This is a story about love without limits, trusting in God to provide, and obeying even when it doesn’t make sense. Jon and Kathy met through their church youth group, married six months after they started dating, and decided that two children would make a nice family. But as Kathy said, “We put God in a box, and He’s so much bigger than that. You need to trust Him because that’s what makes it so much fun. You grow in your faith.”
After God blessed them with four biological children, they figured their family was complete. But Kathy was praying and opened her heart to God with these words: “If you want to give us more children, I will willingly accept any children that you put in my home. I am yours.”
The couple was active in their church’s children’s ministry, which happened to have several foster children in attendance. A friend asked Kathy to pray for a family to foster/adopt a little boy in foster care. As Kathy prayed for a family to step forward, God made it apparent that she and Jon should become foster parents. Part of that confirmation came in a song called “River of Life” that kept going through Kathy’s mind one night. So in 1995 they went through the intense process of becoming foster parents in order to “foster to adopt” the little boy Kathy had been praying for. Although that boy didn’t join their family due to circumstances beyond their control, they were able to help many other children. One of those was a fifteen year old girl they had taught in children’s church when she was five years old. Now Fredline is married and has three precious girls who call Jon and Kathy Grandpa and Grandma.
After nearly a decade of caring for foster children, they decided to make an even bigger commitment. “In 2005, I gave up teaching so I could take more children in,” Kathy said. “Some are fun and fit right in, and some are so broken and damaged that it’s just really hard. You wonder how they will function anywhere. They just need God. Their lies are so tumultuous.” They’ve taken in countless foster children over the years, but at least thirty since they started keeping track just over a decade ago. Some children have stayed for a week or two, some for six months, some for three years, and some have stayed forever. Two other former foster children have taken the Heebner name, and another has chosen to live on her own although the Heebners have legal guardianship, deeply lover her, and pray she will be a part of their family again.
About a year after becoming a full-time foster parent, Kathy was serving as the children’s minister at her church when she attended a children’s ministry convention and saw a booth for Royal Family KIDS. This organization was looking for people to start camps in their communities that gave foster kids a week of fun and opportunities to learn about Jesus. Kathy took some information and watched a promotional DVD with some friends to find out more. She was instantly gung-ho about the camp model. But her elation quickly fizzled when she realized the amount of people needed to support this endeavor as well as the cost of $400 per child camper which had to be raised. Kathy admitted, “Those numbers are staggering. I don’t think I can do this! I took that envelope, and after so much excitement, I put it on my ministry shelf in the hallway. And it was done.”
Fast forward a few months to Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2007. Kathy was reading her Our Daily Bread devotional as she has done faithfully all her adult life. The day’s devotional focused on setting people free and making an impact in your community. It also highlighted the song “River of Life” at the bottom of the page, which is the song God had given her heart the night she was inspired to start fostering. “What woke me up that night and led me to foster care was now at the bottom of the devotional,” Kathy exclaimed.
She quietly prayed, “Lord what is it that you would have me do?” The forgotten Royal Family KIDS envelope came to mind. She got up, retrieved the information, and has never looked back. Because the camp needs to have a church as the ministry umbrella, Kathy took it to her church board and they heartily agreed to take it on with her as the director. Kathy said, “There was miracle after miracle of how God provided the money to start the camp. We are now up to a $40,000 budget that we raise every year. We have about 100 volunteers on staff.” Kathy said, “We pray at mealtime. We show them Jesus. We show them how to live differently. We want them to understand what a real family is. They take those pictures in their mind, and they can say, “Oh, my life doesn’t have to be like this. I could do it that way.” If you don’t get them out of their little circle, they won’t know there’s anything else out there.”
Kathy and Jon have been obedient in their walk as foster parents and in their involvement with Royal Family KIDS. When people questioned them about bringing foster kids into their home, Kathy always deferred to the Lord’s leading: “If they are supposed to be here then protect us, equip us, and help us to do what we need to do because nothing is impossible with God. And the whole thing with Royal Family … I put it on the shelf. It looked way too big. I am just a woman; I am just a mom, a teacher. I like to tell Bible stories. How did I become a director of this amazing organization? It starts with one step. It starts with a “Yes, Lord, I’ll try.”
Original story as seen in Our Daily Bread Ministries, www.ourdailybread.org