FIRST-PERSON: When foster kids come to church
PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- "The Turners have a new foster child," someone whispered. A wide-eyed 12-year-old walked into church beside the couple, and people began to welcome him.
When God prompts someone in your church to foster a child, how will your church respond? Are the preschool, children's and youth workers prepared? Will children include them? Will seniors and singles, ushers and leaders, individuals and groups lovingly support those brave parents and welcome that child?
The need for foster parents is critical; the biblical mandate is clear. This column, however, is not for foster parents. These ideas are for everyone else in your church -- those who may not be called to foster parenting but whose personal attitude and actions might encourage the foster parents and change a foster child's life forever.
Get ready to make a difference. Try some of these fresh ideas:
-- A church needs to have a support team in place before foster children enter their doors. Surround each foster family with an organized support system.
-- Listen to the excellent podcast "The Adopting and Fostering Home" at namb.net or iTunes. There's also a step-by-step guide for a church project to collect rolling suitcases and new clothes for social workers to give new foster children.
-- Send your children's/youth minister or key volunteer through your state's foster care training classes. The information will be invaluable. Consider auditing other topical classes they offer. Share the information with other leaders.
-- Have a respite plan in place to help absorb foster parents' weariness. Foster agencies may be willing to do onsite training on a Sunday or a weekend.
-- Organize a foster and adoptive parent Christian support group.
When a foster parent receives a child
-- Rally around them. Discover immediate needs and help meet them. Loan a car seat. Prepare a care package. Appoint one person to organize some meals.
-- Allow bonding time. Leave gifts at the door. Arrange a visit only after the foster family says they're ready for guests.
-- Pray. When my daughter and son-in-law picked up their foster children a year ago, a church member sent a text message asking how she could pray for them. Every week since, she sends another text, and prays.
-- Your small group or family may help with specific needs. Be the "shoe-buying family" or the group who provides school supplies, wardrobe, a stroller.
-- Help foster parents avoid feeling alone. Check on them.
-- Repeat these steps each time they receive foster children.
When the foster child comes to church
-- When a foster child arrives at your church for the first time, realize this could possibly be the child's only experience with church. Foster children may be placed for a day, a short time or long-term. Today's experience in God's house with God's family could make a lasting impression.
-- Give the child value by learning his name and calling him by it. Recognize him. Don't ask personal questions about the child's past with him present. Never ask, "Is he a foster child?"
-- Show interest. Talk to the child. Be a friend. For example, if he loves art, introduce him to an artist in the church or give a gift of art supplies or lessons. Cook his favorite dessert. Give a small Walmart gift card to a teen.
-- Be patient. The child may have never been to church before. He may never have learned basic manners, communication skills or even potty training. If behavioral problems occur, show grace to the child. Help the foster parents; they're probably overwhelmed too!
-- Teach your own children to offer friendship, care and kindness.
-- If you know of a church activity that would benefit the child, personally extend an invitation and help with assimilation.
-- Invite the foster parent and child to your home for dinner. It may be very beneficial for the child to observe another peaceful, loving family.
The Turners fostered dozens of children over the years -- some for a day, others long-term. Each of those children was showered with God's love by their foster parents as well as their church. As God calls families in your church to foster children in great need, how will your church receive them?
As Scripture tells us, "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27 NLT).