Kenny L. and Chelsea Philebaum have an ongoing joke between them. If one of them suggests doing something that the other isn’t comfortable with, the stock response is, “I don’t know; I’ll pray about it.”
That’s how Chelsea sidestepped Kenny’s idea that they look into being foster parents. What led to his suggestion — their struggle with infertility — was not a joke. And neither was God’s answer to Chelsea’s prayer.
Kenny, 36, has served on staff at Sound Life Church in Tacoma, Washington, for over nine years and is now executive pastor. Both are credentialed Assemblies of God ministers, Kenny and Chelsea, 37, met at through a Masters Commission discipling course and married a few years later. They desired to have children, but after 12 months of trying, they failed to conceive.
Deeply grieved and feeling inadequate, the Philebaums visited a specialized clinic, where they received a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. Doctors uncovered no medical reason for their inability to conceive.
In June 2013, Kenny and Chelsea tried a basic, minimally invasive fertility treatment. It worked the first time, and they conceived twins. Tragically, one of the babies died at eight weeks. But in March 2014, Chelsea gave birth to a healthy daughter, Laila.
Inspired, the couple tried again to conceive, undergoing 14 more procedures. But none of them resulted in a pregnancy.
Facing this brick wall, Kenny turned his thoughts toward fostering and possibly adoption, but Chelsea resisted. She didn’t want to get close to kids, then watch them return to a potentially unstable situation in their home of origin. But she told Kenny she would pray. As she did, God broke her heart for hurting children.
“I’m a little stubborn, it took me some time,” Chelsea says. “I said, OK, Lord. How do You want to grow our family?”
Hoping to adopt, Kenny and Chelsea enrolled in foster training at Olive Crest, which has a partnership with the Assemblies of God Northwest Ministry Network. But as they learned more about the foster care system, God transformed their motives from growing their family to extending God’s love to children from infants to age 6 in hard places.
God also changed their perspective. Chelsea had seen fostering as “long-term baby-sitting,” but Kenny recognized it has eternal significance.
“We get the opportunity to invest in little people in their very formative years,” Kenny says. “We get to pray with them at night and remind them daily that Jesus loves them, and we get to lay that foundation in their life.”
While their investment reaps rewards, it often brings sorrow.
“We put our heart out there and love these kids and try to love their families,” Kenny says. “We almost have to expect that we’re going to receive that heart back kind of chewed up and bruised a little bit.”
In one instance, an 11-day-old child came into their home and lived with them 2½ years. Hearing that the judge intended to terminate parental rights, Kenny and Chelsea pursued adoption. But the adoption fell through.
Devastated, Kenny and Chelsea nevertheless stood strong in their calling. In the past five years, six children have come through their home. They legally adopted Aiden, now 4 years old and the joy of their lives.