Foster mom loves children only to let them go
Susan, who cares for at-risk children in Thailand as an International Mission Board worker, recalls when she traveled to another country last year to help facilitate the adoption of a child she had reared since it was four days old.
Emotions came pouring out when Susan attended an international church service before returning to her home that day in Thailand.
"The message was so good for me," she said. "I was bawling all through it and later a woman came up to me and asked, 'Can I pray for you?' She didn't know I was in that country just to give this baby away."
Susan had been asked to care for the baby by the family of the birth mother who had been a student in Thailand and became pregnant. Susan worked closely with the family and an adoption agency to ensure that the child would find a loving home.
"Mother's Day is not always a happy day," she said. "That dawned on me last year, and I realized that we all need to be aware of our community because there are moms who are grieving today."
It was a painful day but hardly unique for Susan, who usually has as many as 10 children living with her and her family. Susan has learned to say goodbye to several children after years of caring for them as a foster parent.
"It never gets easy to part," she said. "I didn't think about that part. But it's worth it because we see these children that don't get adopted and know our care makes a difference."
Susan and her husband Ken* have served in Thailand more than 14 years. Most of those years, they have worked with the Thai government as foster parents. Susan also supervises two women prisoners who live with the Quaids as part of a work release program in which they are learning to become au pairs.
The Quaids have other missionary responsibilities in Thailand, but this part of their work melds with a larger ministry by IMB missionaries to reach out to women who are trapped in the drug and sex trade of the region. The program has three emphases: prevention, intervention and after-care.
"Some people focus on prevention and look for ways to intervene before these women get into trouble," Ken said. "[Other IMB missionaries] reach out to women who are ensnared in the drug and sex trade. And we are part of the after-care focus."
Specifically, the Quaids have watched God take their willing hearts and build an enriching, if not somewhat chaotic, home where they are able to love abandoned children who often come out of Southeast Asia's sex and drug trade.
"We work closely with the Thai government," Susan said. "The kids that we receive are from a ... government orphanage. And [the] request from the government is to give us the ones that are sick or weak or failing to thrive.
"[We] receive these kinds of children because the government has said, 'We want their health to improve so that they can be adopted in the future, internationally to other countries.'"
The Quaids regularly have paid local women to help with the care of the children, and the Thai government also has provided some funds.
They have expanded to include the women prisoners after a set of ads in local church newsletters were seeking qualified au pairs.
"I started thinking," she said, "Why don't we help girls that cannot leave Thailand to be live-in nannies just like the au pair program? And since then we've been doing that."
A Thai court entrusts the Quaids with women prisoners who have served about half their terms and have shown good behavior.
"They are still overseen by the prison," Susan said. "They come here every 14 days to do drug tests and to make sure they are still here."
The prison director has been pleased from the start, Susan said. "He said [to me], 'This sounds awesome. Nobody's ever offered this opportunity to the girls.'"
The Quaids' home is an open transitional place where others from the Christian community may come to help, with Susan noting, "People who want to care but don't know where to start can come here to make a difference.
"It would be too large of a step for a local Christian family to bring a prostitute or a sick baby into their own home, but these same Christian families have been drawn here to care. It's a place where local Christians can touch the lives of those hurting."
In working with prison officials recently on final details for receiving a new prisoner, a 16-year-old girl arrested for trafficking in drugs, Susan was telling them "about all the Christians that have gotten involved in recent months. The community has started accepting them because we are a comfort zone for others to touch them and care for them."
The Quaids remain awed by all the lives touched by this ministry. Each new challenge has seen God order the next step.
"We didn't search for this," Susan said. "It sort of came to us. Working with the prison girls just flowed out of caring for babies that were born into at-risk situations. We didn't plan this. One part of giving started another part."
Yet the joy of all that God has given them does not buffer the parting grief that Susan particularly feels each time one of "her" children move on to adoption.
"I live within the moment, and I don't think about the time when my next little one will leave," she said. "Every child that leaves here is a time of grieving for me. I pour my love into these kids, and it is a loss when they go.
"The orphanages that we work with will call and say, 'Oh, I know you are going to cry next Tuesday because one of your babies is going to a new home.' But there are more important things going on here than my heart being broken again."
*Names changed. Michael Logan writes for the International Mission Board.