March 2021 Newsletter

Foster Closet in Varna, Bulgaria

With your generous help, Lost Sparrows continues to support not only foster families but also other vulnerable children and families by providing them with vital supplies and professional support through our in-country NGO.

Thank you for your continued support! We still need more monthly supporters to reach our $1200/month goal for this project. Your financial support is providing diapers, formula, clothing, toys, therapy assistance, and spiritual encouragement. When donating by check or PayPal, please put ‘Foster Closet’ in the memo or notes.

Nik’s Heart of Hope Grant

We are thrilled to announce that Nik’s Heart of Hope awarded it’s first grant to Wide Awake International. Wide Awake’s vision is the deinstitutionalization of Eastern European’s most marginalized children – those in orphanages and institutions.

One of the ways they are living out their vision is by building duplexes on their property in Ukraine in order to provide family homes for those that can not be reunified with their biological family. Nik is delighted to be providing rocking chairs and a stereo system for the boys that will be living in one of the duplexes.

Nik remembers wishing for more time in the sunshine when he was living in an orphanage in Bulgaria so this has been a very personal project for him.

When he learned of Wide Awake’s needs he knew that the boys needed “rocking chairs for the porch and a music system to sing to Jesus.”

Thank you for all of your support in donating to Nik’s Heart of Hope Fund. We are looking forward to many more projects in the near future that will better the lives of vulnerable children and families.

Please put ‘Niks Heart of Hope’ in the memo or notes when donating via check or PayPal.

Make sure to follow us on Facebook to receive up to date information about upcoming training events!

If you are interested in scheduling Stacey and Darren Gagnon to speak at a trauma-informed training at your school, church, or group, please email Blythe Royaards.

What a beautiful blessing to see signs of Spring and warmer weather approaching! Lost Sparrows started the year off running and we haven’t stopped since. In the last two months, via Zoom, we have had the privilege of offering several free trauma informed trainings for teachers and parents.

We were also able to hold our first in-person event of 2021 in Winona Lake, Indiana, on February 20th for local foster and adoptive families and professionals that work with children from hard places. It was absolutely wonderful seeing the local community support; the businesses below donated generous gifts to bless the families that attended the training. We are excited about the events that we are particiat

The Bear in the Classroom

Trauma Informed Classroom

Excerpt from Ransom from Israel blog post:

Infants and children are wired to need adults in order to survive. Children who have experienced trauma, have been hurt by the very people who were meant to keep them safe. This can lead to negative thinking and shame. A child from a hard place, often has a negative narrative. 

Traumatized kids also tend to develop what Dr. Howard ( calls a “hostile attribution bias” — the idea that everyone is out to get them.  “So if a teacher says, ‘Sit down in your seat,” they hear it as, ‘SIT DOWN IN YOUR SEAT!’” she explains. “They hear it as exaggerated and angry and unfair. So they’ll act out really quickly with irritability.” As a teacher, you feel like your tone and words are neutral, they actually hear them as negative. The greater the overreaction to your neutral, the deeper they live within fear and shame.

Children from hard places need tiny successes and to hear that mistakes are stepping stones to learning. They need to be met at their developmental level. You might have an 8th grader who has the cognitive skills of a first grader and an attention span of a preschooler. Adjust your expectations and meet them at their lowest level. You would not expect a preschooler to sit still for an hour and complete a lengthy assignment. Allow for movement and give the child work that is at their cognitive and emotional level.

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November 2020 Newsletter

Introducing Nik’s Heart of Hope


Most Saturday mornings, you could find Nik being driven around his neighborhood, picking up hundreds of cans, piling them into the garage so they can be crushed, bagged, and recycled. After receiving the money, usually around $8, he would stuff it into an envelope and wait for it to be matched by his generous family members and friends. You see, he was spending hours every week crushing cans because he heard about families and children in Bulgaria who needed something that they couldn’t afford and he wanted to meet that need. He will always be the first in line to help someone.

Nik spent the first 6 years of his life in a Bulgarian orphanage. During that time, he experienced hunger, abuse, neglect and lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety. He went to bed at night, living in complete terror of what would happen to him before the sun rose the next day. Nik lived a life that we wouldn’t wish on anyone else. He is a survivor and is one the strongest, bravest and most loving people that we’ve ever met.

We first met Nik, our son, on a very cold, snowy day and he was bundled up in a blue jacket, jeans and clunky brown shoes. He wasn’t shy but was eager to meet us and figure out what a ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ were, as that was what the orphanage director and staff kept calling us but the term was completely unfamiliar to him. For an orphan, there is no concept of ‘mom’, ‘dad’ or ‘family’. We got to spend the next several days with him, playing on the playground and sorting toys in the visitation room, all while trying to communicate through gestures and broken phrases.

During this first trip, we spent every day with him for a solid week. It was such a special week of connection and bonding and learning all about one other. He got used to us visiting each morning, so we were late on the 5th day, we heard this deep, guttural wailing from the front gates. It was our precious Nik, who thought that we were never coming back, and he felt that grief so close the core of his being that he was inconsolable.

In just four days, he had learned what it meant to be wanted, loved, and cherished and could not handle the thought of going back to the life that he formally knew. Nik, who was adopted 6 years ago, is now 11 years old and is incredibly loved and cherished by his 5 siblings, his parents and many others. It would be easier, and preferable, to forget such previously hard and empty life but, instead, Nik uses it as motivation. He has made it his life mission to help his “friends and kids like me that don’t have a family”. He tells us that he remembers what it was like to be hungry, cold, scared and live in a constant state of fear. When he heard that there were families and children that were without, he immediately put all of his concern and effort into helping because that was his life and he knows the feeling of desperation, angst and wanting so badly for people to DO something that affects real change.

Lost Sparrows is working to end the orphan crisis by supporting children and families so that every child has the opportunity to thrive. We do that through providing trauma-informed education, supporting in-country partners, advocating for policy change at a local and national level and meeting the practical needs of children and families. Nik’s Heart of Hope was created out of the passion and the heart of a young boy who wants to meet the practical needs of children and families, all around the world. He remembers what it was like to not have his most basic needs met so not only does he want to provide food, clothing, shelter, support services, etc to children and families but, more importantly, Nik also wants to show them the love of Jesus and that they are cherished and wanted!

Nik is overjoyed by this amazing opportunity to work with Lost Sparrows so that Nik’s Heart of Hope can grow and meet the needs of families and children all over the world. Follow Lost Sparrows on Facebook and on our website to see the many projects that have already been completed and the ones that will be starting soon. We’d love for you to join Nik! Check out our website to see how you can help!

Foster Closet in Varna, Bulgaria


For the last two years, Lost Sparrows has partnered with the Second Baptist Church in Varna, Bulgaria to provide basic support and supplies to local foster families. The government does not provide any assistance to foster families in Bulgaria, so the support of the church is critical.

Our closet is stocked with supplies like diapers, baby formula, clothes, and other basic necessities. Families are encouraged to visit the closet when they need. We hope to grow the foster community in Varna and the rest of Bulgaria, as well as other countries in Europe.

We are excited to expand this project in the next few months to support first families that have children with special needs. Many families live in poverty, and if they have a child with special needs it can be exceedingly challenging to provide for their needs. Too often these children get placed into an orphanage because the families have no other option. Our support of these families can help them to keep their children and prevent them from being institutionalized.

Lost Sparrows has committed to funding the Foster Closet in Varna, Bulgaria through December 2021. In addition to providing basic support and needs, they will also be sending out a nurse and physical therapist to the homes of these families.

It will be such a great blessing as many of these families do not have access to either service! The cost of providing these services and supplies is $1,000/month.

Would you consider joining us and supporting the Foster Closet?

Donations can be made through our website or by sending them to our mailing address. Thank you for generously caring for these families!

Visit to Focus on the Family


On September 8th, we were in Colorado Springs to record an interview with Jim Daly and John Fuller of Focus on the Family. They invited us to discuss foster care, adoption, and how we came to form Lost Sparrows. It was an encouraging day of recording multiple interviews and making new friends.

Our taped interview aired on November 3rd, during National Adoption Month. We also discussed our children’s book Cowboy Joel and the Wild, Wild West. We wrote the book a few years ago to help parents teach their children about kids with differences. Check out the book Cowboy Joel and the Wild, Wild West

We often get the question, “What does it mean to be trauma-informed?” We believe that being trauma-informed means to understand that often human behavior is in response to what happens to us as children, especially if that involves traumatic experiences. The ACEs study showed this. When we know that a person has experienced trauma, it is easier to have empathy for them. To see them as hurting people that have experienced challenges, and that are very deserving of our understanding and compassion.

The scriptures often use the word compassion, and we are encouraged to be compassionate as God is toward us. In the new testament, Mark 6:34 says “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” And in James 5:11 “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

Our hope is that these training will create better relationships and outcomes for our teachers and for their students, especially those that have endured trauma.

Please consider donating to support our trainings so we can offer them, at no cost, to teachers, families and professionals!

Letter from the Gagnons


So much has changed in our lives since we launched Lost Sparrows 3 years ago. We had hoped to be able to make a difference in the lives of abandoned, institutionalized children, but we already had 6 children and full time jobs. It has been a challenge to balance life with so many things on our plates, but God has been faithful to provide for our family and for Lost Sparrows.

So in a leap of faith, Darren has left his job teaching at the local high school, and is now working full-time for Lost Sparrows. God has opened, and continues to open so many doors that we now will be able to walk through.

We never know what tomorrow will look like, but day by day we will continue to be obedient to what the Lord has for us.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27
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It’s better to be raised in a prison

Hospital or prison? Which would you guess is the healthier environment? Austrian psychoanalyst René Spitz discovered a surprising answer in the 1940s. 

What if what we need to survive, to live, to thrive, is not what we think it is? 

What if the thing we need most costs no money and is available all around the world? 

What if what we really need is not another THING or another IDEA or another STRATEGY, but another PERSON?

Spitz’s experiment followed two sets of children from birth to three years old. One set lived in hospitals or orphanages where they were attended to by a rotating set of nurses who provided clean clothes and all their basic needs. The second set of babies were raised in the prison where their mothers were incarcerated. At regular intervals, Spitz and his team would check in on the children, measure their growth and developmental progress, and film the results.

After the first three months, the orphanage babies had an advantage over those in the prison, scoring higher on the evaluative tests. As time progressed, however, the institutionalized babies fell behind those in contact with their mothers. At one year old, the orphaned children were lethargic, intellectually delayed, and disinterested. Meanwhile the imprisoned babies were curious and playful, interacting with the caretakers and guards. Most interestingly, they were less prone to infections. In other words, the children living in the sterile, controlled hospital environment were getting sick at a higher rate than those in the penitentiary nursery. 

By two or three, the prison babies continued to hit normal developmental markers. They walked about confidently, spoke clearly, and were developing cognitively. Meanwhile, of the 26 children in the orphanage, only 2 were able to walk or speak a few words. Sadly, 37% of the orphanage children did not survive the period of observation. Spitz coined a term for the tragic condition of these children—hospitalism.

What was the difference that transformed a dirty prison into a place for healthy development and a hospital into the place of death? Relationship. In the prison, the children had daily access to their mothers and regular interaction with the other children. Added to this, there was the human interaction with the guards and caretakers.  In the hospital environment, the children had all their physical needs met but were attended to by nurses who oversaw at least seven babies. It seems loving interaction from untrained individuals can be the difference between growth and deterioration. In short, we need relationships to live.

The last eighty years of scientific discovery have only confirmed what Spitz found in his experiment. The deprivation of relationship is traumatic and detrimental to growth. The presence of relationship is healing and necessary for growth. Judith Herman, in her book Trauma and Recovery, writes, “The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections. Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships. It cannot occur in isolation.”

Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships. It cannot occur in isolation.”

Judith herman, Trauma and Recovery

None of this should surprise us, though it does. More than three thousand years before Spitz’s experiment, Moses wrote, in his account of the creation of man, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone . . .’” While this verse is most often quoted in reference to marriage, its truth extends to the whole of life. We are hard-wired with a need for relationship. Human touch, eye-to-eye contact, and loving warmth are like magical ingredients for growth and healing. When we are deprived of them, we whither. Their absence is a poison. Many spend their whole lives trying to recover from this loss of healthy attachment. Without relationship we perish.

For millions of kids around the world, this reality of relationship-deprivation is not theoretical. It is their reality. They languish in the back rooms of “western” orphanages. They endure withdrawn or abusive caretakers. They shuffle from house to house without ever knowing a home. And what they need most in the world to survive and live and thrive is not a something, but a someone.

Because it’s better to be raised in a prison with love than the best intuition in the world devoid of it. 

Because every child deserves a chance to thrive within the warm embrace of a family.

Because without relationship, we perish.

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August 2020 Newsletter

Thank you for taking a moment to allow us to fill you in on the last several months. God has been so faithful in keeping our momentum at Lost Sparrows, even during the quarantine. We have spent a lot of time planning and organizing our next steps. We have also been able to support some of our ministry partners overseas as they also struggle with the pandemic. We see God’s will being done and know that He is still in control, even as the world seems so out of control. Children need families now more than ever, and we are working diligently to help children and families thrive around the world.

Highlights from Croatia and Bosnia

January 30 to February 7 was an exciting time for us as Stacey was able to travel to Europe one last time before everyone was shut down. For the last few years, we have had some terrific partners in Bosnia, Josh and Taylor Irby, that we have been working with. Now Josh and Taylor are consistent partners with Lost Sparrows, and due to the pandemic are stateside after living in Bosnia for 10+ years. During Stacey’s time there, so many positive things were accomplished. Here are some highlights:

Stacey and Taylor went to Zagreb, Croatia to join 43 people from several nationalities representing 8 countries across Eastern Europe. The meeting was hosted by World Without Orphans. Across 2 days we participated in networking with others involved in orphan care. We learned what others are doing and were able to share what we can offer in trauma-informed education.

We partnered with a nonprofit in Sarajevo called “Give Us a Chance.” This organization supports families who have children with special needs. In Bosnia there is very little government support and help for these people, so “Give Us a Chance” helps by providing respite care, education, therapy, equipment, and relational support for families that often feel forgotten. We had three events with this organization during the week. First, we did a Night Out for parents of special needs children. Lost Sparrows paid for the food and brought special gifts donated by special needs families in the US. Registration was full at 35 moms within 8 hours. We were able to share our passion for these children and listen to the struggles of so many incredibly sacrificing women. The dinner ended with impromptu dancing. It was clear these moms were so encouraged!

The next day Stacey led a training class for the staff of this organization. She covered the topics they said they needed most help with: aggressive children and children who are nonverbal. At the end of the class, Stacey shared the heartwarming story of bringing our son home from Bulgaria. She was able to share what the trauma of an institution did to him, and how he is healing from it. She encouraged the staff that what they are doing keeps kids out of institutions. There was not a dry eye in the room. Another day we did a training for moms of these kids with special needs. It was another very powerful day and ended with the director presenting us with gifts and being invited to coffee by the moms. It was such an encouraging time for everyone.

Stacey then led a seminar for students on stress, anxiety and growing up with second hand trauma. Several students attended and were engaged as they learned more about how to manage their stress, as this generation is known as the most anxious generation. Although the seminar ended at 9:30, students stayed until almost 11 talking.

“Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.”

Elie Weisel


Zorey is not impressed.

Our plans sure changed when the pandemic hit. We were scheduled to do a conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia in April that we had to postpone. We are hopeful that we will be able to hold the conference next April as there is much need for education and support of local families. We have been able to remotely support several partners in Bulgaria and Bosnia that are supporting families through this very challenging pandemic. We are also working on translating training videos and books into native languages.

God is moving in so many ways with Lost Sparrows.

There will be much more info to come in our next newsletter. Thank you for supporting and praying for Lost Sparrows as we continue to share God’s love and help children thrive in families.

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December 2019 Newsletter

Friends and family,

The last three months have been a rollercoaster of highs and lows. The lows began with pictures from Bosnia of children restrained, beaten and tied to radiators and beds in an orphanage. It was the beginning of public outcry and an investigation into the treatment of orphans in Eastern Europe.

Personally, it was a reminder of things I’ve witnessed that are mostly too hard to carry each day. I want to take this newsletter to share one of the things I saw that is so hard to forget.

Bulgaria – 2019

The teen boy is thrashing and rocking with his hands and feet tied to a chair. He has a padded football helmet strapped on in a desperate attempt by overburdened caregivers to keep him from seriously harming himself.

He is yelling with a ragged voice, over and over, “Father? Father?”

I kneel by him and he instantly reaches out and grabs my hand. I speak in a soft voice and he begins to calm. His breathing evens and the rocking loses its violent motions and slows.

He smells. He reeks of institution; urine, neglect and unwashed fear. I know this smell and my insides clutch at the remembering. I remember that it took weeks of bathing before our adopted son no longer smelled of institution. It seemed to cling to his very being, a silent whisper of darkness and pain.

The boys hands were covered in self-inflicted wounds from biting and scratching in an attempt to feel and release boredom and pain. I asked to remove the helmet and as I did, I saw that his sweat soaked hair covered scars and wounds, old and new. His violent head-banging had done real damage. I also saw the peach fuzz that an adolescent wears before entering adulthood, and startlingly beautiful eyes that lighted temporarily on my face. I looked away for a moment of reprieve, but there was none to be found. I was surrounded by children in a brightly lit, clean room who all swayed and rocked and bit and moaned and scratched in pain and boredom. It was unreal and overwhelming and it took everything in me not to stand up from that chair and leave that space.

In these children I see my son, Israel. I see the trajectory for a special needs boy placed at birth in an orphanage. I see my son’s future in an orphanage and it makes my soul weep.

I cried out silently in that moment, “Father, Father…where are you? Don’t you hear him?” My cries matched the pitch and intensity of the young boy I sat beside.

Institutionalization often breaks the mind. Children were not made to grow up in institutions without love and family. They cannot grow and thrive when only basic needs are met; even in the best equipped and cleanest buildings. An orphanage can never meet the greatest human need.

I sat for several more moments, and then I heard a megaphone voice in my ear, “Stacey, do YOU hear?” This moment was when I heard a voice that called me to lift my head from all-the-things that I felt I needed to do. And actually put my hands to what I was being called to do.

CS Lewis penned the following: God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

These kids are without family…..and therein lies the crux of the problem. The need is FAMILY, and how do we give them their greatest need? How can Lost Sparrows help provide for kids tied to radiators or children rocking soundlessly in a clean and warm building? How can we HEAR the need, and decide instead to continue providing bigger buildings, better restraints and newer radiators? The answer – we cannot.

What needs to be said, is that kids who are raised in institutions without the love of a main caregiver, often become violent, aggressive and unmanageable. They become teens who require physical her mechanical restraints in order to keep staff and others safe. I don’t look at this orphanage staff in anger with pointed finger. I have seen what a strong teenager looks like who has been raised within four concrete walls. I ask you to picture a roomful of these strong teenagers with one or two caregivers. Caregivers who are working for a minimum wage with very little training or instruction. This is reality, and theory falls flat in the face of angry, scared, lonely teens who have no connection. I am saddened and broken to see teens tied to radiators, but I am not shocked because this is not isolated. You CANNOT raise a child in an orphanage and expect their brains to be wired correctly. Children are not resilient to the choices of adults.

So I’ve shared the lows and now I want to give you some hope in the highs. I tend to be incredibly blunt in my answers to this crisis for children. We CANNOT just keep pulling children out of orphanages. The numbers are overwhelming and international adoption has plummeted. We instead have to focus on why they are being placed there in the first place. Then we have to equip people through training and education in raising children who come from hard places.

We must support family, not bigger orphanages with better equipment. This has ramped up our efforts to stop the flood of children into orphanages and support foster care and adoption in-country. This has increased our efforts to provide help and services to first family, so children are not placed in orphanages in the first place. Lastly, we are poised to help provide training and education to staff in orphanages, because the sad reality, is that there are children that will never leave the four walls of the institutions.

I leave for Bosnia in February to join other non-profits in a round table discussion about effective orphan care across the Balkans. We will also be providing a special dinner and starting a monthly support group for families who are raising children with special needs. Lastly, I will be meeting with area officials to hammer out final details for the Lost Sparrows conference in April.

I believe we can make a difference in the orphan crisis. I believe that we can bring Hope to so many who are broken. Please pray for Lost Sparrows, as we carry Hope to the most vulnerable.

“Hope is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops-“
By Emily Dickinson

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September 2019

Friends, family and people who stumbled upon this newsletter,

It has been a crazy year for Lost Sparrows. But what it boils down to for me and my family, has been a huge cross-country move (with 7 kids and a bearded dragon), and leaving my career. In a very scary leap, we have determined that Lost Sparrows needs to become more of a full-time ministry. It has grown so much in the last year, as we trained over 600 foster-adopt parents, caregivers, and staff across Russia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and the United States. As far as non-profits go, we have had an incredible reach since inception and I can only attribute this to God.

As we are looking to the future, I will be returning to Bosnia in January to meet with our crisis pregnancy contacts, and also be attending several meetings to prepare for our large conference in late Spring. We will be returning as a team to train on trauma-informed practices, and also continuing our work with crisis pregnancy. Our team is busy working on how best to support the existing infrastructure of foster care and the staff at orphanages.

One of the exciting projects we are about to roll out, is how you can support our “Baby Boxes” project. Pictured is a couple who received our very first “Baby Box”, so be on the lookout for how you can help.

We also will be returning to Bosnia, Bulgaria, and Russia to train on Trauma-Informed Parenting. I am often asked what does this training look like? The best way to describe it, is to say it is the same training that we provide in the United States for caregivers of children from hard places. Trauma-Informed Parenting, is understanding that early childhood neglect or abuse causes the brain to be altered. This can look like bad behavior and manipulation in a child. Our trainings help parents and caregivers to understand the science behind the changes in the brain. I have written about this for teachers here,  –

“Yesterday I was one thankful and inspired woman. I had the opportunity to be at a workshop that was organized by Lost Sparrows and Hope and Homes for foster families, adoptive families, and those who work directly with children without parental care. They spoke of kids who have survived trauma and how to help them in practical ways. I believe that this workshop would have been incredibly helpful for everyone. It was so encouraging to me! And they also left me 2 very useful books.” – From Dagana, waiting adoptive mom

Darren and I are so excited for Lost Sparrows 2020. Our goal is to reach over 1000 foster-adopt families, caregivers and staff. We would like to ask you to consider partnering with us as we take this very scary leap. lost Sparrows needs financial partners, as well as lots of prayer.

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