“This is also Millie’s family. She has a purpose and a passion in this life to advocate for mental illness,” says Marna Pacheco, a member of Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church in Winona Lake, Ind. (Bruce Barlow, lead pastor). Millie is a fourteen-year-old girl who was adopted from China by the Pacheco family when she was just two years old.
Millie was born with a cleft lip and palette and was neglected, abused, and traumatized at the orphanage where she lived in for the first two years of her life. Millie’s lip and palette have since been corrected but despite her physical triumphs, her mental health has never recovered.
Since adopting Millie, the Pacheco family has been learning how to navigate the trials they go through on a day-to-day basis as a result of having a child with special needs. Attending and participating in church is a puzzle both Marna and her husband, Dan, have had to decipher because Millie has to be with a caregiver every hour of the day. Two loving church members recognized this need and began the concept of Team Millie. Volunteers took turns week by week to care for Millie so the Pacheco’s could attend the service.
“They would watch Millie for 45 minutes so that Dan and I could actually sit in a service together,” says Marna.
At the same time, the Real People Adult Bible Fellowship within the church began praying for Millie and her family. The combination of prayers and the volunteers who cared for Millie during church reminded Marna of what she loved about the Charis Fellowship (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches).
“This is what made me fall in love with the Grace Brethren family all those years ago,” says Marna. “There are time where our family literally needs to be carried and I think of when Moses needed his arm to be held up.”
Recently, Millie was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment with a specialist far from home. The trip would not only require overnight travel but because the insurance did not cover the visit, it would be extremely expensive. The Real People class pooled together resources, including money for gas, lodging, and food. In addition, the Pacheco family ended up paying nothing for the doctor’s visit because the class was able to provide funds to cover the costs.
Though the local church has come alongside in every way they can, Marna says there is still work to do within the bigger church to raise awareness for families with members who have special needs.
“We don’t get a break and this (mental illness) doesn’t just go away,” stresses Marna. “We have a long way to go as a church and as a body of Christ.”
The Pacheco’s recently celebrated 12 years of being a family with Millie. Marna is picture above with both her daughters, Millie and Maddie.