The Ideal Half-Dozen
Jeff and Kari Stewart of Loveland, Colorado, never intended to adopt six children. Married while still teenagers in 1980, they focused on starting a family, and soon had three children: Jeremiah, Sarah, and Hannah.
In 1994, after younger daughter Hannah entered first grade, Kari began to sense God calling her to adopt a child from Northern Asia. From her earliest recollections, Kari’s parents hosted missionaries who often spoke about the orphans they cared for in the countries they served. A photo she saw of a multinational family particularly impacted her.
“As a child, I thought, I want a family that looks like that,” Kari recalls. Those memories came flooding back to her.
When Kari presented the idea of adoption to Jeff, he admitted he had never felt a prompting from God to adopt.
“But I didn’t have a good reason to say no,” he says.
They applied to adopt a child from China, but they didn’t fit the nation’s criteria. An adopting couple needed to be at least 35 years old and childless.
An adoption agency encouraged them to look elsewhere. But after praying, Jeff and Kari felt committed to their decision.
“We knew in our hearts that God had a plan,” says Kari.
In November 1995, to the agency’s surprise, the Stewarts adopted a 17-month-old girl from China named Elisabeth. Soon after arriving back in the States, Elisabeth recognized that she didn’t look like others in her new family.
“If you’d ask her what color hair and eyes she had, she’d say she had blond hair and blue eyes,” says Kari. They realized their baby girl needed a sibling who resembled her. In November 1996, they brought home infant Abigail from South Korea.
The next time God stirred their hearts, they sought a domestic adoption of an African-American boy. Month-old Logan came to live with them from Florida in time for Mother’s Day in 1998.
Like the perceptive Elisabeth earlier, Logan soon realized he represented the only Black child in the Stewart family.
“And of course he wanted a Black brother,” Kari says. The Stewarts began the process to adopt again domestically. They received calls from several adoption agencies whenever babies became available, and they said yes every time. But heartbreaking news always followed. Each birth family changed their minds.
In December 2000, a baby girl in Nashville, Tennessee, became available. Even though they initially hoped for a baby brother, Kari and Jeff immediately agreed to adopt 1-month-old Jill as part of their growing brood.
Nevertheless, the Stewarts held out hope for an African-American brother for Logan. At the time, Jeff and Kari had become involved with a couple of orphan ministries in Haiti — a country open to allowing large families to adopt. So they brought 1-year-old Luke into their family, although the adoption didn’t become final until 2004, a couple of years later. Although still young, Luke had issues related to grief and loss.
“Most white people Luke was exposed to in the orphanage left him, so it took a lot longer for him to trust that we weren’t going to leave him,” says Kari.
Finally the Stewarts believed the family felt complete. Yet only a few months after bringing home Luke, Kari sat in their large passenger van at school waiting to pick up her kids when she says she sensed God’s leading to adopt once more — this time a child with Down syndrome.
She quickly resisted, checking off reasons that included the fact that both she and Jeff had reached their 40s. But she says she felt God’s assurance that He would help her parent a special needs child. Still, she decided not to mention anything to Jeff about it.
For the next 7 months, Kari says she repeatedly saw children with Down syndrome. She finally approached an apprehensive Jeff, who owns Frameworks Dental Lab in Loveland.
“I felt like our garden was full,” remembers Jeff, now 59. But he committed to pray about it, and soon agreed. “I told Kari this child was the next flower in our garden.”
Back to Asia they went and adopted a 14-month-old girl from Hong Kong, named Zinnia. The Stewarts laughed when they learned her name. Soon after their wedding, they planted a large flowerbed filled with zinnias. “That was our confirmation,” says Kari. Zinnia’s adoption finalized in November 2004.
Today, 17-year-old Zinnia, a high school senior, is the youngest Stewart child, while the eldest is 39-year-old Jeremiah. The rest of the offspring are Sarah, 34; Hannah, 32; Elisbeth, 26; Abigail, 24; Logan, 22, Luke, 20; and Jill, 20.
Though Zinnia is the last adopted child — bringing the family to nine children — the Stewarts continue to mentor other families who have adopted. Kari, 58, is on staff as missions pastor at Timberline Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Fort Collins, Colorado.
She also has implemented CompaCare, a ministry of COMPACT Family Services, the AG child welfare agency based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. CompaCare is a wraparound strategy devised to support families in a congregation engaged in foster care.
“God opened the door one child at a time and called us one child at a time,” says Kari, who sees each adoption as an act of obedience. “We never want to regret not doing something God has put before us.”