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Strength in Numbers
West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 7 years ago

Strength in Numbers

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by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

MOSAIC-van der Riet VDR 3

Renaut and Brooke van der Riet already had a full household with their four children.

But, nearly three years ago, the Clermont couple — called by God to double the number of kids in their family — adopted four Ethiopian siblings after meeting the youngest child during a visit to an orphanage in the African nation. Nothing about it was easy.

“Our adoption was like two tractor-trailers driving toward each other at 75 mph,” Renaut van der Riet said. “They collide, and you expect them to create one tractor-trailer. (But) what you have is a giant mess of fire and metal, and you take the piles and the pieces, and you combine them.”

Over time, what eventually emerged was a cohesive family of four boys, four girls and two blessed parents. Today, the children range in age from 7 to 16 — Cole, 7; Rahel and Hope, both 10; Cullen, 11; Mehari, 12; Hadley and Fitsimti, both 14; and Birhanu, 16.

The van der Riets have embraced the Bible verse James 1:27 — “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” — and so have dozens of families in their church. Renaut van der Riet is the lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Oakland, where many of the congregation’s 2,500 members have heeded the call to care for orphaned and vulnerable children in some capacity.

Families have adopted more than 100 children from the United States and abroad — including from China, Japan, the Ukraine and several African countries — in the last four years. Some are sibling groups, others are infants and teens, and still others have special needs.

A few couples adopted children who were in their early teens after their own children went to college. One couple adopted three children from three different countries. Another family has four daughters, one with special needs, and they adopted a young girl with even more special needs.

“They don’t see it as, ‘I’m already overloaded, I don’t need more,’” van der Riet said. “They say, ‘We’ve already been through it; we know what to do.’”

Currently, about 20 church families are in the adoption process.

“Over the next two years, we’ll see that number double,” van der Riet said. “It’s what we do. … Our goal in the next 10 years is to see 1,000 children adopted in our church. Because we are adopted by God, we will adopt a vulnerable child.”

The church and its congregation also sponsor more than 100 children in Ethiopia and Brazil, providing for their basic needs such as education, food, clothing and a place to stay. When possible, Mosaic will try to locate an orphan’s extended family. This gives the child a home and gives the family, in most cases, some much-needed income.

“We’re very involved in the lives of these children,” van der Riet said.

The pastor makes it clear that all these decisions are not made by church staff; it’s the entire congregation that makes the plans and backs the projects.

“We are consistently challenging and inspiring our congregation to step out and be inconvenienced,” he said. “(Adoption) is an issue we run to. … Anyone can adopt; everyone should consider it.”

NATIONAL RECOGNITION

Mosaic Church was recognized in September for its extraordinary work in caring for orphaned children. U.S. Rep Daniel Webster nominated van der Riet and the church for the Angels in Adoption award, which honors individuals and groups in every state that are making a difference for children in need of either foster or permanent families. National winners are selected, as well.

Renaut and Brooke van der Riet traveled to Washington, D.C., and spent three days there, touring Congress, meeting representatives and attending the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s gala, where they received a congressional certificate, angel lapel pin and medal.

In nominating the church for the award, Webster wrote: “Mosaic is passionate about adoption. Highly involved in caring for orphans overseas and fostering children locally, Mosaic Church believes that adoption is a reflection of God’s love and desires to demonstrate that same kind of acceptance and welcome.   

“At Mosaic, the church is thinking both intentionally and creatively about how to care for children by clothing, feeding, educating and offering sponsorship programs, along with adoption,” he wrote. “Mosaic is full of families who have joined this lifetime adoption journey by opening their hearts and homes, changing the life of an individual forever.”

COMMUNITY PARTNERS

Mosaic Church reaches out locally, too, through partnerships with Tildenville Elementary School, Matthew’s Hope, Finding the Lost Sheep Ministry, New Beginnings, Bethany Christian Services’ Safe Families and Love Made Visible (created by Mosaic to give impoverished children an opportunity to become the leaders of tomorrow).

Renaut van der Riet was born and raised in South Africa. He and his wife started Mosaic 11 years ago, when they moved to Central Florida from California. He said his church has a firm grasp on the idea of “living missionally.”

“(This means) living out the gospel in the context of our everyday life,” van der Ried said. “As we work, eat, rest and socialize, we look for ways to serve.”

November is National Adoption Month, and last weekend, the church recognized this with its first Love Made Visible orphan-care training event. 

“Adoption was one of the things Mosaic did, and it is now ‘the’ thing,” he said. “Caring for orphans is not an option, it’s an expectation from God. It’s not for some of us, but for all of us.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The van der Riets wanted to do something more for the city of Axum, located in the highlands of northern Ethiopia and the birthplace of their four adopted children, so they opened a business in downtown Winter Garden and named it Axum Coffee. Its mission: To serve the best cup of coffee, to come together as a community around a cause and to help those in need locally and globally.

One hundred percent of Axum Coffee’s profits are donated to help change the world, van der Riet said. This includes aid to the people of Axum, who lack fresh water, medical supplies and adequate care for its street orphans.

The van der Riets plan to open four more Axum Coffees in Central Florida next year, as well as a coffee roasting company in the Plant Street Market currently under construction in Winter Garden. They are still discussing the idea of starting a healthy-living café.

Even more ambitious is the goal to be pumping $1 million into social justice causes by 2018, he said.

Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].

MEET THE COXES

Kevin and Jill Cox, of Oakland, have two biological children: a 28-year-old son and a 20-year-old daughter. They said they never thought about adoption until they started attending Mosaic Church seven years ago. After hearing a program about the terrors of human trafficking, they knew they had to get involved.

This led them to adopt two children, now 19 and 17, from the Ukraine.

“We realized that God cares deeply for those who are not able to care for themselves and that he wants all of us to be involved,” Jill Cox said.

The Coxes are active in medical mission work through Mosaic and are planning their fourth trip to Ethiopia, with expectations of taking on long-term work there. They took all four children with them on their last trip and worked with the orphan program, Operation Rescue Ethiopia, which Mosaic supports.

MEET THE BRADYS

Amy Brady, of Ocoee, said she has wanted to adopt since she was 6 years old because of her maternal family’s influence through adopting and fostering children. As she grew older, she pictured herself having a daughter from China. Amy and her husband, John, have two sons, ages 20 and 16, and have adopted two girls from China. They just brought their 3-year-old home last month. Their other daughter is 6.

About seven years ago, Amy Brady went to Asia to do advocacy work in a trafficking shelter.

“It was then that I knew for sure, as well as my husband, that God was saying now was the time, even though our boys were teenagers,” she said. “We knew God was calling us to follow Him, even though in the external it made no sense to start over at the ages of our boys. It’s the best decision we ever made, not just for our daughters and our sons, but for our entire family.”

She added: “We have grown in every possible way. Our lives are deeper and richer … and more focused on doing whatever God asks — no matter the cost. We live our lives on purpose and with purpose.”

MEET THE SOUTHS

Scott and Julie South, of Clermont, have four biological daughters, ages 10, 13 and 15-year-old twins. Their youngest, Makaylah, has struggled with intense medical issues her whole life. The family started attending Mosaic about four years ago and learned about the church’s passion for reaching out to orphans.

“Over the next two years, we would be on a journey of discovering what adoption would look like for our family,” Julie South said. “We started looking in the direction of overseas adoption, but God kept pulling us back to the foster care system through multiple opportunities to serve foster children and their caregivers.”

She said the family felt that God was calling them to love a child with medical issues because of their experience with Makaylah. So nearly three years ago, the Souths took a class to become a foster or adoptive parent, and they learned the story of their fifth daughter, Annabellah, and the seriousness of her medical issues.

“In the most powerful of ways, we have learned what it is to truly let go of fear, to absolutely trust the Lord and to put aside ourselves for the sake of following Jesus,” Julie South said. “We have sat unsure of how to keep going and then been utterly carried by the power of God. The verse, ‘When we are weak, then He is strong,’ has been a tangible reality for us.”

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