NEW ENGLAND CHRISTIANS CALLED TO CARE FOR DEFENSELESS CHILDREN
Imagine that you are a child “safely” tucked into bed for the night, when suddenly, the arrival of a stranger at your house startles you awake. Soon, this unknown man invades the darkness of your bedroom. He quickly stuffs some of your clothing into a black garbage bag. Then, despite your mother’s loud protests, he takes your little hand and leads you outside. “Don’t worry,” he tries to assure you. “Everything will be okay.” Trying desperately to be brave, you fight back tears as he straps you into the back seat of his sedan. Off you go into the dark night, watching your home fade from sight. After what seems like an eternity, the stranger parks the car in front of an unfamiliar house in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Now in the front hallway of this house, the man introduces you to yet another complete stranger and then, in a flash, he is gone.
Flurries of questions assault your young mind. “Why do I have to leave home? Did I do something wrong? Does my mom still love me? Who are these new people? Where are they taking my brother and sister? When can I go home?”
Welcome to your new reality. Welcome to foster care.
Unfortunately, the heart-wrenching scenario described above occurs all too often in the United States. Every day some 1,200 children and adolescents join the 425,000 others already living in foster care. About 24,000 children are currently living in the foster care systems of New England.
As you can imagine, entrance into foster care is a traumatic experience. Having already endured the pain of abuse or neglect, foster youth must face the added confusion of being removed from the only places of familiarity and family they know. They are often uprooted from their schools, separated from their siblings, and subsequently bounced from foster home to foster home. Sadly, studies bear out what we instinctively know to be true: such instability has a negative, often devastating, influence on these young lives.
As we consider the plight of these children, we must avoid the tendency to reduce them to a mere statistical category, a societal group. Such reductionism obscures the fact that each foster child is a real human being with a real name, face, personality, and future. More significantly, every single one is a person uniquely created in the very image of God and thus endued with an inherent dignity and value worthy of our care. Simply put, foster children are real kids in real crisis who need real love. In particular, they urgently need safe and loving foster and adoptive families who are equipped and supported to succeed.
In a wealthy country of 315 million people, many of whom profess the Christian faith, one would expect this need to be easily met. Unfortunately, this is not so. To the contrary, virtually every state in the U.S. has a chronic shortage of safe, nurturing foster families. The result? Too many children placed in group homes; too many placed in subpar foster homes; and, too many adolescents transitioning into adulthood with no family to call their own.
So, is there any hope for this tragic reality? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” We believe that the people of God will, when exposed to and equipped for the need, open their hearts and homes to these children. In fact, they must, since the credibility of their profession of faith depends upon it. God calls his people to demonstrate the authenticity of their repentance (Is.1:17) and faith (Jam.1:27), in part, by caring for the vulnerable child. This follows naturally from a Christian’s faith in the Gospel – a Gospel marked by the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. An authentic experience of such selfless love invariably produces a heart impulse to image that same love in the world. The Gospel thus uniquely equips the Christian to persevere in the kind of sacrificial love so vital to meeting the physical, emotional, and, most importantly, spiritual needs of the foster child.
The opportunities to help are manifold. Some are a called to be foster or adoptive families. Others may be called to provide specific and tangible support to foster and adoptive families through prayer, respite care, transportation help or simply dropping off a meal once a month. Additional ways to serve include providing material resources (diapers, bedroom furniture, clothing, etc.), becoming a mentor, volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, organizing a prayer team, starting a foster care ministry in your local church or supporting a ministry such as Fostering Hope.
The Spirit is stirring up God’s people in New England to serve this community in a new and fresh way. If you desire to help create a culture of foster and adoptive care within your church, we are here to help! Find out more at fosteringhope.org, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out my personal support page at msc.kintera.org/jonathanreid.
Jonathan Reid is the executive director of Fostering Hope, a Christian organization promoting foster care and adoption based in Providence, R.I.