Two years ago I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen in weeks. “How are you?” I asked. She had just started fostering a sibling group of three kids about two months earlier. Tears formed in her eyes and she began to weep. “You are the first person in weeks to ask how I have been,” she said. I was stunned; partially because this woman was clearly struggling and isolated, but even more so because this woman was an active member of her church and lead bible studies. She was plugged into her church community and it was no secret to anyone she was fostering.
“Has anyone brought you a meal or asked to watch the kids to give you a break?” “No”, she said. “But plenty of people tell me they are praying for me. “
Where was the church body in this? The body of Christ? The Village? Why was it in a church full of young families, constant play dates, and VBS, this family was receiving no support from the church body?
Unfortunately, this family is no longer fostering and joined the staggering statistic of 50% of foster families who stop fostering after their first year.
Two months later I attended a national adoption/foster care conference. Clones of my friend’s story were told over and over by various women from across the country. While they are actively living out James 1:27 in every moment of their life, their church family was playing a meager role in supporting them outside of a flippant “I’ll pray for ya.”
Fast forward two years and my husband and I began fostering. It wasn’t long before we took in 10 different placements at various times, over a 2 month period. Our first placement was a little boy, and the second another sweet boy, and the third placement was a sibling set of two boys and a girl. The flood gates opened and we were on the front line living life with these kids; all precious and all traumatized. With each placement, we found a member of our church at our door, bringing meals, boy clothes, pull ups, and formula. A friend brought over her therapy dog and bubbles to keep the kids occupied one afternoon, and another friend showed up with a crate of fresh eggs from her coop. Teenagers from the youth group came over and handed my husband Josh and me iced coffee (my personal love language) then stayed for hours playing with the kids to give us a breather. Josh and I were running a marathon and this love and support gave us the continuous cup of cold water needed to keep running the race. Our experience is rare; embarrassingly rare, especially when other foster families catch wind of our support that they have been so desperate for.
Is the church filled with terrible and apathetic people? No. But perhaps the church has blinders on and doesn’t realize their role in foster care. Not everyone is supposed to be a foster parent, but every Christian is supposed to play an active role in orphan care.
What actions can the church body do to live out James 1:27? First, recognition must take place that taking care of orphans is a commandment, not a calling. James 1:27 uses the word “visiting” when describing orphans. The word visiting is an ongoing word of action, not simply a one-time event. Within this commandment of “visiting orphans” are individual callings. Some people are called to be foster parents and others have a place to support those families.
Here are some specific yet simple ways to be the village and the body of Christ, to foster families in your church.
Create a Meal Calendar- A one-time meal is nice, but this foster family is running a continual race. If you have more than 10 families in your church, each family can sign up to bring a meal once a month.
Free Babysitting- In most states there is a “normalcy” clause when it comes to foster children. That means, if you would allow a babysitter to come over to watch your kids for a couple hours, then that is also appropriate for foster kids. Offer free babysitting to the foster family.
Clean the foster family’s home for an hour– Tell the family you are coming over for an hour to clean/organize , or do their laundry.
Give Care packages– Diapers, food, formula, kids clothes, car seats. These kids are dropped off to this family’s house at a moment’s notice with typically nothing besides the clothes on their back.
Send members of the Youth Group over to play with the kids on Saturdays- These foster children will be blessed by the love and the fun with the teens, and this is also a great experience for teenagers to see their important impact.
This is not an exhaustive list but is a good start. These meals, these acts of love are the game changer which keep foster parents in the game verses throwing in the towel. My hope is that this list is shared and then implemented in churches around the country. It will change and refresh foster families and will also change churches. It’s time for the Church to play their part, to be the village and the body of Christ which is so clearly articulated in the word.