Jody Stayer was working with orphans in Romania when she heard God’s calling to adopt.
It was just over a decade after the communist reign of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu had come to an end. But the child welfare crisis that plagued the country during his rule still persisted. At the end of 1989, when the brutal regime was toppled, an estimated 100,000 Romanian children were in orphanages.
By the time Jody made her way to Romania in 2001, orphaned and abandoned children were still in dire straits.
Oftentimes, when Jody was working in one of the infant hospitals in Bucharest, she would be left alone to care for 30 babies at once.
One day, during one of those challenging shifts, a woman came in to abandon her baby.
“Of course, I didn’t know her story and so I wasn’t about to judge her,” Jody recalled. “Plus, the nurses at the orphanage were already yelling at her.”
But the situation gave her anguish for the children.
“I just remember questioning the Lord—’Why can’t we get these babies into loving homes!? I know so many families who would adopt them,’” she said.
But international adoption—which had exploded in the 1990s after media exposure of the crisis—was closed down due to corruption.
So Jody bathed the baby boy, put fresh clothes and a clean diaper on him, laid him in a crib (which already had another baby in it), and left helplessly as he spent his first night without his mother.
“God really just broke my heart for the orphans.”
For three years, Jody served babies and children who had been abandoned and orphaned in Romania. She was fresh out of college and her eyes were wide open to a heartbreaking reality in another corner of the world.
“I think it was then that God really just broke my heart for the orphan,” she said.
At the end of her three-year program in Romania, Jody returned to the United States, determined to work in the field of adoption.
“I really saw what these kids in the orphanages needed,” Jody said. “They needed Christian families to love them and to show them their value and give them that stability.”
She moved to California where she got her degree in marriage and family therapy. Her specific purpose was to work with adoptive parents who were having trouble building attachment with their children.
She secured a position at a California adoption agency and soon met Bobby, her future husband.
From the outset, Jody shared her heart for adoption with Bobby, explaining how she wanted to build a family.
Bobby wasn’t closed to adoption, but he had never considered it. So he began to pray.
“He really just began to pray about it and open up to the possibility of adoption and exposed himself to that world,” she said. “He started mentoring a child in foster care and just really wanted to seek after God’s heart in that and what He wanted.”
After the Stayers married, their prayers continued. How did God want them to start their family?
Jody got pregnant early in their marriage, but was met with heartache when she lost the baby soon after.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m sick of waiting so long to be a mom,’” she said. “‘I wanted to be a mom for so long.”
Then there were ten.
The local need for foster parents and adoptive parents nagged at her. At the time, Jody and her husband were living in Los Angeles County, where the foster care system was and remains overwhelmed with tens of thousands of youths in need of homes.
So with that in mind (and with Jody’s longtime calling guiding them), Jody and Bobby began walking the road of adoption.
In less than a decade, the Stayers would grow from a family of two to a family of almost 12.
Initially, they opened their home to a sibling group of five and were matched with a sibling group of four in 2011. The children were 11, 8, 6, and 4.
After they finalized the children’s adoption, the Stayers moved back to Jody’s home state of Indiana. There, Jody could be a stay-at-home-mom and the family could live more affordably on a single income.
Then, in 2012, Jody and Bobby learned about two more children who were half siblings to the first set of children they adopted. They too were in need of a home, so the Stayers began pursuing interstate adoption and became a family of eight.
The following year, another half sibling, Carlos, was welcomed by the Stayers, as well.
In 2014, when the Stayers learned about another child from the sibling set, they knew they needed some help. Thankfully, Jody’s sister, Julie, and her husband, Eric, also had hearts for adoption and adopted the little girl. Then, they adopted another in 2015. The couple’s three biological sons doted on their new little sisters.
With that relief, the Stayers were ready when they received another call in 2017 about a little girl from the same group of siblings. They welcomed little Annabelle into their home, making a grand total of eight biological siblings in the Stayer family.
Then, in 2019, the Stayers were blessed with a ninth miracle: Jody gave birth to a baby boy, whom they named Justice.
Even now, with all of their blessings, the Stayers’ hearts are open to more children. Currently, they are working on adopting Jody’s little cousin, who was in foster care in Texas.
“God can bring beauty from that pain.”
As of this year, it has been two decades since Jody first ventured to Romania to care for orphans. It has been one decade since she and Bobby began their personal adoption journey. Across the years, Jody’s understanding of adoption has grown through both her faith and her own experience.
“I just see the overall purpose of adoption, just as so much more than just taking a child into your home,” Jody said. “It’s biblical. It’s definitely a passion of mine.”
Although it’s a passion, adoption hasn’t always been easy for the Stayers. Even as a therapist who worked with adoptive families, Jody has had to learn how to navigate the trauma that is attached to adoption.
“Adoption is such a good thing,” Jody said. “But it also starts with a loss.”
Having counseled other families on how to cope with that loss, Jody thought she was prepared when she and Bobby first began the adoption process. Then she realized just how hard it was to navigate that pain from the adoptive parents’ perspective.
“I definitely saw myself sympathizing more with the adopted child (before),” she said. “Now that I’m parenting these children, I’m like, ‘Wow. I was kind of harsh on those parents.’…So I definitely feel like I can relate to what people are going through, both from the child’s perspective and now from the parent’s perspective and have that empathy.”
The challenges have made the work all the more important in the Stayers’ eyes.
“Jesus Christ comes to us in our filth, our brokenness, our mess,” Jody said. “And He became flesh for us and He does call us to do that for others and to go to those places that are broken and bring healing.
“It’s not like a savior complex,” she said. “But it’s that I have the Savior living in me. So He wants me to be involved in these hard and broken places with these broken people. And, you know, I’m broken myself. And He had to come to me in that place.”
“I can’t change the pain in this world caused by the choices people make,” he said. “But God can bring beauty from that pain. He can redeem it—and He calls me to be a part of that redemption by loving the children He has entrusted to me. I consider this such a privilege.”
That redemption remains central to the Stayers’ outlook on adoption.
“As Christians, we know that God builds beautiful, beautiful things out of the ashes,” Jody said. “And so He can take any ugliest, most painful situation and make it beautiful.”