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Replanted: Offering Support for Adoptive and Foster Care Families.

Orphan care is an important value to God and Christian spirituality (Davis, 2008; Moore, 2009). In today's society, care for orphans (i.e., children whose parents have died or are otherwise unable to care for them as primary custodians) is most often operationalized through foster care and adoption (Nickman et al., 2005). Although adoptive and foster care families often have positive outcomes, this process is not without its challenges (McKay, Ross, & Goldberg, 2010). One of the most important needs for adoptive and foster care families is support (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007); however, there are relatively few opportunities for families to experience faith-based support.

Because of the close connection between Christian spirituality and orphan care, one might expect a plethora of faith-based psychological research and resources on this topic. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In our review of journal articles appearing in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, the Journal of Psychology and Theology, and Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, only three articles focused on issues related to orphan care (Passmore, 2004; Salifu Yendork & Somhlaba, in press; Stiffler, 1991), and no articles focused specifically on support for adoptive and foster care families. Christian psychologists, professional counselors, religious leaders, and lay helpers need more resources to help adoptive and foster care families cope with their unique struggles and access the support they need.

Thus, in this paper, we describe Replanted (, a faith-based nonprofit ministry for adoptive and foster care families. We first present a scriptural basis for the importance of orphan care. Then, we briefly review the literature on support for adoptive and foster care families. Finally, we describe the Replanted ministry, including (a) history and values, (b) primary services, (c) pilot data, and (d) a case study. We conclude by discussing areas for future research and applications for counseling and church support.

Scriptural Support for Orphan Care

"Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans ..." James 1:27

Orphan care is emphasized throughout the Bible. For example, in the Psalms, the author declares that "the Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless" (Psalm 146:9). In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to care for orphans: "You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry" (Exodus 22:22-23). Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were called to defend the cause of the orphan, and encouraged to prioritize justice for the needy and oppressed:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

Jesus placed a similar priority on caring for orphans and those in need. In what could be considered his mission statement, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:18-21).

Jesus fulfilled this mission statement through his teaching and actions. In his teaching, Jesus stressed the importance of loving service, equating these actions with loving God:

Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:34-40).

Similarly, in his actions, Jesus modeled loving service for the least of these. For example, Jesus fed the hungry (John 6), healed the sick (Matthew 8), opposed the unfair religious power structures of the day (Matthew 23), uprooted unjust financial structures (Matthew 21), protected the safety and rights of women (John 8), and, importantly to the present discussion on orphan care, Jesus was a safe place for children:

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there (Matthew 19:13-15).

In the New Testament, as the early Christians were working out what it meant to be followers of Jesus in community with one another, orphan care was viewed as one of the highest practical expressions of faith in Jesus: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27). Similarly, the writer of 1 John notes, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18). It is clear that caring for and meeting the needs of orphans is a consistent theme throughout the Christian scriptures. Similarly, caring for the orphan is modeled in the daily life of the nation of Israel, the life of Jesus, and the practices of the early church.

Finally, adoption is at the heart of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:15). The Spirit that allows us to step into the reality and freedom of the gospel is described as releasing us from the slavery of sin--stuck in habits of heart and mind that lead to decay--and welcoming us into a family. The Spirit literally teaches our hearts that we are in a family. All Christians are adopted.

Support for Adoptive and Foster Care Families

In today's society, caring for orphans is most often operationalized through foster care and adoption (Nickman et al., 2005). Foster care involves temporarily bringing a child in need into one's family, with the ultimate goal of reunification with the child's birth family if and when it is safe to do so. Adoption involves permanently bringing a child into one's family, with the goal of raising the child as one's own (Nickman et al., 2005). Both foster care and adoption can be beautiful expressions of Christian love and service toward orphans.

Although many families who participate in foster care and adoption have positive experiences, these journeys can be challenging. According to a recent review of the literature on adapting to parenthood during the post-adoption period (McKay et al., 2010), the adjustment to parenting involves an interactional process in which parents attempt to balance the new demands they face (e.g., stressors) with their existing resources (e.g., physical, emotional, social, spiritual). When demands and resources are balanced, the transition to parenthood is likely to be manageable; however, when the demands are greater than the available resources, adjustment may be more difficult (McKay et al., 2010).

Adoptive and foster care families must cope with the normal challenges that accompany transitioning to parenthood (e.g., changes in mental health, physical health, and relationship functioning; McKay et al., 2010), as well as unique challenges often associated with foster care and adoption (e.g., experiences with infertility, parenting a child from a different racial/ethnic background, and parenting a child with emotional or behavioral problems; McKay & Ross, 2010). Trauma experiences (e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug exposure in utero, and neglect) are common reasons why children enter foster care. With these trauma experiences, children often experience significant behavioral and emotional difficulties (e.g., nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, aggressive behaviors, inability to regulate their emotions, etc.). Examples of difficulties found in some adoptive children include developmental delays, attachment disturbances, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Nickman et al., 2005). For example, approximately 80% of adoptive or foster children have a disorganized attachement style and sensory processing difficulties (Purvis & Cross, 2007). Additionally, adoptive and foster parents must be willing to adapt their parenting strategies when responding to a child with a trauma history, as standard parenting practices are most often ineffective (e.g., timeouts, consequences, and removal of privileges; Purvis & Cross, 2007).

The extent to which adoptive and foster families receive support is a key factor in facilitating adjustment and decreasing the likelihood of disrupted placements (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007; Groze, 1996; Kramer & Houston, 1998; Reilly & Platz, 2004). Support for adoptive and foster care families can be divided into three main areas (Groze, 1996). First, emotional support involves interpersonal and social connections that help families feel cared for, validated, and not alone. Second, informational support involves knowledge about the specific child and the kinds of problems they may encounter because of the child's background, as well as information about available resources. Finally, concrete aid refers to tangible help, such as therapy, medical care, child care, or financial support.

Although support is often cited as the most important need for adoptive and foster care families (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007), families do not always have access to such support. For example, in a three-year longitudinal study of 34 families who adopted children out of foster care, families reported significant declines in contact and satisfaction with both formal and informal helping resources over time (Houston & Kramer, 2008). Further, in a study of 249 families who had adopted children with special needs, support was ranked as one of the highest unmet needs. Receiving support was associated with higher parenting satisfaction and experiencing the adoption as having a positive impact on their marriage and family (Reilly & Platz, 2004). Clearly, adoptive and foster care parents need support, and support is associated with positive relational and familial outcomes. However, adoptive and foster care parents struggle to get the support they need.

Faith-based support may be an important way to help meet the unmet needs of adoptive and foster care families. First, perhaps because of the strong religious emphasis on orphan care, religious individuals may be more likely to adopt and foster. A recent survey found that 5% of practicing Christians have adopted, compared to 2% of all Americans (Barna Group, 2013). 38% of practicing Christians have seriously considered adoption, compared to 26% of all adults. Similarly, 3% of practicing Christians have fostered a child, compared to 2% of all Americans (Barna Group, 2013). 31% of practicing Christians have seriously considered fostering a child, compared to 11% of all adults.

Also, there is some research that has found that religious faith is linked with positive adoptive and foster care family outcomes. For example, in a study of 113 adoptive families, religiosity and church attendance were associated with more positive parenting outcomes, and faith was found to be an important consideration in the parents' decision to adopt (Belanger, Copeland, & Cheung, 2008). Importantly, religious and spiritual coping has been linked to positive mental health outcomes and better adaptation to stress (Pargament, 1997). Faith-based support may be one important avenue to help families cope with the stress associated with adoption and foster care.

Case Example: Replanted Ministry

To begin to address this need, we focus on an example of a faith-based ministry that is attempting to draw on literature within the integration of psychology and theology in order to inform its strategy for intervention and evaluation of services. Accordingly, we describe Replanted (, a Christian faith-based ministry designed to support adoptive and foster care families wherever they are at in their journey. First, we describe a brief history of Replanted and its core values. Second, we explain the primary services that Replanted provides for adoptive and foster care families. Third, we present some initial pilot data from families involved in Replanted. Fourth, we describe a case study of a family who has been involved in Replanted over the course of two years. Finally, we offer some areas for future research and practical recommendations for Christians interested in supporting adoptive and foster care families.

History and Core Values

Replanted was started by Jennifer (Jenn) Hook through Church of the Resurrection, an Anglican congregation in Wheaton, IL. Jenn received her Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College and worked as a therapist for children in the foster care system for four years. In this role, she became increasingly aware that adoptive and foster care families needed additional support. She started Replanted to help address this need. Replanted started with one small group in May 2012 and has now partnered with the Refresh conference and the Chosen and Dearly Loved foundation to offer Replanted groups throughout the country.

Replanted has several core values, which provide the foundation for services provided. As a ministry, Replanted:

* Wants every child to experience the safety and love of a family.

* Supports the primary goal of foster care, which is reunification, when it is safe to do so. Replanted believes in giving birth parents every chance to restore their family. Replanted values the birth parents' healing process, whatever the outcome.

* Encourages families who are considering adoption to work with reputable agencies.

* Supports organizations' efforts to build local foster care and adoption programs in their countries of origin.

* Shows appreciation for the role of everyone involved in the adoption and foster care journey, including birth parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, siblings, caseworkers, judges, guardian at lideums (GALs), therapists, and court appointed social advocates (CASA workers), among others.

* Acknowledges that the work of parenting is complex, while also appreciating the common experience and need for God's grace, and that this grace from God is sufficient for us all.

* Believes that everyone has a significant role to play in supporting adoptive and foster care families. The call to care for the orphan is deeply biblical and something that can unite the Church. The ministry of Replanted is not about any one church, it is about THE church. Replanted values partnerships with churches across denominational differences.

Primary Services

Replanted offers a variety of services to adoptive and foster care families. These services aim to provide adoptive and foster care families with each of the three categories of support recommended by Groze (1996): emotional support, informational support, and concrete aid.

Emotional support

* Replanted "Me Too" Groups: Adoptive and foster care families often feel as if they are alone and that no one understands what they are going through. Replanted groups involve monthly meetings at the home of a host family with 8-10 adoptive and foster care families that live in a similar geographical location. Replanted groups are open to families currently involved in adoption and foster care, as well as families who are considering adoption and foster care. Group meetings involve a combination of sharing, support, and discipleship. Parents also share a meal. Childcare is provided by trained childcare workers who organize activities for the children in a separate area of the home.

* Parents' Night Out: Adoptive and foster care families sometimes struggle to find childcare and babysitters willing to watch their children because of the high level of need of many adoptive and foster care children. Parents' Night Out is a service housed at the church in which parents can drop off their children during the evening to be watched by trained childcare providers. Parents can go on a date, catch up on errands, take a nap, or do whatever they feel would be most restorative at that time.

* Family Fun Days: Family Fun Days are events that Replanted organizes to bring adoptive and foster care families together to have fun and increase a sense of community. Examples of past events have included an outdoor movie night (i.e., Cinema Under the Stars) and a themed breakfast event (i.e., Pajama Pancake Breakfast).

Informational support

* Parent Trainings: Replanted provides regular trainings for adoptive and foster care families, professionals, and kinship providers on topics such as parenting children with a trauma background, sensory processing difficulties, transracial families, openness and adoption, and infertility, among others.

* Adoption/Foster Care 101 Nights: Replanted hosts information nights for families who want to learn more about domestic adoption, international adoption, and foster care. This is a good first step for families trying to discern their next steps in this area.

Concrete aid

* Resource Closet: The Resource Closet exists to help adoptive and foster care families with material supplies they need to care for their children. Often, foster and adoptive families receive placement of a child without warning. The Resource Closet aims to meet the immediate needs of the families. Other families can donate gently used and new items to meet the ever-changing needs of babies, toddlers, and children who are involved in the Replanted ministry.

* Meals Ministry: Replanted provides meals to new adoptive and foster care families as they adjust to life with a new child in their home.

* Adopt-a-Family Ministry: Replanted matches adoptive and foster care families with another family in the church or area who is interested in helping with tangible support. Examples of help include childcare, making a meal, prayer, or helping around the house.

* Adoption Fund: Adopting a child is expensive. Replanted provides an adoption fund to support families with their adoption costs.

Pilot Data

Although in-depth research on families' experiences in the Replanted ministry has not yet been conducted, initial pilot data suggests that families involved in Replanted find it valuable. We conducted a pilot survey with twenty-six participants who were involved in Replanted "Me Too" groups. We asked two questions. First, we asked how valuable the support groups were in meeting their needs (1 = not valuable, 5 = very valuable). Second, we asked how valuable the support groups were in meeting the needs of their children (1 = not valuable, 5 = very valuable).

Participants reported that the Replanted "Me Too" groups were highly valuable in meeting both their needs (M = 4.73, SD = .53) and the needs of their children (M = 4.45, SD = .69). We conducted a one-sample t-test to explore whether participants' ratings on the value of the groups were significantly different from neutral (i.e., 3). Participants' ratings of the Replanted "Me Too" groups were significantly more valuable than neutral for meeting both their own needs, t(25) = 16.54, p < .001, as well as the needs of their children, t(19) = 9.45, p < .001.

Case Study

The following case study describes a foster care family (details changed to protect confidentiality) who was involved with the Replanted ministry. Ben and Ashley first joined a Replanted "Me Too" group as a way to discern whether they wanted to pursue adoption or foster care. This was a valuable experience because it allowed them to hear the experiences of several adoptive and foster care parents and helped them to discern which option was the best fit for their family. Group participation also surrounded Ben and Ashley with a support network of fellow adoptive and foster families at the start of their journey. Further, participation in the group allowed Ben and Ashley to step into an adoption or foster care process with a good foundation of knowledge and understanding about some of the key challenges that might accompany each journey.

After about ten months of group participation, Ben and Ashley decided to pursue their foster care license and begin the process of becoming a foster family. They received a placement of two brothers, Gary (age five) and Edward (age seven). There were some significant challenges with incorporating these children into their family. Both Gary and Edward had experienced trauma in their past and longed to be reunited with their birth parents. Additionally, they had been separated from their other siblings. Because of their trauma background, each child exhibited significant emotional and behavioral difficulties, such as physically aggressive behavior and running away. Prior to coming to live with Ben and Ashley, Gary and Edward had three prior failed placements in the foster care system. Gary had also been psychiatrically hospitalized prior to placement with Ben and Ashley.

Continued participation in Replanted was essential for Ben and Ashley as they entered this new stage of their journey. During the transition, Ben and Ashley received concrete aid through meals from the Meals Ministry and tangible support from the Resource Closet. Also, Ben and Ashley received informational support through psychoeducation and training about how to parent a child who had a significant trauma history. Because of this, Ben and Ashley were able to adapt their parenting skills to parent children with trauma backgrounds. Finally, Ben and Ashley continued to receive emotional support through their regular participation in their Replanted "Me Too" group and also received some much-needed rest and connection time during the Parents' Night Out.

Regular participation in the Replanted "Me Too" group was especially helpful for Ben and Ashley as they navigated the ups and downs of foster care and parenting children with trauma experiences. Ben and Ashley were able to bring their struggles and fears of parenting a highly combative child who had been psychiatrically hospitalized and share them with their group. The other group members were able to give Ben and Ashley grace, encouragement, and support in their time of need. One couple in the group had experienced a similar situation with their adopted daughter and were able to uniquely empathize with and support Ben and Ashley in their journey. In the midst of their transition into foster care, Ben and Ashley were surrounded by a community of parents who understood their challenges and experiences and were able to help guide them through the rough times.

Through a combination of counseling and support services, Gary showed consistent improvement over time, and after about eight months, his emotionally and physically challenging behaviors had decreased. Unfortunately, reunification with the boys' biological parents was not possible in this case, so Ben and Ashley began to think about whether they wanted to adopt Gary and Edward. Again, participation in their Replanted "Me Too" group was valuable as they worked to discern what route would be best for their family. In the end, Ben and Ashley did adopt Gary and Edward, and these boys now have a permanent home. This family is still involved in Replanted and continues to attend their group on a regular basis. They also have a support network at their disposal as they navigate future issues that came up, such as sibling visitation. Additionally, the group has provided Gary and Edward with a community of fellow foster and adoptive children that they could connect with and receive support from.

Moving Forward: Research and Application

We conclude by discussing several exciting areas for research and application on Replanted specifically, as well as faith-based support for adoptive and foster care families more generally. In-depth empirical research focused on families' experiences in the Replanted ministry would be a helpful addition to our knowledge base about faith-based support in the area of adoption and foster care. It would be helpful to ascertain the extent to which engagement in faith-based support activities is related to outcomes in a variety of areas, such as overall family cohesion and conflict, marital satisfaction and communication, and child emotional and behavioral problems. Comparing the efficacy and effectiveness of this program against other support programs would be valuable, as would evidence-tracking the longitudinal changes of individuals and families in this program.

In addition to exploring the overall link between engagement in support and outcomes, future research could evaluate which types of support are more or less helpful for families. For example, research could explore the relative contributions of emotional support (e.g., Replanted "Me Too" Groups, Parents' Night Out, Family Fun Days), informational support (e.g., Parent Trainings, Adoption/Foster Care 101 Nights), and concrete aid (e.g., Resource Closet, Meals Ministry).

It would also appear that the adoption and foster care context represents a unique and understudied context for better understanding character strengths and virtues. Studying the adversity faced by adoptive and foster care families has the potential to yield new insights into how character strengths and virtues are developed over time. Studies could also be conducted to explore how character strengths and virtues might help adoptive and foster care families better cope with adversity as well. The study of character strengths and virtues could also give deeper insight into how positive social support or attachment might be enhanced. For example, the social oil theory of humility (Davis & Hook, 2013) could be tested to see if humility helps reduce social friction within and outside of the family unit. Because adversity faced by adoptive and foster care families tends to be more chronic in nature, these families may also have a lot to teach the field about how specific virtues related to adversity can be developed (e.g., spiritual fortitude).

Finally, the faith component of Replanted could be examined in more detail. For example, it would be interesting to explore whether there are specific religious components that contribute to family outcomes, as well as the extent to which faith-based support is more or less helpful than secular support (Worthington, Hook, Davis, & McDaniel, 2011). Also, it may be that it is helpful to match the faith component of support with the faith background of the adoptive and foster care families. For example, faith-based support might be especially helpful for adoptive and foster care families who are more religiously committed.

There are several exciting avenues of application for counselors and religious leaders interested in orphan care and helping adoptive and foster care families. Christian psychologists and counselors may find themselves providing therapy to adoptive and foster care parents and children. Since support is cited as one of the most important needs for adoptive and foster care families (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007), faith-based support ministries such as Replanted could be utilized as an important adjunct for therapy. Also, when the work in therapy has concluded, faith-based support ministries could be used in order to help maintain the gains made during the course of therapy. Not all families can afford therapy, so faith-based support ministries such as Replanted could be utilized in order to provide emotional and psychological support to a wider group of families than those who are able to utilize professional counseling. Finally, adoptive and foster care ministries may represent an opportunity for integrating psychological science into ministry.

Many religious leaders and churches have congregants who are struggling with adoptive and foster care children, but do not have the support ministries in place to meet the needs of these families. These churches could partner with Replanted to offer groups and other services to families in need. Also, many churches purport to place orphan care as an important value, but do not have avenues in place to direct congregants to practically work toward this goal. Replanted offers a variety of ways to get involved, both for adoptive and foster care families, as well as those who want to support adoptive and foster care families through volunteer opportunities, such as providing childcare, adopting a family, providing meals, and donating items to the resource closet. In this way, churches and religious leaders can encourage all congregants to get involved and do their part to support orphan care in their local communities.


Orphan care is close to the heart of God and Christian spirituality, but there has been relatively little psychological research and writing focused on how Christians can support adoptive and foster care families within their communities. Replanted is an example of a faith-based ministry informed by research that supports a variety of adoptive and foster care families' needs and also provides an avenue for churches and individuals to get involved in orphan care within their own communities.


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Jennifer M. Hook (M.A. in Clinical Psychology, Wheaton College) is the Founder and Director of The Replanted Ministry which offers faith-based support for adoptive and foster families. She is also a Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) educator, and is passionate about helping adoptive and foster families live full, healthy lives.

Joshua N. Hook (Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University) is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of North Texas. His research interests include humility, religion/spirituality, and multicultural counseling. He blogs regularly at

Laura E. Captari (M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Liberty University) is a doctoral student at the University of North Texas, and works with A Home Within, a national non-profit that provides pro-bono psychotherapy to foster youth. Laura's research and clinical interests include attachment, developmental trauma, grief and loss, religion/spirituality, and posttraumatic growth.

Jamie D. Aten (Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, Indiana State University) is Founder and Executive Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Rech Endowed Chair of Psychology at Wheaton College. Dr. Aten's interests include the psychology of religion/spirituality and disasters, spiritually oriented disasterpsychology, and psychology in disaster ministry.

Don E. Davis (Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University) is an Associate Professor at Georgia State University in both the Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education doctoral programs. His research and clinical interests include positive psychology, particularly humility and related virtues, as well as spirituality and its intersection with other aspects of diversity.

Daryl R. Van Tongeren (Ph.D. in Social Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University) is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hope College. Dr. Van Tongeren's research interests include meaning in life, the psychology of religion/spirituality, and the scientific study of human virtues.

Jennifer M. Hook

Wheaton College

Joshua N. Hook

Laura E. Captari

University of North Texas

Jamie D. Aten

Wheaton College

Don E. Davis

Georgia State University

Daryl R. Van Tongeren

Hope College

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Jennifer M. Hook at
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Author:Hook, Jennifer M.; Hook, Joshua N.; Captari, Laura E.; Aten, Jamie D.; Davis, Don E.; Van Tongeren,
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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