During pre-marital counseling at their Baptist church, Sarah and Justin Weller were advised to think through where they wanted to be in five years as a couple.
“We realized we both wanted to live our mission, to serve, to be a light in our community,” Sarah said. “We weren’t sure how we would do this, but we knew it would be important to our marriage.”
After the Wellers tied the knot in 2018, they became close friends with another church couple who were applying to become foster parents.
“Suddenly, there were children around our friends’ table,” Sarah said. “We watched and saw that while they had lots of challenges and it was very hard, they survived each situation as it arose. They told us they felt more joy than ever.”
The Wellers, in their twenties, did not see themselves as foster parents, but they were happy to babysit their friends’ foster children on weekends while they spent the next few years focusing on their careers. Sarah worked for a church and Justin maintained computer software systems. Life was good, but as time went on, the commitment they’d made to their five-year marriage goals weighed on their minds.
“We were happy, but we felt like something was still missing,” Sarah said.
In 2021, the couple went to a Christian concert where a children’s charity made a brief presentation.
“They told a compelling story about giving of yourself to make it possible for a child who is
lost to be found,” Sarah recalled. “Later I looked at Justin, and I said, ‘There’s something I just can’t get off my mind,” and he finished my sentence and said, ‘fostering.”
It turns out that for months both Sarah and Justin had been thinking about fostering and praying for guidance, but each had been nervous to share their thoughts with the other in case that’s not what their partner wanted.
They soon chose Epworth as their foster care licensing agency.
“We wanted to go through an organization that had a focus on the Gospel, but we also wanted to be licensed to offer therapeutic foster care,” Sarah said. “Some faith-based fostering organizations do not offer that option, but Epworth does. And we heard that Epworth provided a lot of support to foster parents.”
Within days of being approved for a foster care license, a post appeared on the Facebook page of a foster care group that the Wellers were following.
“A foster parent posted that a 2-year-old boy in their care needed to go because he didn’t fit in with the other kids,” Sarah said. “I felt bad for that baby.”
They arranged to have the child transferred into their care until he was returned to his biological mom four months later.
Soon after, in July 2022, Epworth asked the couple if they could take in two elementary school children. They agreed, and when they learned that the two children’s two older siblings – adolescents – were being placed in Epworth’s group cottage, Sarah and Justin asked to take in those children as well.
At first, the Wellers feared they’d overcommitted. All four children were in counseling for trauma and other diagnoses, one needed speech therapy, and each had an Individual Educational Plan at school. On average, the Wellers had to coordinate about 15 appointments a week. The two older children were “a bundle of emotions” and even made a halfhearted attempt at running away shortly after moving in. Sarah ended up quitting her full-time job a few months later to stay home with the children.
“At the time, we weren’t sure how we could make it without my salary…but we stepped out on faith,” she said. “Soon after Justin was offered a new opportunity that made up for the lost income.”
The Wellers have since worked hard to guide the four children into steady routines and wholesome activities. They all eat together at the table each evening, and they focus on providing a nourishing diet, which has helped one child who was greatly overweight lose 30 pounds.
“It took some time for them to realize that this was all out of love,” Sarah said. “But they went from trying to run away to considering us their family. Consistency is what pays off.”
Sarah said one key to fostering is having people “holding the ropes for you.” The meals that churches deliver, the babysitting offered by friends, the laundry help offered by Justin’s mom – all make a difference.
Today, their home is filled with the bustle and hum of family life – children yelling and joking as they bounce on the trampoline, dogs barking, and Sarah and Justin directing traffic. They go on lots of walks and the children enjoy helping in the backyard garden. Negative behaviors have diminished.
“It is very clear to them now that they are loved, not just by us but by Epworth … by the therapists, the caseworkers, all the people involved in their care,” Sarah said.
She and Justin know it will be hard when the children are reunited with their birth family, but they are at peace about it.
“God has a vision for families, and it is restoration,” Sarah said. “We tell the children that even after they go back to their parents, they will always be our kids too.”
Not only has fostering brought the couple joy, it also helped them meet their five-year marriage goals.
“Bringing the nitty gritty of ministry into our home escalated our growth as a couple and deepened our love,” she said.