There are over 400,000 children in the foster care system nationwide. Approximately 4,200 in South Carolina where our private agency licenses foster parents. How does the church as a whole even begin to meet a need of a crisis of this magnitude?
The answer? The church steps up in obedience, not in our mortal sufficiency (but Christ’s) and NOT just as foster parents.
Children in Foster Care
In our area of South Carolina, we estimate that there are over 200 evangelical churches. At any given time, a deficit of 200 foster homes. If just one family from each of these churches fostered a child in foster care, there would be no waiting children in our area.
In reality, every day, The Department of Social Services is searching for homes. Homes for children removed from their parents and have no place else to go. Particularly children who are a part of sibling groups and teenagers. You don’t need the dramatics of your nightly one-hour television drama to have your heartstrings pulled; imagine what these children must go through. The often turbulent and unpredictable lives children in foster care are subjected to is hard to focus on.
Can You Imagine?
Can you imagine being removed from your home with several siblings? Then split into 3 or 4 different homes because there are not enough homes that are available for sibling groups? Picture being a teenager forced to live in group homes instead of with families. This is simply because half of the foster parents only take infants and toddlers. Now imagine that your foster parents or group home don’t understand your frustrations. They aren’t equipped to work with your behaviors and request for you to be moved over and over again? This reality happens somewhere every single day in the world of Child Welfare.
Parenting children from trauma can be filled with uncertainty and hard days. The average length of stay for a child in foster care within South Carolina is 15 months. But through Jesus, we can look at these days differently.
That’s 15 months to show children the love of Christ within a family. Fifteen months to offer children’s families unconditional grace and love; to invite them to church, encourage them, and be a light in a very dark time. It’s 15 months to show children that the hope of Christ outlasts the time they will spend in any given home. Show them that this hope lasts a lifetime. It’s eternal, it’s daily, and it’s personal. Even when children leave our foster homes, the hope is that the care and sacrificial love of a Christian family reflecting Christ will impact this child for a lifetime.
Local Church Has Role to Play
But foster families cannot do this alone. Your family may not be called to foster, but the local church as a whole has a role to play. Your local church can and should wrap around those families. The ones in your church body who are engaged in the missional work of caring temporarily for vulnerable children in the foster care system. Whether you have one foster family in your church or several, you can do something.
You can provide weekly meals when a new child arrives. Or when the foster family is grieving after transitioning a child back to their biological family. You can buy them paper products. Maybe surprise them with groceries. You can offer to babysit in the evenings so that families can prioritize keeping their marriages healthy. Your church can start a support group for local foster parents or host a Respite Night quarterly. You can be a listening ear with encouragement or buy needed clothing and other items, or most of all, you can pray. Pray that Jesus prevails over all the tangible things and that when the children go home or move on, that these foster parents have been able to make an eternal impact in Jesus’s name.
And then perhaps, even their parents would be transformed by the love of Christ.
Families Deserve Grace
So what does that look like when we consider the child’s whole family?
We live in a sinful world filled with abuse, neglect, and loss. Those things have consequences, and often children are impacted negatively. It can be infuriating to see the effects of families’ actions. However, just as we are reconciled to God through Jesus despite our shortcomings, we believe families with challenges, even in the worst of cases, deserve grace, and families can have the hope of reconciliation.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are, therefore, Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Christ Shows Up
Christ shows up every day, parenting children from hard places.
- He shows up when foster families are frustrated by behaviors they don’t understand, and someone from their church shows up with dinner.
- He shows up when the social workers in our local office pray specifically for a home for a child in need. Despite our rosters saying everyone is full, we receive a call back that a family has opened their arms to add another child to their family.
- He shows up when families take a chance and foster teenagers when they never imagined it, and both the teenager and the foster family’s lives are changed forever.
- I’ve seen Christ show up when an exhausted foster parent loves social services staff and encourages them to continue doing the necessary work that they do daily.
- He shows up when families take a child to an extra activity, willingly extend their family to care for teens and sibling groups when they initially thought they’d only foster babies and use their extra time and money for gift making and extra visits with their children’s biological parents.
- I’ve seen foster parents completely embracing children in foster care into their lives instantaneously for shared vacations on excursions that they never imagined.
- I’ve heard of long talks about Jesus and morality when I’m sure many foster parents would love to go to bed.
- He shows up when foster parents love these children and their parents so sacrificially that it could be nothing but Jesus, and children who come from the worst of traumatic circumstances placed with just the right family for just the right time that it must be Jesus.
- I’ve seen God’s provision for these families and these children countless times.
Meet the Need God is Calling Us To
Again and again, it’s a reminder that what seems big for us is never big for God. So, how does the church continue to meet the need of over 400,00 children nationwide in the foster care system? If we will obey and meet the need God is calling us to within the season he calls us, he will ALWAYS show up and work through us. It’s our job to trust him with the details.