I hear it at least weekly— “If it weren’t for my church… ” This is the chorus of an ever-growing choir. What follows varies from a simple statement to tragic stories met with timely redemption. You might expect stories of individuals trusting in Jesus because a local church pointed them to Him. You’d be right. But in my work with children and families struggling to get by, redemption often starts with survival. Survival made possible by churches.
I hear the chorus at the oddest times. My family and I had just arrived at Pine Cove Family Camp. We were to spend a much-needed week away from distraction—a family reset. The taxing nature of a large family with five teenage boys specifically had run its course.
Family life is tough, and we needed a break. We met some new friends, and the conversation with the parents moved from work to kids.
They were foster parents, hunting the same week of reprieve as us. They had been fostering for five years, through many placements. Also, with a move from Florida to Georgia in the midst of it all. I asked the dad if it was hard work. He said “yes,” so hard in fact that they had not planned to continue fostering upon arriving at Georgia. The ups and downs of caring for kids through trauma had been too much. They were veteran caregivers and, consequently, knew enough to know just how hard it would be to start again. So often these veterans, best equipped to love kids, tap out. This couple knew it was time to quit until the mom came home from her first outings to the family’s new Church. She was crying. She proclaimed that she had learned something that changed their foster care journey.
Their new Church had (and still has) a Family Advocacy Ministry (FAM) dedicated to meeting the needs of foster families. To foster in Georgia, through their new Church, meant they’d have a team rallying with them, bringing meals, offering childcare, prayer, and even respite. They had never had this support, and so with that, the couple signed up to foster again. They hope to soon adopt the two children currently placed in their home. Two kids will have a family forever, but would not have their new parents if it weren’t for their Church and its FAM.
When another set of foster parents said “yes” to three elementary-aged girls, they knew they had the support of their Church, but I don’t believe they knew they were also saying “yes” to the girl’s biological dad. Their mom was out of the picture, and the dad had struggled to provide for his daughters.
Their arrival into the new foster home was like the vast majority of “removals.” It was due to neglect, not abuse. The neglect was not a lack of love or commitment, but it was due to the presence of poverty in a small, rural town. While the foster parents benefited from wrap-around support—the ongoing aid of their Church—the foster dad scrambled to get back on his own two feet.
Then an odd, obvious, and courageous step was taken. A church volunteer serving the foster family began pursuing a friendship with the biological father, which birthed friendship and mentorship. When it came time for the children to go back to their dad, the mentor was there to assist in the transition, and he was not alone. The team of wrap-around supporters from the Church, dubbed a Care Community, moved from supporting the foster family to serving the dad. Because the kids were at the center of the need, the support followed them.
Then, something unexpected happened. The father was rushed to the hospital with a major medical incident, coding, and being revived in the ambulance. He was now medically fragile, with his three children in his home, and he had a team from a nearby church. The teams’ supplemental care was now critical as he regained health and worked toward being the father his girls dreamed he would be. If it weren’t for the local Church, the girls would have experienced another removal, new trauma but familiar trauma, and their likelihood of carrying that pain into their adolescent and adult lives would have grown. But that never happened because of a church.
Perfect strangers, now community
A midwestern church just launched a Family Advocacy Ministry. The lay leaders attended a Clinic and quickly launched a Care Community to wrap around a kinship placement—a grandson was placed with his grandmother and great grandmother. The Care Community was set to do a “Meet and Greet” to make sure the family knew them and the care that would be accessible. Yet the day before this gathering, the grandson found his great grandmother shortly after she had passed away. This boy had recently lost daily contact with his parents, gone into the state’s custody, and now lost another loved one.
The gathering became a time to grieve.
The team of strangers from a local church now was sitting with a family in grief. The care community began serving as the family adjusted to a new reality.
Amy Jo Fox, at Hands of Hope, the ministry guiding the Church to step into the family’s life, explains what happened as the Care Community stepped in, “The young boy is doing far better in school, and loves when his Child Mentors pick him up from school each week to tutor and spend quality time with him. Prior to being connected with a Care Community, he was struggling in school academically and repeatedly had notes sent home from his teacher. But through the influence of his Care Community, everything has changed. He has thrived under the love and care of his Care Community, especially the men. His teacher is in disbelief about the changes in his attitude and actions. The grandmother and her sweet boy are now regularly attending church, and he insists that the Care Community sit in the same row as them – ‘together, as a family,’ he says.”
If it weren’t’ for the Church…
I’ll close by saying that the absolute best stories start with a subtle difference— “If it weren’t for your church.” Nothing is better. Someone outside of a church, unfamiliar with the Father’s goodness revealed in and through a tight community, is met by your Church in a moment of crisis. That’s what happened in the story above with the grandmother. She got to experience someone else’s Church that has now become her Church. When someone looks at you and with clear eyes and shares how your Church stepped up for them, there is a deep satisfaction. They share what might have been but will never be because of God’s grace revealed in your Church.
If you want this for your Church, take the next step below to develop a Family Advocacy Ministry.