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How you can help the overlooked children affected by substance abuse

Foster care and the church

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March 16, 2022

The turning point for me occurred at a funeral. I was holding a 4-year-old child I did not know. His mother had passed away after overdosing on a dangerous mix of fentanyl and cocaine. The family reached out to our church and asked for a pastor to officiate the funeral. I’ll never forget the young boy’s words.

“Are you going to help bring my mommy back?”

I didn’t have words for him. Only tears. 

He was placed in a foster home. Thankfully, it was one full of love and support. At about the same time as the funeral, a local newspaper headline caught my attention: “Bradenton is opioid overdose capital of Florida. And still no one knows why.”

Every year, hundreds of children are removed from their homes in our county. Over half of them are directly attributed to the substance abuse of parents and guardians. Most of the children removed are under the age of 5. I did not have the right words for the 4-year-old, but his question prompted me to act. I could not bring his mom back, but my wife and I could be foster parents for children in situations like his. So we got our license and began our foster journey. 

The foster system in our area is stretched thin. When licensed as a foster parent, you receive a child placement immediately. My wife and I recently cared for an infant struggling with the effects of cocaine addiction. Every drug a pregnant mother consumes passes in her bloodstream through the placenta and to the child. Babies are born addicted, and it can be a horrible experience for them as the central nervous system tries to recover.

Church members and foster care 

Foster children are one of the most overlooked and underserved groups of people in our nation. Most communities struggle to find placements for these children. Local churches in the United States have more than enough homes to solve the problem, but few Christian families are pursuing fostering. But what happens when people in your congregation start fostering children?

Your church is woven into the fabric of the community. In my role at Church Answers (a resource site for ministry leaders), I’m often asked, “How can my church better serve and reach the community?” There are many ways to answer the question, but one answer is obvious: start a fostering movement in your congregation. Caring for foster children forces you to be an active part of your community. You interact with social workers, struggling parents, judges, and police officers. Fostering weaves you tightly into the community and allows your church to be a thread pulling everyone together.  

Your church is recognized as a solution to community problems. The issues producing foster children are often the core sins plaguing a community. When people in your church foster, the neighborhood tends to view you as helpful. Foster children are the result of the worst problems in the community. Inviting them into your church homes makes you one of the best solutions for your neighbors. 

Your church is pushed outward with God’s mission. The church is not designed to be a shield protecting the Christian bubble of safety. Rather, the church is a vehicle engineered by God to send people into the darkest corners of the neighborhood. Fill your church with foster children, and your people will be filled with a desire to do gospel work. 

Your church is compelled into a posture of selflessness. I hear the excuse all the time, “I couldn’t foster because it would be hard to give the child back.” I understand the sentiment. Indeed, my wife and I live this paradox. The purpose of fostering is more than raising a child. It’s about reuniting a family. You care for children and encourage moms and dads. Fostering is a weighty burden that will bend you hard in the direction of selflessness. Is it painful? Yes, sometimes. Is it worth the stretch? Always. 

Taking a risk and doing what’s right

We see the risk and reward of caring for a child in need in the book of Exodus. When Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket floating on the Nile, she saw a baby and said, “This must be one of the Hebrew children” (Exodus 2:6, NLT). This must be one. One child saved. Imagine the desperation of Moses’ mom, placing him in the papyrus basket and letting him drift away from the safety of her arms. 

Imagine the courage of Moses’ sister, Miriam. At significant risk, she keeps watching over the basket. She is an advocate. She stays close to the crisis to help. She risks everything when she reaches out to Pharaoh’s daughter.

Imagine the audacity of Pharaoh’s daughter. She is part of the family committing genocide, but she becomes a person of power who uses her position to do what is right. The child in the basket moves her. A child in need should move us all to action.

There was a tremendous risk to all the women in this story, but it did not stop them from doing the right thing. What if the church looked at the foster system as a floating papyrus basket? What if the people of the church opened the basket and had the same response as Pharaoh’s daughter? Let’s not let these children continue to drift. Your home might be a promised land of sorts for them. A movement of God within your community and your church could start with just one child. How is he calling your church to step out in faith and care for the most vulnerable ones in your community? 

Sam Rainer

Sam Rainer serves as president of Church Answers and is a cofounder of Rainer Publishing. He is also lead pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida. He writes, teaches, speaks, and consults on a variety of church health issues. Sam cohosts the popular podcasts Rainer on Leadership and … Read More