the day, later, we were in the central part of China, in a province with 100,000,000 people, getting ready to adopt our son.
Dennis: I want you to take us to that orphanage where you met James; but I want to go back to your wife doing sign language, as a college student. Where had she gotten her heart to communicate with the deaf?
Johnny: Her dad had a little corner store. There was a young girl in that area who hung around the store some that was deaf, and she had taught her the alphabet. That was pretty much it. You know, Beth started signing—really learning sign language—I think her senior year of high school or freshman year of college. Within two years, she was interpreting chemistry classes.
These days, when we’re around deaf people who are new—who don’t know us—they think she’s deaf by her signing. That would be like you or me going to China, and speaking Chinese, and having them think we were raised in China—because deaf people usually know who’s deaf and who’s hearing by the way that they sign, but God had just given her an incredible ability to learn the language and express it.
Bob: So take us to that moment, in central China, when you came, face to face, for the first time with your son.
Johnny: We’re at a hotel room. There was another lady, traveling with us, who was also adopting through the same agency. We were in the same hotel. They called from downstairs and said they’d be bringing our children up.
We are in one room together, waiting. A lady comes around the corner and has this little four-year-old boy. There they are—standing, just kind of looking at us. I remember James was scared. He had this very frightened look in his eyes. As they walked into the room, the lady who was walking with him, knelt down; and she started crying.
My wife just kind of leaned into her. Our interpreter began to talk to my wife and say, “You need to know that this lady is also a special teacher, like you.” Beth looked up at her and said, “What do you mean?” He said: “She’s also a deaf teacher. She doesn’t work at the orphanage, but she has been housing him at her school and trying to teach him.” So they had this immediate common bond—
Bob: A bond, yes.
Johnny: —which we can talk about later because it’s a fascinating story—where that goes from there. But Beth reached out—my wife reached out—to grab James and to hold him.
At that point, everything in our life began to change. Yes, it’s really, even now, hard to process how much God spoke to us that day.
Bob: That was a defining moment, not just for your family and what your family would be going forward, but for everything about your life and what you’re investing your life in today. It’s really why you do what you do vocationally. It’s why you wrote the book that you wrote. God’s put a burden on your heart for orphans and for how we, as Americans, are called to go near or how we are called to assist those who are in need; right?
Johnny: Absolutely! And I would say—to go beyond Americans—to say believers. That’s one of the great things we’re seeing, right now, is a movement taking place in all believers—not just American believers—but all believers.
Dennis: Yes, this is not a problem that just needs to be addressed by the American church—
Dennis: —American followers of Christ. This is a global challenge—
—where the believers in these countries—where there are tens of thousands and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of orphans. In fact, take a step back and give our listeners some idea of what UNICEF reports, in terms of the number of orphans globally.
Johnny: Yes, that’s important. I try to take some time in the book to really flesh out this definition because it gets very confusing. Overall, UNICEF would say that there are 153,000,000 orphaned and vulnerable children in the world.
Now, their definition of “orphaned and vulnerable” children is “the loss of one or both parents.” For those children who have lost both parents, the number generally accepted is around 18 million. Some of those children, though, have living aunts and uncles, or maybe older brothers and sisters, and other folks who can take care of them.
Then we get into street kids. We get into kids that are left on streets.
They still have living parents, but they’re not taking care of them. We get into situations—like in our foster care system—where kids have been abused and neglected around the world. They have living parents, but their parents are not doing what they should to care for their children.
It really does get complicated because someone will say, “Well, how many children need to be adopted?” We really don’t know. It’s nowhere close to 153,000,000 that need to be adopted. That’s why the subtitle of the book is what it is—How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adoption—because there are many other ways that we need to be caring for these orphaned and vulnerable children.
I would say that number is somewhere in the millions, but many of these kids aren’t even what we would call “legally adoptable.” They may be stuck in an orphanage somewhere without proper paperwork—so they can never even leave that country to be adopted by an American family, nor could they ever be adopted within their own country—because they don’t even have a birth certificate to go to court with.
Dennis: Yes. In fact, I would like to encourage our listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on a link to hear a story about a young lady from Romania—a little girl who grew up, really, being abandoned by her mom and dad because of, I think, alcoholism—and being totally neglected.
Dennis: Beautiful young lady—but who has been given a family and been given hope in a larger family. Again, it’s not that adoption is going to be the answer in every situation; but for some who are listening to our broadcast, God’s going to use this to give them an idea, or hope, or courage, or faith that they need to press into this, just like you did.
Dennis: There are a lot of dads, who listen to these broadcasts, and they go, “I’m just not where my wife is.” Coach a wife, from a man’s perspective: “How can a wife”—and again, we know she should pray. Number two, she ought to get together with other wives, who are kindred spirit about adoption, so she doesn’t lose heart,—
—“But how can she talk to her husband so he’ll listen?”
Johnny: I think, number one—is what not to say or how not to act—I think the nagging or just consistently doing things that you know will get under his skin. That’s just going to drive him away—or talking about him to your friends and things like that.
Dennis: Or leaving a book by his side of the bed; right? [Laughter]
Johnny: Those are some annoying things that don’t help. As you said, praying—and I think sitting down and just having a very honest conversation—very similar to the way Beth did with me, even though it took some other things in my life to bring me to that point—for me to know that this was something very serious for her. This was not just a passing little fad. This was not just something that would be a nice thing to do.
I think that getting away—maybe it’s a weekend getaway—maybe going to a FamilyLife—
Bob: Weekend to Remember®!
Johnny: Weekend to Remember. [Laughter]
Johnny: But I mean, seriously though, getting away from the normal to really have time to say: “I want to talk to you about something that is very important to me. I want you to understand how important this is.”
Bob: And not a sales-pitch, but just a: “Here’s what’s on my heart, and I want you to know.”
Johnny: Absolutely—that’s it.
Dennis: And the command of Scripture—1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.” Our assignment, when our wives share from the heart, at this level—listen.
Dennis: And listen prayerfully, carefully, thoughtfully. Don’t just blow the conversation off.
Johnny: That’s right. Then, I would say, “Talk about your fears.
“What is it that would keep you from wanting to do this?”—just being open to a real conversation about this—then, have some honest conversations about what those fears might be.
Bob: I know we’re going to talk more about this, but I’m just—if you could condense it—the guy, who’s saying, “Okay, I don’t think adoption’s what we’re called to,”—
Bob: —for whatever reason: “We’re too young.” “We’re too old.” “We’re too poor.” And, by the way, we would say, “Before you come to that conclusion, just ask God rather than coming to the conclusion on your own.”
Bob: Just say, “Lord, should we adopt?”
Bob: At least, ask the question; but let’s say you come and say, “You know, for whatever reason, I don’t think that’s for our family; but I do care about the needs of the orphan.”
Bob: If I’m not going to adopt, is there one primary—your book talks about a lot of ways.
Bob: But if you were going to point a guy and say, “Okay, if he can’t do that, here’s the next thing to consider.”
Johnny: Well, I think it would be supporting those families who are and coming around those families. One of the most encouraging things we ever had was Lou and Gabby Boyd—had us over for dinner one night.
Lou was a World War II veteran on a ship, outside of Japan, back in the day. They were in their 80s. Beth and I were getting ready to leave Pensacola and move to Pittsburgh. So, they had us over for dinner one night—just the two of us, no kids. The four of us sat together at the table.
They had just been a sweet couple who had been very dear to us anyway; but Gabby looked at me and said: “Johnny, we’re too old to adopt. This was not something that we ever heard about in the church before. We love what we’re doing. So, we wanted to have you over and have shrimp and cheese grits”—which is what you do in Pensacola—
Johnny: —“and just say, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing.’”
I looked at them and said, “Well, Gabby, I just want to tell you and Lou, ‘Thank you for being involved in orphan care.’” He said, “Well, I just said we’re too old for that.” I said: “No, you’re doing it right now! You will never know how encouraging this is to me and Beth—that you would take the time to have us over for dinner and you would treat us.
“Then, to say with your mouth—not just think it—but say it to us: ‘Thank you for what you’re doing. We love you. We appreciate you.’” It was important to us! Man, we could just go on and on.
Dennis: Johnny, you’ve reminded us today that the church—and that’s not some building somewhere—that’s us, the people—have a responsibility to go near the needs of the orphan. I’m reminded of James, Chapter 1, verse 27, which I have repeatedly mentioned here on the broadcast: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
If you go near, like you did, you’re going to be drawn like a magnet into the battle to protect them. That’s where a ministry, like the one you work for—Help One Now—and where FamilyLife’s Hope for Orphans offer—really, training and kits to be able to start an orphan care, foster care, or adoption ministry in your local church.
For those who are curious about all this and need to find out more information, there’s really nothing smarter that you can do than to go to the Orphan Summit at Willow Creek Community Church, here in a few weeks, and find out more from the leading experts in the world on orphan care, foster care, and adoption. What you’ll find is hundreds of booths of leaders, showing how they can address the needs of the orphan.
Bob: I mentioned there’s a link on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. In the upper left-hand corner, you’ll see a box that says, “Go Deeper.” It’s a blue box. If you just click on that, it will take you to an area of our site where you can get information about the Orphan Summit. There’s a link there so you can find out everything you need to know about this event coming up in Chicago. There’s also a link to our Hope for Orphans ministry.
You can find out more about what FamilyLife is doing to try to care for the needs of orphans in our world and to view the video that we talked about today. And there’s also information on how you can get a copy of Johnny Carr’s book, Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting. You can order a copy of the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the button that says, “Go Deeper.” The information you need about Johnny’s book is available there. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. Ask about the book, Orphan Justice, when you call. Again, order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “Go Deeper,” or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, as always, I want you to know how grateful we are for those of you who make the ministry of FamilyLife Today possible—those of you who support all that we are doing, here at FamilyLife, including the outreach we have through our Hope for Orphans ministry.
This month, when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we want to say, “Thank you,” by making available a set of three prayer cards that will aid you in praying for your family. One of the cards is for a wife who wants to pray regularly for her husband. There’s a card for a husband so that he can pray for his wife on a regular basis. And, then, there’s a third card for parents to pray together for their children.
These prayer cards just offer you some specific prompts as you consider how you can pray for the members of your family. The cards are our way of saying, “Thank you for your support of this ministry during the month of April.” Go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like to make a contribution. Click the button that says, “I Care,” in the upper right-hand corner of the screen; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone. Ask for the prayer cards when you get in touch with us by phone.
You can also mail a check to Family Life Today. Our mailing address is Post Office Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223. Let me just say: “Thank you for whatever you’re able to do in support of this ministry. We appreciate your partnership with us very much.”
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about how we can care for the needs of orphans in our world. Johnny Carr joins us again. I hope you can, as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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