Wednesday, February 22, 2012

are we obligated?

At the end of an informational meeting my wife and I were leading, the pastor and I were talking, and he stated, "Orphan care is not so much of a calling as it is a responsibility."  I nodded my head half agreeing because to be quite honest, I wasn't sure.

This is not a Ouija Board for those
who are unaware of the greatness
that is Trivial Pursuit.
When my wife approached me about becoming a foster family my response was an emotionless, "Okay."  I wasn't geeked up about the idea but I wasn't against it either.  You could say I have a very laissez faire approach to life at times.  For example, every time my wife and I have decided to have another biological child, a game of Trivial Pursuit has been involved with the winner determining if and when or final choice on the name.  I believe I have won 2 out of 3.  That being said, she felt called to be a foster parent, and I didn't.  I had read something somewhere in the Bible about caring for orphans and went along for the ride.

It's not that I was disengaged by any means.  I participated in training, welcomed children into our home and loved them with reckless abandon as they hurt and healed in our family.  And while I sensed that this journey had not begun in any kind of heavenly revelation for me, as time went on, the calling (or whatever we want to call it) became clearer.

I suppose I'd rather consider it an obligation along the lines of Luke 17:1-10 than a calling.  We tend to do a lot of scary things as Christians under the guise of being "called" to ministry or a specific job, town, person of the opposite sex, etc.  After all, what do you do with your "calling" when what you're called to is a child that tells you he doesn't want to be your son anymore?  Or worse yet, a child whose behavior and emotional trauma is so substantial that your marriage is falling apart over your inability to parent them?  Are you still "called" then?  I suppose the other side of that coin is that if you're obligated to care for orphans it's much easier to detach emotionally and simply move onto the next child that comes along.

Hector was a good pet, but all dog's
go to let's move on, it's
just a dog for crying out loud!
Suffice to say, not everyone is qualified to be a foster or adoptive parent.  People who love their pets in the kind of awkward sense where they have them enshrined when they pass probably wouldn't make good foster or adoptive parents no matter how much they feel called.  When our pets die, they get flushed, tossed over the back fence or buried in the backyard only to have the next set of pets come dig them up and chew on their bones (yes, that actually happened).  People who carry around mom- or dad-complexes bestowed upon them by their parents looking for validation probably wouldn't make good foster or adoptive parents no matter how much they feel obligated.  I'm sure there are a hundred other scenarios, but the obligation we have is a biblical mandate that doesn't necessarily require us all to do foster care or adoption.  It does, however, require us to do something.

The greatest reason for the world's population of orphans today is not the incredible number of children at 146 million.  It's not the rise of drug exposure, HIV/AIDS, the economy or any other related factor.  The greatest reason is INDIFFERENCE in the CHURCH.

And when I say the Church is obligated to do something, I don't just mean the rich American Church that spends billions on short-term mission trips so teenagers can site-see and build subpar housing that indigenous people could have done in order to maintain a living and billions more on buildings that sit empty 95% of the time.  I mean the global Church rising up to alleviate poverty, restore families, heal wounds and care for the least of these in their own backyards as a physical expression behind the words that Jesus came to reclaim what was lost.

That is our very privileged obligation.

Monday, February 20, 2012

orphan care is a trend

Our ministry, Embrace, works with churches all over Texas and various parts of the country to reclaim the care of orphans and waiting children.  In my role, I get to do a lot of initial contacts with church staff members and then training of leadership groups that consist of passionate individuals ready to live out the vision God places on their hearts.  But recently, I contacted a missions pastor briefly sharing the vision for what we do and the response went something like, "I've had a lot of people ask me about orphan care ministry lately, it must be the trendy thing to do nowadays."

It must be the trendy thing to do nowadays?  I wasn't offended at the time and I'm still not because I lived that same perspective.  I was a foster parent for five years before a mom of a couple of our students at our church approached my wife and I about starting an orphan care ministry at our church.  We knew we were called to be foster parents and saw that as a ministry of our family, but we had no idea the church should have any formal emphasis.  My favorite passage of the Bible had long been James 1:22, "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves, but do what it says."  Only, I had failed to read five more verses down and apply to the Church that, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  Orphan care as a mission of the Church is 2000 years old.  God wrote it into the Law in Deuteronomy 24 just to name one location.  Psalm 68:5-6 reads, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling.  He sets the lonely in families and leads out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land."

Trends usually end after a few months.  Poodle skirts were a trend.  Fedoras were a trend.  Boy bands were a trend.  Mullets were a trend.  Auto-tuning is a trend I hope ends sooner rather than later.   If orphan care is a trend, it has a better rate of revitalization than skinny jeans ever will.

So why would the Church see orphan care as a trend and not a fundamental aspect of its mission efforts?

In the 1960's and 70's, the United States government formally instituted foster care mandating each state to develop its own system.  Prior to that, there had been no comprehensive oversight to how families parented and provided for children on the part of the government.  Local communities and churches however had long since organized orphan care efforts.  Many of these efforts were aligned through a church's specific denomination which is why today we have agencies like the Texas Baptist Home for ChildrenPresbyterian Children's Home, and Methodist Children's Home.

But when foster care was federally mandated, many churches relegated orphan care to the state and assumed a trickle down economic philosophy by forwarding a percentage of their tithe to their denomination's convention which in turn funded these orphanages.  Whether that was intentional or circumstantial can probably only be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Needless to say, we now look at the orphan care crisis across the world and the needs of children in foster care here in our own backyards to realize the state cannot do this alone.  And, it probably wasn't their intention to exclude what efforts were going on indefinitely anyhow.

In short, the Church outsourced or abandoned a fundamental tenant of its mission, but we are reclaiming it.  That's not to say that we aren't making mistakes along the way, taking steps back at times in the short-sightedness of American Savior complexes, and improving our partnerships as we go.  It is to say...join us.  You may not be led to foster or adopt, but you are equipped with the time, ability and resources to do something that will speak the Good News of Christ's restoration into the life of a child that needs faith, hope and love.

If the jury is still out for you regarding orphan care as a foundational area of ministry in your church and reading the Bible has not swayed you, try reading Generous Justice by Timothy Keller or When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.  This isn't to say there aren't other areas of ministry that are foundational to the church's mission just that caring for the vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed is a way we tangibly live out the Gospel in restoring creation back to the Creator.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

the ugly beautiful

Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it. - Proverbs 22:6

Two weekends back our oldest son chose to move out on his own on a whim.  He didn't take any of his things with him.  He left one afternoon with what he said was an old friend from when he was in foster care several years ago then texted us the next day saying he didn't want to come back home.  He had just graduated high school and was starting college and a new job the next week.  He had been with us for more than three years, and while he had his issues, everyone (including him) thought he had matured and was ready to make more responsible decisions.

My wife and I were hopeful...we still are.  But we rack our brains grasping at straws for why this happened.  We were not indulgent or enabling.  If anything, we were strict and structured.  But upon returning home after graduation, we put the ball in his court and let him choose what his path would be.

An incredible ministry to porn addicts
& the porn industry...but not what I
wanted for my son.
Throughout high school, we discussed and experienced the importance of financial stewardship, integrity, and purity with the opposite sex.  We maintained a Love & Logic approach realizing that we couldn't bail him out of his problems or pity his self-induced dilemmas.  There are consequences for your choices, and as you get older, the impact of those consequences is deeper.  Ultimately, we came to find out that our son had drained his bank account in two weeks and was facing a debt of more than $200.  This is not an insurmountable climb by any means, but to a 19 year old who is paying for a phone and car insurance for the first's a rough start.  We also found that he had entered into the vast world of online adult services, where as an "adult", you can get together with other "adults" and pretend to be married for an evening or just an afternoon or just over the phone or just online.

This hurt.  We chose our son, and he abandoned us.  He had run away before when he was still a minor, and we worked through some of those issues to restore him.  But now, he is an adult (if only in a legal sense).  He had a fairly bright future.  We were not dreaming of him becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but a man who took the next step to finding himself and living life.  Being a liability to Average Joe Taxpayer was not our first choice for him.

So if we trained our child in the way he should go, why did he depart from it?

You may be reading this as a parent (whether you adopted or not) trying to avoid this path for your kids as you have set what is good in front of them and encouraged them to choose it.  The Book of Proverbs is what we call wisdom literature.  So when we interpret different passages, we have to consider what kind of language is being used.  Is it a story?  History?  Poem?  Parable?  Proverbs 22:6 is true, but it is not without exception.  9 times out of 10 a child that is trained in the way he should go will not depart from it when he is old.  But, this passage doesn't eliminate a child's capacity to choose which path he will take.

Choice is the ugly beautiful.  It means that we are not robots lacking the capacity to love God and one another deeply.  It also means that we maintain the ability to really mess life up for ourselves and others.  Choice gives us Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, "Not my will, but yours" before he hands himself over to be beaten and crucified.  It also gives us Adam and Eve in another garden choosing disobedience which led to shame, cursing and murder.

Some will ask, do you regret adopting your son?  No.  We chose him, and that choice was not dependent upon his performance.  We are mourning his choices and wish more for him, but I suppose the exact same thing is true of our relationship with God.  He mourns some of our choices and rejoices in others.  God has much prepared for us to do and enjoy, but we too often settle for what is immediately gratifying rather than waiting for something better.

Our son was 15 and alone when we adopted him.  He had bounced between foster homes, residential treatment facilities and group homes.  He had been through two disrupted adoptive placements where someone told him they were his family then changed their minds when he didn't live up to their expectations.  We would still encourage families to adopt older children even as we sit in disbelief of our son's choices.  But his story is not over yet.  He is not given up on.  He is still and forever will be my son.