Jami Kaeb goes grocery shopping with two toddlers crawling around in her grocery cart, and another tottering beside her. Her oldest daughter, 9-year-old Paige, pushes another cart with two more kids sticking their heads out before the cart gets piled high with frozen pizza, cereal boxes, and chicken breasts.
"Are they all yours?" passers-by ask as they do a double take and gape.
Three of them are. But the other three are foster kids - all siblings, a sister and two younger brothers. Although they have been living under Kaeb's roof for more than two years, their biological parents are still their legal parents.
Kaeb and her husband Clint of Bloomington, Ill., did not plan on becoming foster parents. For years they had tried adopting another child - they already had an adopted son from Guatemala - but they were rejected more than 20 times.
One day, after yet another rejection email, Kaeb dropped to her knees and asked God why He would place such a desire in her heart yet not allow it to happen. She said she felt God respond: "It's not about bringing a child to a family. It's about bringing a family to a child."
After watching a documentary on foster care, Kaeb said she felt her "eyes open to the world of foster care." She and her husband took a foster care training course and two days after, the phone rang. Within five months, their family grew from five to eight, with all the children under the age of 10.
Typically, orphan care ministry has been associated with international and domestic adoption, but more Christians, like the Kaebs, are feeling "a call" to foster children from the local community. And the need is great: according to a federal report on the foster care system, an estimated 408,425 children were in foster care in 2010. The majority of these children enter foster care because of neglect and abuse.
At this year's annual Christian Alliance for Orphans summit held at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., 10 of the 80 talks dealt specifically with foster care.
President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans Jedd Medefind said although the early summits were heavily focused on just adoption, the topics discussed in this year's summit have both "broadened and deepened" to encompass the "whole life circle of adoption" that includes other options of caring for orphans, like foster care.
Medefind said he hoped this would help attendees address the more difficult aspects of foster care: "When a child comes from a foster care system, there are many deep wounds from the past, so how do you love and nurture them towards wholeness?"
Tiffany Joyner, who started to foster three pre-teens and a baby about three months ago with her husband Justin in Busti, NY, said that initially she was worried about taking care of older kids with behavioral and psychological issues. She was also concerned about what her relationship with the biological parents would look like.
But Joyner said she and her husband, both 26 and first-time parents, came up with a simple model to follow in foster parenting.
"We just try to love them, have a stable family and show them what a family is supposed to be like and what love is supposed to be," Joyner said. "Just love seems to go pretty far."
But sometimes loving a child who will only stay in their home temporarily is the toughest challenge for foster parents. Joyner said "selfishly, we would like [the little boy] to stay with us." But she knows the child would return to his parents eventually, as the three older kids have already returned to their family.
Kaeb agrees. She said the hardest thing for her is to plaster a big smile on her face each week and tell her three foster kids, "It's time to see mommy and daddy! Yay!" because on the inside, she struggles with wanting to be their mommy.
"It's so emotional because you want to put up a wall, but you're also telling yourself you need to break down that wall because they need your love," Kaeb said. "You don't want to get hurt, but at the same time you're getting way too attached and you have to remind yourself that you're not their mommy, and you need to honor their parents."
Kaeb said the emotional battle made her hold on to Christ more for wisdom and sacrificial love: "I'd rather trust that God is going to take care of them and take care of me, than hold back and…never engage because I don't think that's helpful at all." Currently, the Kaebs are in the process of adopting the three foster kids as their biological parents' parental rights have been terminated.
Foster parents also need support from the church to care for both the children and the foster parents.
"We want to equip the local church to be that place where [foster and orphan care] happens," Medefind said. "It's not just one family fostering or adopting, but the whole church community walking that road together."
For the Joyners, church members showed their love and support by bringing in cooked meals, providing clothes and a high chair for the kids, and answering basic parenting questions like, "What time should an 18-month-old go to bed?"
Kaeb calls it "the puzzle pieces." She described church community involvement in foster care as pieces that fit into a puzzle - the pieces are the Body of Christ, the person who moves these pieces into the right places is God, and the puzzle is God's love for His children.
"God is moving in the hearts of people, and we get to watch it," Kaeb said. "We're just trying to keep up."
This story first appeared on WORLD California.