In 1997, five years after her marriage ended, Gayle Payne’s faith journey began. Still new to her faith, she felt God’s leading to “love the unlovable” and began searching for a way to act upon that passion.
She was quickly connected with Angel Tree, a division of Chuck Coleson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry. Their goal is to come alongside young men and women who have parents within the prison system. During Christmastime in 98’ she found herself bringing a load of gifts to kids within a local orphanage. During her visit, she began talking with Lydia, a counselor there. Gayle began to share with Lydia about the events of the past few years of her life. She mentioned her husband leaving, her newfound faith, and living alone in her home.
Lydia shared with Gayle about a girl there who, due to circumstances at the orphanage, needed to be placed within a foster home quickly. Shortly thereafter, Gayle began visits with the girl, who she would come to know as Charlotte.
“I never expected God to open this door. One moment, I was serving by bringing gifts to an orphanage, the next found me applying for my foster care license with the state.”
In the spring of 1999, Gayle took Charlotte home! She was 12 at the time, and as you can imagine, the next few years were a time of learning and change for both of them. Charlotte was Gayle’s first, but certainly not the last.
5 years later, along came Buddy at only 2.5 months old. His place within Gayle’s house was originally temporary, while a new foster family was being prepared. As Christmas neared, Gayle called the agency and learned that their original plan had fallen through. She requested that Buddy’s placement in her home become permanent, and so Buddy stayed.
10 months later, Gayle received a call from a social worker. A young boy, two years old, named Thomas was in need of a place to stay. He was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy due to poor pre-natal care & drug use during pregnancy. Soon, Thomas became a permanent part of Gayle’s home as well.
The most recent three to Gayle’s home, Alexandria, Corey, and Jesse came just 5 years ago! Siblings, they were also originally “temporary” within the family, but as Gayle would put it, “they came temporarily, and never left!”
In 16 years of adventures, Gayle has faced a lot of challenges, but each one she has seemingly solved with the same devotion and consistency that she applies to the rest of her life. One great example is the way that she addressed schooling for her kids. Statistically, foster children are more likely to be problematic within the education system, so she has sometimes struggled to give them the best education possibilities within her district. At first, she tells me, she was frustrated as she attempted to understand and navigate the system, but she eventually came to realize that instead of pushing harder, there was a much simpler solution; ask for help.
“When you come to another person with humility and thankfulness, a lot can happen,” Gayle tells me. “After I figured out that others wanted to help, wanted to be involved in helping my family succeed, that’s when things got easier.”
Since that moment, Gayle’s education difficulties have all but resolved themselves. Last year, when she was in the hospital for a surgery, the principal of the local school was the one to babysit for their home. Community was even more important last year, as Gayle battled an experience with cancer. After two surgeries and a long process, she is now considered safe, but the experience, along with a frightening racial attack by a neighbor has left her family a little shaken. Fortunately, Gayle’s incredible sense of mission has remained constant.
Meeting Gayle for the first time, you quickly gain an understanding of the kind of parent she has been. She is gracious and patient, easy to talk to, but you get an unmistakable sense that she knows exactly what she is about. She is fiercely loyal to her children, unwavering in her direction as she follows wherever God leads. Listening to Gayle’s story, it is clear that her decision to remain faithful is all about “just taking the next step.” She tells me that looking at the big picture can sometimes be overwhelming, but focusing only on where God is directing your next step is the key to living in His peace.
To anyone seeking to live in this faithfulness, her advice is this; “When God opens a door, stop analyzing. Walk through it and never look back.” “After 16 years of doing what God called me to do, I feel qualified to say that there is just no better place to be than in the center of God’s will.