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Heart to serve: Organization seeks host families for Ukrainian orphans

A Ukrainian teenager flashes a smile with the first fish she ever caught while staying with a host family in Minnesota. Submitted Photo1 / 5
Paul and Lisa Bowden (front, center), founders of the nonprofit Courageous Families, pose with their family in 2016 after adopting four orphaned children -- Piers (front left), Natalee, Perry and Juliah -- from the Ukraine. The back row includes biological children Parker (left), Tahlia, Briquelle and Preston. Submitted Photo2 / 5
Paul Bowden (center right), co-founder of the Courageous Families nonprofit, prays with a group of Ukrainian kids before they fly back to Europe after a summer of staying with host families in Minnesota. Submitted Photo3 / 5
Kellen and Felicia Morrissey and their family pose at the airport with two Ukrainian host children. Submitted Photo4 / 5
Kellen Morrissey says goodbye to one of his Ukrainian host children after her summer visiting Minnesota. Submitted Photo5 / 5

Any lakes area families in search of mission work without having to leave their homes are in luck.

Paul and Lisa Bowden, founders of Alexandria-based nonprofit Courageous Families, are looking for families to host Ukrainian orphans for the summer.

"If they have a heart for mission and a heart to serve orphans, this is an amazing way to do that," Lisa Bowden said during a phone interview Wednesday, April 17.

The Bowdens' story started a few years ago when Lisa heard an ad on the radio about hosting orphans.

"It just gave a little blurb and gave a website—just about 10 seconds of talking," she said. "And later that night I was reminded of that, and I thought, 'I should really check that out.'"

Next thing they knew, the Bowdens were working to bring four orphaned Ukrainian siblings to live with them for the summer of 2015.

But after the financial crisis of 2008, when Paul and Lisa were both in the real estate business, money was tight, so the plan to add four kids to a six-person household, even just for a summer, was tricky.

"We really felt like God called us to do this," Lisa said. "And so we raised over $10,000 in 30 days to bring the kids for that summer."

Little did they know, after that summer, the Bowdens would find themselves traveling to Ukraine the next year to adopt Piers, Natalee, Perry and Juliah, bringing them back to Minnesota for good. Already parents to four biological children, the Bowdens grew their family to 10.

Then in 2017, Courageous Families began as an organization to connect Ukrainian orphans with American families for a summer.

The goal, Lisa said, is to "allow orphans to experience life within a healthy family unit."

"Part of our mission is to share the love of Christ and present the gospel message to them and experience the love of the father," she added. "Both a father figure within a home and the heavenly father."

In the organization's past two years of orphan-hosting, three Ukrainian kids have been adopted by American families.

This summer, six kids are scheduled to stay with Minnesota families, including on in the Brainerd area, after a partnership with The Journey North Community Church in Baxter.

And as it just so happens, Journey North Pastor Mark Bjorlo has a special relationship with Ukraine himself, after having done mission work there for more than 20 years since the Iron Curtain fell in the early 1990s.

While the ideological Iron Curtain separated Europe from 1945-91, Bjorlo explained how the Soviet Union forbade proselytizing, or spreading and sharing religious beliefs, even among parents and children.

"So when the Iron Curtain fell, there was just this vacuum, and people wanted to be able to teach their kids about faith, and they didn't have the tools or the mechanisms," Bjorlo said. "They had no way of even knowing how to effectively do that."

Bjorlo participated in a convergence of leaders from about 100 Minnesota churches that linked arms with Ukrainian churches and traveled there to teach about how best to impact children through religious education.

Those experiences made him extremely interested in the Bowdens' efforts, especially because it's a way to serve without having to leave home.

"A lot of people can't take trips around the world to go and help people, but they have a heart for helping people," Bjorlo said. "And this is one of the most creative ways that I've heard of kind of being able to have a real significant impact on people's lives without necessarily having to do the traveling that some of us try to do."

One family from Journey North church committed to hosting this summer, and Bjorlo said he may have more interested in lending a hand to the Bowden's cause.

"We're hoping to help other people here learn more about their organizations because I think it's just, again, one of those exciting, exceptional and unusual creative ways of having an impact," he said.

Lisa Bowden hopes to find at least three or four more families to host this summer and said having more than one host family in an area can create a community for both the families and the kids.

But this mission work, she added, shouldn't be taken lightly.

"I never talk anyone into anything because it's got to come from their heart," Bowden said. "They really have to have a heart for it because there's times that are challenging, and they have to be up for that."

How to be involved

If any families think they're up for the challenge, they can visit for more information and testimonies from previous host families. They can also visit the organization's Facebook page or call Lisa Bowden at 320-224-7359.

Theresa Bourke

I started at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and the Brainerd School District. I follow city and school board officials as they make important decisions for residents and students and decide how to spend taxpayer dollars. I look for feature story ideas among those I meet and enjoy, more than anything, helping individuals tell their stories and show what makes them unique.

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