Following the call of Scripture to care for orphans, the church is increasing its involvement in the foster care system.
25 percent of Protestant or nondenominational church attenders know “someone from their church [who] has been involved in foster care over the past year,” according to LifeWay Research, a research organization that works to provide churches with relevant data and custom surveys.
“There may be no greater expression of the Christian faith than extending hope and love to children whose birth families are not able to able to care for them,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said.
Samuel Cross-Meredith, senior English major, has witnessed how Christians help children in need of safe environments through his experiences at the Texarkana Baptist Children’s Home in Texarkana, Arkansas. “For most of us, coming out of the situations that we came out of … everything was the opposite of normal,” Cross-Meredith said. “The foster care system is meant to emulate a home environment. A place like the children’s home or anything like that, it’s sort of abandons any idea that this is a normal environment and attempts to reconstruct normal in a way that a traumatized brain can understand and take it.”
Cross-Meredith lived at the children’s home for two years, starting when he was 16. “My father got his third DWI, which is what he told me. I later heard that he had got busted for buying drugs, but I don’t know the truth … There was no guardian around,” Cross-Meredith said.
While at a Christian children’s home, Cross-Meredith states that his faith was a choice, not something forced by administration or counselors. “If you’re a religious institution dealing with traumatized kids, typically you’re dealing with … cynical folks angled towards non-belief,” Cross-Meredith said. “I tend to take the indoctrination stuff with a grain of salt because a lot of people when they’re hurt turn that hurt towards God. It is a safe thing to do because he’s not going to blow us away.”
In light of his faith, Cross-Meredith believes that the church should be actively involved in the foster care system. “We believe that this is the path to salvation and a better life both here and the hereafter. Then, yeah, we should be doing everything to reach everybody always. That aside, Christ told us to care for the orphan.”
Here in Northwest Arkansas, The Call is a non-profit organization seeking to create a bridge between the church and the Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services.
“Becoming a foster parent or adopting can seem like a daunting process. We help demystify that journey and are with families every step of the way, from the first inquiry to when they have children placed in their home and for as long as they need,” Brandy Shioyama, the training coordinator and the family support coordinator for The Call in NWA, said. “The CALL is about mobilizing and equipping the local church to be actively involved in helping solve the foster care crisis in their community … Families that foster or adopt need encouragement and support. What better place to get that than from their local church?”
Keaton Harper, worship pastor at Holland Chapel Baptist Church in Benton, Arkansas, is a board member for The Call of Saline County in Benton, Arkansas, as well as a foster and adoptive parent. “If every church in our state raised up one family to foster or adopt we wouldn’t have any children waiting in the foster care system in Arkansas. If each of those churches supported that family, they would all be filling the mandate in James,” Harper said. He believes that the church should take responsibility for orphans, rather than government institutions.
\For two years, Harper and his wife Megan fostered a young girl and adopted another girl and boy. “[She] heard us talk to our two adopted children about their adoption regularly. We loved her dearly, and she loved us. But we knew we couldn’t adopt her and provide for her the amount of attention she needed to flourish; at the same time, it was hard to think about relinquishing control of her parenting to someone we didn’t know,” Harper said. “She asked us pointedly why we wouldn’t adopt her and let her live with us permanently … That is the hardest thing I have ever had to do—to try and explain why that wasn’t the decision we wanted to make but that it was the one we thought was right and best.”
“Ultimately I learned that all children, whether God allows you to have them biologically, adopt them, foster them, have them for a long time or a little, coach them on a ball team or be the parent to their friend and the home they come hang out at—all children belong to God and He allows us to have some degree of stewardship over them,” Harper said. “We must do the best with what time we have to show them an accurate depiction of who God is and who he wants them to be.”
Cross-Meredith says entering into the foster care system, even for those with good intentions, is like “reaching into the fire to grab a hot coal. You can be prepared for that and have the right equipment and be alright with that, or you can just reach in your hand. If you do that, you’re going to end up burned,” Cross-Meredith said. “A lot of kids who come out of foster care are very, very hurt, and they don’t know how to deal with that hurt. A lot of times, they’re going to deal with it in a way that you can’t understand completely or that you might even be afraid of.”
Harper cautions those who are looking to foster or adopt that it is not an easy task. “However, Jesus rarely calls His followers to things that are easy. We are in fact disciples of His and discipline isn’t easy or comfortable,” Harper said. “He also said in the gospel of Mark 9:33-37 to his apostles who were arguing about being the greatest that, ‘Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.’”
For children currently in the foster care system or children’s homes, Cross-Meredith encourages them to not give up hope because these experiences make them stronger. “Eventually, when the time comes, you’re going to realize that you are strong and more capable to withstand far greater pressures and far greater pains than you would have ordinarily,” Cross-Meredith said. “When that time comes, when God needs that person, you’re going to understand that you went through it for yourself, yes, but you went through it to help those around you. And you know, maybe Jesus wasn’t abused as a kid, we don’t really get a lot of information about that, but he was an incredibly lonely man. So, he gets it.”