For nearly 25 years, my wife and I have served as pastors of Church of Living Water, in Fresno, California. When we first started attending as associate pastors, we found that there were several families in the church that had adopted children or were foster parents. We valued and appreciated their work but thought little more about it, as we were raising our four children.
Then it happened. I remember it like it was yesterday; the newscaster on television stated that there were over eight thousand children in Fresno County who were displaced and living in foster care, and a large percentage of those children were waiting to be adopted. I remember being overwhelmed with a sick feeling as I contemplated what I had just heard. I remember thinking something more should be done, something had to be done.
We felt the Lord asking us to get involved, but we were unsure of what that really meant. As we began to research foster care in our area and seek the Lord for His guidance, I remember the Lord speaking to me, “If you don’t get involved you can’t complain about the outcome.” I pictured myself, a grumpy old man, rambling about “these kids today,” and asking why they don’t choose differently. I knew one thing–I did not want to be that guy.
As we sought the Lord, He brought two Scriptures to my mind: “Do not deprive the fatherless of justice,” (Deuteronomy 24:17) and, “He defends the
cause of the fatherless, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18). We did not know how our family would be involved, but we knew we needed to do something. We prayerfully navigated the challenges of becoming an approved foster home, and we prepared our hearts for what God was asking us to do. We prepared our family with numerous discussions about foster care and our responsibilities. Our preparations and research left us feeling that the task was too great, the need too magnificent. What difference, if any, would our participation even make?
I remember when we were preparing our home with a room set aside with two twin beds, we prayed that God would send the exact children that we could serve. We received our license, and within a few hours we were picking up two beautiful girls that had been removed from their home while their family took steps to improve their situation. In that moment we realized that the twin beds would need to be replaced with two cribs!
Through the years, with every placement, we constantly had to reconfigure space to accommodate the immediate need. At times it felt like a game. Our own children repeatedly learned to humbly move over and make sacrifices for the good of someone else. There were lessons that Bible stories would have never taught us, lessons you only learn by giving and giving again. One of our adult daughters says that through the years she changed bedrooms so many times that she used every bedroom in our home. The experience so impacted her that she is now leaving her teaching job to be a foster parent full time.
When we became foster parents, we didn’t think we would ever adopt, but again we learned something of the Father’s heart. When you hold a child in your arms, you comfort and care for them; you tell them you love them, and Jesus loves them. But when their case goes amiss, and you are told that a child will never return home, you are challenged to live up to what you have said and actually be the representation of the Jesus you preach.
As a result, we’ve adopted five children that were never going to return to their biological families, and we are now in the process of adopting our sixth. No one would have ever convinced the younger me that I would be the father of ten, but here I am today. Through the years we have had over 45 children in our home. We have fostered individuals, sibling groups, babies, and toddlers. I’ve seen and heard stories of abuse and neglect that changed me, changed my thinking, and changed my view of the world. We felt helpless, hopeless, and heavy-hearted. Then by the grace of God, we put our hand in the mix and made a difference, one life at a time. We have made a difference; God has made a difference.
Our church has been dramatically impacted by foster care through the years. At one point six families were offering foster care and two social workers were attending our services. We presently have three families offering foster care, and soon we will have six foster families in our fellowship again.
When you foster children, you bring the world home with you. You don’t get a day off, you often lose your quiet time, your coffee and devotions, but instead of reading about it, you live it. It is worth every cost; the price you pay does not compare to the reward. I assure you that we will not know the full extent of the impact until we reach eternity, but we are sure that six children are growing up loving Jesus that might have ended up behind bars, on the streets, or worse. When one of my adopted children lead worship, share the Word, or most importantly when I hear them say, “When I grow up I want to have a family, but I am certain I want to be a foster parent too,” I am confident God is very pleased indeed.
Rest assured, I do not believe that everyone who has an empty bed in their house should have a foster child. I am certain, however, that there are empty beds in homes all over this nation and I do believe that many more should be involved. More times than we can count, well-meaning individuals have said that they could never care for foster children because of the heartbreak involved in letting them go.
Certainly, it hurts more than words can ever tell. We have left crying children at the county office, and we will never know what became of them. We loved them and let them go, even when we knew that they were going into danger and brokenness. On one occasion a social worker said, “Just do your best to give them a snapshot of a wholesome loving environment. If you do this, you are changing their life. They need a snapshot of what healthy looks like, so they can grow up knowing that life can be different.” We often pray that those who have been with us received that snapshot, the seed of the love of God that can bear fruit in their life.
It was a pleasant surprise for us to learn that you can love adopted children just as you do biological children. It was also a pleasant surprise for us to discover that you can experience pain and loss and then recover from that pain and loss, just to do it all over again. All people have the grace to hurt for the good of others; it is the Father’s heart.
Recently, one of our foster children was transferred to an adoptive placement in another state. We were heartbroken; we had fallen in love with this little eight-month-old girl. Our teenage daughter had been very active with this little one. When she finally left our home, I came home to find our daughter with tears running down her face, contemplating how to move forward from this painful moment. I shared with her how that the Scripture teaches us, “If we suffer with Him, we will reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12). I shared with her that the Lord strengthens us to enter into the sufferings of Christ for the good of others; this is what we do; this is the kingdom of God, God’s justice in action. This is what everyone who loves Jesus will be compelled to do, in one way or another, throughout their lives.
A few minutes after our conversation I found her sitting at the piano singing softly through the tears, “It is well with my soul.” In that moment the Lord was teaching her how to suffer with him. If we have learned anything in our years of bringing justice to the fatherless it is this–that it hurts just like Jesus suffered on the cross. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We also learned that God is the giver of strength and he carries you through the painful difficulties when you are making a difference in the lives of others. On the other side of every tear shed for the good of others lies great joy and celebration.
Every community has fatherless children of all ages and races and every county has a foster care system where you can get involved. The assignment is difficult and serving God in this way will break your heart, but then it will fill your heart until you feel you are going to burst. If you’re one of the many with an empty room, perhaps God desires to fill those empty spaces with His love.