Alva Review-Courier -

If not us, who?

Randon and Kristi Miller don't back down from life's challenges. Neither do their 7 adopted kids.

 

February 15, 2019

Kathleen Lourde

Kristi and Randon Miller grin with pride as they show a photo of six of their seven adopted children. The Miller, who were were Alva High School sweethearts, returned to their home town because it was the best place they could imagine to raise children. They bought an eight-bedroom former bed and breakfast across the street from Alva Middle School, and have packed it with love, an ethic of helping others, and monthly celebrations of one family member or another.

Randon and Kristi Miller met and fell in love while attending Alva High School in the mid-1990s.

Kristi was "the outgoing drama person," she said. "I liked anything with a stage."

"And I was the quiet one," said Randon, grinning. "I was into football, motorcycles and dirt bikes."

They attended Northwestern – first Randon, who was four years older than Kristi, and who then joined the Alva Police Department while she attended college. In 1998, they married and, when Randon was offered a job with the Enid Police Department, they moved there.

They might seem ordinary enough, judged by this brief summary, but Randon and Kristi would prove to be far from ordinary. In fact, over the next 20 years this couple would become extraordinary, capable of changing the world. Certainly, they've changed the worlds of at least seven very special children, and they radically changed their own.

And it was all because of love.

New Challenges in Enid

The difference in the crime level between Alva and Enid is "massive," said Randon. "Alva might have changed, because it's been 20 years, but then (working in Alva) I never did even a car burglary. It happened, yeah, but not for me. When I was in Enid, it was almost daily that I was doing burglary reports. I worked the east side of town and the night shift, so we were very busy. But it was a dream, I wanted to be a police officer."

And on his first night working solo – after his year's probation – he was called to a homicide.

"I was the first officer on the scene, and the guy that did it was still there. It was pretty intense, especially for a rookie. It was a jealousy situation. Ex-husband, new boyfriend. He (the ex-husband) came in and shot him (the boyfriend). And he knew. He didn't run; he just sat down and waited for us."

Seeing so much of life's pain and horror can wear people down after a while. Randon worked for the Enid Police Department for six years, but while "there are things that get on your mind, it was my faith that got me through," he said.

During those six years, Kristi finished her education while working at Bank of Oklahoma. After she graduated, she processed mortgages for the bank for the next five years.

"During all this time, Randon and I were also doing full-time ministry," on a volunteer basis, at Faith Center Fellowship in Meno.

They'd begun attending Faith Center Fellowship, a non-denominational Christian church with a contemporary style of worship, almost as soon as they'd moved to Enid. They liked the youthful energy there, and the enormous number of creative, innovative ministries.

"We loved it because they were doing things in the community, they weren't just staying in their four walls," said Kristi. "From the first service, (we saw) they were doing outreach. They were doing feeding programs, they were taking things to the school system for the teachers, going on mission trips – fresh water in Guatemala; an orphanage in Vietnam – and we were like, 'Wait a minute, we can impact the world from this little bitty spot?' And so it just resonated with us."

Cody Anderson, then the youth minister but now the senior pastor, invited them to participate in a Halloween outreach effort in Enid called "Reality."

"It was a haunted house style thing, but with a twist," explained Randon. Instead of the usual mythical monsters, this "haunted house" featured real-life horrors and ended with a scene of Jesus' resurrection. "A couple thousand kids went through there," said Randon.

"The fact that they were reaching thousands of kids with a true message of the Gospel – we were just all in," said Kristi. "And the first thing – they had us do a date rape scene," and she laughed with the remembered shock of it. "So, here we were just newlyweds, and we were in a bar scene and he was, like, throwing me around every three minutes."

"And I'd take her behind a curtain and she'd scream," put in Randon.

"And we did that over and over and over..." added Kristi, "... as people walked through," finished Randon.

"Literally, every three minutes they'd have another group of 20 come through, so you'd go back and do that scene again every three minutes for hours for four days," Kristi said. "So we laugh about that, because it was like our first thing as a couple."

By the next year, the Millers were working as volunteer youth pastors at Faith Center, deeply involved in the life of the church.

The next year, in 2000, the senior pastor, Monty Anderson, died in a car accident. Monty Anderson had founded Faith Center Fellowship in 1991 and moved it to the old Oklahoma Baptist College building in Meno in 1993. His loss could have caused the church to collapse, but his brother, Cody Anderson, took up the reins as senior pastor.

In 2004, Anderson invited Randon to take on a full-time position as youth pastor of Faith Center, and Randon decided to leave the Enid PD and follow a new calling. He would hold that position until the couple moved back to Alva much later to start an Alva campus of the Faith Center church.

Kristi Excels in Banking Career

About the same time that Randon was wrapping up his career as a police officer, Kristi took a position to open a mortgage division with Commercial Federal Bank. Through her ten years there, and the next six years as a mortgage loan originator at Primelending, Kristi won numerous accolades for her work. She and Randon were able to do a lot of traveling, including five Hawaii vacations awarded to Kristi for being a "top producer." And those kinds of award vacations are in the best hotels with all the most luxurious amenities anyone could dream of.

Her work as a mortgage lender spanned one of the most tumultuous financial periods our country has ever experienced.

First there was 9/11 in 2001. Then in the mid-2000s, an increasing number of lenders began making "sub-prime" mortgage loans to people who would not have been deemed qualified to borrow so much in earlier years. According to the Federal Reserve's website, the financial companies repackaged those subprime loans into bundles that they sold to investors. With more mortgages available, demand for houses went up, which made house prices go up, and it all kept ballooning until in 2007 it became clear that huge numbers of those borrowers were defaulting on the loans they weren't equipped to make the payments on. Huge numbers of investors lost their shirts on those sub-prime loan packages that were suddenly classified high risk.

The stock market crash of 2008 was second only to that of the Great Depression. In an 18-month period, the Dow Jones lost 50 percent of its value. (In the Great Depression, the stock market lost 90 percent of its value, but that was over three years.)

The worst impact of all of that was mostly felt on the east and west coasts, said Kristi. "The heartland didn't really experience that to the same degree."

Still, it was a crazy time to be a mortgage banker no matter where you were.

"The stock market crashed, and rates began to be slashed by a percent almost monthly, so, yes, I was in the mortgage division for that entire process," Kristi said. "At the time, it was just nose to the grindstone. It wasn't until later that I thought, wow, we were working through some of the hardest economic times in our country. I was 24 at the time (that it started), and people were trying to keep their homes, and trying to refinance, and it was a lot of life challenges. I learned a lot.

"I was very fortunate to be trained by one of the best in the business; she always required excellence. A lot of what was happening across the nation was making our job harder, because we were doing honest loans and doing it the right way. We were always rooted in the community, and these (borrowers) were people we were going to see around town. I never wanted to complete a mortgage where I was going to see them lose their home down the road."

Children: A Radical Love

Ten years into a marriage that they'd never planned to include children, they learned about a little 4-year-old boy named Hunter who was going into foster care.

"That story radically changed our lives," said Kristi. "The next morning, we looked at each other and were like, "Why not us? Why not?" So we became educated on the foster care system. We began to pursue this little boy that we'd never met. It took us a year to locate him, he'd gone through so many foster homes.

"On October 2008 we had our first visit with him. And we immediately fell in love with him and all his orneriness," and they both laughed. "He was 5 at the time, and we were able to adopt him the following December." That process involved being approved as foster parents in both Oklahoma and Kansas, because that's where Hunter was. "We went through extensive training."

While that was going on, the Millers were still involved in youth ministry, and that's where they met their next child, Taylor.

"She was 14 when we first met her," said Kristi. "She was coming through youth ministry with a friend. She was going through a really rough time at home, we could tell. I knew she was going from place to place to place, so I went to her one night and said, 'If you ever need a safe place, call us,' and I gave her my number. I didn't really know her.

Some time later, Kristi had taken several youth group girls to Oklahoma City to see their first play, "The Lion King." "Taylor's aunt dropped her off at our doorstep, and said 'Her mom's going to prison and I can't keep her.' So there she was with all her stuff.

"We were like, 'What are we going to do?' We had to call the authorities, because we couldn't just take in someone because of Hunter. We called and she had a missing person report, so the police had to come the very next day and take her back to the group home that she kept running away from.

Kristi paused, remembering. "That was a very sad day. I just remember being in the car with her that day, and I said, 'Taylor, I know you don't want to go but you have to. But we'll come back for you.' And she said, 'Nobody comes back for me.' And I said, 'We will come back for you.'" Kristi had to stop to dab her teary eyes and swallow the lump in her throat.

"I remember taking her back to that group home, and it was NOT like a group home. It had razor wire and it was ... it was a facility where they were putting the older kids." Taylor was 15.

"We had to go through a lot of hoops," Kristi said, "and Ran and I had to decide because everyone said, 'Don't take a teenager,' and there are all these horror stories, and 'they can ruin your life.' But we just felt like God put her in our life for a reason. That was in April. It took us until October to actually get her back into our home. She was coming back for visits, but in October she came back to live with us, and we became her legal guardians."

Kristi smiled tearily.

"And she was the best kid. She just needed some love. She started doing very well in school. She just needed some stability."

Randon chimed in. "She was always being taken out of school and moved. She was in learning disability classes. They said there were all these things wrong with her. And by her junior year she made the National Honor Society." Now it was Randon's turn to choke up. "She worked hard for it." He paused again to regain his equilibrium, and then broke into a huge smile. "She's been married five years now! She's almost 26 years old. She graduated with honors from Enid High School. She's an amazing girl."

"She has a big heart," said Krisi.

Through the ensuing years, the Millers had 26 foster children come through their home, including the seven that they adopted. Of those they adopted, the first were Hunter and Taylor. Then came Avery and Zander, who were brother and sister. Then Nick and Emma, also brother and sister.

"And every time, honestly – when we had Avery and Zander and Hunter and Taylor, we said we're full, we're finished." Then they agreed to take care of Nick and Emma for a weekend, "and five years later, they're still with us."

And again, they decided they had all the children they wanted. "Not kidding this time – we're really done!

"And then we get a call for Ashton. And he was actually related to me. Nobody knew that the mom was pregnant, so we ended up taking Ashton home from the hospital.

"Ran came to me and said, 'Kristi we're going to have to change how we do this. We're going to have to start inspiring people to become foster families. We can't take them all."

The need for foster families is enormous in Oklahoma, said Randon. More than 9,000 children are in the system at last count, he said.

"So many times, people say to us, 'Oh, I could never do what you do, because what if I had to give them back? It would hurt too much to love them and then maybe send them home.' And Ran and I would always laugh about that, because it's kind of like if you never love something, you're going to miss out on so much."

And Kristi said she's always known when a child could go back home, it needed to go. "There was always a peace in our heart. We knew when to fight, and we knew when to stand our ground."

Along with being afraid of getting hurt, often people don't want to get involved in taking on foster kids because they think the problem is so big that they can't really make a difference, Randon pointed out.

"Kristi has a starfish picture and she has a story about that. A little boy is walking down the beach after a storm, and all these starfish have washed up on shore. And he's picking them up and slinging them back out in the ocean one at a time. There's thousands of them! And this old man says, 'Why are you wasting your time? This doesn't even matter. You can't throw them all back out there.' But the boy picks up another starfish and says, 'Well, it matters to this one,' and throws it out into the ocean."

"They all have the starfish picture in their baby books," said Kristi, "and it's important to all of them. They have all inspired someone to do something. You have to look at it that way. I do remember being in the midst of all of that and feeling very overwhelmed, and you're just seeing the faces of all these children who are hurting. I remember feeling like, "I am just one person; I can't begin to make a difference. I can't do this. I just cannot.' And the Lord quickly reminded me: You focus on the things that you can and you do your best with that. Like Ran said, it matters to this one and so we're going to go with all of our heart. It's been an exciting journey and we never would have picked it in a million years," and they both laughed with joy beaming from their faces.

Back Home In 'Amazing, Unique, Special' Alva

Kathleen Lourde

Kristi and Randon Miller have returned to their hometown of Alva with a vision of creating a new church here that will complement this already "special, unique place" that "made us what we are."

Now the couple has returned to their hometown to open an Alva campus of Faith Center Fellowship – and because, they said, they can't imagine a better place to raise children. Watch for Faith Center-Alva to open soon. The building has been purchased (310 College), and the next step is renovation. In the meantime, the Millers are holding Sunday evening services at Alva High School, and a network of families are holding Bible studies in their homes.

"Alva has really made us who we are. This community is just amazing, it's unique and special. And so for us to be gone so long, but now come back and bring these gifts back to the people who helped make us who we are" is a blessing beyond what Kristi was able to articulate at that moment.

"Well, and this town is full of wonderful churches and great traditions," said Randon, "and we just want to be a part of that, to come alongside of the ministries of the churches and just love on people. Because it's a tough world and there are hurting families."

 

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