by Kim Miller
In 2014, God opened a very unexpected door - an opportunity for me to change careers to the nonprofit sector as the Executive Director of Mary Lee's House, Hillsborough County’s Child Protection and Advocacy Center. Trusting God would equip me in this calling, I dove deeper into the child welfare world and haven’t looked back. Currently, I have the privilege to serve as the Director of the Fostering Together Initiative at Radiant Church and the Faith-based Liaison for Chosen, a nonprofit supporting foster, adoptive and kinship families. May is National Foster Care Month, and I love to take this opportunity to share how God is working through the Church to care for the most vulnerable.
At Mary Lee’s House, children who have been abused or neglected come to receive necessary services, including medical exams, forensic interviews, and counseling. Working in this environment allowed me to see firsthand the brokenness of families. Often, these families’ crises are a product of the generations preceding them who have experienced a vicious cycle of abuse and neglect. And often, what appeared to me to be missing was the love and hope we find in Jesus.
I will never forget one little 6-year old boy’s story. When it was determined that he needed to be removed from his biological mother temporarily to keep him safe, our community’s child welfare agency went to work to find him a placement. The issue was that he had been removed before. In fact, he had been in the child welfare system four out of his six years of life. He had several previous placements and was labeled with “challenging behaviors”. I watched as the hours went by and there was no bed to be found - not a single bed for a 6-year old boy throughout our entire county of over 1.5 million people. Where was everyone? Where was the Church?
The immediate reaction of most of us when we read about children with no beds, or a tragedy that happens to a child in the system, is to ask, “Where was the case worker? How didn’t anyone see what was happening?” It is an imperfect system working with broken families. However, it was not God’s original design for the government to take care of the orphan. To the contrary, James 1:27 tells us,
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Perhaps it is not about the absence of the Church, but rather the Church’s lack of awareness and disconnect on how to help and be a part of the solution.
The great news is that there has been a growing movement over the past few decades in the Church. Many churches are taking bold steps to respond to our call as Christians to care for the orphan. According to Jason Johnson, National Director of Church Ministry Initiatives for the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), “It’s a historic time in the church, one which generations to come will undoubtedly recognize as a time when God moved mightily through His people to press into a matter that is near to His heart.”
There are many ways churches and individuals can engage in this ministry. We know, according to Psalm 68:6,
God sets the lonely in families.
You find families for those who are lonely. As May is Foster Care Awareness month, many churches across the country are hosting events to recruit Christian families into fostering. In my community, there are 7 churches for every one child that comes into the system of care each month. This statistic holds true nationwide. But it is important to understand that even though everyone is not called to be a foster parent, there is a role for them to play. God does call all of His children to care for those in need; however, He gives us all individual talents and abilities to do so. Romans 12:6-8 teaches us,
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
And each of these gifts, brought together through the Church, can be the solution to the child welfare crisis. As stated in Ephesians 4:16,
From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Not everyone is called to bring a child into their home, but everyone can do something.
At Radiant Church in Tampa, Florida, we launched our Fostering Together Initiative last year with the mission to provide everyone in our congregation an opportunity to engage using their unique gifts. Our church has many families that have answered the call to foster or adopt from the system. It is beautiful to see many of these children hear the gospel for the first time and for them to know that no matter what their circumstances they have a Heavenly Father who loves them. We are so grateful for these families who make the ultimate sacrifice to bring children into their homes.
However, fostering is not where the majority of our church serves. We know that 50% of all foster families will not foster a full year without support. However, with support, 90% will foster longer than a year! If the Church is recruiting families to foster, we need to walk alongside them. There are a myriad of ways for a church to provide support, the first and most obvious way of which is prayer. These vulnerable children, their biological parents and their caregivers need people who are lifting them up in prayer each day. This is where everyone can engage to help children and change the course of their lives. For our church, this looks like a weekly zoom prayer call where all prayer warriors are welcome to join and pray over our families and their needs. And for me, my PrayerBowl is the perfect way to remember these prayers throughout the week!
Our church also employs a model that provides our foster and adoptive families with a care community. A care community is a team comprised of four to six volunteers who provide support such as prayer, meals, babysitting, mentoring, tutoring, errands and household chores, all depending on the needs of each family. This is where our church members’ unique giftings bless our families. And we know that as much as the families are blessed by the support, the volunteers are as well. Our volunteers are blessed because they too answer the call of James 1:27.No matter the size or culture, every church can play a vital role in supporting their community’s child welfare system. If you are interested in learning more, our team at Radiant Church would love to share our resources. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not all of us are called to bring a child into our home, but everyone can do something!
Jesus, we pray that you will ignite the Church to be your hands and feet, to show your love, and to shine your light into the darkness of hurting children and families. Show each of us how we can use our unique gifts to care for the vulnerable children and families in our communities for your glory, Amen.