How one couple opened their hearts to love children in need of a home

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 Chiang // December 20, 2023, 3:50 pm

JM Wedding 1

Even before marriage, Joey and Madeline knew that they both wanted to bring God's light and love to vulnerable communities. All photos courtesy of Joey and Madeline Lam.

“You love children, but cannot have your own is it?” “Is there something wrong with your bodies?” 

Joey, 33, and Madeline, 30, were well aware that they would face questions like these because of their uncommon decision as newlyweds, but this did not stop the Lams from applying to be foster parents.

In fact, it was never a question of whether both were of the same mind. The only uncertainty was when they would start the process.

For even before the two started dating, the seed of fostering had already been planted in each of their hearts. 

As an undergraduate, Madeline went on several mission trips, one of which left the greatest impact on her because of the work with children at risk and orphans in Thailand.

“I knew that this is what I really wanted to do – to be with children in need of a home,” she recounted.

“But at that time I did not know that I could do this through fostering. I kept thinking that I must go overseas to work with orphanages or children’s homes.”

Meanwhile, Joey’s first job out of university was with Interserve, where the non-profit’s outreach to the poor and needy deepened his conviction to show love to marginalised people in practical ways.

“There were three groups that were often highlighted: the widows, foreigners and orphans (Deuteronomy 10:18). Another verse that spoke to me was Micah 6:8, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly,” recalled Joey.

“How can we serve the vulnerable groups that are mentioned in the Bible?”

So when the couple started dating in 2017, both already knew they were aligned in the areas of missions and mercy ministries.

Throughout their journey from courtship to marriage, Joey and Madeline would also be exposed to various ways they could help the wider community. One of these was housing people who needed a shelter. 

In addition, the couple were inspired by how Joey’s father used to take in at-risk youth into their home.

Although this happened years ago before Joey was born, hearing such stories opened their mind to the possibilities.

The couple tied the knot in 2021 and waited two years for their Build-to-Order flat to be ready earlier this year.

While renovating their first home, Joey and Madeline had already planned to make it a shelter and refuge for others. They named it “Dwelling Place”.

Even though they did not have their own kids before they began their fostering journey, this was also not an issue for the couple.

Joey explained: “There is this impression that once you foster means there is something wrong with your bodies. Or you love children but cannot have children, and that is why you foster. But we never started out on those points.

“Our biological child and our foster child are both children. Whoever comes first comes. To me, it is very simple. How can we serve the vulnerable groups that are mentioned in the Bible?”

Taking a step of faith

“It was not a surprise when Joey broached the question of fostering once we were more stabilised in our marriage,” said Madeline.

“After we moved in to our own home and settled most of the renovation stuff, Joey suggested starting the process because the application takes awhile. I felt peaceful about it, and our families were also supportive.”

But even after submitting the application in May, Joey and Madeline were honest about the time when they had cold feet after the second interview in June.

“I told God, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. But if this is Your will, please help us.'”

This coming from a couple who have experience as helping professionals too.

Joey is a special needs social worker, while Madeline was a counsellor for youth at risk before she started her own nature school that runs programmes for children

Joey threw out some of the challenging scenarios that were posed to them:

  • You are at the playground and it is time to go home for dinner. If your foster child bites your hand and screams “no”, what would you do?
  • If your foster child says, “You are not my parent, why should I listen to you?”,  what would you do?
  • You bring your foster child to an extended family gathering and your uncle or aunty says this child does not belong here, what would you do?

Since moving in, the Lams have organised playdates at their house, in addition to offering to babysit for their friends. But both were still stumped by some of the scenarios that were posed to them during the second interview.

That particular interview troubled Madeline too.

“I think I woke up at least four to five times that night to pray. All these questions that they asked, I told God, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. But if this is your will, please help us,'” she said.

“There was no audible voice, but the next morning I felt peaceful.” 

It was a similar experience for Joey, who also brought his fears to God in prayer and felt a sense of peace a few days later.

Pressing on with their application, they went through a third round of interview, received training, and prepared their home by installing window grilles and restrictors on their top-hung windows to meet the requirements of a foster home.

After almost six months, Joey and Madeline were approved as foster parents in October.

Creating a safe place

This season leading up to Christmas is a special one to the couple – for just as Christians make room in their hearts to welcome the Christ child, the Lams have also made space in their lives to welcome children into their home.

So far, they have provided respite care for three children under foster care. Respite care refers to care given for brief periods of time when foster parents are unable to care for their foster child.

Despite having to learn how to look after a baby, the couple found it relatively easy to care for their second foster child who stayed with them for two weeks. 

Although their first fostering experience proved to be trying right off the bat, this did not discourage them from saying yes to the subsequent requests. 

“Imagine being an 11-year-old girl who just appeared at some stranger’s house to stay overnight. Evelyn* was an emergency placement with us due to placement breakdown,” said Madeline.

Placement breakdown is when the foster family can no longer manage the foster child.

“The placement broke down around 7pm, we received the call (from the Foster Care Officer) at 10pm, and she arrived at 12am,” added Joey.

It was hardly surprising then that Evelyn had trouble sleeping that day. 

“Madeline and I decided to chat with her about her fears and her happy memories,” said Joey. “We also redirected her focus back to what would be happening today and stayed with her until she really slept, with the lights on.” 

The next few days would continue to be difficult, as they faced challenges with daily tasks such as having to coax Evelyn to shower, reminding her to use her words instead of raising her voice to request for help, and dealing with emotional meltdowns.

And yet, despite the tough week, Joey said: “I walked away filled with hope that maybe for the first time in a very long time, we managed to model that adults do not need to lose their temper and shout at her, yet there are still boundaries to stick to and are present in her life.”

During Evelyn’s short stay with then, the couple also spotted some mental health concerns, which they have raised to her Foster Care Officer. Their hope is that with further assessment, the right help can be given.

The couple credits their training as therapists for equipping them with the skills to care for their first foster child, but also highlighted that what they had gone through with Evelyn was not a typical fostering experience.

“Their smile is the most rewarding part of the whole foster experience.”

In comparison, their second foster child was an “easy baby”, Joey pointed out.

In the two weeks that Joy* was with them, they achieved many milestones such as learning how to shower a baby, change diapers, dress and feed, as well as discerning what the different types of crying mean.

“It was amazing seeing how much she grew just even in two weeks,” shared Joey. “A baby may not consciously remember the events, but the baby’s body definitely does. The beauty of fostering is that these children are loved and cared for.”

“We hope Joy’s time with Dwelling Place was a memorable one for her,” said Joey, referring to the name they have chosen for their home – a reflection of their common desire to offer a place of shelter and refuge for others.

“We hope that she grew well here, had tons of fun, and interacted with many safe adults who met her needs and gave her plenty of hugs.”

Little moments of connection with their foster children. Here, Madeline is heading out with their two-year-old.

Adding on, Madeline said that among the many joys they have experienced in their fostering journey, “the best part is always seeing a child smile”.

“When the child is enjoying the food we prepare for them, or when a child simply is attended to and feels safe. Their smile is the most rewarding part of the whole foster experience,” she related.

With their third foster child, Titus*, the couple were also heartened to see how the two-year-old had warmed up to them and displayed signs of affection in just the short week he stayed with them. 

God chose to love us too


Reflecting on their fostering journey so far, Joey said: “Perhaps you might be able to have biological kids a bit more accidentally, but fostering is a conscious choice, and there is a price to pay.

“Sometimes it is easy to be very passionate about something, but on the other hand there are also very real, practical costs. We need to weigh these two hand in hand and then bring them to God.”

Some of these costs include the giving up of their usual routines, scaling back on their social life, and taking time to deal with challenging behaviours and work through traumas.

Madeline stressed: “We don’t want to glamourise fostering. There are real costs to consider. I feel that everyone is on a different journey – we are not more holy just because we foster.”

Agreeing, Joey advised that a couple should not foster at the expense of their marriage, for instance. 

“What is also helpful is to find a community that can support you as foster parents, be it your own parents, relatives, friends or church community,” he suggested.

“Involve others in this fostering journey. It takes a child to raise a village.”

The couple with their friends, Melvin and Joanne, who are foster parents too. The latter also adopted a four-year-old, Ariel (pictured).

Sharing that the experience of being foster parents has also made them reflect on their own relationship with their Heavenly Father, Joey said: “I realise that this is what it is like to be adopted into God’s family. God chose us, but He did not have to. Likewise, we do not have to foster. But we chose to.

“Fostering is choosing to take in a child with a complex family background, and all the behaviours that come with it. It is modelling what a safe family may look like to a child who has been through a turbulent childhood.

“It is also making a conscious choice to connect with a child’s suffering. But at least the child is in a safer place – not on the streets or in the care of abusive parents.”

“We would like to show (our foster child) a glimpse of what God’s love is.”

Re-emphasising the reason why they decided to open their home, Joey elaborated: “We make this conscious choice to foster a child because we believe we are pilgrims on earth.

“Being pilgrims on earth means for that short amount of time our lives are connected, and we would like to show you a glimpse of what God’s love is, what it looks like being in God’s family.”

And yet, the couple are humbled by how much they need God’s help to persevere in this ministry.

“As much as I believe in living out Scripture, there is indeed a part of us that needs to grow in our capacity to care-give for the different children we foster. We also need to grow in making sacrifices to love each of these children,” confessed Joey.

From just serving in children’s ministry in church, Joey and Madeline have taken an even bigger step to welcome kids into their home as foster parents.

Madeline also shared a verse from the Bible that God brought to her mind recently.

“I will run the course of Your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart.” (Psalm 119:32 NKJV)

“It is my deep desire to run God’s course and not my own,” she expressed.

“The love and joy we have for each child can only come from Him. If fostering is for us this season, I pray that God will give us the strength to do so. To Him be the glory.”

“No parent is going to be perfect.”

Finally, Joey addressed the fears that many young couples might have about becoming parents – whether to foster or biological children. 

“It is easy to see children as money or time loss. But I do not think that is fair. It is one-dimensional to look at children that way,” he said.

“Let us remember the joy that children bring, the growth that we will experience as parents and the humility that parenting teaches us.

“No parent is going to be perfect. We will have to learn along the way.”

*Names have been changed for the safety of the foster children.

If you would like to learn more about fostering, you can visit the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s web page.


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About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news — now she shares Good News. Gracia's different paths in life have led her from diverse newsrooms to Living Room by Salt&Light, but her most difficult and divine calling to date is still parenting.