Randy and Kelsey Bohlender are doing more with their lives than most people would even consider. They’re parents of ten children, six through adoption—including their youngest, Scout, born on February 3. Only last month, the Bohlenders opened Zoe’s House Adoption Agency which is named after their first adopted daughter.
It is not a cause or people’s applause that drives them; rather, this Kansas City couple says they want, “To make a prophetic statement in our world, in our day, that lives have value.”
With the voices of children heard in the background, we caught up with Randy Bohlender to talk about his family’s adoption story, the questions he hears from adoptive parents and how they’re integrating compassionate care into every step of the adoption process.
Randy and Kelsey Bohlender launched a local adoption agency in October (Photo Courtesy of Bohlender Family)
Bound4LIFE: Since the adoption of your youngest in February, how has your family adjusted to having a newborn again?
Randy Bohlender: For us, it has not been too big of a change—a little more chaos, a little less sleep. But growing from nine to 10 children is not like going from one to two. We are absolutely tickled to have our boy, Scout.
We’ve had a child under two years old for the last nine years. About the time somebody turns two, we’ve had another one or adopted another child.
The challenge sometimes is in numbers. There’s just the two of us parents. How do we get everyone where they need to go? Life is a constant logistics battle.
The youngest Bohlender, Scout, was adopted in February (Photo Courtesy of Bohlender Family)
Bound4LIFE: Could you share about the support system around your family?
Randy Bohlender: We have several friends who feel it is part of their mission in life to come around us and help. There’s a young woman who is often with us in the afternoons, and it’s certainly a labor of love.
She sees it as a missional job, and a few others did before her. These are precious friends who never really leave; they keep refrigerator privileges, and show up often to help.
Today, one of them phoned Kelsey and said, “Hey, I have two hours; what can I do for you?” Kelsey was going to go to CostCo and asked about riding along with her. They talked more and this girl ended up going to CostCo for us. When you have 10 kids and somebody is willing to take a CostCo trip for you? That’s gold.
In addition to these young women, there’s a couple whose older children come by when things get a little hectic. It takes those kinds of people to help us do what we do. The best thing you can do for most adoptive families is give them a little time, by running an errand. It’s not complex.
Bound4LIFE: As busy parents, how do you and Kelsey integrate seeking God into your kids’ daily routine?
Randy Bohlender: We talk about what’s on our hearts when we’re together. The best captive audience we have is when we’re in the car going to school.
We try to pray with our kids on the way; we debrief with them on Sunday, asking what they learned; Kelsey and I talk back and forth about what we’re hearing from God.
The idea of sitting them in a big circle and having a discussion about the goodness of God? That’s a little idealistic. If we got them in a circle, one of them would be coloring on the wall, one would be pulling his brother’s hair… so we seek God and find teachable moments at the speed of life, usually on the fly.
Four of the Bohlender girls celebrate life together (Photo Courtesy of Bohlender Family)
Bound4LIFE: Now you’ve been a pastor, an author and a church planter—why invest your life in overseeing an adoption agency?
Randy Bohlender: The adoption agency is a means to an end: to make a prophetic statement in our world, in our day, that lives have value.
When we save children targeted for abortion, as many pro-life groups do, it’s worth it to ensure they have a good home. The idea that children are unwanted is a farce. We can find homes for these kids.
The agency is a way to get that message out. I didn’t wake up one day and say, I’d really like to run a non-profit, I can’t find anything more complicated to do. It started with a question asked over years: “How can we get the most kids possible into good homes, and what’s the most cost-effective way of doing that?”
For a long time, we offered small grants to families who were adopting. We raised money and gave it to each family; in that scenario, we were taking two or three grand off of a bill that might be thirty or forty thousand dollars.
Eventually, we started to experiment with the idea: what if we ran the mechanism, rather than fund the mechanism? Instead of giving a couple thousand dollars to each family, what if we pooled those funds and hired a social worker ourselves? There’s an economy of streamlining there that you can’t beat.
We launched Zoe’s House Adoption Agency on October 1, and it’s going really well.
Friends and family in Kansas City celebrated their grand opening (Photo Courtesy of Zoe’s House Adoption Agency)
Bound4LIFE: What are some of the most frequent questions you hear from adoptive families?
Randy Bohlender: The first one is always, How long is it going to take? And I can’t tell them that. There are so many factors at work; it could take over a year, or longer.
Biologically, it takes nine months. You tell people it will take a year to adopt, and they almost have a heart attack—but really that’s not a whole lot slower than the natural way, assuming you get pregnant today. But adoption doesn’t necessarily have to take that long.
We started in June 2006 with our first adoption, and by October we had a beautiful little girl. Depending on one’s willingness to consider children of other races, or if you will travel to another part of the U.S. to meet with the birth mother, you can abbreviate that waiting period considerably.
People want to know what it’s going to cost, which depends on what agency you’re talking to. At Zoe’s House Adoption Agency, our expertise is private domestic adoption. People ask us, What about kids in foster care? That is a very valid ministry, it’s just not what we do.
We deal with situations where expectant moms make the decision, I want to make an adoption plan for my baby. They do it willingly—not coerced by a court, they are free agents who are pursuing a course of action. So our adoption niche is private adoption, almost always with infants.
Image Courtesy of Zoe’s House Adoption Agency
Bound4LIFE: The cost question is a big one. After one adoptive family shared their story, we received comments such as “adoption is crazy expensive.”
Randy Bohlender: The national average cost of an adoption has to be close to 40 thousand dollars. Now it shouldn’t cost that much, but I’ve heard people say, Adoption ought to be free. I don’t buy that either.
Consider that for you to adopt: social workers have to do their job, you need to be vetted as an adoptive parent, lawyers are involved in a complex legal process… The placement of a child shouldn’t be as easy as Go down to the courthouse, sign a piece of paper, and we’ll issue a child. That would be a recipe for trafficking.
Adoption should cost something, and it always does. The hard costs of adoption are higher than most people think. Our placement fee is under 10 thousand dollars, then parents will have costs related to the home study and medical expenses. Most of our families end up spending around 15 thousand dollars, which is actually subsidized in our case. We raise money from caring donors who help keep costs low.
People still question the cost, but the truth is: we have to maintain an office and hire qualified staff. We’re also covering those times when we work with an expectant mom for six months, helping her financially, and she eventually decides: Really, the plan should be for me to parent my child.
We’re pro-adoption, but we’re pro-life first. Some expectant mothers considering adoption should go ahead and parent. At times, we’ve told a mother we’ve gotten to know: “You can do this.” And it’s beautiful.
The flip side of that is, we already spent a few thousand dollars helping her become stable—paying a couple months’ rent or whatever. We don’t recoup that cost, so it rolls over into other expenses.
It’s expensive to do what we do. Our role is to give hope to adoptive families; just as friends and even strangers helped provide resources to make adoption possible for our family, it is absolutely doable for other families called to adopt.
Randy Bohlender sees three of his daughters off to school (Photo Courtesy of Bohlender Family)
Bound4LIFE: As an adoption advocate, clearly you run in circles that are not faith-based or pro-life. How do you share your convictions when opportunities arise?
Randy Bohlender: People know we’re pro-life because we talk about it. I don’t shy away from it at all. People ask Why did you get into this? and we tell them.
Even if they are not pro-life, they understand our conviction: If we’re going to be pro-life, then we have to take care of the babies. They admire that, even if they don’t share our convictions. They see the answers we offer as legitimate.
In part two, learn why it’s significant this adoption agency is located near a local Planned Parenthood clinic—and how prayer sustains the Bohlender family.