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A quiver full: Jacob (15), Joshua (14), Lydia (10), Miriam (6), Elizabeth (18), Jay, Suzanne, Rachel (7), Rebekah (17), Joseph (9), Abigail (15), Andrew (16), Jonah (3), Sarah, (12), Tabitha (11), Nathaniel (12), and Samuel (13) Faske (from left to right)

Twelve is not enough

Adoption | The Faskes, like other families, adopt, adopt, and adopt some more

Issue: "Elephant in the room," Nov. 3, 2007

BRENHAM, Texas- Jay and Suzanne Faske will soon be the parents of 15. It's true that this number hardly snuck up on them, but they still contend they never planned a big family, and actually felt overwhelmed after the birth of their first son.

Jay even says he's tried to preserve the status quo, drawing the line each time another was added. Getting pregnant was never at issue here-the Faskes had their last of two biological children 14 years ago. The other 13 have come by serially adopting orphans from India, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, and Colombia.

Jay admits his tactics have included bribery. Once, when the Faske family already numbered in the double digits, he called a family meeting. "He told them they had two choices," Suzanne says. "Either they could have a swimming pool, or we could adopt more siblings for them. But not both."

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The children cast their votes on strips of paper. "Not one voted for the pool," Jay says, still in disbelief. He and Suzanne have continued to welcome new additions-sometimes taking in children others were adopting but gave up on. That's how they got Tabitha, who will become their 15th child when her paperwork goes through. Both admit to being soft-spoken. They lead by example.

One recent Sunday afternoon the Faskes drove from their home in Brenham, Texas, to a nearby city park. They disentangled from two black SUVs like mini VIP delegates to the UN, mom and dad behind the wheel on security detail. The kids darted over picnic tabletops with mud-splattered soccer balls, eluding children of a dozen other big families, whose parents never planned on being that big, either, yet have now adopted worldwide.

Part of an adoption support group called Forever Families, they came from as far as San Antonio to meet in this small town of 13,500 east of Austin. To outsiders, the town's singular claim to fame might be as the birthplace of Blue Bell Ice Cream, but the Faskes and other families believe they watched the birth of a movement bigger than just the Central Texas Christians who've woken up to orphan ministry.

The awakening accelerated as two orphan groups visited Central Texas from Kazakhstan in 2003 and from Ethiopia last July. The result: a multinational array of more than 100 children from four continents in several dozen families, most unconcerned with orphans five years before.

That change is part of a full-bore attention shift among Christians nationwide toward "orphan care"-a word for the multifaceted approach beyond simple adoption that is commonly emphasized in this month's National Adoption Month publicity campaigns.

In 2002, the Faskes were in the heartrending process of finding a family for Rachel, a little girl from China with arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder that gave her clubbed feet and a dislocated hip at birth. It was unlikely any family would take her. Making matters worse, China clamped down on its adoption laws in response to what it saw as the stigma of outpacing Russia for the first time in number of adoptions. It capped the size of adoptive families at four children.

"We applied even though we knew China wouldn't let us adopt her," Suzanne says. (Rachel would make their ninth.) "But they would have to go through the process of telling us no." The Faskes hoped to find Rachel an adoptive family in the meantime. "Then the whole SARS thing came up," Suzanne says, which threw the official adoption board into a panic. It announced it was closing for six months, but it also gave the Faskes an answer they saw as miraculous: a unanimous yes.

Not long after this in 2003, the Faskes got a call from Paul Pennington, director of FamilyLife's Hope for Orphans, a branch of Campus Crusade for Christ, asking if Suzanne would head an orphan-care pilot program in their church, First Baptist of Brenham. That this idea might be ill received wouldn't compute to a stranger in the church now-after all, a majority of kids in the sixth-grade Sunday school class speak a language other than English-but the first meeting was a flop, with plenty of chairs set up and only one person showing up.

Demoralized, Suzanne couldn't understand: "The statistics are that 30,000 orphan children die a day. Who could read that and not be motivated?"

She took a different approach: Laying the groundwork for what became Forever Families, she sent letters to other adoptive couples in Central Texas asking if they'd be interested in creating a support group that would give their children a way to interconnect. This time, everyone showed up.

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