It was a joy to have once again the car filled with boys coming home from Sunday morning church. All of our children were off to college or living on their own. The conversation meandered between Sunday School lessons, weekend happenings, and the school days ahead.
As we drove into town, one boy had noticed several yard signs prominently displayed in front of churches along the way. “Be the neighbor, help foster a child,” they proclaimed. My young friend’s next observation struck my heart!
“It’s nice to see that so many churches care about us kids in foster care,” he exclaimed.
Foster A Child
Let that comment sit on your heart for a moment and consider the implications of his words. Does the church truly care for those in the foster care system, or is this merely a game of semantics? What happens when we consider the foster care crisis in light of the parable of the Good Samaritan? (Luke 10:25-37)
If the parable changed to, “there once was a child who was neglected, abandoned or abused through no fault of his own,” so should our response. God has fully equipped the church not to walk idly by or to waste time simply talking about the problem. He has bestowed His church with the time, talents, and treasures to make an eternal differenced in the lives of vulnerable children and families who care for them. When the service of the local church fills the needs of children in foster care, God receives the glory.
In the United States, there are over 400,000 children in the foster care system. This system costs taxpayers over $7 billion a year.1 The costs to children and youth in the foster care system are devastating. In some states, over half of the prison population has come from foster care. Sixty percent of the children in human trafficking come out of foster care. Two-thirds of girls who age out of the foster care system are pregnant within two years, continuing the poverty cycle.
The cost is personal in the lives of our community neighbors. This past fall, most children in the United States went back to school in one form or another. In addition to normal first-day jitters, children across the land were adjusting to many things. Face masks, hand sanitizers, plexiglass dividers, or the challenge of online learning. Could you handle adding one more challenge to your life the week before school starts?
The Story of Two Teens
Two teens were removed and placed in a foster home seven days before the start of school. For many youths in care, this would also mean a change to a new school district. Changes due to the shortage of foster homes available in the community.
Imagine starting a school year in 2020 in a new school district? Masks are covering faces that may have been expressing a warming smile to ease the nerves. Do you know the loneliest part of the day in a new school? Lunchtime! Imagine balancing your lunch tray as you scan the room filled with students, and no one welcomes you to have a seat.
What would it look like if every church took the parable of the Good Samaritan to heart and saw the hurting child and family as the ones in need? Will we continue to walk by these children and look the other way on the way to church? Will we accept accolades of praise for our works within the church as fragile families and vulnerable children suffer outside the door, or will we be the neighbor and help foster the child and his family?
The Story of Four Siblings
Four siblings were removed to emergency care a week before school pictures were taken. In the life of a preteen girl, that is devastating. Her classic taste, well beyond her years, was reflected in her desire to wear an ivory tunic sweater with a lace overlay for that special day. Meanwhile, a family from the local church was part of the care team supporting her foster family. They had gently used clothes packed to donate to a community closet during their back to school closet purge. Yes, you guessed it, inside the bag were preteen girl clothes, not only the right size but classic in style. Nestled near the bottom of the bag was a tunic sweater in ivory with a delicate lace overlay. God knew this hurting girl needed to know that he heard her heart’s cry and already had her desire in the bag!
But, I’m not Called to Foster
You may be thinking, “I’m not called to foster. You don’t understand. I can’t because…” God’s answer to us all is quite simple. It is not about what we can’t do. It is about what we will do to obey God’s Word and get engaged in the needs of children in foster care and vulnerable families. Your church already has the resources “in the bag” to be the neighbor to hurting children and families.
God desires to “put the lonely in families”, Psalm 68:6. It is beautiful to see God place these lonely children in our churches, where we can also introduce them to a Heavenly Father and a home for eternity. We do need people who are called to open the door of their homes. God has already placed the call and desire in the hearts of some to become foster parents. For many, they hesitate, thinking the task appears too large for them alone. And they are right.
Fostering Family Ministries
It takes a family to foster a child, a church family. At Fostering Family Ministries, we recognize once the church launches a family affirming ministry with their lay leadership (Champions), families within the church will step up to foster. Equally important, those who cannot foster are called to surround the family with care and support. The mission field of foster care becomes a calling of the local church body, a vibrant way to transform the church from members in the pew to ministers on a mission.
Once a church awakens to its own community’s mission field, it is our privilege to help them realize they already have the skill set to meet the needs. Our role is to show them how to wrap care around foster, kinship, adoptive and fragile families: from providing meals, light housework help, transportation, to becoming a foster “grandparent” or foster “aunt/uncle” or a caring friend, they help lighten loads of these families. Using supportive care teams, the church effectively expands its members onto the mission field of ministering to the needs of those in foster care.
Serving energizes and connects the church community. Care teams are made up of people of different ages and life stages, and sometimes even different churches. When asked about her care team experience as a family helper, a retired widow responded, “It was such an encouragement to prepare a monthly meal for the family. I enjoyed cooking for more than one person again, and their appreciation warmed my heart!”
Supported Families Foster Longer
Like the Good Samaritan, the church family can learn how to focus its time, talents, and treasure to children in foster care and families. Under the guidance of a trained lay leadership team (Church Champions), a church develops a thriving family affirming ministry, making a healing difference in children and families’ lives in foster care. Trained care teams give a variety of ways to serve and connect with the lives of children in foster, kinship, adoptive, or even fragile families (to avoid removals or in the process of reunification).
When the church family enters the equation, all engaged in the foster care system benefit. Supported families foster longer and stronger. They are less of a strain on already burdened caseworkers, opening the door to encouraging those working in child-placing agencies. Consider how you will be the neighbor and help foster a child. Reach out to an agency near you, and learn how to bridge the gap between the heart of your church and the needs of children and families in foster care.
When I see our yard signs, “Be the neighbor, Help foster a child,” I am still reminded of that boy’s response. Three years have passed since that day. Although the system has moved the boys, God miraculously keeps us in touch. Through the unusual season of 2020, one of the boys began watching our church services online and, together, we continue to help foster a child. The benefits are eternal and everlasting!