Guest post as part of our National Adoption Month series: Post by Gena Thomas
About four million Americans go on missions trips every year,[i] many of which are to orphanages. We go overseas, hold HIV positive babies, take pictures of them, and then fly home. We tell our American friends and family about how great it was to hold them, how awesome it was to love them, and we smile upon our remembrances. But all too often, that’s where the story ends. We may have changed some dirty diapers for our ten days there, but we don’t do it on a daily basis. That would be messy. What handle for ten days in a foreign land, we don’t want to do daily. But we could. Maybe we should. Because while the calling to foster care may not be on everyone, the calling to care for the vulnerable in some form is a universal Christian calling.
Nationwide, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) in 2013, there were 402,378 children in foster care, and 101,840 of those children are waiting to be adopted. In North Carolina, there are almost 9,000 churches. According to Children’s Defense Fund, there were 8,828 children in foster care in 2012.
Two excuses to not become foster parents:
1. Saying Goodbye Would Break My Heart
Finding what mission God has for us in our own context begins with eight words: “Lord, break my heart with what breaks Yours.” Though this may be a common prayer among Christian circles, do we really understand the implications of it? If we pray for our hearts to break with what breaks the Lord’s heart, we are implying that we will align our emotions with the Lord’s. One of the most common reasons people tell me they cannot become foster parents is the fact it would break their heart when they have to goodbye to a child they’ve become attached to. I thought the same. But that didn’t hold up for long. It started to feel like a selfish desire blocking me from allowing my heart to break for what is breaking God’s.
I heard the phrase, “Break your heart, not your calling” over and over again by pastor Teri Furr. She explained it to me:
Garments are very significant to callings throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. The rules for the high priest, spelled out in Leviticus 21, dictate that a priest is not to tear his garments under any circumstance. This was counter-cultural to the mourning process, because the norm was to tear garments and cry aloud. However, the priest had a higher standard set for him. No matter how difficult the circumstance, a priest could never tear his garment even in mourning. The priest’s garments were even sewn so that it would be difficult for the priest to tear, meaning it couldn’t be done in haste. The message of this for us is that regardless of circumstances or struggles, we are never to tear our calling. We are always priests. In Joel 2:12-14 (NIV), it says, “’Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing … .”
If we really want the Lord to break our hearts with what breaks His, we must not think we can walk away unscathed from the process. Our hearts represent our desires, dreams, and goals, including our selfish, human desire to possess children.
2. Dealing with Biological Parents is Too Messy
Another reason not to become a foster parent is the stigma that the children are marred by the baggage of their biological parents. There is a very negative perception of the biological parents whose children are taken away. They are drug users, sexual abusers, child neglecters, prone to violence, and impoverished. My husband, Andrew, reminded me recently that our reason for foster parenting cannot be because the system needs good parents. “The same bad that is in the biological parents is in us too,” he said. “We have the same potential to fall into those traps.” And if that’s the case, the same potential good that is in us, is also in them. If we believe in the gospel, we must believe that change is always possible. If the gospel can change a serial killer into an evangelist who writes half the New Testament, there is hope for all of us.
What creates orphans to begin with? Whether by things in their control or things out of their control, a mother or father or both are no longer a part of the child’s life. The root cause of what creates an orphan differs in every case, but what is the same is that at one point in time—even if only at conception—there were two human beings who created a third. This means that the whole picture involves at least three human beings. Still, the focus is often only on the child. As Christians, we have to recognize the innate dignity within each person in the picture. We also must admit that the ideal situation is for all three people in this family to be reconciled to each other. Reunification may sound too much to overcome from the viewpoint of the foster family who has to say goodbye, but ultimately, it is the essence of familial reconciliation—though it isn’t always the end result.
If we really believe in reconciliation, and if we really believe in allowing God to break our hearts for what breaks his, we are compelled to seek out ways to lay down our selfishness and make our communities stronger.
[i] David Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open.
Gena Thomas is an author, blogger, and faith wrestler. She was a missionary in northern Mexico alongside her husband, Andrew, for more than four years, where they played a lot of soccer, hung out with a lot of youth, consumed insane amounts of caffeine, and struggled to redefine the word missionary. Gena holds a master’s in International Development from Eastern University. She is the author of A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices, and she hosts #JustMissions, a monthly Twitter chat on missions. Find out more about her at www.genathomas.com or find her on social media @genaLthomas.