Jeff Rickett is one of the church planting pastors of City of Hope Church, a multi-ethnic congregation in Columbia, Maryland. City of Hope Church is a diverse community of worshipers who have been gripped by the gospel of grace and are committed to bringing gospel-hope and freedom to the diverse people of the Columbia area. Jeff serves a congregation that boldly pursues ethnic, socioeconomic, and generational reconciliation through the power of the Gospel.
Jeff has been the father of a multi-ethnic family for 9 years. He was kind enough to share some of his family’s experiences below. It is our desire that this interview series will address struggles that adoptive families face and provide real answers that are grounded in the Gospel of grace.
1. Tell us a little about your family.
My wife and I have been married for 16 years, and we have two living children, Samuel and Amanda. Samuel is 9 and enjoys playing, riding his bike, and skateboarding. Amanda is 8 and enjoys cooking, scientific kinds of experiments (look in our freezer, hehe) and horseback riding. Both are in the 3rd grade. Val enjoys reading, walking on the beach, and a good conversation with friends. I enjoy tennis, running and a good conversation as well. I am a pastor who just recently planted a new church in Columbia, MD, with another pastor. We are a racially diverse pastoral team that desires to reach this diverse community with the gospel. Just to clarify, Val and I are Caucasian and our children are African American.
2. What initially motivated you to adopt?
After struggling a few long years with infertility and then losing our son, Scott, after 5 months in utero, we were moved to begin the process of adoption. Even before these painful and yet God strengthening experiences, both Val and I wanted to adopt even if we had children biologically. God has always placed that as a priority for us.
3. What kind of responses have you received from extended family and friends about your decision to adopt?
When we chose to adopt transracially, my parents had some concerns. But what is so awesome is that after we shared our desire with them, God placed a mixed race family in their lives that helped ease their concerns. Most were supportive in our decision, and our family and friends helped us through the process.
4. How do you think God’s story of adoption (i.e. God adopting us as His children) should influence the decision to pursue adopting children?
I remember coming home after a very hard day of work a few years ago. I was discouraged, frustrated and wanted to quit and start anew. I walked into the kitchen, saw my adopted infant son, and quickly walked toward him to pick him up. After hugging and kissing him, I began to say how much I loved and delighted in him and how thrilled I was that he was my son (of course, he was clueless about what I was saying). As I began to tell him these truths, my heavenly Father reminded me of how much He loves and delights in me, His adopted son, for no reason other than because He does. When we understand, rest in, and drink of the great mercy and grace that was shown us when God sent His Beloved and Delighted-in-Son to live and die for those who didn’t deserve or earn or even care about it, then we will be moved to do radical things.
Adoption is not for everybody, but God chose to design our family this way. When Val and I hear from friends and strangers that we have done this great thing, we just smile because we really don’t think of it that way. Yeah, sure, we would have loved to have kids biologically, and not being able to have any is painful at times, but believing the gospel has helped us not only to move on and find healing, but also to help others in similar situations. Plus, we wanted to be parents so we did what made sense for us. It wasn’t a hard decision.
I am probably going to be a little controversial here, but I think that there are couples out there who should seriously consider adoption, but they don’t because they are determined to have a child biologically. They are willing to put themselves through so much stuff just to have a child when there are many babies and children, both locally and internationally, that need the loving, Christ-centered homes that these couples could provide.
On another note, I know of a pastor of a small church in Texas that encourages his congregation to adopt. I think families in his congregation have adopted over 100 children from the state foster care system.
5. How is God’s story of adoption shaping your relationship with your adopted children?
It has definitely helped us better understand and experience God’s love for us. As we rest in this reality, it helps us move toward our children and face their questions, their reactions and their own struggles with us as their parents. One cute but telling example of this happened a year ago. My daughter and I were walking in the Mall when a group of ethnically diverse kids were walking toward us. She said very loudly to me, “Babysitter, can we go to this store?” and I said “Sure, my beautiful daughter.”
We feel that our children must grow in a continual understanding just as we as Christians understand our own adoption from God through Christ. We attempt to put that into perspective with our children on a regular basis. Both have a good understanding and can articulate their adoption story. When they were younger, we would introduce their stories of adoption with “Once upon a time…” As they’ve grown they have asked good questions: “What do our birth parents look like?” “Why didn’t they keep us?” We have tried to answer them honestly and appropriately depending upon where they are emotionally when they ask.
6. Did you or do you have any fears related to your adopted child’s future as a member of your family? If so, what were/are they and how have you sought to apply God’s story to those fears?
If we are honest, certainly we have fears. Identity issues are one real concern. How can we help them find their true identity in Jesus as they wrestle with being adopted and work through what it means to be in a multi-ethnic family? We strive to be real with them as we struggle with our own identity issues and model what it means to find satisfaction and contentment in Christ. Again, it goes back to the gospel and daily reminding ourselves of God’s story for us.