A Difference for One Child | A Story of Hope

Written By: Sierra Okoniewski


May 15, 2023

Millions[1] of orphaned and abandoned children around the world will spend years at the mercy of the parameters, misconceptions, and stereotypes associated with adoption — often before receiving even the smallest chance to be accepted into a family of their own. But Deb Morse and her team at Christian Family Services (CFS) are looking to change that, one child at a time.

As executive director at CFS, Deb oversees counseling, adoption, and unplanned pregnancy assistance programs for families and individuals throughout Michigan. But twenty years earlier, the former marketing lead would have never seen herself in such a role.

When Deb and her husband, Andrew, married in 1991, they planned to choose adoption if they couldn’t have children of their own. After the birth of their two daughters, the couple felt that their family was complete — until Deb learned that her close friend was planning to adopt a child from China.

“What would happen in China,” Deb explained, “is that you’d need approval to have a baby. There were all of these things to try and keep their population down. There were spies in the communities — and if you had a baby without permission, they would charge you so much that you’d never be able to get out from under the debt. Some people were put in jail — people lost their lives over this. I was pro-life, but this was something I could do that was more than just giving money to Right to Life.”

China’s strict regulations on childbearing led many parents to abandon their children after birth. As Deb and Andrew learned more about the number of abandoned children in China, they began discussing adoption again.

“My husband and I talked about it,” Deb said. “Andrew was like, ‘We can do this!’ He was way on board. And I’m like, ‘You’re really crazy. We’re just little people who live in Berkley, Michigan. I don’t have a passport. I’m too old. We don’t have the money. How could we do this?’”

At that time, the couple was searching for a new church home. As they continued to discuss the logistics of adopting a child, they visited Troy Baptist Church — now Woodside Troy — for the first time.

“They were having their mission Sunday,” Deb said. “And the theme was ‘Breaking Down the Walls.’ The whole sanctuary was decorated like the Great Wall of China, with these little faces of Chinese children peeking through. I have no idea what was talked about that Sunday at all — I just cried the whole service. And I said to God, ‘Okay, you’ve got my attention.’”

Deb and Andrew went through a friend at Christian Family Services to complete a home study, after which they received approval to adopt. The couple sent their paperwork to China and matched with a one-year-old girl.

“When I saw McKenna — oh my goodness, her eyes,” Deb said. “I loved her before I could ever even see her. They send you a picture, and then it takes anywhere from six to eight weeks before you get your travel and your visa. Once we arrived in China, we went to the social welfare institute. Ours had 60 children in it, and they might have had five nannies to care for all these children. McKenna shared a wooden bed that had this blanket over it. That’s what my baby laid in for her first year.”

As Deb visited with the children at McKenna’s welfare institute, she noticed another little girl wearing a white sundress. When their eyes met, Deb couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something special about her.

“This child just looked at me with these big almond eyes,” Deb said. “We went back to the hotel, and I’m telling my husband, ‘There was this little girl in that room, and I’m just mesmerized by her.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I saw a little girl too.’ So, I’m going through pictures, and I’m like, ‘Andrew, this is her.’ And we had been talking about the same child. We got home from China, and I stuck the picture on our kitchen cupboard, thinking, ‘There’s something about this girl, and I just need to know that she’s waiting for her family.’”

Immediately, Deb and Andrew began inquiring about the little girl in their photo. They eventually learned that the child’s name was Ming, but she wasn’t included in the Chinese adoption program.

“Only six percent of millions of children were in the Chinese adoption program,” Deb said. “So, we started the process with Ming, and I just said, ‘Andrew, I don’t know how we’re going to have four kids.’ I sent a note to our agency director — I laid my heart out to her and told her why we were the family for this little girl. And she said, ‘Of course, I’m going to help you.’”

The Chinese adoption process does not allow for families to choose individual children, so the Morses’ agency director would be putting herself in jeopardy if it looked like she was attempting to help them adopt a specific child. With no guarantee that they would get approval for Ming, the couple waited for months to hear back from China. Finally, after two years and a misdirected referral, Ming was adopted and came home to live with the Morse family.

“She’s perfect for us. She’s supposed to be part of our family,” Deb said. “It makes me sad when people have the idea that adopted children are less than. McKenna and Ming have brought so much joy to our lives that we wouldn’t have known. We knew it was what God had planned for us.”

As they transitioned into a family of six, both Deb and Andrew worked full-time at Beaumont hospitals — until a company merger cost Deb her career of 34 years. For a year and a half, Deb worked at Kohl’s while trying to find another marketing position, but without any success.

“I was so discouraged,” she said. “It was devastating to me that I couldn’t get a job. And one day, my friend from CFS walks into Kohl’s with her husband and says, ‘You’re still working here?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I can’t find a job.’ And she says, ‘You know, we need a new executive director.’ Anyway, they offered me the position, and I became the director of this little agency that does mental health and adoption.”

Since Deb stepped into her role at CFS, the agency has received two Sanctity of Life grants from Woodside — the latest of which was used to launch a support group for mothers that have placed children for adoption. It is the first and only support group of its kind in Michigan.

There’s a lot of shame in our society today.” Deb said. “Placing a child for adoption, a lot of times, is not supported. God has given me such a love for these women who made the hardest choice in the entire world — they could have aborted that baby, but they loved their child so much and then will have years of grief because they’re not raising them. I’m not solving the issues of adoption by what we do at CFS or by adopting Ming and McKenna. But the Bible says to take care of the widows and the orphans. I can’t save the world, but we can make a difference for one. One more, one more who’s going to grow up and hear the name of Jesus.”