Together by AGCI is a brand new podcast from the creative team at All God’s Children International.


Subscribe on your favorite platform!

Episode 36

Introducing Our New Host

Marisa Butterworth, Adoptive Mom

You’re listening to together by AGCI. I’m Melissa Rush.

You guys, this is a big deal. We have a new co-host and I love her. Marisa Butterworth is AGCI’s west coast advancement officer and the mom of three kids, including an incredible little girl, Harper, who was adopted through AGCI’s Ethiopia program. Funny, genuine, and incredibly down to earth, Marisa also happens to be one of my favorite people. You might remember her voice from a podcast episode we put out last winter that touched on Marisa’s adoption story. I can’t wait for you guys to get to know Marisa. She one of those rare people who instantly makes you feel at home. Let’s get into our conversation.

So, you know, you’ve obviously been part of, I mean, really been part of the AGCI family for a long time. Like, can you just kind of start by telling me like how your journey with AGCI began, you know, with Harper’s adoption and kind of what pulled your family in that direction?

Totally. I mean, our, our AGCI story really began, um, when I had just returned home from a mission trip to Thailand and I had this feeling inside when I was there of like, I have a child somewhere out there and my husband and I always knew we were going to adopt.

It was all, we didn’t know when or what it would look like, but I came home from that and I announced to my husband, Jesse, that, um, it was time. And he was like, oh really? Okay. Um, and I actually went online and did some research and I like sent away for like more information from a bunch of different organizations. But I had heard of All God’s Children from a friend of mine who had just adopted from there. So I, I went on there intentionally and after doing all of that, like I wait a week or two. And the only information that I got from anyone was from All God’s Children. Wow. So I got like a kit. I ha I got Jan’s book. Oh, strength of mercy. Yup. Yes. So I read that and I made Jesse read the book and I gave him a month and was like, you decide you here’s the month if you’re ready, but I’m ready. And I think this is going to happen. And so once he decided we, we, I felt really good about AGCI based on, you know, references and, um, and really just felt like they had everything together. Like, wow, they have stuff together to send me no one else did that says something. Um, and so we did the application, we found out, um, we were approved through Ethiopia, um, and that program and my godmother is Ethiopian.

And so it felt like a really good fit in my soul. Like, I don’t know why I, we both just had that like yep. That’s where she is. And we were hoping that it was a girl because we had two boys biologically at that point. Yeah. Um, so we, I really wanted a girl. I would have been happy with the boy, but I really wanted a girl. Um, and so, um, we launched into, um, what, I didn’t know, it would be a long standing relationship with GCI. At that point, we had an amazing, um, caseworker and a lot of things happened that were really, really hard, but we always felt like we were communicated with, um, and we had a great experience, um, with our adoption. And honestly, like after we brought our daughter home, we didn’t know what this would look like. We did, we had no idea, but we had gone to, uh, a government run orphanage in Ethiopia when we were there on our, I can’t remember our first or second trip and it completely wrecked us. Like we were disasters because we had seen the care that our daughter was receiving at Hannah’s hope, which was the home, um, that they had at that time for the kids kind of a transitional home. And she had amazing care. One-on-one, I mean, like multiple people, she was so loved while she was there.

And when we went to, um, the government orphanage, there were, um, multiple kids in a crib, their diapers hadn’t been changed. It smelled like deaths. It, it, there, they weren’t being fed. There was like one person in the room and we weren’t allowed to pick them up or touch them, which I understand. And also it was the most devastating thing. And we left that place and we were both like, w what do we do? Like, we’re reeling, what do we do? We have to figure out some way to help. But we also, we’re just entering into a season with our daughter that we didn’t know, um, would mean we didn’t sleep for the next for years. Everybody has, you know, they, where you, for all the different scenarios, I was like prepared for everything else, but not sleeping for that long. Um, and not really leaving her, um, in that amount of time, but she had some trauma around that. And so we, um, well, I don’t, I can’t remember. I think it was like six, eight months after we brought her home that we kind of like came up for air. Okay. Like, don’t forget, we want to do, do something. Like, what is it? So we kind of talked about it and we had just started a church, um, at that point a couple years ahead of that.

And, um, so we decided we wanted to share with our congregation, like what we had seen and, um, give everyone an opportunity to help. And so, um, it was called rainmakers at the end, it was an end of the year giving campaign. And so it was our first one, it felt very scary. We had a goal and we were able to give that money to AGCI at the end, specifically to Ethiopia and the work that they were doing there. And, um, it just, uh, kind of spiraled from there. We, we kind of, the AGCI started letting us know when there were needs. And we were able to take that to everyone and say like, Hey, here’s the need somebody needs surgery, someone needs. And people jumped in and helped people started sponsoring people start. We ended up taking people on trips to see the work that we were all supporting. And it spiraled from there to the point where I was the missions pastor at church, at our church. And, um, at some point, um, Hollen, the president of AGCI called my husband to like, share some news of how things were going and said, Hey, do you know of anyone that, um, would like be interested that would be good at it of like coming on our team and helping us share our stories and helping us, you know, with partnerships. And he said, me, well, he said me. He said, my wife that’s me.

Um, and so he called me and he was like, Hey, I just did something signed you up for. And I was like, yes. I was like, what? And, and so, you know, now I work for AGCI who knew that was happening, but it just kind of all, I, I don’t know. I just see God’s hand through all of it. And, um, people always ask, you know, that question of like, what do you see yourself doing in five years? Or, and I have learned through my life that I might, I have no idea. And I don’t really think it’s up to me. I’m like, I’m just gonna I’m along for the ride and we’ll see where it leads. But, um, yeah, it’s, we’ve kind of, there’ve been other details I probably missed in between, but that’s kind of how I ended up here. Well, it’s so cool. Cause I feel like you have such a unique perspective in your role now, just having gone through the adoption process and that, and then also, I mean, going to Ethiopia and seeing like that intense, like gut wrenching need and feeling like it was like that seed was planted almost. I mean, before you even brought Harper home that like, okay, this is what our family is doing right now, but it extends so much further beyond that. Yeah.

Um, what was, you know, you, you said that you had, you guys had just started a church a few years ago, and then you kind of started that rainmakers campaign with like sharing this need. Like, what was that experience like, like coming to people who didn’t, you know, I think, unless you’re plugged into this, I think people don’t know, you know, what’s going on? Like, what was your experience like sharing that with other folks and, and kind of their response. I mean, we had no idea what we were doing. We just shared what we saw and, um, we couldn’t take pictures. So we, you know, Jesse had to use his words and his heart. Um, and I think it came through to people of like, there is this need, and of course there are needs all over the place, but we saw this specifically, our daughter who is now home could have been there, could have had that happening. And how do we make an impact? Well, a lot of times it comes down to the financial piece, you know, it’s not just like going on a mission trip or, um, sometimes that does more damage. So it really is like being willing to step up. And, um, we just asked people to step up in whatever way they could. And also through prayer, obviously, because I think that’s the number one way that you intervene for people.

But, um, secondly, like supporting an organization like AGCI, we knew and trusted them as an organization. We knew the work that they were doing and had seen it firsthand. And I think sometimes, um, people just need to hear like that you have that you’ve seen it, that, you know, what the work is that you have experienced it. Um, and you’ve seen these, these kids. Yeah. And you know, what they need. And then somehow, I mean, I think it was just God it’s that it translated to people’s hearts and, um, they became involved in that way and it became theirs. That’s the coolest thing that I don’t think we anticipated that now there are people, you know, fast forwarding years later that they give independently, um, they’ve become partners with us and, um, it’s become, they’ve had their own experience and it’s just been so incredible to watch. Um, you know, we didn’t have any expectations at all. And we were, especially that first year we were like, oh gosh, I can’t even remember what it was like maybe $13,000. We’re like, can we make it to third? We’re tiny little church. Like, can it get there? And, um, it really set us up as a church, um, too for being generous.

And I think it, it really, um, as individuals too, uh, our whole church, like ended up being a very generous place and saw a need and figured out how they could individually meet that. Well, it’s so cool. And I think like, people, I think, want to help, but sometimes you can feel paralyzing when you have this like massive need and you’re like, whoa, I don’t know. How could I really make a difference? Like how, like, but collectively, I think that’s such a good example of when we come together and, you know, you share you and Jesse like shared your heart and what you had experienced. And people are like, okay, this is something concrete I can do. I can be a part of, I can, I can help make a difference in people’s lives. And it’s kind of like magical when that happens. Yes. It felt like that. And just even how it grew, how, um, even going on trips, people coming back with their own stories. Um, and we were able to do a few vision trips before, uh, COVID hit all that kind of thing. So I kept people coming home and having that experience for themselves. It looked different than my experience. You know, we, we brought Harper home, he had that heart piece and I love the country of Ethiopia. I’ve also been to Colombia and I love the country of Colombia.

I really, um, like, I don’t know, my heart has just expanded. Um, so it’s just interesting to see when other people come home, their own stories and what their, why is of why they are passionate about it, but that’s what happened. Okay. That’s so cool. So how does your, like, how does your adoption experience kind of inf informed the way that you do your job now? Like, I, I feel like regardless of what you end up in, that would be a profoundly transformative experience. How, how, yeah. How does that translate? Oh gosh, that’s a really good question. I mean, it informs everything that I do. Yeah. I mean, um, I think any adopted parent, well, I hope they would say that they’re always learning. Um, I have so much to learn. Um, I think it keeps me curious. Um, I think that my daughter constantly challenges me with questions. I mean, when we brought her home, she was non-verbal, she was five months old, so it looked a lot different now. She’s, she’s got thoughts, she’s got questions. Um, it, I would say the biggest thing. Um, I mean, this is a long story that I I’ll try to make short, but, um, on my first trip to Ethiopia, I was able to meet, um, with the ministry of women’s affairs.

So somebody higher up in that organization and that is basically, they don’t have a child welfare system in Ethiopia, but it’s, um, the closest thing that they have that they kind of were running the adoption process back in the day, before the country close to adoption. And, um, I somehow got in front of her on a trip and, um, she was incredible, um, and was sharing with us and I was able to share with her. And I said, um, my, my daughter was the best gift we could have ever received in our life. Like she has, she is my daughter a hundred percent. God knew to bring her to us. Um, I like, my life would be devastated without her. Like I can’t imagine our life without her, but I also love her so much that, um, I’m going to get choked up here that I would have wanted her to have stayed in her home country with her family. Yeah. And not with a bunch of whities and Seattle, Washington who don’t understand her. She doesn’t look like, and she knows we love her, but there’s an element it’s hard. It’s another trauma in her life that she is here with us. Um, and, and I just shared that with her. Like, I will, I want to fight for the kids around the world to stay with their families. That’s our first job. And that’s what AGCI does.

And that’s why, um, I’m passionate about it because that we’re, it’s not the business of adoption. And, and it’s what we are doing is trying to keep families together in the first place. And I would have wanted that. It wasn’t an option for her. Yeah. And that’s why she’s home with us. But if it were, if it even were remotely an option, that’s what I would have fought for, especially, um, like when you’re in the process, it’s so emotional and you just want your child home. And for me, I was like, so one track minded of like, do what you gotta do to get her home. Um, but then once that kind of settles the dust settles and you have your child there, you just have those moments where you think, oh my gosh, like this was another trauma in her little life. And even though we love her so well, you have to acknowledge that. And, and so that’s, that’s where it started. And then where it ended was me recognizing like this. It would be better to work with people, to keep families intact or keep them in their country and, and not have to have that trauma. So that’s what we work for. That’s why I’m passionate. That’s what informs everything that I do. And why, when I talked to someone, I get emotional because it’s like, you guys, like we could, we could be keeping more families intact.

We can be showing them, um, we can be a part of training people in countries of, of helping stop the cycle of trauma that’s happening there. And so that’s why, yeah. Does that answer your question? I’m all like, no, you thank you for sharing that. I, I know that, I mean, that’s, that’s such a hard, like thing to carry, I think, to like, to know, like you said, I mean, this is how God planned it to be, and she is 100% fully, fully your daughter. But to then also know that there is inherent trauma in that is really, really tough. And I think that that’s something that we don’t talk about enough in adoption that while it is like beautiful and can be a, a wonderful thing for so many kids, um, there is loss at the center of it and to not acknowledge that as you know, to service, I think to kids. Yeah. Yes. And a constant source of trauma. I mean, she has people that are like, that’s your mom? I mean, she is an Ethiopian Butterworth, poor, poor deer. Like her last name is Butterworth. That’s what she came to me. And, um, like everything, you know, stripped from her that she knew, even though people always say, you know, oh, they’re a baby. They don’t remember anything. And I would say, oh my gosh, she remember her body remembers the trauma.

She, she didn’t have words to say at that point, but that’s what we’ve worked through and she’s still working through and some of it’s fresh. Some of it happens in real time. And so it’s just, you know, working through that constantly, but that gives me, um, like the fire that I need inside of me to keep working on the other stuff. Yeah, absolutely. And that is something that I just, I mean, I totally agree with you on it, although I’m not an adoptive parent, but, um, just that’s what fires me up is that the work to keep kids with their families, whenever Paul, like that is always our first choice. And then that’s what I love about the work that we do is that we have kind of a path no matter where like things come up. So it’s like, okay, that that’s not possible. Well then how can we, you know, change the way kids are being cared for so that they don’t, you know, like let’s minimize the trauma as much as we can. Right.

Or the let’s find a prepared, adoptive family that can, you know, help them find healing, not as a savior model, but you know, like come alongside them and help them through that pain, you know, or how can our kids who aren’t adopted, how can we help them, like create futures that they’re excited about and like build like a healthy, beautiful, independent life that they don’t go back right into where, you know, it came from. It’s just, and that’s, what’s so amazing to me. I think that we’re kind of uncovering with this trauma work and TPRI and all these other things is like, no one is, there’s always hope and, and no one is too far gone. This includes adults, you know, all of us, all of us. Um, and so, yeah, anyway, it’s, I could go on and on, but that’s exciting. Yeah. I feel the same way. In fact, the poor people I’ve talked to, I do go on and on as well. So that’s another thing like for somebody who’s listening to this and they’re like, okay, what is an advancement officer? Like, tell us what’s a day life. Like, what, what are you, what are you doing? What kind of conversations are you having with them? Yes, I would say, and I don’t think this is a real definition of my, yeah. So people are going to be like, huh, that’s what she thinks she does.

I would say that I am a storyteller. Um, and I am privileged. I think I have maybe the best job and I get to collect these beautiful stories and also a lot of really hard stories. And, uh, I feel that too. I think I’m privileged because these stories carry a lot of weight and the, when they come to me, they’ve gone through steps to get to me. Um, and they’ve given permission to share their story. And so I think that they carry a lot of weight and I take them very seriously. Um, and, and I share them with our partners, um, or people that are maybe interested in becoming partners and I give people opportunities to come alongside of us in that work. Um, so, um, I, I think like the basic definition of what I do is fund raising, you know, but I really see it as something I, what I do, I think, um, in my mind is different because I think fundraising, I believe I still believe in what I do. Like a good definition. I still believe in what I do that I tell a story and I unabashedly ask people to support us in that, because I so believe in what I do. I couldn’t do this just for anyone. No. Um, I think it would be so uncomfortable for me to be like, oh, I feel like I’m selling something with this. I’m not selling anything I’m telling.

I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it I’ve, you know, all the different sides. So that’s what I mean, the longest answer ever of what an advance, our stories and, and help connect people where they need to be connected. And that’s, I think I have the coolest job ever, um, because of that. And, and, um, like the, the coolest thing with what we do is like, God puts things on people’s hearts first. And I kind of get to be a steward of that, like a little piece of what, of the work that he’s doing and their lives. Yeah. And I don’t know, I just feel like on all fronts, like I’m the luckiest, it’s the coolest job to have for real, like, just super cool to be able to connect people in that way. Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. When you feel that way about the work that you’re doing, and like you said, I mean, I think for most people, like the thought of having to ask people to give money, it’s like, no, I just, I can’t do it. But if you really believe and truly know how impactful, like every single dollar is, which it really is with AGCI that it makes it you’re like, Hey, you know, especially if you’re talking to people about things that light them up, you know, if you’re like, cause there’s so many different facets and yes.

Do you have those moments where you’re talking to people in you’re like, you kind of see their eyes light up, but they’re like, that’s the thing they care about. Yeah. And we have that and yeah, that’s exactly. You just described it exactly. Like that’s what it is. That’s what I get excited about and why I do this. And, and I would never be able to, I, I, honestly, when I first started working, I was like, oh gosh, I could be ruining everything. Like I love AGCI what if I like, see behind it’s like seeing backstage at Disneyland? Oh no, the magic is gone. Yeah. I was like, oh, thank God. Like for sure, like we’re a regular organization there, things like that. We’re trying to be better at, but I didn’t ever have that moment of like, oh no. Yeah. What have I done? Totally. So I feel so lucky. I love the yeah. Like seeing the, or like seeing how the magic trick is done, you know? Or it’s like, you’re like, what? No, but that, I feel like that’s what is so cool about AGSA it’s like the more that you learn, like the more fired up you get. I think there has been my experience, at least it’s like the first time I went to Columbia to like see the work and I was like, I can’t. It just, well, I think this is most people’s experience totally wrecked me.

Like I just was like, I would go and see the kids and do, and then go back to my hotel room and cry for like hours. Um, me too. But then it like also renewed. Cause we were like, okay, this is why this is so important because it can be, I think if you’re, if you don’t feel actively connected to it, it can, you almost can get numb at times. Cause you’re like, there’s so much hard stuff. Yes. Um, and T as almost like a protection method, you’re like have to kind of shut down, but then when you go and see that, and then you carry that with you, I mean, it in all aspects of your life, right. It just changes you. And you’re like, I can’t, I can’t let these kids down. Like I have to do everything I can do. Um, exactly. And you see their little faces. I mean, yeah. It’s like, oh, you just, or pictures pop up that on like, that’s my best, hardest thing. All at the same time, it’s like pictures from a trip that I was on. I’m like, oh my gosh. But yeah, there’s, there’s such an emotional element of it. And you can’t do this work with turning it off. You have to find that like uncomfortable place, um, to live in where it hurts. It’s hard. Oh my gosh.

It’s hard because you don’t, it’s like self preservation, like you’re saying, like, you want to kind of turn that off because it hurts too much. And then, but you have a choice of what to do with it. And I think that’s the place and, and you believe in it, in the work that we’re doing. Um, and I, I mean, as a missions pastor before this, like I saw a lot of things come through on my desk. People asked for money all the time from us and, um, a lot of amazing organizations doing incredible things. And, um, AGCI is the organization that I just kept looking at. And my gosh, I think after the traveling that I’ve done, even pre AGCI, like, I think this work could actually make a significant impact. And so that’s why I keep doing this. I really believe that that’s, that’s awesome. Um, is there like, just, I would imagine you interact with so many different people just in your, in your work, like, is there like something that you find that people just don’t understand or is like a common misconception about, about this work or AGCI like, I would just, I’m just, I want to be a fly on the wall. Oh my gosh. The people the I meet with, I, I it’s so funny cause I started working and then we were shut down pretty quickly after for COVID.

So I had like, I didn’t get to meet with as many people as maybe I could have. And I’m just starting to do that again. And, and I would say like, the people that I meet with are some of the most incredible, like they inspire me. Wow. They are generous beyond, um, beyond measure, like, uh, with, I don’t know how to say this. Like they, they don’t get anything from it themselves. Like they just, they they’re passionate. They know that the money isn’t theirs, it’s, it’s theirs to give. And um, I mean, fly on the wall. Like the honest fly on the wall is that I get so much more from them and they get from me. Like, I usually leave those that I’m like, wow, their story is so incredible. Or like just God’s faithfulness in their life. Like how, or how did they end up in this position to give at something that they have fostered their entire life. Like you’re, you’re not born generous. You know, it’s something that you, um, foster and you do to be better. And these people that I get to meet with at, at that point, they have done that in our lives and I get to just share with them. And, and the best part honestly, is the part that I get to listen and like ask questions. Um, I don’t really get any, like, I haven’t had any crazy questions.

I mean, we always, I think we, as an organization try to like, make sure people know, like here is exactly where your money’s going here. You know, here’s the breakdown we’re highly rated as a charitable organization because of that. Um, and so by the time I get to them, they’re not, they’re not looking for that. They’re looking for the ways that their life and how they’ve lived. It are impacting other people’s lives. And that part’s easy because I can show them that. So it’s been, that’s like coming out of COVID it’s that part that’s been the most fun and the most like, oh, oh my gosh, it’s so nice to meet with people again. I’m probably like so awkward coming out of it. I’m like, oh, real people in person, but they’re like the best ever I have the best time. And they don’t, they, I don’t know, they just share their stories and everyone’s so different, but they all share something in common that they, like, they’re doing something that I feel like is supernatural by being as generous as they are. They’ve like harnessed that. And it teaches me something every time. Yeah. Well, it’s cool too, because it’s, you know, like you said, you’re not, this is not something that everyone does, right? Like there are plenty of people who have, you know, the ability or could have the ability to give generously and yeah. But they don’t for whatever reason.

And then there are also people who make a lot of sacrifices to give extremely generously and it’s like, it’s kind of blows you away. Yeah. It really, it does every time, every time it’s the best. I think it’s cool. I mean, earlier you shared that you felt like your job is to be a storyteller, but then something that you also love about your job is to get to hear and like receive people’s stories and life experiences and kind of what led them on the path. And I think that’s kind of beautiful in a way, how it’s all kind of, it’s like a, it’s like a tide, you know, it’s like the giving and receiving of like totally. Yeah. I don’t know. Yeah. It really is. Like, I don’t know. I really leave people and feel like, oh, like they’ve done something for me. Like, oh my soul, I am better because I just met them. Yeah. It’s been really, really, I didn’t expect that coming into this. Thank you so much, Marisa. It was so awesome to like get a peak. I’m so excited to talk to you. Like it’s always so fun. Every time I get to like, hang out with you. That was Marisa Butterworth, the west coast advancement officer of AGCI and the new co-host of the together by AGCI podcast.

Thanks for listening to together by AGCI as always, if you liked what you heard, please rate and review us wherever you listen to podcasts. If you’d like to read or watch even more stories, check out our website,, reach out to us and let us know what you think on Instagram @allgodschildreninternational or email us at We look forward to sharing another story of hope. The next time we’re together. We’ll talk to you soon.