I'm waiting to get matched.
Yes, matched for marriage. But that's not what I'm talking about this time. I'm waiting to get matched with a foster child. My county has several ways for residents to get involved with the needs of foster children living here, and I've signed up to be a mentor to a young adult who is aging out of the system. Upon reaching 18 or 21 (it seems to depend on the circumstance), foster children here are aged out of the system. Suddenly they are without a formal support system. I remember how confusing those early adult years were (ahem, not all that long ago!)--suddenly you have to deal with insurance, tax, budget, employment, and medical issues that you didn't have to handle previously. You have roommates, responsibilities, and reams of choices. What you do in this season often dictates the direction of the rest of your life. As a young adult, I had my parents to turn to for their help and counsel, but who would a foster child have? How weird it would seem to suddenly be cut off, left to drift away on your own.
So the county has created a pilot program to provide mentors for those who have aged out of the system. I heard about it as I was working with Mark Mitchell, the pastor of mercy ministries and outreach at my church. We are slowly building a foster care ministry as one of the elements of our mercy ministries team. Our intention is to roll out a program in the coming year that will allow Covenant Life Church members to serve the orphans of our area (for that's what foster children really are) in a variety of ways--from working with the county to help with one-time events all the way to becoming vetted and trained for emergency foster care, vacation relief, and full-time foster parenting and/or adoption.
In the meantime, I invited a few single ladies from my church to exercise their Scriptural call to mentor younger women by participating in this pilot program. There are three of us who went through the training and background clearance. We are all waiting to be matched. As busy working women, this struck us as the best way we could personally get involved with the needs of our foster care system. Would you please pray for us that we would be matched, and that we would be effective instruments in the Lord's hands to serve these young women?
Our mercy ministries team is also planning ahead now for this year's Christmas gift collection for foster children. If you are interested in doing something similar in your own church, it's not too early to get started! Though last year we had a huge response from church members when we announced this drive in December, it would have been even better if we had done so in November (which we're planning to do this year). That means it has to get on your church's calendar and to your local foster care agency several months prior. So here's a heads up to start brainstorming, praying, and talking to your pastors.
Finally, if you've never really thought about the church's obligation to serve the orphans of our day, let me leave you with the provocative observations of Anthony Bradley, from The Resurgence blog. Here's an edited excerpt:
Why does America have orphans if it has Christian churches?
America has nearly 115,000 orphaned kids in foster care waiting to be adopted. Some wonder how this is possible in a country with Christian families. Surely, there are 115,000 missional families in America, right? Missional families, for example, embrace the redemptive mission of God and practice "true religion" in their local communities (James 1:27). Missional Christians in America could eliminate the foster care system tomorrow if we would stop "shootin' up" with the American Dream in order to get high on a lame life lived for the sake of comfort and ease.
"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," writes James (1:27). As a matter of fact, the Bible has over 40 verses mandating God's people to look after orphans and the fatherless for various reasons.
According to the American Religious Identity Survey, conducted by the City University of New York, there are over 224 million Christians in the United States. So, why are there 115,000 orphans in a country that has over 224 million Christians?
Since God's people have always been called to live missionally we are not surprised to see that James is not saying anything new. "When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow" (Deuteronomy 24:21).
Let's break this down further. The Washington Times reports that there are about 65 million evangelicals in America. So, again, why are there 115,000 orphans in America's foster care system? Does this mean that there are 65 million people missing huge sections of their Bibles? Would someone please alert Crossway and Zondervan!
Historically, the early church was known for taking in their culture's orphans and the needy. This is such an ancient tradition of the church (except for post-1960s American evangelicals) that Pope Benedict XVI even talked about it in his first encyclical "God is Love." He writes, "the Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word. . . Justin Martyr in speaking of the Christians' celebration of Sunday also mentions their charitable activity, linked with the Eucharist as such. Those who are able make offerings in accordance with their means, each as he or she wishes; the Bishop in turn makes use of these to support orphans, widows, the sick and those who for other reasons find themselves in need, such as prisoners and foreigners. The great Christian writer Tertullian relates how the pagans were struck by the Christians' concern for the needy of every sort."
Sadly, some of you are now more concerned about the fact that I quoted a Pope than you are about his actual point. Here's the deal: pagans were introduced to Jesus because Christians were taking care of the needy in obedience to Scripture. Taking care of the needy is not done only for the sake of evangelism. Practicing "true religion" is an extension of the kinds of Kingdom-oriented, salt and light, truth-bearing, grace-filled, Jesus-loving people who live to treat other people the same way God treats them (Ephesians 2:8-10).
UPDATE: I'd like to hear from those who are already involved with foster care. So I've opened the comments thread on this post.