Pulling into a spot in a McDonald’s parking lot to wait for Jay’s mom, I hand him a snack. He says he is going to wait to eat with Rebecca (my daughter), but little does he understand that he won’t be seeing Rebecca since he is going back with his mom today. When we see his mom get out of her car, Jay squeals with delight and we run to meet her. She hugs and kisses him. She thanks me as we chat for a few minutes and then I give her his bag of clothes and promise to pray for them. Jay is hugging his brother and beginning to get in the car when I say bye and start walking away. He suddenly begins to cry and runs back to give me a big hug, almost clinging to me.
Four weeks ago, Jay came to our home not knowing us – probably scared, worried and unsure of himself. But in those weeks, he blossomed. He knew many nursery rhyme songs and quickly learned Bible songs such as Jesus Loves Me and I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart. He also learned to sit at the table with a family, to pray before meals and bedtime and that he was safe in our home.
With tears in my eyes but joy in my heart, I climb into my van realizing this is what Safe Families is all about. Jay came to our house for a few short weeks so his mom could get her life back together. We loved him and he grew to love us, but when the time was right, we gave him back to the family God had provided for him. This is the hope of Safe Families for children.
We first became aware of Safe Families during the 2012 College Church in Wheaton missions’ festival focusing on widows and orphans. If I recall correctly, the theme verse was James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Many opportunities were given to put this truth into action. We chose to learn more about foster care and Safe Families. Dave Anderson, the founder of Safe Families, presented a breakout session on a Sunday afternoon that I attended. We learned how Safe Families was started and about their mission, which according to their website, is “surrounding families in crisis with caring, compassionate community,” More specifically, Safe Families tries to prevent abuse and neglect by supporting parents who have no support network themselves. Host families provide a safe environment for children while parent(s) get the help necessary to take back their children.
At that time, God placed the desire in our heart to become a host family. Fast forward a few years in November 2015, College Church sponsored a Safe Families workshop to train families to become host families. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend, but this reaffirmed our desire and motivated us to pursue training online. In March of 2016 we were approved and received our first placement, an eight-month-old boy who would change our lives forever.
It may seem overwhelming when you hear of all the needs in the Chicago area. Safe families for children has placed 35,000 children since it started in 2003. In one day, I can receive emails asking to place 25 children from different families. Rather than feel overwhelmed, we learned how Jesus showed his great love. Jesus did not go to a town, call all the sick and hurting together and pronounce them all healed. He saw the individual. He knew their name and he chose to love the person. By choosing to love just one child, we are choosing to follow Jesus’ example and bring hope to one family. By choosing to love just one child, we saw the church come alongside and serve our family. Initially, we did feel a little isolated as we cared for our first placement. But the Cultural Impact Committee helped to make church members more aware of the needs of host families, and as a result there are many more host families within College Church that provide emotional, spiritual and physical support. We have received numerous meals, babysitting, gift cards to buy diapers and supplies for the children and groceries, to name a few. We have friends who understand our hearts and burdens. We have prayer partners who pray for our family during a placement. We have a small group who is passionate about adoption. We are greatly blessed by the love the body of Christ has shown to our family.
Saying yes to God strengthens your own faith. God does not ask us to live comfortable lives; as Christians he calls us to live for Christ. One of the hardest times for us was giving a child back to a very difficult situation, Selfishly, we wanted to pray that the child would stay with us, that we could adopt him. We wanted to save him and in pride thought the only way to bring him to salvation was raising him in a Christian home. But God had other plans for him. We needed to change our prayer for him, to open our hand and let God work in his little life – the plan he has worked out. We felt like Abraham as he walked up Mount Moriah willing to give his only son, Isaac, as the sacrifice, but having complete faith in God. God was asking us to put this two-year-old boy into his hands and for us to have faith that God would provide for him even more than we could even ask or imagine. Fortunately, we as parents often have more time to love and nurture our own children, but eventually they move out and make their own choices. With a mix of hope and fear, we place them in the Lord’s hands and fall to our knees to pray. We just had to do that a little early.
Having children in our home has hugely impacted our children. We are able to serve as a family. Our home has become a place of safety, a sanctuary for those in need. Our kids are also the persistent “Holy Spirit,” who kept asking if we had completed the training. They prompt me to text the moms of our “kids” to get an update. They ask when the next child will come. On the other hand, they consider the biggest challenge to be when the kids are annoying or hard to take care of when it is nap time. In our culture, we want to protect our children, giving them only the best we have to offer and wanting the best for them, whether that be the best teacher, the best music lesson, the best club sports team, etc. We value children in America, which is a very good thing, but as Christians we also need to allow God to work in their lives. When asked how being a Safe Family has impacted them, our older kids’ response was, “We are so fortunate. Everyone does not have the same type of family as we do.” Being a Safe Family has opened their eyes to the reality of the fallen world.
Finally, pray. Although taking kids into our home is important, I am more and more convinced that the greatest impact we will have on the lives of these children and families is to lift them up in prayer. I can name four or five older relatives of our Safe Family children that are included in our family prayer weekly, if not daily.
We don’t always know where the kids will go and who will provide for them, but we have an intimate connection with the One who knows all things. We pray for our “kids” and trust God. Unprompted, my six-year-old prayed at lunch this week for one of our kids and his mom by name, ending her prayer “that the mom would come to know the Lord.” If only, we can have such childlike faith.