It’s that time of year when many of us will be going home, seeing relatives, catching up with old friends and celebrating a season of togetherness. We will be exchanging gifts, and holiday cookies, attending parties with extended family and answering those dreaded questions from grandparents about relationships and future plans.
But as many of us spend time in houses full of family members, there are hundreds of thousands of kids who will not get that experience this Christmas. Kids who will spend this Christmas season in a group home, with their social worker, in a foster home or waiting for the next court date to see if maybe this time reunification with their parents will be possible.
There are over 400,000 children currently in foster care in our country. A number that big is difficult to grasp, so think of it this way. In just a few months the Super Bowl will happen in Houston, Texas at the NRG Stadium. If you had roughly six of those stadiums lined up next to one another, every single seat in each of those six stadiums would be filled by a foster child in our country. Imagine that for a second, all the faces of all those children.
It is an astonishing number and can seem like an impossible issue to address. But when we remember that we serve a big God who is all about doing big things for our good and His glory, and when we remember that He calls us to take care of the orphans, the reasons not to engage seem to diminish.
For Christians, caring for orphans is a command (James 1:27, Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 1:17). Though the way we will engage will vary, the truth is that we are all called to care for orphans.
The story of the lost sheep (Luke 15) rings loud in my ear when I imagine the small child’s face during a court hearing, or when waiting for the call that a foster family has chosen them. That one lost sheep, Jesus sees and leaves the ninety-nine to go after.
There are countless agencies and state workers in the foster care system. What if one day we could say that there are countless churches working in this field? What if that depends on our involvement, on our simple, “yes” to answering God’s call to care for the orphans? While the Christmas season naturally tends to shift our gaze to those less fortunate, may that gaze not pass by once the calendar turns to a new year.
If we think about the life Jesus modeled, we don’t just see Him caring for the orphans when it is convenient. Justice is not seasonally specific. For the Church to do justice in the realm of foster care means that we always have eyes for those God has called us to care for.
As the Church, we have a role and a responsibility, but we cannot do it alone. For the simple fact that our states have custody of these children, the state decides placements and makes the decisions for these children. Government and nonprofit workers are intimately involved in the lives of foster kids. Whether children are just entering foster care or they have aged out, the Church has a role to play alongside the state.
Here are some first steps to take to become someone who is marked by the truth of James 1:27.
1) Pray. Ask God what it would look like for you to care for those in foster care. We can’t get involved without God’s leading and wisdom.
2) Learn about your state’s foster care system. What organizations work in your state? What nonprofits are supporting foster children and families?
3) Take steps to engage. Do you know people who are foster parents? Bring them a meal or find ways to serve them. Look into what it would take for your family to begin fostering. Ask your church if they have a foster care ministry and how you can serve alongside it.
In college I had the privilege of working in a child services organization as a foster care licensing intern. I spent my time with potential foster parents and I helped with the PS-MAPP classes, which was part of the listening process for the potential foster parents. These classes were structured in a cohort format and each week a humble, yet expectant group of people would walk in the room, ready to learn, ready to see how they could be the best foster parents. Each week I sat amazed at the sacrifice, the love, the confidence in God’s timing that this group of believers had at our Christian agency.
As I look back, I see the most beautiful picture of the church. A group of believers turned friends through doing justice together. These people had eyes for children who had been pushed to the margins of society and worked to hear a judge one day say, ‘this state no longer has custody of this child, they now belong to this family.” A true picture of Christmas, as Jesus came into our broken world, to bring us into His family so that sin and death no longer had custody over us.
Foster care is an opportunity for the Church to look like itself in the most radiant of colors. Together, the Church and the state, doing justice. The Church can insert itself into the folds of society, the intricacies and messiness of the state, or government agencies, and broken families and court hearings. There is a great Christmas song with the line, “glory in the highest, glory in the lowest, Immanuel.” Glory in the seemingly lowest places of society like the foster care system, where we need everyone to show up. And when we do show up there, Immanuel, God is with us.
The question isn’t are you called to care for those in our foster system, the question is how are you caring for them?
-Kelsie Doan recently completed an internship at International Justice Mission in Washington, D.C., and is currently pursuing a MA in Intercultural Studies and Children at Risk at Fuller Theological Seminary in Arizona