The portrait in the Mericles' family room looks like any other traditional suburban family picture: dad, mom, and four kids, all smiling as the sun shines down on them.
But the two-year-old boy sitting on his father's lap stands out - not just because he is the only boy - but also because he's the only dark-skinned member of the family.
For Jeremiah, a highly energetic boy with an infectious grin that he flashes whenever he's in trouble, his adoptive family is the only family he knows. Cindy Mericle and her husband adopted him at one month, and although he has met his birth mother a few times, he doesn't remember her or his two older brothers.
At the time of Jeremiah's adoption, the Mericles were one of the few adoptive parents at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church in Hampton, Va. Since then, the adoption cycle in the church restarted: two other families at their church have also decided to adopt and several others have expressed interest, asking the Mericles about the adoption process
The Mericles are just one part of a growing movement. In 2011, the Evangelical Coalition for Financial Accountability reported the largest increase in giving for orphan-related ministries: a 20.5 percent increase in orphan care, 14.7 percent increase in adoption, and 24.3 percent increase in child sponsorship.
"It really reflects a growing movement by Christians to really reflect God's heart for orphans and take action," said Christian Alliance for Orphans President Jedd Medefind. "It can draw an entire church community beyond self-focused religion to a truly vibrant and sacrificial faith. And ultimately, it makes the gospel visible to a watching world."
Karen Bergstrom, a psychologist and chief programs officer of Olive Crest, a West Coast-based non-profit child welfare organization, said church involvement in orphan care is just starting to pick up after decreasing over the last couple generations.
Since the church gave up the responsibility of orphan care to the state in the mid-1900s, the separation of church and state has seeped into both sides: "Maybe the church didn't think they should be as involved in justice if they didn't save souls and the state didn't think saving souls should be part of social service and justice," Bergstrom said.
As state funds dwindle, local church communities have taken back their historic role in filling that gap, Bergstrom said. "It's really exciting, a lot of walls are falling down because the faith community is stepping up in a good way."
For many Christian couples like the Mericles, orphan care ministry is not just a trend but a recapturing of biblical principles that define "pure and undefiled religion" as visiting orphans and widows (James 1:27).
"There's a clear biblical call to care for the orphans," Medefind said. "Throughout history, care for the orphans has been a central part of the Christian DNA since our earliest days under the Roman Empire."
Orphan care ministry is difficult: Families must deal with financial challenges and the psychological and physical issues of the child. Often the questions do not come with clear-cut answers.
For the Mericles, it means figuring out how to deal with the questions that Jeremiah will have later on: Why did his mother give him up? What happened to his biological father?
Mericle says she does not yet know how she will answer those questions. "But I imagine that there will be a time in which we will need a lot of prayers. We're doing the best we can and praying about it and trusting that the Lord will lead us in the right way."
Mericle said that although not everyone is called to adopt, the church community plays an integral role in orphan care ministry.
"By adopting him, he's now a covenant child and part of God's family," she said. She mentioned how the church has supported her family and also showered Jeremiah with attention.
These days, Jeremiah is fascinated by cars and trains, especially the pastor's truck. Every Sunday he runs out yelling, "Pete! Pete! Pastor Pete's truck!" Pastor Pete Hurst will then lift him up onto his truck. Jeremiah grins and waves from the front seat.
"He gets a lot of attention, probably more than he should sometimes," Mericle said.