My prayers to become rich have been finally answered, at least according to many of the emails I’ve been getting from “SWEEPSTAKES LOTTERY / INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS.”

I only hope there’s enough money to go around. Apparently, I’m not the only one praying for riches.

In 2003, three weeks after praying for the financial resources to promote a pro-life campaign, Maryland Catholic Bernadette Gietka walked away with $76 million from the multi-state Mega Millions lottery.

Hmm, I’m wondering how that works? My guess is that it’s easy for most of us to promise to do something good in return for a God-given fortune. What’s hard is doing good things in the absence of such fortunes.

The challenge isn’t about attaining enough fortune to enable good works; the challenge is to find the fortune of doing something good.

Yet when the California Lottery folks went looking for teacher’s aide Debi Faris-Cifelli, they found that their good news was overshadowed by the good that Debi had already been doing.

Years ago, Debi’s search for riches of the more eternal kind began with a simple question of God – no bargaining, just a question: “God, what is it that you want me to do here?

“My faith began to deepen. I never had much belief in myself. I was shy and nervous in front of people, but God said, ‘let me lead and I’ll take you.’ Each step was enough at one time and it wasn’t overwhelming for me.”

Then in 1996, this mother of seven, heard the story of a child being thrown away in a duffle bag. “I was determined to believe,” she said, “that each one of us comes for a special reason. Yet, what was this child’s purpose?”

Not quite knowing the answer to that question, Debi contacted authorities with an offer to help with the baby’s funeral and very quickly found that this child’s purpose would become deeply entwined with her own.

Soon there were two more babies to be buried and burying babies was something Debi admits she didn’t think she’d be strong enough to do. “I didn’t think I’d have the courage to embrace these little ones, but God gave it to me step by step.”

Soon the steps got bigger. First she formed the Garden of Angels, an organization dedicated to providing children who have been “thrown away” with names and a place of rest.

Then, a much bigger step – working to pass California’s ‘Safe Arms for Newborns’ law in 2001 which gives parents three days to abandon infants at fire stations and hospitals without fear of prosecution. And quickly thereafter, 46 states adopted such laws.

What would be the next step in Debi’s journey?

Her most recent step came last month in the form of an odd request from her husband Steve. Never a gambler of any sort, he tossed a twenty dollar bill to her and said, “Take this twenty and I don’t know why, but I feel like you should buy ‘Quick Pick.’”

Nothing happened.

A week later, he repeated the request. That second request spawned a call from lottery officials.

Debi Faris-Cifelli – who depended on fund-raisers to bury abandoned babies – won $27 million dollars!

Debi had never prayed for riches and she found that the news made her feel “convicted at having such responsibility and accountability. We want to be stewards of what we’ve been given.”

Now, with this new money, again they found themselves asking God, “What’s our next step?”

“I felt like God is leading us to set up two scholarships in the names of each of these abandoned babies,” she told me from her cell phone while sitting in a Southern California Denny’s.

“These were mothers caught up in secrets,” she told me. “They got rid of their secret as quickly as possible. “Well,” she exhaled, “These children aren’t secret.”

Debi sees the scholarships as a way “to keep these babies alive. Everything we do centers around these children. It’s always been a heart-passion of mine to keep them alive.

It’s a wonderful gift to give of yourself without expecting anything in return. People have said this couldn’t have happened to a better person. I don’t know about that.”

I’ve heard it said, “Don’t just fight evil: Strengthen the good.” I think that’s what Debi is doing – one baby step at a time.


Under California’s ‘Safe Arms for Newborns’ law, 67 babies have been safely surrendered. Faris-Cifelli has buried 70 babies. Visit Debi’s web site at