“It was really all God,” said Christina, recounting her journey out of bondage and into freedom and growth.
“I was in prison for the second time when I gave birth to Elly,” said Christina. “During the end of my pregnancy I was in the medical unit where there was a chapel. On Wednesdays there was a program that was offered; it ended up changing my life.”
Right before the birth of her daughter, Christina’s plans for Elly fell through.
“Her grandparents were not going to be able to come and get her once she was here,” said Christina. “I was desperate and did not know what I was going to do, but I cried out to God and God answered. I reached out to the chaplain about my situation and in two days they had worked with MCH and found a good family for my baby.”
The Kelly Family Story
“We said yes to meeting with an MCH director, we said yes to a class, we said yes to a fireman making sure our house was safe, we said yes to keeping our first foster daughter for six months, and we said yes to keeping Elly for two years,” said Kristen Kelly. “Saying yes to being a foster parent seems like an overwhelming responsibility, so saying yes to the little things is how we talk about our journey and tell our story.”
It has been nearly four years since Kristen and Mike Kelly and their two young children stepped into the calling of foster care.
“At the time I was in children’s ministry at a church in Houston,” said Kristen. “I was planning a VBS ‘Christmas in July’ event and I was trying to find a population of kids to invite for our party. I was having a hard time finding a group that was able to come to us at the church. After little success, I went to our sanctuary and prayed, ‘Lord, help me figure this out!’”
Upon returning to her office, Kristen opened her church mailbox. There, she found an MCH Sunshine magazine with a centerfold article and photos about a Christmas program.
“I stopped in my tracks with full body chills,” said Kristen. “Right there in the centerfold of the magazine were photos of children at a Christmas party – everything I was praying for. I researched the organization and emailed the MCH Family Outreach office director for Houston, where we live, knowing that MCH was on my heart for a reason.”
After meeting with MCH, the Kelly family started to engage with the organization. Their family continued to pray about MCH and saw clear and miraculous signs to continue moving towards fostering.
“We tried to find ways to engage with MCH that seemed comfortable, but things like volunteering our time or money did not feel like enough,” said Kristen. “We eventually decided to meet with MCH about fostering, and then attended a class, then another class and so on.
“Deciding to be foster parents was gradual,” said Mike. “It kind of hit us at 8 p.m. on a Thursday when we received the call that our first foster child would arrive at our house within the hour. Then, a few months after that child left our home, Elly came to us days after she was born.”
Elly spent nearly two years with the Kellys. During that time the Kellys and Christina exchanged letters and MCH worked to provide Christina with visitation with her daughter.
After her release, Christina pursued a voluntary transitional program in Abilene, Texas, for women coming out of incarceration.
“When we received the call that Christina was going to be released and was pursuing a program we wanted to support her and Elly the best way that we could,” said Kristen.
After discussions with MCH and considering all options to support Christina’s family, it was decided that it would be best to transfer Elly to a new home in Abilene, to live in the same city as her mom.
“The distance between Houston and Abilene is about six hours,” said Kristen. “When considering the thought of Elly staying with us and having to be transported 12 hours once a month to see her mother with the hope of bonding, it became clear that finding Elly a new safe home through MCH Family Outreach in Abilene was the best way we could love her. Our hearts were breaking and we could not believe Elly was leaving our care, but MCH accommodated what our hearts needed.”
Kristen connected with Rosie Hollingsworth, Elly’s new soon-to-be foster mother in Abilene, and through their mutual love for the MCH organization and heart for serving children and families, the two bonded and started the process to have Elly move.
The Hollingsworth Story
“I have always wanted to have a big family and have been called to serve kids,” said Rosie Hollingsworth. “Fostering was a clear path for my family.”
After having two children, Rosie returned to school as a nontraditional student.
“My education led me to work at the Regional Victim Crisis Center, which is where I saw the great need for people to care for kids when parents are going through a hard time,” she said.
In November 2015 Rosie’s husband, Chris, approached their family about fostering. A short time later, Chris, Rosie and their two teenage children embraced the call to serve families through foster care.
“I reached out to three organizations in our area and MCH was the first to respond,” Rosie said. “We started with this organization and we believe that MCH is the way to go.”
Elly joined the Hollingsworth family as their second placement.
“Everyone involved understood that the mom was coming and that we needed to be able to accommodate visits and have Elly in a home that fully supported doing all they could to best support mom and baby in hopes of reunification,” said Rosie. “Kristen and I had an immediate connection and our hearts were linked by what we wanted for Elly and Christina.
“After Elly was placed, MCH continued to empower and enable us to best care for Elly and Christina as they were both transitioning and working on bonding,” she said. “There was no judgment; there was full trust.”
The Reunification Story
“I was hesitant to move away from Elly when I was in Houston since I wanted to be near my daughter,” Christina said. “But I felt like God was telling me to go into this program and that He would take care of Elly. Eventually everything fell into place the way I had prayed.”
As Christina has progressed through her program, Elly has been returned to her care full time.
“The support we could provide to Christina and Elly did not stop at foster care,” said Megan Harbin, director of MCH Family Outreach in Abilene. “We are now working with Christina, putting parenting work in through our Family Solutions program in Abilene. We want to be extra supportive as she continues to navigate changes in life.”
Christina is also an advocate for other women who she recognizes are in hard places with their children.
“I have a good view of MCH and I want to encourage people in a similar situation,” she said. “I tell the women that these people are going to help them. It is different with MCH.
“I want girls to know that there is hope and that there is a way out of addiction but that it is only through God,” she added. “God will line up everything you need in His time, like how He did with MCH. This is a God thing. This is not something I did. You have to surrender completely and trust Him. I surrendered and God brought MCH into my life and has given me a second chance to be a mom.”
Christina said she is harnessing all the love she has for all three of her children, two of which she no longer has custody of, to now focus on being the parent she needs to be.
“I am using all of my love that I have for my boys and daughter in this moment,” she said.
Since Elly and Christina’s move, not only did Rosie and Kristen connect, but the two women and their families also fully embraced Christina and developed a relationship with her.
“We all talk to each other weekly, sometimes daily,” Christina said. “I know I can reach out to Kristen and Rosie. They give me support that I haven’t had in other areas of my life.”
Rosie, echoing Christina’s sentiment, said everyone involved has been impacted for the better.
“It is not just us pouring into Christina; it is Christina pouring into all of us,” Rosie said. “She cares for us and connects with us. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I could not be more proud of Christina,” Kristen said. “We absolutely call her a friend and it has been a blessing to see how Christina and the Hollingsworths do life together as well as how MCH still supports her and Elly.”
Veronica Whalon-Peters, director of MCH Family Outreach in Houston, said it was gratifying to see everyone willing to do what needed to be done for the sake of unity and healing.
“This is a beautiful example of how everybody knew what they needed to do and were willing to put in the work for the best interest of the children, youth and families we serve,” she said.
“Christina has lifelong people who will support her. She has wonderful people in her corner.”
“MCH has quality care deeply rooted in family,” said Rosie. “It is not about numbers for MCH – seeing how many people they can serve. They want all families to be enriched – the child, the foster family and the biological family. MCH has shown me that they want unity and they want redemption.”
Traci Wagner, program administrator for the Eastern Region of MCH Family Outreach, said the 13 MCH Family Outreach offices across Texas and New Mexico, as well as the residential campuses in Waco and the Boys Ranch, function as a family of services so that “when families move to another area of Texas, we want to be able to offer them services from another outreach office. Or if a family finds themselves needing out-of-home care for a teen or adolescent, we want to offer our residential program as an option when appropriate.”
“We are all a part of MCH because we believe in what we do and how we do it and ultimately the glory belongs to God,” Wagner said. “He works through us to offer hope to children, youth and families, and we want our words, thoughts and actions to be pleasing to Him.”
According to Kristen, “The MCH team has been the most unique combination – embodying Jesus in how they worked with all of us. They truly understand how the world works and that people make mistakes, but they also have tremendous hope and love for the hopeless. Our family calls those we’ve worked with from MCH angels. I cannot imagine fostering without them. Our agency is special.”