Chris Johnson’s life changed dramatically just over a decade ago. That’s when he, along with
his wife, Alicia, decided to open their home to vulnerable children in foster care.
Married for 25 years, today Chris and Alicia are parents to 10 children, seven of whom were adopted out of the foster care system. They like to refer to themselves as the #JohnsonDozen, and they actively share their story in recruiting and supporting other foster and adoptive families.
After serving as a pastor for 24 years, Chris is currently the national director of church partnerships for Lifeline Children’s Services. Chris recently spoke with Focus on the Family about their family’s foster care
journey, how their perspective has changed along the way, and how their faith has grown as a result.
Focus on the Family: How did you first decide to become foster parents?
Chris: For Alicia and me, along with our three biological daughters, the decision to foster was truly our response to a calling from God. We became aware of the need for foster parents through a foster family that began attending the church we had planted. As we began to serve this family, we also saw the need to serve our local and state agencies. It was through this process that God grew our awareness of the brokenness around us.
As I was studying to present a sermon series through the book of James, God used James 1:27 to challenge me to lead my family in investing personally in the ministry of foster care. Little did I know that my wife had been wrestling with this same sense of calling. Around this same time, the Lord used a Focus on the Family radio broadcast on the need for Christians to step up in this arena to challenge her, too. As we discussed and prayed about these issues, the Lord clearly showed us that He was
calling us into the lives of hurting children and families by serving as a foster family.
How many years have you and Alicia fostered, and how many children have you had in your home?
Over a little more than 10 years, we have had the privilege of welcoming more than 40 children into our home.
Many of these children were adolescents. Why are you drawn to opening your home to adolescents?
When we started the process, we thought we were being wise to limit our parameters to only foster parent children age 4 and under. This was due to the ages of our biological daughters. While we recognize that this would be a healthy decision for some families, we eventually became open to God expanding our reach to children of all ages.
Over the years we have fostered newborns to toddlers, elementary-aged kids up to teens, and even a couple of young adults who had aged out of the foster care system. Throughout the child welfare
system, there is a tremendous need for families willing to take in older children, especially teens. While we had our initial fears regarding this population, we have clearly seen how young people long for connection and family. They are in this situation through no fault of their own.
What a privilege it is to be used by God to help support them during this formative time. We have had the privilege of helping them see that God loves them and has a purpose and plan for their lives. Many teens in foster care have been in this situation for a long time. Most have dealt with serious feelings of abandonment and have faced a great deal of trauma. Foster parents must look beyond what these kids look like “on paper” and see them as young people who desperately need the support and love of a family. No child should have to transition into adult life without the care and support of a family.
What message would you share with new foster parents about working with caseworkers?
The most important thing to remember is that we are called to be agents of grace. It is imperative for foster parents and caseworkers to be on the same team. We share the common goal of doing what is best for the children and families we serve.
Caseworkers are placed in very difficult situations where they have to balance so many interests: There’s the case plan of the biological parents; the medical and educational needs of the children; compliance with court orders and local, state and federal statutes. And they do all this while being drastically underpaid and having limited resources. Foster parents should do what they can to relieve some of this pressure and come alongside caseworkers.
We must be willing to see things from both perspectives and extend grace when possible. By coming alongside and supporting caseworkers, Alicia and I have had numerous opportunities to share the Gospel. We have been afforded many opportunities to pray with and care for overburdened and overwhelmed caseworkers. There are some that we haven’t seen or worked with for several years who still reach out to us when they need prayer or encouragement. It has been a tremendous blessing to be used by the Lord in this way, but this type of ministry only comes through building strong relationships built on grace, understanding and support.
How has your faith impacted your journey in foster care and adoption?
We could not be a part of this work without the confidence and faith that God has called us to this ministry, and that He will empower us to fulfill His calling. Throughout this journey, our faith has grown in unimaginable ways. We have seen God change hearts, heal brokenness and truly do the miraculous. When we have been at our weakest, ready to give up and quit, God has given us the strength to press on.
Foster care and adoption are messy. You face the effects of sin in this broken world. Without faith in the power of the Gospel – faith in a God who we know will make all things right again – there is no way we could continue in this work. It is this eternal perspective and faith in these biblical realities that challenge us to be His agents of grace and redemption. We have no power within ourselves to bring about any change, or to affect the lives of children and families. However, as children of God, we have the incredible power of His Spirit at work in us and through us! His power changes everything! That’s why we are so very grateful and full of hope.
Preparing Hearts and Homes for Kids in Foster Care
At Focus on the Family, we believe that every child needs a loving and stable home. That’s why we’re collaborating with agencies, church leaders, and ministry partners to educate and empower families to get involved with foster care and adoption through our Wait No More events. Join us at a location near you.