Friday, March 20, 2015

When Ministry Becomes Family... and Back Again

It feels cheap now but we frankly didn't know any better.  We had an empty room.  We knew kids were in foster care without families.  So we thought it would be a ministry of our family.  We never thought the ministry would become family.

It took us years of having children removed into foster care and placed in our home until it clicked with us that people, especially vulnerable, neglected and abused children, aren't a ministry.  They are people.  If they don't have a relationship with us where we give what they take and we take what they give, they're really little more than a client in a quasi-business transaction.

Since Christ's words lead us beyond a master and servant exchange to one of friends in John 15:15 this seemed like a more appropriate perspective.  But, we just wanted to help... we wanted to "make a difference."  As these children came and went, some moving to other foster homes to be united with siblings, some moving to live with relatives, and some staying until their parents satisfied the State and were reunified, we awoke to the reality that something much deeper was happening.

We started to become accountable.

Initially, we thought we were providing a safe place with consistent boundaries and food.  We thought they were the ones who needed our help.  But, we were more than just caretakers of these children, and they were more than just receivers of our goodwill.  We became Mom and Dad if only for a few weeks or months.  Those titles change the way you think.  It's more than a label when a child, any child, looks to you for protection, guidance and healing.

And, where we could see the glaring effects of neglect and abuse on these children leaving them broken, we began to see our brokenness too.  We had put ourselves together with some facsimile of competence and assuredness doing a rather nice job of covering our shortcomings.  Children have a way of exposing you though.  So we received their goodwill and patience with us as we learned to prioritize what truly matters.  It was there that we learned when a child is placed in our home, when we open our door, we are accountable.  We have not just invited ministry to occupy a space.  We have extended the definition of family by making our family available to children without a family or in many cases an appropriate family.  As my friend Jason Johnson puts it, "We are giving a family not just getting a child."

But, there are more.

More than my home can contain.  More than the time God has allotted to me can be divided.  There are more.  Millions more.  So what started as a ministry and turned into family turned back into ministry again.  But this new ministry wasn't necessarily just the ministry of my family within my family.  It was a ministry of my family to help other families redefine what it is to be family.

We can't help but be patient with others since we started our family with a relatively misconceived idea, but we challenge the notions of race, age, birth order and borders.  We challenge the idea that a person is too old to be adopted or adopt.  We challenge the hesitance a line drawn on a map creates in us to give family to a child in another state or country.  And, we challenge the contentment that can come when a child is adopted into our home because there are more.

So my hope is not to incite you into adopting children until you can field your own football team.  My hope is to extend your perspective from opening your home to make a difference in the life of a child to redefining what family is to multiplying a new perspective of what family is to other families.  You may do this by joining an existing organization or ministry that serves vulnerable children and families like Safe Families for Children or CASA.  Or, you may find yourself in an area where the Church has gone dark in this regard, and God uses you to shine the Light back on his heart for the fatherless (Deut. 10:18-19, Psalm 68:5-6, Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27).

If we can help, we'd certainly like to do so, and you can visit www.EmbraceMinistry.org to get started.

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