How meeting practical needs helps vulnerable families

A family restoration success story

March 11, 2020

The ministry of family restoration brings with it difficulty and lots of work. And honestly, if you’re doing it to measure success and see many come to faith and join your church, you will be quickly disappointed. This important work needs sustainability and continuation of care to see major changes, and even then, success stories can be few. But it’s amazing to see what the Lord accomplishes when it does happen. 

A family restoration success story 

One such success story our church is experiencing started last summer with a single mom who came to our Families Count class, which is a parenting program designed by Lifeline Children’s Services that works on the front end of the orphan crisis in an effort to prevent children from entering or repeatedly re-entering state care. It provides birth parents with tools, support, and education to help them be successful. 

My friend Erin* attended the class with her then boyfriend, whose mother had temporary custody of her three children. As I got to know Erin, she began to share her story with me. She told me stories of how she cared for her ill mother as a young child, even learning to change her catheter, and of having the freedom to roam around the town where she lived, riding the trolley or bus just for something to do. She also told me about her mother dying when she was 12, which led to experiencing the turmoil of other family members fighting over who would get custody of her in order to receive the check she drew. Sadly, her story only gets worse.

As a young adult, she fell into a bad crowd, which led not only to substance abuse for her, but she also experienced physical abuse from boyfriends. Time after time, she was overlooked and dumped on. She believed she had little to no worth and made decisions that reflected that belief. I realized over the course of our conversations that Erin herself had grown up as an orphan. She had experienced a life that many children across the globe face. She had been a vulnerable child, who grew up to be a vulnerable adult that many others had used to their advantage. I so badly wanted her to see the life that God had for her—a life starkly different from the one she had lived so far.

Each week Erin came to class. She would listen and share. She told me of some changes she was starting to make. Before long I realized that God was starting the slow work of rewriting her story. She wanted life change. She wanted better for her children than what she had experienced. I saw an awakening in her and a desire to make things right. She was ready and willing to work and do whatever she needed to break the cycle. 

Erin not only graduated from the parenting class, but she was also the only parent to attend a budgeting class we offered the following weeks. She took advantage of the opportunity to be taught how to better manage her money in a one-on-one setting and started making some much-needed changes. Over the course of the next month, she started making and keeping a budget, she obtained her driver’s license for the first time, and bought her first car. I was able to attend court with her when she received custody of her children. 

She started coming to church and faithfully attended life group at our house each week. I watched as Erin started to believe a truth she was taught in the very first parenting class—that she has worth because she is made in the image of God. This truth brought with it much life change. When the next parenting class came around, Erin shared her testimony with the new parents and came each week to help serve and encourage them.

I have seen the Lord work in so many ways as my new friend has begun to blossom into the woman and mom the Lord created her to be. She works hard to provide for her family and believe the truth of the gospel. She has learned to look to those who speak truth and who love her as their sister in Christ. Now she has stories to share that point others to Christ and the restorative work he desires to do in everyone’s life. She has a community who genuinely loves her and her kids. She has found a place to call home and a family to be a part of that will last for eternity. 

Practical ways to care for vulnerable parents

That is why we do the hard work of family restoration and why you should join in. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some practical ways you can help the vulnerable around you:

Be present. Most of the parents that come through our doors have been told over and over again all the things they need to do differently. They rarely get to share their story. Listen. You don’t have to have all the answers, or any answers. Simply listening expresses their value.

Be honest. Erin and I had conversations about some unhealthy relationships in her life and the need to set boundaries. We talked about ways she could make more money or tighten up her spending to make her budget work and not be in frequent financial crisis. We talked about believing the gospel and following Jesus. We had hard and uncomfortable converstations at appropriate times, but they were conversations that were necessary for her to be a successful parent.

Be empowering. Instead of trying to meet every need (i.e., giving them money), help set them up for lasting success. For example, you can do this by teaching them how to do a budget, and then actually sitting with them and walking through it together. This way, they are making informed choices about how they can responsibly use the income they already have. As a result, they are the ones making positive changes and not relying on someone else, which is an empowering thing.

Be a friend. Text or call during the week, ask how the budget is going or about the relationship boundaries. Show that you care, and be available when both good and bad things happen. I’ve had the opportunity to rejoice with Erin when she called to tell me she got a new job, and I’ve also been able to encourage her when she struggled with a sick child. 

The opportunities to help the vulnerable are endless, and the magic formula is simply saying yes and surrendering to how God chooses to use you. I encourage you to open your eyes to the need, your hands to the work, and your heart to love those who need it most.

*Name has been changed

Lindsey Teat

Lindsey is an Alabama native, pastor's wife and mom of four awesome kiddos. She loves encouraging others in their walk with Christ and is passionate about serving those who are vulnerable. Lindsey is an advocate for orphan care and family restoration and currently leads a ministry serving vulnerable families in her community. … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24