One word. It’s that simple.
There is one word, that if fully embraced and executed, can change the landscape of foster care and adoption in your area.
That word is relationship.
Relationship is the one word that describes how the Church can transform the foster care system and the lives of children and families involved. I said it was simple, not easy. Relationships can be uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone, but it’s how Jesus taught us to love others. He gave us an example of how important relationships can be in influencing people and speaking love into their lives. There are 4 primary groups that I think it’s important for the Church to build relationships with: DSS, foster families, bio parents, and young families.
DSS (or your local social services agency)
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus
Investigators, caseworkers, and everyone else at DSS seem to always have too much to do and too little time to do it. Building relationships with your local DSS staff is a great way to help them feel supported and encouraged. Getting to know them can help you learn how to best serve them. It could be bottled water and healthy snacks for them to eat in the car when they’re driving all day from visit to visit, it could be providing lunch for the office once a month, it could be intentional prayer for them and the work they do, it could be notes and cards so the staff feels seen and appreciated. It could be any number of things, but you won’t know what will be most helpful unless you have a relationship with them.
Foster and Adoptive Families
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Do you know all the foster and adoptive families in your church? The church can be a difficult place for those parents. They can feel embarrassed and judged if they have a child who has an issue during the service. Having a relationship with foster and adoptive families in your church can help them feel more at home and comfortable, even if something happens during the service. If foster parents get to know the people working in the nursery and with the children, they can feel less anxious about leaving their children and can focus on getting more out of the service. Getting to know those in your congregation that are on the front lines of foster care and adoption can do a lot for your congregation. Not only will you be able to meet the needs of those families, but you’ll set an example for other families in your church who may be considering getting involved. They can see that if they take the leap into foster care or adoption, there will be a team of people to support them and love them through the good and bad that they will inevitably experience on their journey.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:18-19
Working with the biological parents of children in foster care can be scary for everyone involved. It can be easy to see the bio parents as the bad guys in this foster care world. It’s easy to say ‘they are bad people who did bad things to their children.’ While it’s often true that they made bad choices that harmed their kids, they are not the enemy. Many of those choices and struggles can be traced back to a lack of healthy and safe relationships when they were children. When you grow up without nurturing parents and no examples of healthy relationships – how can you be expected to be a loving, caring parent? Bio parents need examples of safe, loving, caring relationships. If their hurts happened in relationships, then their healing needs to happen in relationships. Again, simple but not easy. Many of these bio parents have either been hurt by the Church or feel strong shame and unworthiness that causes them to be fearful of the church. The Church must work with these parents from a place of humility and grace, showing them the perfect love of Jesus that casts out fear.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
The best way to make a difference in foster care is to prevent foster care from ever being needed. Children enter foster care when their parents don’t have the support and resources available to handle the stresses of life and parenting. Building relationships with young families in your church and community, especially if they don’t have a lot of support of their own, is huge. It takes a village to raise a child, so the Church can be the village for parents who don’t have one. Supporting new parents as they adjust to life with a new baby can be critical to the success and stability of that family. Many young parents did not have very good parental role models, so they are forced to figure out parenting as they go and they don’t always have the coping skills to deal with the stresses of parenting. Have a loving community surround and support them can help them give their children the best start possible and keep families together.
Everybody can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. If you want help figuring out your something, we’d love to talk to you about it!
Written by Jon Sampson
Foster care is a battlefield. It’s a fight between good and evil, light and dark, right and wrong. By nature it is reactionary – We didn’t throw the first punch. Foster care is a response to what is broken motivated by the desire to see healing and renewal prevail. It is a commitment to see the heart of God demonstrated and justice triumph over what is tragically flawed.
It’s easy to think that the enemy in foster care is whoever did the bad things to the kids. The person who abused or neglected the child is the bad guy, right? Wrong. The person (or people) who caused harm to a child is not the enemy, Satan is. He is the one who ‘seeks to steal, kill and destroy.’ (John 10:10) Satan’s goal is to wreck everything that God made to be good, and that includes families. Yes, the birth parents did bad things, but like Ephesians 6:12 says ‘we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.’ The hope is that the kids that come into our home are able to go back to their families, so we can’t have the mindset of us vs the birth parents. Everyone should be on the same side: The side of the child.
Just like the birth parents aren’t the enemy, foster parents aren’t the heroes. You aren’t saving or rescuing the kids that come into your home. You’re not ultimately responsible for them during or after when they are living with you. They are God’s kids. He’s the one who rescues them and is responsible for them. Your family has a very important role to play in these kids stories, but it should take some pressure off to know that there’s someone much bigger and more powerful in control of their lives. There are many stories in the bible of how God is in control of stories that are much bigger than the people involved. The story of Moses is a perfect example, but I’ll write a whole post about his story.
There are many places in scripture where we are told of the importance that God places on caring for orphans, but I want to focus on 3 really quick.
- He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow – Deuteronomy 10:18a (NLT)
- Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:17 (NIV)
- Defend the weak and the fatherless – Psalm 82:3a (NIV)
Those verses have one word in common. Defend. Children and families in the foster care system are under attack and it’s the job of foster parents and anyone else who follows Christ to stand up for them and fight for them and alongside them.
There are a lot of ways you can be involved in doing that. Consider becoming a foster or adoptive parent. There are over 1000 new foster homes needed across the state, and hundreds of children awaiting adoption. It’s certainly not easy, but it is 100% worth it to be a part of changing the trajectory of a child’s life forever. If you can’t foster or adopt, you can support foster and adoptive parents. Heritage has a foster care resource closet that is available to foster parents in Laurens County. We also host the foster parent associations monthly training meetings. You can offer to help set up, tear down, or provide the meal for the foster parents that attend. We would love to begin a wrap around ministry, where a group of people supports a foster family through providing meals, babysitting, groceries, tutoring, lawn care, or anything else that can make life easier for them.
If you’re interested in any of those things, or you have another idea for how Heritage can fight alongside foster and adoptive families, please let us know!!
Written by Jon Sampson
Isaiah 1:17 is a pretty well-known verse: learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Have you ever read that verse in context? Yikes. Be warned, it’s strong.
Starting in verse 10, it says “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Were you ever at a friends house when they got in trouble? That awkward feeling of just sitting there and watching someone else get yelled at – that’s how I feel reading that, but then I remembered that He’s talking to me too.
Is He saying that all of that stuff isn’t important? No. All of those sacrifices and offerings are things that God commanded the people to do. So if those aren’t bad things, why do they make God so upset? Because when those things are becoming the focus of our worship we miss a really important part of worship. In the book Becoming Home, author Krish Kandiah says “if we care about worship, we should worship by caring.”
So how can we do that? The answer is different for everyone. 1 Corinthians 12 talks through a variety of spiritual gifts, and says All these [gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (v 11) That chapter goes on to talk about the importance of unity within the diversity of our spiritual gifts. Everyone has a different gift, but they are all equally valuable to the mission of Christ.
As Steven pointed out a few weeks ago, chapter 12 flows right into chapter 13. Groundbreaking, right? 1 Corinthians 13 is the famous love chapter. If we do anything with the best intentions but do it without love, it’s meaningless. We are called to use our unique gifts within the body of Christ to love those around us. Everyone has a different gift, but we all have the same call to love those around us. We can have the best music, super engaged children’s ministry, and most generous offerings – but if we’re not doing good, seeking justice, correcting oppression, bringing justice to the fatherless, and pleading the widow’s cause then we’re not really worshiping.
James 1:27 says Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world. I’m obviously biased towards foster care and adoption, but this seems pretty clear. If we want to practice the type of religion that God finds pure and undefiled, we need to be doing something related to orphans and widows. As I said, I’m biased towards orphan care – there are many different ways to worship through service, but the important thing is that you find your way, and do that to the best of your abilities. We can help you figure out what spiritual gifts you have and how to use them. Let us know if we can help you out!
God sets the lonely in families (Psalms 68:6a)
Great, then what?
Foster Care and adoption are amazing acts of obedience to God’s call. Often times though, the decision is the easy part. After all the background checks, paperwork, inspections, and interviews; the hard work begins. Caring for children who come into your life because of trauma can be more difficult than any home study process.
It’s important to be prepared for the realities of foster care, and understand that foster care is really hard. If you’re involved in foster care and you’re having a difficult time, you’re probably doing it right. Foster care is a system rooted in brokenness. The healing and redemption that foster care can create can’t happen without a child first experiencing something awful.
The ‘something awful’ that children in foster care experience sticks with them, and it can rear its ugly head through words, thoughts, and behaviors. When that happens, it’s easy to second guess your decision. It’s easy to feel frustrated and defeated. I know, because it’s happened to me.
Recently there has been a lot of ‘something awful’ behaviors in our house. All of the children in our home have experienced more than their fair share of ‘something awful’ times and it continues to affect their thought processes and actions, which in turn affects us. We remain secure in the call that God has placed on our lives, but that doesn’t always make the hard days easier.
Recently at church we sang the song Yes and Amen (Listen to it here) and it was a powerful reminder to me to look at the big picture. It’s easy for me to focus on myself and how difficult it is for me to parent kids from hard places. It’s hard for me to focus on anything other than the tantrums or the difficult behaviors. I can become overly reliant on myself, which only disappoints me because I feel like I fail more often than I succeed sometimes. (End of the selfish pity party)
The line in the song that really got to me was “my confidence is Your faithfulness.” Like I talked about in the last paragraph, I struggle to be confident sometimes when dealing with ‘something awful.’ Stepping back and looking at the big picture, it’s easy to see that God has been faithful throughout this whole foster care and adoption journey. The process of getting licensed was difficult, but He was faithful. The process of getting the boys into our home was difficult, but He was faithful. Their behaviors are difficult, but He will be faithful. The full bridge of the song is “I will rest in Your promises. My confidence is Your faithfulness”
Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
I don’t know how to make the hard times easier, but I know that we can rest in His promises, and our confidence should be in His faithfulness. (Full disclosure: this is something that I’m working on, and frequently failing at) If you’re going through a hard time in foster care or adoption, keep going. If you’re considering foster care and are nervous about the hard times and the something awful’s, we would love to encourage you and support you as we all do this foster care life together.
When I was in Sunday school as a kid there was a song that they taught us to help us learn the importance of obedience. I don’t remember the verses, but the chorus went like this: O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E, obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.
After I spoke last week, I was immediately flooded with things I wished I had included. One of the things I wanted to expound on more was the end of the Philippians passage I read, Philippians 2:5-8. The end of verse 8 says that ‘He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.’ I talked about this passage in regards to foster care, but I don’t think I did a good enough job highlighting Jesus’ example of choosing obedience over comfort.
When it comes to foster care, the phrase ‘obedient to death’ doesn’t mean literal death (hopefully). For Christ it did, but for us, I think it means something different. We should be obedient to death, even death of our own comfort and desires. Death to our traditional view of family and judgmental attitudes towards bio parents. Death to our own feelings of emotional safety and security.
That may sound reckless, but that’s exactly what God did for us. Earlier in Philippians 2, it reminds us that Christ ‘did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.’ He had an eternal seat with the ultimate comfort and security, but he chose to give that up out of obedience so that you and I could have the opportunity to experience the same comfort and security that he had. Even if we never chose to accept his gift, He was still willing to sacrifice so we could have the opportunity. If that’s what He did, then that’s what we should do. We should choose obedience over comfort so that a child might be able to experience the comfort and love that we often take for granted. Even if they never accept or seem to appreciate it, it’s still worth the sacrifice so a child can have the chance to experience a loving family.
Please contact me if you’re interested in learning more about this and how you can get involved in helping a child through foster care.