by Sherri McClurg with permission of Jessica, James, and Janis
It started in the fall of 2014 when on the interview trip, we met a young man named Janis. He was fun and spunky but he had gotten himself into a little trouble. He was 16 years old, and soon he would be aging out of the orphanage. His director really wanted him to have a chance at a family.
Not long after that interview, Jessica, a mom of two little ones, was scrolling through her Facebook posts. She saw a family playing with their host child and read about how they were involved in a short term mission trip from home. They were hosting an orphaned child from Eastern Europe. Jessica was moved with compassion, and while she thought it would be a great experience for her kids, she never thought her husband would be on board with such a crazy idea as orphan hosting.
But when Jessica told her husband James about orphans needing a family experience, he agreed to look at the photo listing with her. They both found their hearts drawn to one spunky teenage boy who would soon be aging out of the orphanage and facing the world alone. It was Janis, and after much prayer, they knew this was the boy God was calling them to bring into their home for Christmas.
Jessica remembers, “We were nervous about everything! What would our family think? Would he like us? Are we too boring? Can we communicate? What if we just invited a teenage Eastern European gangster into our home with two little kids?”
On the other side of the ocean, Janis had his own fears. He never thought he would be chosen, certainly not after the bad choices he had made about school and smoking. Hurt and betrayed by his own family, he hadn’t allowed himself to believe that anyone would choose him. He will never forget the surprise he felt when his director told him, “A family has chosen you.”
When he first arrived, Janis remembers, “It was hard to be in a family because I wasn’t used to it.” He said, “It was a fighting within me as an orphan to be part of a family. It was hard to be finally loved after 17 years.” Despite the awkwardness of those first few days, Jessica and James kept on loving him. Soon this artistic, reserved mom found herself playing tackle soccer in the street with her teenage host son.
Janis began to weave himself into their hearts. So much so, at times, the little one’s needed to be pried off him, to give him a break and let him be a teenager. Janis shared, “It was everything that I didn’t know before. Love, real brothers and sisters, patience (insert laughter).” He liked that he was chosen. He liked that he had a family. He liked everything about hosting.
Jessica and James brought Janis back for a second hosting, and between hostings they parented and mentored him as much as they could from across the ocean. They made it clear to Janis that even though he had made some more bad choices, their love for him wasn’t going to change. It was in those hard moments that they saw Janis reach a turning point. Since then, he has accepted Jesus as his savior, gained a mentor in his country, and has continued to make better choices. Janis shared, “I know there is people who still be with me even when I cause so many bad things in my life. Even when I made bad choices they still want me. Hosting helped me to realize how good is the real family model.”
The changes have taken place slowly over the years with continual affirmations and connection. Hosting laid the groundwork and has helped this sweet, spunky young man who never had a healthy family feel like he has a home. It gave Janis a glimpse of Jesus. He shared that hosting “Showed me who He is and what He can do and how He can change lives. Not with teaching, but with being in the family and how we all interact with each other.”
Janis is now 22 years old. Jessica shares that from that first hosting until now, “The change is dramatic! He has initiated conversations about God! He is much more open and it is obvious he wants to build a connection. In the past, he has had goals, but no idea how to reach his goals and no real drive. Now, he has a plan and is excited to get started. He is thinking and planning for his future and wants us to be a part of it.”
Some say, “It seems cruel to bring children over and show them America and send them home.” But when hosting is done right, with families that are trained in the mission of NHFC and given an understanding of children with trauma, lives are changed. Seeds of hope are planted, and hearts begin to soften. It’s not cruel to love an orphan well and share the hope of Jesus. It’s cruel to pretend they don’t exist. To forget about their lot in life, to leave them unloved, without family, and without hope, that is the true injustice.