Her journey initially took her to Vietnam. She and Randy had decided to give a portion of Jantsen’s memorial fund to some family friends involved in adoption and missions work.
While in Vietnam, they became enamored with a baby abandoned by his mother and living in an orphanage. Their own 11-year-old adopted daughter, Crista, begged them to adopt him. They finally relented, and Van Cope became part of their family in August 2000.
Shortly after that trip, Cope and her husband decided to donate the remainder of Jantsen’s memorial fund to a woman named Mai Lang, whose focus was getting children off the streets in Vietnam and providing them with an education and a safe place to live.
Cope’s big turning point occurred in late 2000. She had been trying to raise more funds to benefit Lang’s efforts in Vietnam (without much success) and came to grips with the fact that she had personally not made any huge financial sacrifice. She felt it was time to give up something she valued: her diamond solitaire wedding ring.
“My decision to give up that ring was the moment that things really started to happen,” Cope says. “At that point, I began to take my work—and myself—seriously.”
In 2001 Cope learned about a 2-year-old girl in Vietnam who lived in the same orphanage Van had come from. The child had developed mild cerebral palsy as a result of physical abuse the mother experienced while pregnant. After seeing pictures of the little girl, Cope couldn’t stop thinking about her. In October she and Randy adopted her and named her Tatum.
Since the inception of Touch a Life in 2000, Cope has gone the extra mile to alleviate suffering, one child at a time. Early on, she established what she calls “The Fixer Fund” to help meet the serious medical needs of children who might otherwise die or spend their lives crippled. For example, she lined up a sponsoring physician in the United States and obtained a medical visa for a Vietnamese girl named Phoo Twee Do, whose legs had been blown off by a homemade bomb and who was battling a serious infection.
Phoo received prosthetic legs—and was adopted by a loving couple from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Without Cope’s intervention, Phoo might have become another sad statistic.
An Expanded Worldview
Cope didn’t grow up in a churchgoing family. Her faith journey stems from a prediction in 1980 that the world was coming to an end. At that time, Cope was a senior in high school. She remembers going to a revival every night with her friends—hungry and searching for answers.
“I can remember one night when the pastor asked who wanted to become a Christian, and I felt this magnetic pull. I went forward and said, ‘I’m ready to do this.’ ” Unfortunately, Cope did not have an intimate relationship with Jesus, and for years she struggled with her faith.
“Up until the point of losing Jantsen,” she says, “there was this constant struggle of wavering back and forth between not being worthy, not being knowledgeable enough of the Word, and really trying to get my arms around forgiveness. I wasn’t sure that forgiveness was something that was truly for me.
“When Jantsen died, I was forced to reflect on everything I had read in the Bible and my relationship with God up to that point. I was desperate for an authentic relationship.”
Cope says after Jantsen’s death, she would beg God to fill her with His presence. “I would feel His peace wash over me and know it was His presence,” she says. “Even though it was such a painful time of grief, it was so powerful with God.”
Cope admits she was a performance-oriented perfectionist before Jantsen died. “Everything was focused on my immediate family, my needs. My world was pretty small,” she says, noting that Jantsen and Crista had most things money can buy.
Since then, traveling to Third World countries has opened Cope’s eyes. It is hard to justify spending $150 on something as frivolous as matching pajamas and slippers after seeing three generations of the same family living in a one-room apartment in Vietnam, she says.
In recent years, the Copes have made some significant financial adjustments to help support more children in need. For example, they got rid of their credit cards and committed to an all-cash budget. They also downsized by moving into a smaller house.
Cope sometimes struggles to find a balance between work and family life. But she hopes her children will learn through her example that we have a responsibility to take care of people in need.
Being Jesus’ hands and feet starts with a simple prayer, says Cope: “Jesus, break my heart for what breaks Yours.”
A few weeks after Jantsen died, Cope says her brother-in-law told her, “Your life will definitely be sad, but it’s also possible that it will be richer and fuller than ever before.” Neither of them had any idea how prophetic his words would turn out to be.
Cope, whose family now lives in a Dallas suburb, never dreamed she would be involved in global outreach. Last year in Ghana, some 7,000 miles away from home, she felt God’s presence in a special way, she says. Standing under a tree on a 110-degree day eating banana Laffy Taffy, she knew she was right where she needed to be, doing what God called her to do—rescuing children who otherwise had no hope of a normal life.
Carol Chapman Stertzer is a journalist living in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
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