Caring for Needy Children
The Bible tells believers to care for widows and orphans. For James and Mona Harper, that didn't leave any room for debate or discussion--if there was a need, they just took care of it. Over the years, the Harpers have brought more than 30 children into their home. Their daughters Morgan Harper Nichols and Jamie Grace talk about what it was like growing up with their family taking in kids in need.
The Bible tells believers to care for widows and orphans. For James and Mona Harper, that didn’t leave any room for debate. Over the years, the Harpers have brought more than 30 children into their home.
Caring for Needy Children
Bob: Mona Harper remembers seeing a child who needed to be cared for / who needed a family. So, she did what she knew she was supposed to do—she stepped in and cared for that child. Here’s Mona.
Mona: The Bible mandates us to take care of widows and orphans. We don’t have to sit down and discuss. This is what we’re supposed to do. So, when you are reading the Word of God—and you’re taking and living and acting out the Word of God—you don’t have to sit down and vote on it.
Bob: This is a special live edition of FamilyLife Today on Wednesday, August 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to introduce you to James and Mona Harper today and hear about all of the kids they’ve cared for. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
We typically do our program from our studios in Little Rock; but occasionally, we hit the road. We go out into the byways and the highways and, sometimes, get a studio audience to join us. We’re doing that again today. We are at one of our favorite places with some of our favorite people. We are here at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, and we’ve got a great studio audience joining us. [Applause and cheering] And we are going to get a chance to meet a remarkable couple.
Dennis: We are. And you are going to be greatly encouraged by the story you’re about to hear. I’d like you to welcome with me James and Mona Harper all the way from Stone Mountain, Georgia. Would you welcome them?
Bob: Welcome the Harpers as they come out. [Applause]
Bob: Great to see you guys.
Mona: Good to see you.
Bob: Yes; good morning.
Dennis: James and Mona Harper just got in from Missouri, where they performed last night. We’ll hear a little bit about that, but you’re a pastor in Stone Mountain—have been. You have two daughters that you’ve raised. When you guys were dating, you had something very unusual that happened right from the start that’s going to give our audience a chance to get a glimpse into what took place in their marriage. James, what happened?
James: Unusual. [Laughter] It was a different day. It’s a long story, and just to bring it home—our first date, she had a strong feeling that she was going to marry a preacher; and I said—
Bob: Were you already a preacher at that point?
James: I wasn’t a preacher at that time. [Laughter]
Bob: Oh, okay. [Laughter]
Dennis: Did that convince you to become a preacher; right there?
Bob: You got the call right there; didn’t you?
James: No. Actually, there were three reasons why I said, “I’m not the guy.” We were 20 years old; and I said: “I’m not getting married until I’m 27.
“Secondly, I just go to church just to show my faith. Thirdly, no way in the world would I ever be a preacher.” Seven weeks later, I asked her to marry me. Six months later, God called me to preach. [Laughter]
Then, in the midst of that, she—which she would probably tell her version—but I would say she brought a child along. I said: “Okay. This is—you’re not Mary / you’re Mona.” It started from there—that she cared and reached out to children. She brought this child into her home; and from there, we started.
Dennis: Mona, where did you find that child?
Mona: At the gas station. [Laughter]
Bob: Was there a rack of children there? [Laughter]
Mona: Well, sort of. She was—I spent my entire life working with children, even when I was a child myself.
I’d seen my family taking care of the neighborhood and taking care of children in the neighborhood. So, it was just natural to me. She was at the gas station, and she was pumping gas. She was nine years old, and she was pumping gas for money. She went on to tell me that she was—her mother was soliciting her for drugs.
Bob: Oh, wow.
Mona: My heart was crushed. So, I—20 years old—I figured, “If your mother is selling you for drugs, I wonder how much she’d sell you to me for;” you know? I had a pretty good job: “Your mother doesn’t want you,” or “Your mother really—she doesn’t care for you,”—so, I took her home. Eventually, I made contact with her mother. Her mother really did not want her back, and I kept her. We took her to church. My husband and I introduced her to my husband’s family. My husband’s father was a pastor—introduced her, and everybody fell in love with her.
I was 20 years old at the time, and my life changed. I was 20, and I had a 9-year-old. She dressed like us. We wore coordinated dresses to church—it was cute. I bought her barrettes and started teaching her—homeschooling her. The interesting part is—when I tried to register her for school, that’s when they told me what I had done was kidnapping. So, I kidnapped my first child at 20. [Laughter]
Mona: I didn’t know that it was kidnapping. I thought it was kid-loving. I really didn’t know. [Laughter]
Mona: So, I didn’t know.
Bob: So, you started your marriage off with a mindset that: “We’re going to care for kids—
Bob: —“if we find them.”
Mona: —“at whatever cost.” You know, I didn’t—I mean, I’m an educated person; but it really didn’t cross my mind. There was a need—there wasn’t anything to discuss. There was a desperate need. There was a child that needed the love that I had to give. So, I didn’t stop and think: “Well, what are the legalities?
“Do we need to take a vote? Do I need to go to the Senate, or the Congress, or the White House?” Like: “This child here is in need. So, I’ll take her and give her what she needs and whatever happens afterwards—duh!—I’ll do it.” [Laughter]
Dennis: Did you warn James about the size of your heart for these homeless children or these children who were in bad situations?
Mona: Anybody that knows me knows the size of my heart for children. So, either you are going to get really close or you’re going to get really far because you—anybody that knows me knows, when I walk into a place, I don’t see adults—I don’t remember your names. All I know is children. Children—I have my birthday party, and I invite 75 kids; you know. I do. [Laughter] I don’t invite grownups; you know?
Bob: James, you were obviously okay with this—
Bob: —that you were going to marry a woman with a nine-year-old daughter in tow. [Laughter] That’s not how most 20-year-olds want to start their marriage.
James: Right. It’s not what we may consider the ideal situation, but what I find to be the ideal situation is following through with God’s plan.
James: That’s the ideal situation. So, it wasn’t in my dream—I didn’t see that. I just saw this beautiful woman.
James: That’s who I saw. But I saw her heart, and I knew my heart. It was able to gravitate toward children over time. We just—again, bring in them in—there never was, again, a discussion. It wasn’t: “Okay; this is the last one,” or “This is what we’re going to do next time.” It never was a discussion. If the need was there, we immediately responded.
Bob: So, this young woman you kidnapped. [Laughter] Did you care for her all the way through her teen years?
Mona: As a matter of fact, I’m still in touch with her now. She’s 41, and I’m 50. There was a time in her life that she was having some trouble, and she actually called me and asked if my husband and I would take custody of her three children.
We didn’t sit down and discuss it / we didn’t have a meeting with our children; because—I think it’s kind of like when you see someone save a child from a burning house, and you call them a hero. That’s not a hero. That’s human nature. We, oftentimes, want to call someone heroic for doing their reasonable service. That’s like me calling my husband a hero because he kissed me goodnight. That’s not heroic! That’s what you’re supposed to do. [Laughter] I mean, some things are just reasonable.
So, the Bible mandates us to take care of widows and orphans. We don’t have to sit down and discuss if we’re going to take care of the widow or take care of the orphan. This is what we’re supposed to do. So, when you are reading the Word of God, and when it’s in your heart, and that Word—you are taking and living it / acting out the Word of God—you don’t have to sit down and vote on it. It’s already said that the children need to be cared for—not by the government—oops! Did I say that out loud?—but by the church. [Applause]
Dennis: Yes; exactly.
And that’s what I wanted to ask you, James. How did your church respond to this over the years —because you started pastoring a church, and they are watching you do this. Love is infectious; isn’t it?
James: Yes. The church, over the years—they are very receptive to us bringing children in; but especially, this last—I want to say the last set of children that came in—they’re so dear to our hearts. They just overwhelmed the church to the extent where the church actually—I’d say the church—we have a small fellowship—but the size of our fellowship—everyone is now in the mode and the position to foster or adopt children—
Mona: The whole congregation.
James: —the whole church. That has never happened in the life of our church.
Dennis: There were some special circumstances that caused your church to rise to the occasion in 2014—
—a health issue with you, Mona.
Mona: Yes; I was diagnosed with a condition through major surgery. I’ve been sick my entire life—misdiagnosed 15/20 times. I was—I’m the kind of person, like a lot of moms out here, that—especially moms, we’ll have something wrong with us, and we put it on the back burner when we have children. Somebody say, “Amen.” [Laughter] We don’t complain like—men / they don’t complain because they’re scared to go to the doctor—[Laughter]—but moms, we don’t go to the doctor because we’re so busy taking our kids to the doctor. [Laughter]
James: We’re not scared / we’re just busy working.
Mona: They’re busy—yes; working.
So, at any rate, I was diagnosed with a condition that was congenital. It has really changed our lives drastically. I’ve been very ill, and it’s been debilitating and deteriorating my health over the last three or four years.
I wasn’t—one of the things that hurt me the most was that I wasn’t really able to—I wasn’t even able to take care of myself—not able to dress myself, not able to feed myself, not able to walk and put my own shoes on. It’s one of the top five most painful diseases that there’s really no treatment for, no cure, and relatively new in discovery—and I did not stop serving and taking care of others—
Dennis: —in fact, in the midst of that.
Mona: —in the midst of that. My doctors have told me the reason I’m still living is that I keep on giving. In the midst of that, one Sunday after church, I—there were three children that visited our church. And one Sunday after church—I do drive-bys—but not the kind you see on the news—[Laughter]—but I do drive-bys. Everybody knows my vehicle. Everybody calls me, “Momma Mona.” They say, “Momma Mona’s coming down the street. Watch out!” because our church is in a neighborhood that a lot of kids need to be fostered—
—where this work is needed.
So, I go on drives through the neighborhood. I’m looking, making sure everybody is—you know, checking to see if everybody’s naughty or nice—and I’m riding. I’m really sick / I can hardly move. So, I find little kids walking down the street with no clothes on—three years old. They happened to be the kids that visited our church before.
So, to make a long story short—that day, the lady gave us her three-year-old son; and she said: “I don’t want him anymore. Just take him. I can’t stand him. I hate him.” He grabbed my husband by his leg and he said: “I’m a boy. You’re a boy. Please take me with you.” Mind you, this is like months after they told my husband to put me in hospice and let me die. Two days later—two days later, we call her back. She says, “You can have his twin sister, and you can have the four-year-old”; and I’m fighting for my life.
We have received so much criticism over the years for taking in so many people because our church is a small church, and there is no salary that my husband gets. Even when he did, sometimes, it was like $350 a month. I had Christians tell me, “Why would you bring those kids in your house and bring those spirits?” because I knew that there were some things / trouble with them; but it didn’t matter.
Mona: It didn’t matter to them, because I knew that their need was greater than mine. So, there wasn’t anything we had to talk about. [Emotion in voice] I knew I was fighting for my life; but just to let you all know—that whatever obstacle that it is that you’re thinking about: “Should you take children?” Those children had a little doctor’s kit—a little plastic one—and they would wake up in the morning. I could hear their little feet run in through the house, and my husband called them: “Little feet / little feet.” They would run downstairs, and they would take turns. They would be lined up, because I would be in so much pain I couldn’t move. [Emotion in voice]
They would take turns to come in and check my blood pressure, and check my heart rate, and check my temperature and to make sure that Aunt Mona was feeling well—we told them not to call us Mommy and Daddy.
But I’ll let you know this—they’re not with us anymore—but there were people who told us to put them out because of what they had been exposed to. They were Christians—people who professed Christianity—but to sum it all up—not only did we save them, because the mother had them doing drugs and drinking beer, sitting on the top of the roof of the house. She had hit one of them with the car. They had been burned with cigarettes—and everything / they had bruises all over them—but they saved my life, because they gave me a reason to fight when I was so down.
So, when you’re thinking, “Is this for [me]?”—
—it’s not just for them—but it’s also for you; because when you do what God has called you to do, He will bless you / He will bless you. He will bring you out. [Applause]
Dennis: A hero—a hero is someone who does their duty in the face of fear. What you all don’t know, in the audience—they’ve cared for 36 children. [Applause]
What I want to do right now is—I want to ask your daughters what they thought about all of this, because they’re here.
Bob: And by the way, their daughters are famous. Morgan and Jamie Grace—yes; welcome them. [Applause] Alright; so, ladies—
Bob: —you’ve been a part of this madness your whole lives.
Jamie Grace: Yes, sir.
Jamie Grace: Yes.
Morgan: We have.
Jamie Grace: Since before we were born, it started. So, it’s very normal for us.
Bob: I guess when this is what you grow up with, you just think, “This is how families function”; right?
Morgan: It really is!
Jamie Grace: Yes.
Morgan: That’s exactly how it was. I’m the oldest. I’m 27 now, and it was never a shock because—even—I mean, I have vivid memories of the first children that started to come into our home when we were growing up; but even prior to that, it wasn’t abnormal for a kid who just needed—we wouldn’t know the whole story a lot of times; but “This kid needs a place for tonight.” It was like: “Okay; no questions asked. That’s what has to happen.”
Bob: When your mom and dad said, “Move over,” weren’t there times it was like: “I don’t want to give up my this or that—room/space”?
Jamie Grace: Yes; I remember one time of moving over was quitting gymnastics. There was a—we didn’t have a lot of money, and our parents were able to somehow magically scrape up enough of savings to get both Morgan and I into gymnastics.
Then, we found out about a family at church—where their kids were not able to pay for groceries—and I don’t know if any of your children are in gymnastics, but it ain’t cheap.
Our parents talked to us. They never said, “We want you to stop gymnastics, because a family at church doesn’t have food.” They just kind of presented the situation. It—I am not trying to be prideful or anything—but for Morgan and I—when that’s a part of your core and that’s a part of how you were raised, it’s a part of your natural instinct to think: “Wait! But we have extra money. It’s just going to our cartwheels. We’ll be fine.”
Morgan: Yes; it never—[Laughter]
Mona: Because you ended up being a singer anyway—you’re not even a gymnast! [Laughter]
Jamie Grace: I’m clumsy anyway. It’s not like it would have worked! [Laughter]
Morgan: Yes; the Lord definitely knew what He was doing; but I know, like, for me, being the oldest in terms of moving over—it was like—you know, I always had to move over for her anyway. [Laughter] So, I was—I do think it may have, in some ways—just in terms of like birth order for the youngest—that could be a challenge, because you’re used to being the baby.
Jamie Grace: The first girl was hard for me.
Morgan: Yes; we were actually just talking about that this morning. I was saying that even if—we had some different memories about different children and different dynamics because I was the oldest, and she was the youngest. So, there was definitely some of that, but we always worked through it. We’ve been blessed to stay in touch with a lot of the kids that came in our home. I know that doesn’t always happen for everyone, and we’ve been blessed to be friends with them on Instagram®—
Jamie Grace: Yes.
Morgan: —and Facebook®. That’s a blessing.
Bob: Morgan, how long have you been married?
Morgan: Seven years this October.
Bob: Have you and your husband kidnapped anybody?
Morgan: We have not! [Laughter] It’s a lot to live up to—even just hearing the stories again. I’m just—I’m just back there—I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got so much work to do!” [Laughter]
Dennis: So, is it something you’d like to do, though?
Morgan: Yes; yes. And it’s crazy that even though they were so much younger when you started bringing kids to your home and all that—it’s crazy because Jamie and I, both, most of the places where we play shows—
—which is our full-time job—are for kids. We—as of two shows ago, all three of us, in particular, there was a little girl in foster care—
Jamie Grace: Yes.
Morgan: —that we couldn’t even focus on our show because she was—it was just an awkward situation. We all picked up on it separately.
Jamie Grace: Yes.
Morgan: We were like, “Let’s go make that little girl feel special.” It’s just been crazy how we get to do that.
Dennis: Well, I know more of this story. I wish we could tell it all. Love is infectious, and it is the church’s responsibility to address these children that are orphans.
Jamie Grace: Yes; amen.
Dennis: But I also know, because I watched a video this morning called Storyteller—by the way, you ought to check it out—Storyteller—
Morgan: Thank you.
Dennis: —go online and watch it and listen to it—that you, ladies, can sing. Would you sing that for us here?
Jamie Grace: Yes.
Morgan: Yes; of course. Thank you.
Bob: How about that; huh? Yes. [Applause]
[Morgan and Jamie Grace sing excerpt from Storyteller]
[Applause and cheering]
Morgan: Thank you so much.
Bob: Well, that is Morgan Harper Nichols, along with her sister Jamie Grace Harper singing recently at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit right after we had had a conversation with their mom and dad, James and Mona Harper, and heard the exhortation to be a part of caring for the needs of kids who need a family of some sort.
For some people, that means foster care; for others, that means adoption; for others, it means that we help support the needs of orphans all around the world. You can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
There are articles there you can read about how you can help respond to the needs of orphans in our world. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. When you do, just be asking, “What is it God would have you do to care for the needs of orphans?” The website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to spend time considering exactly what it is that God calls husbands to be and to do in a marriage relationship. We’re going to hear some of the people who have been guests on FamilyLife Today over the last quarter century—some great thoughts on a husband’s responsibility. I hope you can tune in for all of that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, with help today from Mark Ramey. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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