Zara and Simon Reynolds* (not their real name) live in the Devon countryside with their two teenage children. For years they’d felt the urge to become foster parents, but it never seemed to be the right time. Then two years ago, at New Wine, they heard a talk by Home For Good, the fostering and adoption charity, and put in their application to become foster parents.
Their application was approved quickly and soon their first foster child arrived on a short term placement. Her behaviour was extremely challenging which made it a very difficult experience. “Our son heard us talking about giving up fostering and told us to try again. That Friday, I felt a strong urge to ring our social worker and ask her to put us on the refugee list. The next day, I got a call from the Home Office asking us to take a 17 year old girl as the camp at Calais was closing that weekend. This was in October last year.”
Mariam* (not her real name) arrived with one tiny rucksack, exhausted and traumatised. She spoke no English and the family found themselves on a steep learning curve. “Simon ordered some Ethiopian spices and we communicated through food. In January, Exeter College accepted her on a course for refugees to learn English and to find out more about our culture.”
There were four other Eritrean and Ethiopian girls living in Devon who’d come to England at the same time as Mariam. Zara and Simon had regularly arranged meetings for the girls to help build community with others who spoke their language. In spite of the fact that only one placement is normally permitted in the first year of fostering, when two of the other girls’ placements didn’t work out, Zara and Simon found themselves welcoming another 17 year old, Sophia* (not her real name) and a 16 year old, Semira* (not her real name) in March. “This doesn’t normally happen,” explains Zara. “To be fast tracked this way in our first year and approved for 3 placements felt like God was all over it, moving mountains for the girls.”
From a family of 4, the Reynolds were now a household of 7. “The girls call us Mum and Dad,” Simon says. “They have blessed us so much and it’s such a huge privilege to be a part of their healing journey. It’s been very difficult for us to see them having to retell their stories to the Home Office, as they have all been through such trauma. They have had such hard lives and experienced the worst of humanity along the way. But it’s wonderful to see them blossoming and growing in confidence too.”
The older girls volunteer at the local coffee shop which is really helping their grasp of English and their self-confidence. Food has played a significant role in the girls’ success in bonding with their foster family and adjusting to their new life. “Ethiopian culture is very generous and thoughtful and food plays a central role. The girls love cooking for us, especially hot spicy sauces. They love birthdays and Christmas as it gives them a chance to feed everyone. We’ve all learnt a lot about each other in the kitchen.”
All three girls will be going to Exeter College together in January. “They are all so conscientious and work hard. They have high aspirations and love going to college. It’s humbling to see.”
The girls are being blessed, but so are the family. Josh, the Reynolds’ 16 year old son, was asked to speak to the Year 9s at school about his experience of living with the girls. They were so impressed that they asked him to speak to the whole school. Many of the pupils were powerfully moved.
This year, the whole family are going to New Wine. “The girls will be cooking for 50 people from our church on the first night. I don’t know who’s more excited, them or us!”
Zara and Simon have obeyed God, extended their tent far beyond their expectations and are constantly amazed by the effect the girls’ stories have on others. “God is really using them to touch people’s hearts. I put a link to Home For Good on my Facebook page and I’ve had countless messages from people, many not Christians, saying how touched they are and how beautiful the unfolding story is. We await our next chapter with real excitement.”
You can find out more about the family’s story by visiting Zara’s story on the Home For Good website here.