Lifecentre: A church family in action
How one Ottawa-based church offers support to adoptive and foster families
By Focus on the Family Canada staff
In 2003, while Kim and Stephan Sabourin were on a missions trip in the Dominican Republic, God gave them both a surprising message: I have a child for you. Had they known what lay ahead, the Sabourins would have been even more surprised – the adoption journey God had hinted at was not just for them personally, but for their entire church.
“Back then,” Kim recalls, “our biological boys were ages six and eight and my step-kids from my husband’s first marriage were 11 and 14. I always knew that adoption was one way I would create my family and when I met my husband, it was something we agreed on.
“Several months after our missions trip, when we were back home in Ottawa, our church’s secretary left a message asking me to return a call to a distraught mom who had just given birth and had realized she could not parent her newborn baby. People in desperate situations often call Lifecentre and a scenario like this was not out of the ordinary. Just days before I had told my mom that I really believed God had a baby for us, so when I received this phone call, my spirit just leapt. I knew this was our baby.”
Confident they were in God’s will, the Sabourins pursued a private adoption, but the process was much more difficult than they had anticipated.
“Our daughter’s adoption was emotionally taxing beyond anything that we’ve ever gone through,” Kim explains. “We ran into all kinds of glitches. Everything that they said would take 24 hours would take weeks. And during our process, as well, requirements would change . . . documentation we had prepared was suddenly no longer valid and we had to start over. We would have our daughter for a week at a time, then have to give her back into care . . . keeping your heart guarded is almost impossible. When we were going through it, I thought, This is crazy. How come, God? Where is your favour and blessing? Little did I know, He had a bigger picture in mind!
“As we were going through the adoption process, people at church naturally started to come to us and say, ‘We’re thinking about adoption too; what do you think?’ And because our adoption experience was so difficult, it opened my eyes to the need to support people through the process.
“Right from those early days eight years ago, I wanted to see our church on the cutting edge of making adoption a word that brought honour, whether someone was placing a child for adoption, whether someone was adopting, whether someone was fostering. We wanted to bring a sense of honour to the way that they were building a family.”
Here are some of the ways Lifecentre celebrates and supports adoptive and foster care families in their midst:
- Adoption Sundays – In November, during Adoption Awareness Month, Lifecentre introduces adoptive families onstage during the service. “We just brag on them and love on them and highlight their story,” says Kim. “Last November we featured three different families who had adopted from three different avenues of adoption – public, private and international. We tied it into the message that we are all adopted into Christ’s family – or need to be. In closing, I invited people to contact me and tell what God did in their heart that day. Hundreds of emails came back, hundreds. That’s when we knew that God had released a new, fresh anointing on adoption care.”
- Honouring foster parents – On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Lifecentre makes a point of celebrating foster families. Last Mother’s Day they presented one mother of many foster children with a huge bouquet. “To have the church behind these incredible families is so important,” says Kim, “because they’re just working hard. It’s not easy and they are not compensated well; they just genuinely have a heart to serve children. As a church I think we can just be their greatest cheerleaders, and that little bit of encouragement propels them further into their calling.”
- Children’s ministry – As the children’s pastor at Lifecentre, Kim has worked hard to ensure that Lifecentre’s children’s ministry is an inclusive environment for adopted children and children in foster care. “We really empower our Kids’ Church teachers with how to work with foster kids, how to work with adoptive kids, and to be very sensitive – even in the language they use. And we’ve gone that extra step to make sure our kids are really safe; we have a computer system where parents check in their child and receive a unique nametag and number each week. So this makes our church very attractive to foster and adoptive families, especially with open adoptions and things like that.
“Our generation is just now starting to understand the importance of adoption and putting all those pieces together, but this [new] generation . . . I want to empower them from the get-go. I’ve been able to talk to the children very openly and very honestly about adoption and I’ve heard children in our kids’ ministry say, ‘I want to adopt.’ That just thrills me. And I really encourage the young people in our church to pursue a career in social work or adoption law because we need Christians standing in the gap in these places. And many of them have done that. That is really, really exciting to me – that God is going to put in place these young people who have a passion for Him and a passion for these children.”
- New creative endeavours – In the past year, Lifecentre has seen God breathe life into new aspects of their adoption ministry. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Kim wrote a children’s Christmas musical about adoption called Room for Me which was performed by some of Lifecentre’s kids. The feature song, also called Room for Me, is available on iTunes. In another creative endeavour, Kim wrote Our Chosen Child, a picture book for children that celebrates the positive aspects of adoption. “I didn’t want any adopted child to feel like they’ve been given up or are a second choice,” Kim explains. “I wanted to empower them with the story that they have been chosen by a family.”
- Wrap-around care – When a family brings home a newly-adopted child, Lifecentre members offer support in practical ways. “We have volunteers who do really tangible things like providing a meal or spending a couple of hours in the house doing housework or laundry so mom and dad can spend time building attachment with their child.”
What sets Lifecentre apart?
These all sound like great ideas. But after talking with Kim awhile, one gets the sense there’s a deeper reason why ever-growing numbers of adoptive and foster families are attending Lifecentre. The key seems to be not so much what the folk at Lifecentre do, but who they believe they are. To an outsider, the congregation appears to behave much like an extended family.
When presented with that evaluation, Kim responds, “We intentionally are a community-driven church. We remind people that we are all called to be the body – that it’s not the pastor’s role to meet everybody’s needs. If there’s somebody in the hospital, then you go visit. That’s the mindset that we have. When someone adopts from overseas, a group of us will show up at the airport with balloons simply because we’re family, and that’s what a family does.”
That concept of family is not just symbolic. Thanks to Lifecentre’s vision for adoption care, there are strong family ties within the congregation that further unite the church.
“Our adopted daughter’s birth mother eventually gave birth to three more children, making that six children in total. All six were adopted, with three of the children being adopted by three different families who attend LifeCentre. It’s fun when the families get together – seeing the children’s similarities and their differences. Last year five of the families were able to get together on the youngest’s first birthday. His adoptive parents had hired a professional photographer who took some amazing shots of the five kids all together, and at Christmastime we presented that picture to their birth mom. She was blown away.”
Preserving and honouring family connections, celebrating together as an extended family – it’s all as natural as breathing at Lifecentre. Seen from the outside, it’s clear God has used one family’s obedience to His call to adoption to bless an entire congregation. In the process, people have embraced a new vision, not just for what a single adoptive family can be, but for what an entire church family can be. The action steps are not complicated – it’s about viewing families at church as part of your own extended family and simply loving on them in the same way. Surely we can all do that.
© 2011 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.