This week marks the end of the first year of being a foster/resource family. After an extended time of reflecting on the concept of hospitality and recognizing the insanity of maintaining a “home office” that was never used, (and the constant prodding of my wife Mischele) our family decided to convert our office back to a bedroom to be in a better position to welcome others into our home. 

In the past twelve months we have had over 40 different kids come through our home. It has been a wild, crazy, fulfilling, maturing, and at times disturbing and heart-wrenching journey. But, it has also been a time of much learning and reflection. Here are just a few things I have learned, or have been reminded of in a fresh way, in the past year:

There are multiple ways to be involved as a foster/resource family

In the past when I heard about a family providing foster care, I thought it only meant long-term placement. While we currently have a little girl with us for what will probably be an extended period of time, what we have been most involved with over the past year is what is called “PPC”, “Respite Care” and “Family Preservation.” In a very abbreviated version let me explain each.

PPC stands for “Police Protective Custody.” Simply put, we provide a safe home where children stay for 72 hours while the police investigate a potentially dangerous situation from which the children have been removed. In a few instances the children are eventually returned to the home, but more often they are moved to a family member’s home, and in some cases they are placed in the foster system until the family can get healthy enough to care for the children. This is short term, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to love on children who come from very difficult situations.

Respite Care and Family Preservation are both about providing “rest” for families (in most cases single mothers) and children. The difference between the two is that respite involves those children who are already in the system where the foster family needs a break; while family preservation works with families that simply need assistance to help “preserve” their families so they do not end up in the foster system. The selfish side of respite is that you can schedule when your family is willing and able to take a child into your home. This can be such a wonderful ministry to single moms who simply need someone to come alongside them, if only for one weekend a month.

The depth of brokenness is immense

Most of the kids live in chaos every day of their lives. Some evenings they don’t know where they will sleep. They don’t know if they will be safe in their bed at night. They don’t know who will be in their home in the morning when they wake up. Many times they are not sure when they will eat again. They wonder, does anyone really love me? Who will protect me from harm? Who will be on my side? Most of these kids don't know life from any other vantage point.

The number one issue, brought about by this lack of stability, for every one of these kids is FEAR. There is a deep and constant fear of being hungry, of abandonment, of parental anger, of other family members, of abuse, lack of control, etc. Needless to say, children cannot thrive when living in constant fear.

One additional thought on brokenness. In almost every single case (at least with PPC), the one constant for the parent(s) of these kids is drug use. In far too many instances the parent chooses the addiction over the well being of their own children. In some cases this means there are no groceries; other times it means the children are put in great danger.

The Church MUST get involved!

I believe involvement in the foster system may be the churches’ number one, greatest opportunity for influence in the United States today. The kids in and around the foster system represent the orphans of today (James 1:27). Not only are there countless opportunities to impact the lives of the children, but in many cases the system creates significant opportunities to speak into the lives of parents and other family members.

Identify the agencies in your community. Meet with them. Find out their most pressing needs. Enlist ways for the people in your church to meet those needs, not only by engaging personally as foster families, but by discovering ways to support and bless the workers in those agencies. They are dying for your help and encouragement.

There was a time I did not have the best impression of SRS (Social and Rehabilitation Services) and CPS (Child Protective Services) workers. I realize there are horror stories of people being falsely accused of neglect and abuse, and losing their children to a very rigid, difficult, seemingly uncaring system. However, our experience with SRS/CPS workers has been inspiring to me. Frankly, I don’t know how the workers do what they do. The church has a wonderful opportunity to be an advocate not only for the kids, but for those who are working on behalf of the kids.

We have been abundantly blessed

I can’t fully articulate how we have been blessed over the past year. That is the funny thing about biblical hospitality, just when you think it is about welcoming the stranger, for their benefit, you realize that it is you who is being blessed by the presence of the “stranger.”

I have learned that hospitality is a spiritual discipline and a missional practice. Both the blessings and difficulties of biblical hospitality are most deeply discovered only as it is pursued. In Radical Hospitality, the authors speak to the transformative power of hospitality on our lives when they state: “The real question is not how dangerous that stranger is. The real question is how dangerous will I become if I don’t learn to be more open?”

I have experienced this statement first hand. Having these children in our home this past year has open up my life in surprising ways. I look at the kids in our neighborhood differently. I look at children at the store differently. I see hurt and fear that I didn’t see before.

It has also forced me to face my own selfishness. There are some days we receive a call to take in a child who desperately needs a safe place—and I hesitate. I think of all the “important” things I have to do. But what about . . . ? Without my wife’s determination and compassion, I am afraid there are some kids that would have never made it to our home.

My prayer life

I pray often for these kids. When they are with us, but even more so when they leave. Just yesterday I prayed for two little girls who left our home to go to live with a grandmother. I prayed that God would keep them from harm. That He would not allow them to live in fear. I also pray for our own two boys.

I pray that they would see and appreciate how much God has blessed our family, and flowing out of that realization they would be quick to be a blessing to others. But I also pray that they would see the world through the eyes of these children. I pray that their hearts are softened for the fears and hurts of other children. That they would be drawn like never before to the plight of the present day orphan and desire to be a part of bringing restoration and wholeness into their lives.