Six years ago this spring I interviewed to be a child protective services investigator for the State of Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. I knew next-to-nothing about the job or the field. It had only been three months since I entered the child welfare world, working for a private human services agency tracking youth on house arrest and supervising visits with parents and children who had been removed from the home. In God’s wisdom, however, I got the job.
With Nebraska DHHS, I investigated child abuse and neglect allegations. When I tell people this, most of them cringe, close their eyes, stay silent, or say, “Man, that must have been hard.” It was. I was exposed to seeing, hearing, and reading things no one should ever have to see, hear, or read. Most days, my work was not newsworthy. But sometimes—to often, of course—my work was heartbreaking, whether it was my case or a co-workers.
I couldn’t see what God was doing then. I was a newly married man without kids and quite clueless as to what Carly’s and my life and ministry together would look like. At the time, I knew I wanted to be a pastor. Now that I am a pastor, I realize that in the short time I was a CPS investigator God was preparing me (and my wife) for a significant step of obedience we need, and want, to take.
Before that job, my heart was like a frozen piece of meat when it came to the well-being of children and families. It’s not that I intentionally frozen my heart. I was oblivious. But through my job with the State of Nebraska, and being involved with TRAC, a camp ministry for foster kids, God was thawing and tenderizing my heart. He opened both of our eyes to see the plight of orphans—children who either have been abandoned by their parents or who have functionally been abandoned by them.
Over the past few years, God has increasingly burdened our hearts to care for children, either through fostering, adoption or both. It pains us to say, “We will when we are older!” as if the obstacles now are somehow greater than what will face us then.
If we want to live our lives for the glory of Jesus, then there is no sense waiting. We can, and should, be concerned about not wasting our future. But what about now wasting our lives right now? This has led us to pursue foster parent licensing in the State of New York. We are in the midst of training right now and hope to be licensed later this summer.
This is risky. Why would we do something like this? Because it is imitating what God has done for us. Because of sin, we came into this world spiritually fatherless. We were orphans. And yet, by the grace of God through the work of his Son Jesus, we have been adopted into his family. He became our Father. He took care for us when no one else would.
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:5).
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).
We are risking much. But Jesus didn’t merely risk his life. He actually gave it up, for us, that we might become children of God.
Now, as Christians, we are called to tangibly display this spiritual reality by caring for orphans, abuse and neglected children, and widows. “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 them world” (James 1:25).
The early church understood this. They distinguished themselves from the world in several ways, most notably in their sexual chastity, caring for the sick, and caring for orphans as well as other vulnerable people in society. Listen to two early accounts written about the community of believers:
But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty (Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, c. AD 110).
Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another; and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother” (Apology of Aristides the Philosopher 15, c. A.D. 125
Friends, this is our heritage. Carly and I alone can’t do everything. And neither can you. I do not believe all Christians should be foster parents or adopt. But we can all do something. Recent data shows there are only 400,000 kids in foster care. I say “only” because the number of Christians (even churches!) in this country dwarfs that. The Church could single-handedly end the foster care system as we know it without everyone needing to foster or adopt. Might the gospel spread and awaken the hearts of many if the church testified to the grace of God in this way?
I’ll be writing about our journey on this blog and Carly will on hers. When you read this or visit our blogs or think of us, would you pray for the child(ren) we’ll care for, their parents, and for us to be a tangible expression of God’s adopting love through the gospel? We would greatly appreciate it.