Cale and Cynthia Magruder were named the Saint Francis Community Services “Foster Parents of the Month” for February.

Cale and Cynthia Magruder were named the Saint Francis Community Services “Foster Parents of the Month” for February.

The award for exceptional commitment to the foster children in their care couldn’t have come at a better, or more ironic time.

“We won an award and were asked to be on a panel after the worst experience you can have,” Cale Magruder said.

Cale, the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Augusta, said he and his wife weren’t feeling like the Foster Parents of the Month because they had to return a child to the system after two weeks of caring for a 10-year-old boy who had issues far beyond their abilities.

“It was just more than we could handle,” he said. “I felt so bad because we tried to help him and we weren’t able to.”

The couple was told they would get a break, but three days later the phone rang and two 13-year-old boys, who are still with them, became available. Because they truly believe taking in foster children is a ministry, they didn’t say no.

“What we are doing now - especially with teenagers, is never what we imagined when we started this process,” Cynthia said. “It is through the process we've learned to open our hearts and home in ways that we never imagined.”

The idea of caring for foster children first became real about a year ago when the Magruders finally took the plunge and filled out the paperwork to become foster parents and begin the 10-week training period and licensing process.

However, the idea is far from new.

Even before the couple was married, they had a heart for children in boys homes or in the foster care system. In 2001, a couple of years after they married and before they had children of their own, they began discussing the idea of hosting children who need a family.

Initially, they were planning to care for a child until adoption was possible. When the Magruders learned there are more than 1,000 children in Kansas waiting to be adopted and more than 6,500 who are in need of temporary foster care, they decided that even with an 11-, 8- and 5-year-old daughters, the time was right to offer their home to young men who need one.

There were a lot of hurdles at first. The house they were living in was too small to host more children. Cale was running for city council in ward three. Purchasing a home seemed out of reach for a variety of reasons.

Magruder said God had to work out a lot of details to make this happen.

Cynthia said God kept proving He was bigger than the hurdles they faced. Cale lost the election by a handful of votes, the couple were preapproved for a home loan and when they took their daughter to dance class at Life Church, Pastor Laurie Andrews handed them a card with information about foster care and told them about a group that really wanted to speak to churches about helping children who need temporary homes.

“I went into it wearing rose-colored glasses like I do everything,” Cale said.

They completed the training and licensing process soon after and in a matter of days, they were asked to provide short-term respite for two 16-year-old boys. The following week they shared Thanksgiving with 8- and 10-year-old boys.

“A lot of times the kids are really hurting when they get to you,” Cale said. “And with teen boys, a lot of morals and behavior is already imprinted. It is a real calling to be able to care for them well.”

After the short-term care with two teenagers, they had the 10-year-old placed with them who they hoped would become a possible candidate for adoption along with a brother who was in the area. But it was immediately apparent it wasn’t going to last.

“We just didn’t have the skillset,” Cale said. “You have to deal with the guilt of not being able to keep him.”

“We felt like we had failed,” Cynthia said. “But it was really God’s way of answering our prayers and giving us direction on what we were supposed to be doing.”

Three days later, they were right back in the saddle with two 13-year-old boys who are doing well.

Cale said the couple couldn’t handle the stress and emotional roller coaster without knowing God wanted them to do it.

“It is rewarding when you see them take steps toward becoming a man,” Cale said. “No matter how long they are with us, those are things they will always have.”

They already know the pain of having the children removed from their home after bonds are formed.

“When we become a family, it is really great,” Cale said.

But they know the children who are placed with them are all destined for reunification with their families.

“People ask if our hearts are going to be broken when that happens,” Cynthia said.

She found a blog that explained their feelings very well. “Even if you aren’t foster parents, these kids are there with broken lives. We can let them stay broken or do something to help them through this difficult time. It is an emotional roller coaster but it is worth it.”

She said she thinks about what they are doing as a parenting equivalent to substitute teaching.

“We are substitute parents,” Cynthia said. “It isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone, but there are so many children who need a home.”

Anyone willing to open their hearts and their homes to children in need is encouraged to contact Saint Francis Community Services at 866-999-1599 or online at www.st-francis.org.

Saint Francis Community Services is a donor-supported, faith-based, child and family services provider that has been a voice of hope for children and families since 1945.

Kent Bush can be reached at kbush@butlercountytimesgazette.com.