“I didn’t understand love until I came to their home”: Abandoned by his parents, he thought he’d never belong until this family stepped in

No room at the inn for Jesus. But will you offer hospitality today? This Christmas, Salt&Light tracks down those who show what hospitality looks like in neighbourhoods, businesses and homes.

by Gracia Lee // December 19, 2023, 4:48 pm

"God has always provided for our needs and more, so I was confident that He would do the same with an additional two in the family," said mum-of-nine Issa Tica, who with her family adopted two boys and fostered three others. All photos courtesy of the Tica family.

After years of waiting in vain for his mother, or any other relatives, to come and get him from the children’s home, young Charlie gave up hope of ever belonging to a family.

Abandoned by his parents when he was just a few years old, Charlie and his younger brother, Ernie, had grown up in the care of an institution in the Philippines for close to a decade.

“At first, for a while, we were hoping that our mother would come for us. But over time we realised that she was not going to come back anymore,” Charlie told Salt&Light.

He was resigned to growing up in the home, ageing out at 18 and then striking it out on his own, as many other orphans and abandoned children do when they hit the legal age. 

But that was about to change.

Hope of a family

When Charlie was 13, a local church invited him and a few other boys from his home to a youth camp.

During the camp, he was instigated by some older boys to steal the mobile phones of fellow campers. 

“I was surprised that someone would take the time to ask about me. That was a big thing for me.”

When he was found out by the pastor-in-charge, he braced himself for a serious scolding. Instead, Pastor James Tica sat him down and took a genuine interest in him. Pastor James then prayed for him and gave him a hug.

“I was surprised that someone would take the time to ask about me. That was a big thing for me,” said Charlie, who accepted Jesus at the youth camp because of this incident.

A few months later, Pastor James’ wife, Issa, approached Charlie and asked if he, along with his brother, Ernie, wanted to be fostered by her family.

“When I first heard that, I couldn’t believe it,” recounted Charlie. It was unheard of in the Philippines for children above the age of four, much less teenagers like him, to be fostered or adopted.

But Pastor James and Issa were sure that they wanted to bring Charlie and Ernie into their fold, not just to be fostered but to eventually be adopted. 

A tug in her heart

With seven children of their own, including a daughter and six sons, the couple had not previously considered fostering or adoption until they discovered the sheer number of children in their country who do not have families.

According to non-governmental organisation Philippines Orphanage Foundation, there are more than two million orphans in the Philippines. Only about 140 of them on average are adopted into families each year.

It took six long years before Charlie was legally adopted by the Ticas.

Right as she was becoming more open to the idea of fostering and adoption, Issa had met Charlie at the youth camp and felt “this different tug in my heart”, she told Salt&Light.

Though she was aware of the incident at the camp, she felt deep down in her heart that he was not a bad boy, but one who was just trying to survive.

“In fact, later I found out that he would often take things or money to provide for his brother who was always hungry,” said Issa, who is the music minister at her church, International Bible Church–Mandaluyong

After much discussion, prayer and agreement, the whole family decided to take the leap of faith and adopt the brothers.

They took the fostering route first because it was the fastest way to welcome the brothers into their home, but the plan was always to have them legally adopted.

The hard work of love

Nevertheless, there were fears on both sides.

With an already large brood, Issa was worried if two more mouths to feed would add a further strain on the family’s finances. She was also concerned about whether all the children would get along, and if the new additions would be a bad influence.

“I wasn’t sure if they were abused or what they had learnt at the institution. I was afraid that they were going to bring stuff into our home and I was scared for my biological boys,” she admitted.

But knowing that this was what God was calling her family to do, she committed all the unknowns into the Lord’s hands. “God has always provided for our needs and more, so I was confident that He would do the same with an additional two in the family,” she said.

For Charlie, it was intimidating to be adopted into a family with so many children. He was afraid that that he and Ernie would be ganged up on by his new siblings and treated as outsiders.

But his worries were unfounded. “What eventually happened was that Ernie and I didn’t get along, and the other siblings would take sides,” he said with a laugh.

In the first few weeks after Charlie and Ernie joined the family, Issa had to break up many fights among the children.

“I just kind of lost it,” said Issa. “I cried and cried and wondered if I had done the right thing.”

A welcoming family: Because of their parents’ example, the Tica children have learnt what it means to open their arms to others.

But she eventually realised, with the help of her husband, that these fights did not have anything to do with whether the children were biological or adopted.

“They were fighting because they’re kids and kids fight,” said Issa.

In everything, conflicts or otherwise, James and Issa were sure to make sure that each of their children – Charlie and Ernie included – knew they were special and valued. 

This touched Charlie deeply as he had expected, from what he had seen on television, to be treated differently as an adopted child.

“But they treated us as fairly,” he said.

“I didn’t really understand love until I came to their home.”

A picture of Christ’s love

What further cemented Charlie’s understanding of his parents’ love for him was watching them persist through the long and arduous process of having him legally adopted.

It took six whole years, complete with stacks of paperwork, numerous screening and judicial processes, as well as several roadblocks, before Charlie was legally declared their son in 2022.

However, his adoption was tinged with sorrow for the whole family as Ernie passed away in 2021, after a two-month battle with brain cancer, before he could be legally adopted. The Ticas were by his side through it all, and they count him as one of theirs till this day.

“The adoption was just a formality,” said Issa. “It was special to spend time with him as my son, especially when he got sick and I became his sole caregiver. He grew up not knowing his biological mother, so I was the only mum he knew.”

As Ernie battled brain cancer for two months, the Ticas were by his side taking care of him. He passed away in January 2021, at the age of 16.

Asked why she persisted in the whole adoption process despite all the difficulties, Issa said, her voice brimming with emotion: “Because the moment we took them in, even as foster children, they were ours.”

She added: “The adoption process was hard and I hated it at first. But in the end I really thank God because I don’t think I have anything else to prove to Charlie.

“The process that we went through is enough to show him that we’ll do anything to fight for him.”

“Being accepted into this family has really shown me how it’s the same with Christ. No matter how sinful or dirty you are, you are always welcomed into the arms of Jesus,” said Charlie.

Charlie’s adoption has also given him a glimpse of Christ’s redemptive and unconditional love for him.

Now 21, he said: “There are several stories in the Bible where sinners or dirty people thought they couldn’t come near Jesus. That’s how I felt at first – someone who is not worthy to be loved by a family.

“But since I was accepted into this family, that has really shown me how it’s the same with Christ. No matter how sinful or dirty you are, you are always welcomed into the arms of Jesus.”

Bringing more into the fold

After the Ticas took in Charlie and Ernie, God opened their eyes and hearts to even more children in need of a family.

When Issa took the two boys to visit their former children’s home and the other boys they had grown up with, she realised that many of the unadopted teenagers had to leave the home at 18 – the age limit of the institution – with little to no support.

“If God has been so patient with me despite my shortcomings, who am I to give up on these kids?”

“At the time my boys kept telling me, ‘Mum, get so and so, too. He doesn’t have a family.’ I was like, ‘Lord, how do we feed all these boys and girls?'” Issa recalled.

The Lord spoke to her from the calling of Moses in the Bible, in which God had responded to Moses’ doubts about his calling with: “I AM.”

Said Issa: “I clung on to that promise. I know that God can. He was telling me, ‘I’m going to call you to this ministry and I won’t leave you.'”

Since then, she and her husband have set up a ministry to some 50 teenagers who age out of the institution. Some 16 of them live in the church next door to the Ticas, while others live on their own but stay in close contact.

“My faith has really grown because I’ve never worried about where the next meal is going to come from. Feeding and putting these kids through school … I can’t really say it’s been a challenge because God gave His promise so I don’t have to worry about it,” she said.

A huge source of support has been her church family, who have rallied around her family in caring for these older teens.

“The moment we took them in, even as foster children, they were ours.”

While many church members do not have the means to foster or adopt children themselves, some couples have stepped up as “ninong” and “ninang”, or godparents, which is common in the Filipino culture.

“They are my partners in parenting and mentoring these older kids, because I can’t do it all by myself. Many of them also end up helping us financially and will volunteer to take them out on their birthdays, or spend time with them once in a while,” she said, adding that churches have an important role to play in supporting families who foster or adopt.

While caring for all these children is no easy task, her faith keeps her going.

Said Issa: “Whenever I’m tired, I’m always reminded of God’s patience for me and His forgiveness. If God has been so patient with me despite my shortcomings, who am I to give up on these kids?

“If He has given me so much love, how can I not pass this on to others?”

If you’d like to help end the orphan crisis in the Philippines, visit Generations–Home.


This young couple used their new BTO to welcome single parents and children who needed a home

“Predestined for our household”: Couple who chose not to choose which four children they adopted

Choosing to love: What to know if you’re thinking of adopting or fostering

About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer and Assistant Editor at Salt&Light.