The longtime foster adoptive parents felt called to start a ministry when they saw gaps in the foster care system, such as children aging out of foster care without their basic human needs being met or bouncing from foster home to foster home because of instability.

When Jason and Sarah Ellis started My Father’s Arrows in 2014, they couldn’t answer the five "W's": Who? What? Where? Why? When?

But, when God put it on their hearts to build a children’s home, they started with the how — car washes, bake sales, yard sales — anything to raise money. The longtime foster adoptive parents felt called to start a ministry when they saw gaps in the foster care system, such as children aging out of foster care without their basic human needs being met or bouncing from foster home to foster home because of instability.

“We just started plowing,” Sarah said. “We started serving and trusted God to do the rest. In the end, God knew it all. What has developed is a beautiful ministry to orphans.”

My Father’s Arrows operates an 8,400-square-foot children’s home in Jay called Mama’s House with 24 beds for children in the foster care system licensed through the Florida Association of Christian Childcare Agents. The privately funded Christian organization also has a trauma-informed trained staff, an on-site private school, services for adoptive families and caregivers, outdoor and indoor activities for the children and a thrift store in Milton.

Some of the ministry’s largest needs right now are volunteers — especially those who can help with a new construction project — child sponsorships, reliable vehicles, laundry detergent and grocery store gift cards. For more information or to donate, call 850-675-4403 or visit MyFathersArrows.org or Facebook.com/MyFathersArrows.

Sarah Ellis, the founder and executive director, shared the details of their mission in an interview.

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What first made you and Jason want to become foster adoptive parents?

We’re both nurses. I no longer work as a nurse. I volunteer full-time to run our organization. He still works as a nurse to take care of our family. I think both out of seeing things in the medical field, but also we struggled with infertility early on. When you get married, you think you have a plan and you know how your life is going to play out, and it doesn’t. We started exploring adoption and ultimately started fostering with the idea that we wanted to be a blessing to children. We wanted children in our lives in one way or the other.

For years, I viewed myself as broken or defective because of my infertility, but through My Father’s Arrows and watching God bless and grow this ministry abundantly, I recognize I’m not broken or defective. God created me specifically for these children, because if I was the most fertile woman and I had a new child all the time, I wouldn’t even see these children. Sadly, many people don’t even see them. Then, of course, there’s stigmas attached to foster care and children in foster care. A lot of people are afraid of whatever their biological children would be exposed to or what baggage could come along. I challenge the church to say, "Your bigger risk is not to get involved." This is what the Father tells us to do, take care of the orphans and the widows. In our society, we’re made to believe you can only have one or two kids, because children are too noisy, too loud, too time consuming, too expensive, too messy. That is not true. They are absolutely our future.

 

Why do you call the children’s home Mama’s House?

If you aged out and didn’t get adopted or you don’t have a permanent family and this is where you’ve been living, and you’re in your young adulthood and you’re working at a store or you’re flipping burgers and someone goes, "Where are you going for Thanksgiving?" And you can say, "Mama’s house." And you’re just a normal kid like anybody else with a family that loves you and a special place that means something to you. There’s somebody there that’s looking for you, that misses you, that cares about you. My Father’s Arrows is a family to these children that don’t have one.

My Father’s Arrows — the name — is based on Psalms 1:27. "Children are like the arrows in the hand of the mighty warrior." Children are powerful. They are our future. They’re not to be flippantly cared for. They’re too be nurtured. They’re precious. We have to steer them. They’re blessings.

 

What situations do the children in the home come from?

Either there’s a situation and the child is at risk of going into foster care, so their parent or legal guardian can place them with us to bring the child some stability while whatever is going on with the family is stabilized. Or it could be because the child doesn’t have any parents because something has happened and their legal guardian is placing them here while they gain stability and try to make a long-term plan.

We’re very focused right now on post-adoption support. A lot of the children we serve have reactive attachment disorder. Sometimes children are adopted out of foster care and either there’s information that wasn’t given to the adoptive parent about that child or there’s some behavior that manifests after the fact that nobody knew. Or something happens within the adoptive family like illness, death or divorce that creates a crisis situation and causes an issue with stability. Or it could be that the parents weren’t equipped to care for the child, they thought they were but for some reason weren’t or the child is not adjusting to a traditional family setting.

What we try to do is bring stability to the situation and healing for the child and ultimately healing for the family if they have one, so we can strengthen and instead of disrupting an adoption, we can put the children back in healthy, safe and strong family. Instead of seeing their behaviors, we see their brokenness. When you heal their brokenness and you reach their hearts, that’s when you see the behaviors change.

 

Tell me about the staff.

All of our staff are background checked, fingerprinted, specially trained in trauma care. Then we have a trauma-informed private school on-site, special for these children because often they either have a negative attitude about learning, special learning needs or they’re behind in school when they come. We use TBRI, which is trust-based relational intervention. That’s our parenting style. It’s very focused on connectivity and consistently meeting children’s needs.

It’s not a traditional classroom, so we can focus on their specific needs and specific learning styles. Some children need to be able to move while they learn, but maybe they got in a lot of trouble in a traditional setting. We can meet that need. When they see they’re able to learn and have more success, they feel more confident. When they feel more confident, they have a more positive attitude about learning in general.

The point behind our school is when they come, they don’t have to explain their situation.

 

What has surprised you most about working with these children in need?

There’s so much brokenness. These children don’t trust grown-ups, because all the grown-ups in their lives have let them down over and over again. The biggest thing I’ve come to realize is they deeply want connection. They try so hard to push you away to see if you will leave them, too.

I recently started a new rocking initiative. Every child in the house gets rocked every single night, big to small, doesn’t matter. The big kids will roll their eyes and laugh at me when I tell them we’re going to rock them, but they absolutely love it. It’s just a few minutes of the day. We’ll laugh about it and we’ll be silly and make up funny songs, but they feel connected. They know I know that they made an A on their math test today, or they’re looking forward to a phone call to a special person or an outing we have.

 

Have there been any memories that made you realize your ministry’s impact?

I’ve watched the kids come in through our thrift store. They’re tired because something’s happened at midnight. Maybe there’s been an altercation and law has been involved. They’re scared. They haven’t gotten much sleep. They probably only have a Walmart bag of belongings — at best. They come in and they don’t understand what’s going on. They don’t know when they’re going to see their friends, teacher, parents, pets again. It’s really the crisis of their lives. They come in and we’re able to bless them and meet their immediate needs and make sure they feel worthy of care. They walk out with their shoulders back and head high. They feel special knowing we see them. The children need to be seen.

We’ve seen the relief of a barely 18 year old, aged out foster child who was absolutely destitute sitting on the floor in an apartment. She didn’t have a pot to cook her food stamp food in, or a shower curtain and towels to take a bath or a bed to lay her head on. We were able to swoop in and furnish her apartment for her and her young baby to bring total relief. The relief that comes over their faces of knowing somebody sees me, somebody cares, somebody’s willing to go the extra mile to meet my needs, it changes things for their whole world. People say you can’t change the world. I say, "You can change a child’s world, one at a time."

 

What would you want people to know about helping?

People think if you want to serve in missions, you have to raise all this money and go oversees. You can just come down the street. People will tell me, "It’s not really my thing." I say, "You don’t understand. If you care about poverty, incarceration rates, teen pregnancy, literacy, you care about orphan care." It’s all related. Foster kids make foster kids if someone doesn’t intervene. It’s about breaking cycles and building connections to change our whole community.

 

How is faith incorporated into the ministry?

We’re not attached to a specific church or denomination. We are Christians, and we have a level system to help the children learn healthier behaviors and motivate them to move forward. With each level, there’s a list of expectations, privileges and characteristics we want to see them develop. We base these off of Godly virtues and fruits of the spirits because it’s good for them. We do take children of all faiths.

 

How does it feel to see how far the ministry has come?

It gives me chills. It’s been such a tremendous faith-builder. I think early on everybody thought we were crazy. We didn’t have all the answers; we just knew this is what God told us to do. We didn’t have any famous person helping us spread the word. We didn’t have any wealthy person backing us. We had like-minded believers who cared and believed in these children who were willing to put in the prayer and sweat equity to make a better situation for these most vulnerable children.