(Editor's Note: This article was published first in the January/February edition of The Stand.)
“I believe there’s a girl out there somewhere who needs a daddy like you,” Kari Robertson said to her husband Bryan during an evening walk around the neighborhood with their two young sons … about 16 years ago.
They had a great family unit and didn’t feel like they were lacking in anything, but the thought of her husband fathering a girl consumed Kari’s heart.
“I couldn’t get away from it,” she told The Stand.
For Kari, it wasn’t just an overwhelming desire to have a daughter, and after two very difficult pregnancies, it surely wasn’t about giving birth to a baby girl. It was about the Lord prompting her heart to adopt. But Bryan wasn’t on board until his work in the ministry moved the Robertson family to First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, where Bryan became pastor of assimilation after a number of years in student ministry.
“I assumed I couldn’t love an adopted kid like I do my biological boys,” Bryan said. “But I was completely wrong.”
Change of heart
During Bryan’s first year on staff at First Baptist Woodstock, the church began a ministry called WeFoster (fbcw.org/wefoster).
“It was the church taking the initiative, as the church is supposed to do, to care for orphans and widows,” Kari said.
The church dove all in, and before long, both Bryan and Kari did too. The Lord turned both of their hearts toward foster care without removing the desire to adopt.
However, they were met with more discouragement than encouragement.
“I heard from so many people: ‘I’m scared your hearts are going to be broken because the goal of the [foster care] system is reunification with the parents,’” Kari said. “[But] the Lord, as gracious as He is, also directed me to His Word where He says He’s near to the brokenhearted, and He heals the brokenhearted. And that somehow gave me peace.”
Before they knew it, they had fostered five different children – each of whom was reunified with their parents.
Kari is quick to admit that their hearts were tragically broken in the process, but God was faithful to heal their hearts every single time, and they went right back to being foster parents.
“When the Lord has a plan, sometimes it’s extremely hard,” Kari said. “But you just can’t refuse that desire that He has placed on your heart.”
Desire of her heart
It was through the Robertsons’ obedience to foster care that God gave Kari the desire of her heart when 1-year-old Leti was placed in their home. It was 13 months before Leti officially became their daughter through adoption. They even fostered another child after Leti’s placement but then took a break to focus on Leti and make sure she was well attached and established as part of their family.
Although the Lord had shown Himself faithful by bringing a daughter to the Robertson family, He had a double blessing in store for them.
The family relocated from Georgia to Tennessee, where Bryan moved into family ministry. An empty bed in their new house spurred Kari’s heart, so they opened their home to foster care again … and again, even after a second move. “We kept walking by an empty room in our home, month after month,” she said. “And we were like, this is crazy! We have an empty room, and there are children out there who need somewhere to be safe.”
Nine-month-old Lena was one of them. She came to the Robertsons extremely malnourished and very sick. Their first two years with Lena involved multiple trips to the ER and many nights when she vomited repeatedly all night long. Her birth parents were in and out of the picture.
“I had no idea what the Lord’s plans were for us, other than we were just trying to get her better while hoping that her parents were getting better,” Kari said.
But sometime after the first year, something flipped in Kari’s heart.
“It was almost like I was fighting for their [biological] family for the first year and then began fighting for my new family,” Kari explained, “because I believed that Lena was supposed to be with us.”
After two long, hard, very emotional years, Lena became a Robertson, and Bryan and Kari became parents of not just one daughter but two!
A family at heart
“It hasn’t been an easy path, but it’s been one that I would never undo,” Kari said. “I would never trade any of those children for any of the heartache.
“They have brought us so much joy and so much opportunity to share the gospel with so many people. … And I love them exactly the way I love my boys that I birthed. There is no difference in my heart.”
Bryan concurred: “In my heart, mind, and soul, there is no difference in the love that I have for all four of my kids now. … It’s just a perfect picture of the gospel in the fact that Jesus adopts us … and we’re treated like sons and daughters because we are His sons and daughters.”
Ministry from the heart
There is no doubt that Bryan and Kari Robertson value family – beyond just their own. They long to see all God-ordained marriages and families thrive. That’s why they founded Family Walk, a motivational ministry designed to strengthen marriages by establishing a strong foundation for successful Christian families.
“Like foster care and adoption, this is a calling the Lord has placed on us,” Kari said.
“After being in youth ministry, my heart just went out to so many kids who are in dysfunctional families,” Bryan said. “I had been pouring into students for all those years; I realized I needed to start pouring into moms and dads. …”
Family Walk encompasses marriage and parenting conferences, date nights, men’s and women’s events, student gatherings, worship retreats, church banquets, and assimilation/hospitality training. Both Bryan and Kari are dynamic speakers who share their faith and love for the Lord and His people through these various avenues, and they are willing to tailor any of these events to a church’s specific needs.
Kari also uses her gift of singing to lead in Spirit-filled worship. She recorded an album titled “Forever Yours” in 2013. Bryan has written two books, his most recent one titled The Marriage Motivator: The Most Practical Marriage Book that Even Men Will Read.
“I think if we can just really motivate marriages and get them on track with the Lord’s plan and help husbands and wives be the kind of spouses that glorify God … then we can have better families and a better society,” Bryan explained.
“Because you know, so goes the marriage, so goes the family. And so goes the family, so goes society,” he added.
“That’s why the bulk of our ministry is about going to churches and hosting events that encourage, motivate, and strengthen people in their personal walk with the Lord, whether it’s as a couple or family,” Kari added.
The Robertsons want to help men and women hear the truth of God’s Word in ways that urge them to walk it out and apply it in their lives.
“Our calling is to increase the kingdom of God by fostering marriages that reflect the gospel,” Kari said.
For more information about Family Walk, resources from the Robertsons, and to book an event, visit familywalk.net.