On our radio show Made to Serve, life-long friends Rob Minton (Executive Director of CrossRoads), Rich Shanks (Director of Advancement at CrossRoads), and Ronda Paulson (Director of Isaiah 117 House) shared how their stories started on a college mission trip to Mexico and led them to found ministries that would work together again 20 years later.
The call to ministry
CrossRoads was started from a group of Milligan College students who wanted to spend their spring break serving in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Rob started these trips, and Ronda was a participant from her freshman year on. They became great friends and worked together in missions throughout college.
Rob went on to found CrossRoads Missions, and Ronda became a cheer and dance coach. In 2016 she was led to become a foster parent. During their foster classes, Ronda and her husband learned information that shocked them about the first few days of the foster process for a child.
“No matter the circumstances they are leaving, it is still home to them,” Ronda illustrates about the day a child is removed from an unsafe household. “Most of these children feel like it is their fault, or they’re in trouble, or they’re not wanted. And those children go to the department of social services, and they sit, and they wait for placement. And that wait can be three hours, twelve hours, three days – they sit in an office… They sleep in conference rooms on a cot or on the floor. They take baths in drug testing sinks. This is the norm. This is how it’s done all across America. And no one has any idea…”
Ronda continues, “To learn that these children are going through the hardest day of their life – they’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re scared, they’re dirty, they have zero possessions expect what might be in a black trash bag… It broke us… I was mad at God and I started yelling at him. I felt it was wrong because these are God’s children, and He was doing nothing. God replied, ‘These are my children, what are you going to do?’”
Ronda and her husband went on to become foster parents (their first child placed with them was named Isaiah). After a year Ronda still felt called to do more, especially about the time between a child being removed from a home to when they are placed with a foster family. “In January of 2017 (The date 1/17, I did not plan that, God is very funny)” Ronda explains about her decision to start Isaiah 117 House. “I said yes to that original question and said to God ‘I have no idea what you want me to do, but I will do it.’ And that was the beginning of Isaiah 117 House.”
A Child’s Journey
Isaiah 117 House steps in on the most traumatic day of a child’s life. The goal is to provide a safe and loving environment for a child who is waiting for placement in the foster care system. Instead of an office building, they go to a house with everything they could need and volunteers to help them, care for them, and show them love. This is best illustrated through the story of one girl that Ronda shared on our radio show.
A 5-year-old girl was on her way to the school bus when she was stopped by her principal. She was told she couldn’t go home. Usually, she would wait in the principal’s office for hours then go to social services, but there was an Isaiah 117 House in this town, so they took her to the house instead. Once there she was greeted by two volunteers, Ms. Corey in her mid-thirties and Ms. Jodi in her mid-seventies. They stayed with her, they painted her nails, they gave her a bubble bath, they made cookies, she picked out a new dress, and the volunteers showed her love throughout it all. Around eleven that night placement was found. They sent her off with everything the foster parents needed and more.
That is usually where our Isaiah 117 House story ends. But it was a small community and Ronda knew the foster parents. A few months later the foster parents called back and said, “She’s getting ready to turn 6, and we asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday – chuck-e-cheese, swimming pool, sky’s the limit – and she said I want to go back to the Isaiah 117 house, and make sure Ms. Corey and Ms. Jodi are there.” They all came to the house to celebrate her sixth birthday with a huge party. “God took what was the hardest day for this child and turned it into a place where she wants to return because she felt so loved. Only God does that,” Ronda mused at the end of her story.
Since that first house, 11 more have opened or are being constructed across Tennessee and Indiana, and 35 more communities across 8 states are requesting an Isaiah 117 House for their town.
Once Rob heard about Ronda’s new ministry and its amazing growth, he called to see how Help Build Hope could partner with Isaiah 117 to build the houses in new locations. They excitedly started a new partnership. “Mexico changed me. Getting out there and seeing the need, seeing a hurt far beyond my little pocket of the world, and seeing that we can make a difference,” remembers Ronda. “I know that was part of why I am here today. And to see those worlds collide again twenty years later to work together. I do believe our missions align perfectly. We believe in rallying that local church, and those people sitting in church, because I do believe they want to do something, they want to get out. And we want them to feel ownership of those homes in their communities, and what better way than to have them build the walls.”
Last fall Help Build Hope coordinated a build in Indiana where almost 100 volunteers built the walls for a future Isaiah 117 House. The build went smoothly and had such a great turn out, it blew away the Isaiah 117 staff and construction crew. That staff then called Ronda requesting that all Isaiah 117 Houses be built through Help Build Hope.
How you can help
There is currently a foster crisis in the U.S. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, look for classes in your city and check your state government guidelines. If you aren’t ready or able to become a foster parent, consider volunteering at an Isaiah 117 House.
“It doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your skill set, we need your help at an Isaiah 117 house,” requests Ronda. “Lawn care, house maintenance, cleaning, organizing, writing thank you notes, book drives, cooking, and certified people in the home. It takes everybody in the community to make that child feel loved well.”
If you want to find an Isaiah 117 House near you, or are interested in starting one in your town, head to isaiah117house.com and hit the “contact us” button. You can find out about hosting a Help Build Hope event at crossroadsmissions.com