"Storytelling changes the world"
I sat on my couch, completely broken. The numbers were just too much for me.There are 157 million orphans in the world. 400,000 kids in US foster care. 8,000 kids in the New Jersey system alone. “We have to do more,” I cried to my husband, but we had our own numbers to consider: Two of us. Two bio children. Two foster children. Three bedroom house. Three “placement capacity” from the state. The numbers couldn’t be reconciled.
“When will what we’re doing be enough for you?” my husband asked.
I didn’t answer, because all I could think was, “Never. We could never do enough.”
He was used to dealing with me like this, used to me struggling to be content, used to me always wanting to do or be more. He didn’t have to spell out the math to get me to the obvious answer: “We can’t take them all.” But with him being the perfect-for-me man and all, he didn’t leave me there. “But you can give your life and heart to the ones in our home and doing that will inspire others to do it, too.” (Read about our family's story of getting into foster care here.)
My eyes fill with tears now just remembering this conversation (I’ve thanked my husband for his wise words at least 400 times since). Instead of the despair that was inevitably tagged onto my faulty savior complex (news flash: I can’t save anyone), I became a girl on a mission.
I would talk about foster care consistently and enthusiastically, have coffee with every person who had questions, plan meetings for people to learn about how to get involved, help coordinate events that shed light on the plight of orphans, and write about my own experiences with foster care on my blog, Foster the Family. Most importantly, I would faithfully love the children entrusted to me by the state and by God and pray that maybe people would see and be compelled.
I am passionate about being just an ordinary mom to my 4+ bio/adoptive/foster children. Loving my two foster daughters well is the best thing I can do to “fix the system.” But I am also passionate about helping give a voice to the other 150 million children who don’t have a mom loving them well. This is why I love The Archibald Project.
The Archibald Project is the work of a husband and wife team, Whitney and Nick Runyon, who are also on a mission. Whitney (a photographer) and Nick (a pilot-turned-videographer) are all about using art and media to give a voice and, more specifically, a face to orphans and vulnerable children. When two artists take their gifts and passion and spend them up for the good of others, something beautiful happens. The combination of seeing her talent (online) and hearing her heart (on the phone), revealed to me just how beautiful it is.
The Runyons happened upon (read as: discovered what had been divinely appointed) their calling and T.A.P. when Whitney heard a friend was headed to Bulgaria to bring her adopted child home. Just as any average friend would, she asked if she could just, you know, tag along on their trek across the world (Whitney described it as a "clouds parting" sort of moment where she knew she was supposed to go and photograph their journey).
After chronicling the family's adoption experience through her camera lens, Whitney posted the moments-turned-art on Facebook. When the photos were shared and liked by strangers, she was shocked. When she heard from one of these strangers that they were adopting (a chronically ill child from Ukraine, no less) because of her photos, she and Nick knew this was what they were meant to do. Numerous adoption stories, six months of living in Uganda, and countless photos/videos/podcasts/blog posts later, Whitney and Nick's little burden has become their full time work and lifestyle (as she put it: "We live it, dream it, breathe it") in The Archibald Project.
This month The Archibald Project is devoted to National Foster Care Month. Each day T.A.P. is sharing the stories of foster parents, social workers, foster “babysitters,” and even a judge, flawlessly melding advocacy + beautiful words + beautiful pictures (*sigh*). Each day Instagram and Facebook assault my little heart.
When I asked Whitney about this month, her enthusiasm bled through: "The stories this month are my favorite. I love that 100% of the people we've heard from thought they could never do it in the beginning. But once they had a child in their home, learned their personalities and hopes and fears, every single parent said the pain and struggle of foster care is worth it!" I'm 100% sure that this 100% number could be mathematically proven, as that is what I hear from every. single. foster parent and that is what my very own T.A.P. story (which will be shared later this month) centered around.
"We believe storytelling changes the world. Any big movement starts with a story...What we're sharing is like a modern day parable. We show the grace and mercy and message of the gospel through stories of adoption and orphan care."
Not only is this storytelling an inspiring interpretation of the directive to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves" (Proverbs 31:8), it's also being done in just the most beautiful of ways. And as Whitney put it: "social media is the most powerful tool to bring about change in our generation."
The Runyons believe they will eventually build their family through adoption (hopefully through the foster care system), but until then, Whitney shared she believes they're “doing more to help orphans right now by advocating than by even adopting.” Do you see my story merge with theirs to create a pretty little full circle moment here? When I pointed this out to Whitney and shared my own burden to both foster and advocate for foster care, she answered: "I'm grinning so big right now." (This is one of my favorite phone/text phrases. We're pretty much kindreds.)
We all need to hear the stories of those who don't have a voice, see the faces of those who are invisible. How can we "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause" (Isaiah 1:17) if we don't even see those who need the good we're supposed to do? This is why we need to hear "their" stories, see "their" faces. This is why we need The Archibald Project.