Both born in Chattanooga, Chris and Ginger Fillers have devoted their hearts to the lives and well-being of children. Trying for years to conceive a child without any success allowed them time to contemplate about adoption and fostering, though they were later able to have their own.
Chris was the younger of his two brothers, Jeff and Scott. He jokes, “My brothers enjoyed torturing me.” Chris aided his magician brother, Scott (who had traveled with David Copperfield), with his magic tricks.
“That was a blast doing that. I was never shy. He had a trick called the dollhouse. A ghost would dance across the stage, it was a white handkerchief and it would go into the front door of the doll house. The next thing you know, a bigger ghost was coming out of the top of the house and I was actually the ghost,” Chris describes.
“My only ambition in life was to grow up and work with my dad and I did - up until he passed away recently. Dad had a coin shop. I had no interest in the coins. I just liked the people. I got interested in the baseball cards though,” Chris recalls.
“My brothers and I worked together in a collectibles business. But my heart is in the youth and children’s ministry,” Chris says.
In 1996, Chris was ordained as a deacon by South Seminole Baptist Church in East Ridge. He began working with children in the RA's ministry (Royal Ambassadors) and fell in love with children's ministry. Chris was asked to lead in the Awana ministry a few years later and eventually began to serve as the Awana commander. He now is the minister of youth and children.
Chris admits that anything he has ever done was always attributed to the support of his dedicated wife, Ginger.
“Ginger does more work as a homemaker than I do at my job. I am one of the few men who will admit that. I see what she does and I realize how hard of a job she has. It is a huge job and a sacrifice. You choose to do it - not everyone has the gift to do this,” Chris insists.
God used Ginger’s upbringing to mold her strong compassion for loving children who suffer tragic or difficult circumstances.
“I lost my mother at a young age. My dad remarried and, my step mom who I know as my mother had lost her previous husband and was still a part of her former in-laws' lives. We took vacations to Florida to see them. Oh the fun we had in the car playing the license plate game, singing, interstate bingo… I loved those long trips to Florida,” Ginger remembers.
“When Chris and I got married, I was going to school. My mom was a stay at home mom and, when I was in high school I resented that so much. I said that I would never be a stay at home mom,” Ginger contends.
“I wanted to go into the Air Force and pursue a career in law. I was never going stay home. I am eating my words to this day but I love it,” she maintains.
Chris and Ginger tried for five and a half years to conceive a child. “We went to see a fertility specialist and had several inseminations, with no success. We were sent to a place to get shots and help to get pregnant. I actually had an appointment set up to start the shots. The week before our appointment, I found out I was pregnant!” Ginger exclaims.
The couple had their first child, Carmen, with a normal delivery. But at two weeks old Carmen developed RSV and had stopped breathing. Her life was saved.
Ginger was still in school but didn’t want her fragile daughter out of her sight. “While she was at daycare she had an accident. She had fallen and had gotten a hematoma on the back of her head. You know how God says, ‘This is what I want you to do’ but we don’t listen? This is when I said, ‘That’s it – I am staying home, nobody is going to take care of her better than I can.’ It changed my outlook,” she proclaims.
Ginger did work from home for a while as a medical transcriptionist before their family expanded.
The active couple is very involved in the ministry at their church. “Ginger is always there for me,” Chris declares. “She helps me through everything I do. I get most of the credit but there is very little I do by myself. Sunday morning, we host children’s church and on Sunday evening we had been involved in the Awana program for years, but now we work with the youth in drama musicals, youth mission trips with youth choir,” Chris says.
“We were able to work with homeless people and a boy’s home and other churches. We saw 31 people make a profession of faith on that last trip. It was an awesome opportunity to do that. On Wednesday evenings we have a praise service and Bible study. I like when the youth will come up with really hard questions – especially questions that people like to avoid. I like to discuss the things that are being taught in schools in contradiction of what the Bible says and compare how it really stands up with God’s word,” Chris affirms.
After the couple had their second daughter Jordan, (who they insist tricked them into thinking she was a boy), Chris and Ginger decided to make the foster parenting program a part of their ministry.
“We had thought about adopting and we had even thought about fostering before we were blessed with Carmen. We didn’t begin fostering until Hurricane Katrina hit and we really wanted to help the children from that catastrophe,” Chris states.
“We had watched our friends the Gorsuchs for years,” (an elderly couple who fostered over 288 children up through their late years) Chris says. “Their legacy still goes to church.”
Ginger interjects, “They made such an impact on so many. I remember from my high school years - they had a little boy that was burned. I remember talking with Mrs. Gorsuch about how it was that she cared for him. The love and time it takes to care for a special needs child – it is a lot,” Ginger asserts.
Chris adds, “We had another couple who influenced us greatly too, they are like the Gorsuchs of this generation, Randy and Sonya Dean. They had approached us about it, but there wasn’t a lot of thought that had to go into it for us,” Chris says. “Even though we have our limitations because of our own children and considering their needs, Randy and Sonya is a couple that say, ‘We will take any body at any time’, they are a very dedicated couple,” Chris attests.
The Fillers began fostering children shortly after Katrina hit in 2005, though they did not receive children from the Louisiana area.
“Most of the kids that are in the system unfortunately have been through some very difficult times. We don’t slow down when we get a child. They become part of our lives and we don’t let it change how we live. We still do all of our church activities and just make them apart of it,” Chris vows.
“People are always very accepting of our fosters. We treat them as part of our family. Most of our life takes place at church. It’s the most important part of our life. Our relationship with God and our ministry - that is what we are called to. We want to influence the children we foster with a positive lifestyle. Most of them are very young. We had a set of brothers for a little over two years. It was hard to adjust when they left our home,” Chris states.
“They went with grandparents and have moved to Texas. We have only had contact with them three times since then. When we got them, one of the children was terrified of any male figure and one had severe shaken baby syndrome; we were told he would probably not make it or come home from the hospital. But a few weeks later we had him too. He had major brain damage, seizures and multiple surgeries. He was in a wheelchair, but we fell in love with him - he was a beautiful little baby,” Chris upholds.
With Chris and Ginger having their own children, they had to also consider how it affected them. “It was hard for our kids to see them go; they were their brothers for two years. We tried to prepare them for the day that they would no longer be with us but it is still hard when you separate. Foster parenting is such a need and people avoid it because of this reason,” Chris explains.
“If people have the opportunity to foster they should. If you can make a difference in a child’s life, there is not a better thing you can do. Showing them that just because they have grown up in a terrible situation doesn’t mean that every person is like what they witnessed and you can show them love and be an example,” he says.
Ginger adds, “Having them be a part of us for that long and then to have them leave was the hardest thing I had gone through. It took me a while to want to continue fostering because I had gotten so attached. We let ourselves get so emotionally involved because we knew they would not be going back to their parents and we had seriously contemplated adopting them,” Ginger evokes.
“They automatically will go to family so when the grandparents had shown up, they were able to take them. The next child we fostered was also a medically fragile child who had suffered shaken baby syndrome. We knew from the start, that he would be going back to his father (he was not the one who had shaken him) so we prepared ourselves for that from the start. I just said, ‘Look, this is the way we can help children’, this is the way our family can work together and show these children love and that they are safe,” Ginger declares.
Not all children who are in the foster care program come from neglectful parents but the reality is in many cases there is negligence or simply uninformed young adults with no parenting skills.
Fostering aids children in their safety until a positive home life can be established. It is temporary until that can be achieved but can lead in some cases to the need of adoption. Fostering children is much needed and makes an important impact on a child’s life.
“There are so many children that need to be loved, whether it is through temporarily fostering or through adoption. Being called to make a difference in a child’s life; I just don’t think there is any higher calling, to influence them and work with them with a Godly love,” Chris says.
Ginger emphasizes, “When you are foster parenting you can take a child in your home to foster – but you can also be ‘respite care’. Foster parents don’t have the grandparents or family members to give them a break, so people can take the fostered children for just a few days to give a fostering family a break. Just last week, we had a little boy while his foster mom recuperated from a broken foot. Even in that short period that we had him, I loved him with all my heart and took care of him like I would take care of my own children.”
Watching their parents care for the special needs of children, made an impact on Chris and Ginger's own children. Now a sophomore in high school, Carmen wants to pursue a career in physical therapy. She told her parents, “I want to be able to help kids like that.”
The couple gave birth to their surprise son, John, a few years ago, but it has not hindered them from keeping their hearts open to love more children when the opportunity arises.
“Just to love these kids makes a difference,” Ginger insists. “Especially the special needs children. You watch them grow in spirit and you see the difference that a little bit of love and care makes in their lives. You see their achievements as they struggle to have a normal life. Christ said, ‘Whatever you did for the least of these… you did for me’,” Ginger says. “For me, that is what it is about.”