Imagine receiving a call while eating dinner with your three middle schoolers with a special request. To take in four children. Helen and Christopher had just said “yes” to becoming foster parents. They were about to say “yes” to a life-transforming experience. Life changing for their family and church. As well as a struggling family living the trauma, which brought their four children into foster care.
The Pretty City
Just across the river from our nation’s capital is Alexandria, Virginia. The city is often showered with accolades. Titles such as, ‘Prettiest City,’ ‘Best City in the South,’ ‘The Healthiest City’. While awards are whimsical, they certainly gloss over the reality of brokenness we cause and experience each day.
This ‘Pretty City’ has a population of just under 160,000, and 119 of those residents are children in foster care. To give families experiencing trauma a chance to get the help they need, the Department of Social Services trains foster parents. They learn how to care for the children placed in their homes. As well as how to build bridges of friendship and support the biological family. The goal is always for birth parents to succeed and for the restoration of families.
Willing Family and Engaged Church
For Helen and Christopher, stepping into their first experience as foster parents brought them to the end of themselves. They had to lean heavily on their church community. One example was when the four children, ages 5-11, struggled with lice. While many parents face the unwanted problem of treating lice, these kids had endured multiple rounds of treatment. They developed a resistance to the treatment. Hours of combing, washing, and laundry overwhelmed Helen and Christopher. Helen sensed the Lord nudging (or perhaps urging?) her to invite her church community into this. The hard side of their foster care experience. Opening up about their needs required them to be vulnerable. As a result, the connectedness they experienced was an accurate picture of ‘doing life’ together.
What began in crisis turned into an earnest community of believers who caught the vision of foster care: restoration! The church seized the opportunity to serve Helen and Christopher through loads of laundry, babysitting, cleaning. They showed meaningful love to each of the kids through movie nights, birthday parties, and homework help. And they befriended the biological family with moving and painting help, camping trips, and Zoom calls.
This church demonstrated what James 1:27 calls us all to:
True religion (outward expression of what is inwardly true) is…one that visits (moves toward and gets involved with) the widows and orphans (the vulnerable) in their afflictions.’
Foster care is not designed to be successfully navigated by individual families. The trauma children and biological families have endured needs a community of educated, grace-filled believers to facilitate healing and restoration one day at a time. Fifty percent of new foster families stop fostering after the first year due to burn out. Yet studies show foster families with a strong network of support are 85 percent more likely to continue in this vital work. Project Belong VA trains churches to effectively come alongside families who are fostering and adopting. How to “wrap” them with care for the duration of their placement.
Project Belong VA believes God created each child with profound dignity to grow, be nurtured, and mature in the context of a family. To that end, we inspire, recruit, and resource the local church in Northern Virginia to care for vulnerable children with the love of Jesus. All can do something to help. Project Belong is part of a national network of nonprofits. The 127 Network helps churches all over the country make a difference in the work of foster care and adoption. The Gospel has the power to restore and redeem the things which bring children into care. With long discipleship among a healthy community of believers, the Gospel transforms one person and one family at a time.
Helen and Christopher provided these four young residents of the designated “Healthy City,” an enduring type of health that no jog along the Potomac River could ever accomplish. As this group of believers lived in the community together, the children absorbed Gospel responses to inevitable conflict. They watched adults work hard to nourish healthy marriages. Experienced people faithfully praying and trusting God. They saw the Church operating not as a building but as a people loving. Leaning on each other for help. Far beyond what the world offers, the last year exposed these children and their biological family to important tools. Equipping them with hope for the future. It wasn’t only the children who were blessed. Members of the church also had much to learn from the biological family in this cripplingly expensive area.
Pray and Get Involved
As Christians, we care deeply about the dignity of every life. Still, perhaps you’re considering ways to translate these inward beliefs into an outward expression of care for the most vulnerable? The disruption of the pandemic is an opportunity to untether from our old ways. To realign with the faith Jesus calls true and beautiful. For you, maybe that means carrying loads of lice-ridden laundry to the laundromat? Or helping with homework? Or babysitting?
As individual families step into foster care and church communities come alongside to support, others will taste and see the Good News Incarnate. And God will make our hearts new in the process. The work is messy and complicated on this side of heaven. Still, those good and loving deeds become the holy, eternal building blocks for not just a pretty city or a healthy city, but the new city we will inhabit for eternity. That’s some accolade.
Remember to pray and get involved.