From Foster Care to Finish Line: One Family’s Journey to Adoption

On March 8, 2023, Malachi O’Brien broke a Guinness World Record by running 153 marathons in a row – all to raise awareness for foster care and adoption.

The 40-year-old pastor from Peculiar, Mo., holds a doctoral degree in social media and marketing and knows that to get people to pay attention to something, you must be willing to do something a little bit crazy.

So, over the course of five months, from October to March, Malachi laced up his running shoes and spent at least six hours each day on his feet, running through pouring rain, blizzards, and whatever mother nature threw his way.

“The hardest mile was always the first mile,” said Malachi. “I never thought about the next day’s marathon while I was doing that day’s marathon.”

He ran on days when his schedule was so jam-packed that he set his alarm for midnight just to finish the run. He ran a marathon race in a velvet maroon suit to bring attention to the causes he was promoting. He ran even when he was sick, finishing the marathon at just over nine hours but still managing to cross that day’s finish line.

Despite his record and the accolades following his big accomplishment, Malachi is quick to recognize that he couldn’t have done any part of this on his own.

“I really think the champion of all of it is Rachel,” said Malachi, referring to his wife of 22 years. The couple has seven kids living at home – two of whom are adopted from foster care. Their littlest one, *Nevin, is in the final stage of the adoption process, and the couple hopes to visit the courthouse soon and make it official.

Malachi and Rachel officially received their fostering license in 2020, but their passion for caring for children in the system developed long before then.

“Before we got married, we knew we wanted to adopt, but foster care wasn’t really on our radar,” said Rachel. The pair did several missionary trips together and were interested in adopting internationally.

Malachi’s experience with adoption was even more personal as he was adopted at three years old by his aunt and uncle. From that young age, he witnessed the love and support from not only his kinship family but his church family as well.

Years later, as a married couple, Malachi and Rachel found their own church family at The Church in Pleasant Ridge, and it’s there they first came face to face with foster care.

“We had a couple of families in our church who did foster care, and that really introduced me to the need,” said Rachel.

One weekend, Malachi and Rachel were asked to watch a young boy, *Cameron, who was staying with a family in the church. However, instead of picking him up on Sunday, as promised, the woman who dropped him off said that they weren’t coming back to get him.

“Sadly, many people make promises to kids that they will be their forever home, and for one reason or another, that doesn’t come to pass,” said Malachi.

They immediately got the caseworker’s number and were granted a form of kinship because they weren’t yet licensed as foster parents. Cameron was eight years old at the time and had been in and out of foster care homes since he was six months old, experiencing significant trauma along the way.

“When he came here, I said, ‘This is going to be his last stop,’” said Rachel. Nine months later, Cameron was adopted and became an official member of the O’Brien family. 

Soon after, Malachi and Rachel officially obtained their foster care license from Cornerstones of Care and, since then, have shared their hearts and home with five kids in foster care.

Through all of this, Malachi and Rachel are very open with their children about their experiences with foster care and adoption and the sometimes difficult truths that accompany each child.

“I don’t think it’s beneficial to shield them from every bad thing – that’s not how life works,” said Rachel. “I think it’s important they know.”

Nevin’s story is an example of this. He had been in foster care since birth, and his previous foster care family had their licensure revoked. When he arrived at Malachi and Rachel’s home, he refused to let anyone hold him and was clearly in distress.

“You couldn’t rock him. He couldn’t feed himself or hold his bottle – nothing you would expect from an eight-month-old,” said *Allorie, one of the teenagers living with Malachi and Rachel but through a temporary agreement with her parents.

Just like with the other children in foster care, Allorie and everyone else in the family pitched in to support Nevin. In a month, he started to take his first steps, and now, he wants to be held all the time.

Malachi and Rachel are also open with their kids about the challenges of maintaining contact with the birth parents.

Attempts have been made to contact Nevin’s birth mom, but she is often on the run and is unable to be found. Nevin’s biological father is unhoused and only recently learned that Nevin existed and was his son. The O’Briens have offered video calls with Nevin, but the birth father has only attended two.

“There’s never an ideal situation,” said Malachi. “For foster care and adoption, mindset is everything. No matter what, we’re not quitting; no matter what, we’re not stopping. It’s in the hard times we find out what we’re made of.”

During his Guinness World Record challenge, Malachi shared these types of inspirational messages online with his followers, hoping that people see the need and start to believe that they can do hard things, too.

“I think one of the greatest evidences of Christian faith is taking care of the people that other people aren’t taking care of,” said Malachi. “What I want people to realize is that there are multiple ways to be involved. In foster care, for example, maybe you can’t adopt, but you can help somebody who is.”

When Malachi and Rachel first took in Nevin, they reached out to their community, both online and in the pews, for support. Within 24 hours, they were able to raise $2500 to buy what they needed to get him started at home.

With this platform, they hope to continue raising awareness of the need for foster care and adoptive parents and support others who choose to go down this path.

“The platform of doing this extreme challenge has also allowed me to hear a lot of stories,” said Malachi. Both Malachi and Rachel hope to create a podcast or even write a book someday to share these stories with others.

For now, they are not slowing down and are planning to foster more kids once Nevin’s adoption is complete. Malachi is already working on his next running challenge: to run a half-marathon every day until he runs the circumference of the globe.

“I figured if I did a half marathon every day – which is tremendously easier than a full marathon – I’ll run the circumference of the globe in five years,” said Malachi.

He calls this effort the “Global Vision Challenge” and hopes to bring attention to five causes that matter most to him: foster care and adoption, youth mental health, feeding the hungry, revival, and deliverance. By the end of it, he will have run 24,901 miles over 1900 days.

“I really do think that people can do hard things,” said Malachi. “You really only find fulfillment in life when you are growing and when you are giving. There is nothing more giving than serving kids and serving other people, and if we can help be part of changing someone’s life, then we’ll do it.”

*Names changed to protect privacy

Do you want to learn more about adoption through Cornerstones of Care? Visit our Foster Care & Adoption page to start your journey today.