Wanted: One Church Family – Part I
by Rich Nilsen for Foster.Today
“You could say that as newly licensed foster parents our phone was ringing off the hook.”
The Christian Church has dropped the ball. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Christian community in the United States, overall, is pretty amazing, and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves for all the good work done both domestically and overseas.
Take Catholic Charities, for example, which is arguably one of the most productive charitable organizations on the globe. Among Catholic Charities’ major roles is helping refugees and other victims who must flee their countries to escape violence and persecution. Look at Samaritan’s Purse, run by Franklin Graham, the son of the famed preacher Billy Graham. For nearly 50 years, Samaritan’s Purse has done everything within their capability to follow Christ’s command by going to the aid of the world’s poor, sick, and suffering.
Those are the high-profile Christian organizations, but so many local churches around the country do tremendous work within their communities. If every Christian church vanished tomorrow, the world, as we know it, would be quite different. But this article isn’t about defending the Christian community’s work as a whole. It’s about the opportunity that is being missed.
Unfortunately, the Christian Church as a body has failed the orphans. Today, there are over 350,000 children in foster care around the United States. There are also roughly 350,000 churches* nationwide. That’s one child per church. So, what’s needed? One more church family stepping up to take on the challenge of foster care.
According to a Lifeway survey, twenty five percent of church participants stated that they knew of a fellow church member who provided foster care. However, only twelve percent of all church leaders had encouraged foster care among their congregation. Those numbers are not good enough.
A few years ago my wife and I mulled over the decision about becoming foster parents. After the birth of our daughter at the age of 42, my wife suffered multiple miscarriages. It was heartbreaking and disappointing, but God had a bigger purpose.
At some point we found out about an orientation class on becoming foster parents, made an appointment and waited for the scheduled date to arrive.
That date came and we attended the two-hour orientation class, which introduced us to the requirements of being good foster parent candidates as well as the tasks involved with getting licensed. This wasn’t an easy process, nor were we expecting to be.
There were several requirements: Getting licensed typically required about three months’ worth of training, unless you did an expediated course. There was also a thorough background check on both prospective foster parents. In addition, there would be an in-depth home study to make sure our house was up to standards and safe for any children.
This was a huge commitment. I envisioned a disrupted lifestyle and major changes for our daughter, too. I wasn’t fully “on board” with the idea of foster care, and so my wife and I mutually decided to wait.
The decision to proceed would come about a year later. My wife and I signed up for licensing classes through a local Christian organization, A Door of Hope. The classes were held every Monday night for three hours though the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch in Pinellas County, Florida.
There were eight couples, including one couple that was friends of ours. They already had two young children but were looking to be stewards to foster children.
As we were forewarned, the series of classes focused quite a bit about trauma. Many children in foster children have suffered some level of trauma, the type that most of us would know little about. In fact, every child placed in foster care suffers the trauma of being pulled away from their parents or close relative. Consequently, the life they know is disrupted in a huge way.
Not only are these children removed in dramatic fashion, oftentimes by law enforcement, but they don’t know when they are going to see their mother or father again. To make matters worse, they are placed in a home of complete strangers.
Aside from being loving and compassionate, foster parents must be fully equipped to handle these situations. It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be, but well-trained foster parents are ready for the task.
After eight weeks of training, a comprehensive home study, and weeks of waiting, we were finally licensed. About 4 hours later we received our first call. Marta and I had stated that we were interested in one child under the age of six. The training staff had emphasized that it was important for our daughter to remain the oldest child in the family, and we certainly concurred with that philosophy.
Our first call was for two siblings. We asked several questions about the foster children, which was something that the training staff had highly recommended that we do. It was important that we knew the type of child (and situation) we were receiving into our home. Had the child been abused? What was the personality of the child? What was the parent situation? Why was the child being removed? If anything made us feel uncomfortable, we were to say “no.” It was OK to say no. And that is exactly what we did with the first call.
However, the second call came a short time later that same evening. You could say that as newly licensed foster parents our phone was ringing off the hook.
This second call was for two female siblings under the age of two. They also had a six-year-old brother who had previously been in foster care but had returned to his mom and now was being removed again.
We prayed and accepted the request. Two little girls were on the way to our house, but it was agonizing 2 ½ hours before they would arrive.
P and G, due to their young ages, adjusted quickly to our home. Our adventure had begun.
*According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research