- (Courtesy of Elizabeth Styffe)
Each year the Tony Blair Faith Foundation runs a blog series, "My Female Faith Hero," to highlight inspirational women of faith around UN International Women's Day. Kay Warren's reflection is part of this series. Read more faith hero stories including Tony Blair's at www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org
In 2008 Elizabeth Styffe was an extraordinary woman by any standard: she was a pediatric nurse, had a masters' degree in nursing, had been published in several peer-reviewed journals, was a professional harpist, co-founded the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and somehow managed to be a wife and mom to four terrific children. A very impressive resume. But Elizabeth allowed her faith to take her on an unexpected journey into the pain and suffering of orphaned children in a way that radically altered her relationship to God, her view of Christians' responsibility to care for orphans, and ultimately altered the fabric of her family.
After traveling to Thailand, Cambodia, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda in her work as an AIDS advocate, Elizabeth's natural compassion for hurting children, combined with the Biblical command to "care for widows and orphans in their distress "(James 1:27) began to gnaw at her. What could she do for the 163 million orphaned boys and girls in the world? She and her husband, Glenn, began to seriously pray about opening their hearts and their home to at least one of the precious little ones she had encountered in Rwanda. Within a few months, not one, but three orphaned children made the journey from an impoverished orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda, to the Styffes' warm, nurturing home in Southern California where they joined their new siblings.
Adopting three older children is not for weaklings. There have been some hard adjustments for everyone, and successful emotional connections are often measured in the smallest of gestures. But four years later, Noah, Cynthia and Erica are thriving – flourishing in the security of a permanent home with a mom and a dad who adore them.
My friend Elizabeth embodies the command of Jesus to "Love one another as I loved you." For her, faith is not merely something to talk about or argue about, but to live out in daily life; faith requires a response. Today she is the Global Orphan Care Director at Saddleback Church where she encourages our congregation to consider the exhilarating, life-altering decision that she and her husband made: open your heart and your home to an orphaned child in Jesus' name.