Bringing Missions Work Home: My Call to Foster Care
It was never my intention to become a foster parent. I truly had no desire to. And in retrospect, though I believe I have lived my life with a pretty bold willingness to do whatever the Lord has called me to, this may have been one area that my subconscious had roped off as an endeavor I was not willing to touch.
At one point, I had said the same thing about missions work. I had placed it in the “nope” category. But we should all know by now that the “nope” category in life may more accurately be referred to as the “I dare you” category from God’s perspective.
By age 14 I had my first international missions experience, and was truly introduced to poverty and need. And there was no turning back from there. My calling came swift and strong, my heart was set, and almost every major decision in my life from that point forward was informed by a commitment to use my comparative wealth and American opportunity to serve the least fortunate in the world.
Wealth in the world is not measured in dollars and cents, in the same way that quality of living is not directly proportional to dollars and cents. Wealth is the exposure to opportunity. In the United States, we have become accustomed to being surrounded by safety nets and (mostly) fair institutions and programs that offer reassurance when disaster hits, or assistance and a first step when navigating and attempting to better one’s situation.
Around the world, this often is not the case. And the deepest situations of poverty are often not only marked by a lack of resources and money, but by a lack of fair opportunity to be able to provide for oneself, or recover from a hardship.
At the end of the day, I view it all pretty simply: If I have been given two loaves of bread, and someone else has none, I should share. And sharing doesn’t even mean I won’t have what I need, but it may reorient my priorities away from the goal of accumulating excess comforts and striving to acquire more than I need.
So I dedicated my entire education to discovering the best methods and strategies for missions work: both from a religious, evangelical perspective, and from a political, strategic, institution and program-oriented perspective.
There are varying ways in which one can engage missional and development opportunities. Partnering with a good organization is an easy first step, and it is definitely true and valid that giving financially is a very good, and needed, way to participate in development work, as long as the organization is transparent and doing good development work. My heart found its match in Asia’s Hope in 2007, and for years my financial support helped enable the great work this organization was doing by supporting their indigenous leadership in Cambodia & Thailand, and the efforts of rescuing vulnerable children and orphans from unsafe and unstable situations. Repetitive, short-term trips allowed my relationships with the people I was supporting to deepen and become very personal, and allowed me to understand the efforts my finances were supporting thoroughly. My relationship with this organization was deep rather than wide. I chose to pour my time, resources, heart and prayers into these friends, rather than to spread myself thin across a variety of different things.
And eventually this led to an opportunity for me to move to Cambodia to teach for a year. This was a next step in my relationship with “missions” and development work, and took my commitment to supporting and pouring into the people that I loved there to a whole new level. And at the time, I thought that this was as thorough as it gets. I had paused “my American life” in order to move to the other side of the world and physically serve the people I had always financially supported. The whole thing sounds pretty romantic, right? Over the course of this year, I gained incredible insight about life and God and missions and development work - likely far more than anything I was able to offer the Asia’s Hope children I was there to teach.
I was so grateful for the life-changing perspective that can be gained from a prolonged exposure to a different culture, especially when surrounded by fellow believers who dedicate every ounce of their being and daily life to the mission they feel called to.
Their example was the beginning of how a new level of missions work began to introduce itself to me. I began to realize and admire the fact that whereas my “missions stint” had an end date, the work that my friends and the leaders at Asia’s Hope were committed to had no end in sight. This wasn’t their “missions task,” it was their life. And thus far, even though I had dedicated time and resources and energy and effort to these relationships, and to missions work in general, I still was able to place it neatly in a compartmentalized box in my life labeled “missions.” At the end of that year, I would go back home. I would return to real life. This truly was the vocabulary of my inner dialogue, if I am being honest. But it ran against the life-encompassing missions philosophy that I preached.
To mark the significance that my time in Cambodia had in my life, I did what any good millennial would do and got a tattoo before it came time for me to leave. And this tattoo, which graces the top of my left calf muscle, was written in the Khmer language - to honor the culture I had lived in and been committed to throughout my missions career - and exemplified my favorite missions motto:
“Do what is in front of you.”
The motto originated when Mother Teresa was asked what one can do to change the world, to which she simply replied to “do what is in front of you.” If every person attended to the issue that was in front of them, the world would be a much better place.
And this was very easy for me to feel good about while living in Cambodia, where my sole focus and purpose was to pour into the lives of the vulnerable children at Asia’s Hope, the ones who "were in front of me." But this concept began to gnaw at me regarding what my next season in life would look like.
Well, the nail in the coffin came when I was helping host a team from my home church in Ohio who came to visit Cambodia. And as I was walking them through the incredible, God-filled campus of 10 orphan homes where I worked, someone - a little overwhelmed as they took it all in - emotionally stated, “Man… this is the closest thing to Heaven I have ever seen. It just makes me so mad that our country wouldn’t allow us to do something like this.”
And that’s when it clicked. Our country does do something like this. Except with even more governmental assistance, support and legal protection than are available to those doing similar work in Cambodia. Our country does have a system in place to provide homes for vulnerable children in unsafe and unstable situations.
It’s called Foster Care.
If I was willing to move halfway around the world to serve and minister to a similar population of children, why wouldn’t I be willing to do the same for those at home?
Why was I so adverse to the idea of foster care?
Well.. because it would cost me my everyday life. Even living in Cambodia for an extended amount of time still protected my concept of “home.” I could step out of my missions moment and back into comfort and ease at any time I chose. But this kind of work would require the relinquishment of control over my everyday life, my self-focussed kingdom. It would put me on call for missions work even when I wasn’t in a overt missions context.
My path and journey to becoming a foster parent - and ultimately an adoptive parent - is a story for another time, and another post. But the story and progression of the call itself, and how God slowly progressed me towards being in a place of accepting it, is one I have learned so much from.
I do not think that every person in the world is supposed to be a foster parent, in the same way I don’t think every person in the world should have a heart that is broken for the same injustice or need. God calls us to break for different causes and issues for a reason. Having two loaves of bread is no gain if we all gave our loaves to the same person.
However, I do think that the Lord wants us to sacrifice our everyday lives for his mission. And for me, it required stepping completely out of my daily context to realize what it really meant to shift my priorities and strivings away from what I wanted, to being available for what He wanted. My life isn’t my own, and seeking my comforts and desires is not the highest calling. Rather, I am a steward of the life and resources He has given me, and to spend that on anything other than what He would will for my life is a waste.
So though I do not think everyone's calling and mission will look the same, I do want to tell you why I love foster care so much. For me, it was where my rubber met the road. Feeling good about sending money, letters, and gifts to children that I loved overseas turned into feeling the burden of becoming a parent overnight. Sharing words of encouragement in international Skype dates turned into intensive, focused discipleship. Sharing the Gospel briefly at an outreach turned into a two-year process of watching a 3 1/2 year old who had never heard the name of Jesus start to quote Scripture at me in my moments when I needed encouragement. Feeling inspired and challenged by watching others dedicate their lives to being orphan home parents turned into me gaining the painful scars of sanctification that are received so especially when being responsible for little lives. I have truly tasted and experienced injustice and justice, evangelism, the difficulty of navigating the grey areas of life, the legal system and the empowerment of being a voice for a voiceless little one.
And really, at the end of the day, what am I describing? Parenting.
And believe me, so many of you understand this word so much more than I do. I was thrown into it, and I am only just beginning to navigate it.
However, out of all of the missions work I have done, this has been the most all-encompassing, demanding, life-refining, rewarding and intensive work I have been a part of.
It costs me my extra loaf of bread, but not in the way I would have expected. My vision of "sharing my extra" had always carried the theme of financial provision, creating opportunity and sharing the ultimate gift of the Gospel. In this reality, however, sharing my extra loaf most often came at the cost of my social life, sleep, spare time, and ultimately a complete shift in my season of life.
But it brought me to ask myself what comforts and things in life truly are the hardest to sacrifice? Because I quickly found out for me that money was an easier thing to part with than my time and the vulnerability of my heart.
God calls us to be willing to sacrifice our “everyday” for his purposes, but I do believe there is something especially powerful that comes in the context of a home. Anyone can put on an evangelical game-face long enough to make it through an outreach, but aren’t the most powerful and lasting testimonies and lessons learned by observing one’s daily life? Don’t casual words, actions and attitudes more deeply reflect the allegiance of one’s heart compared to carefully crafted sermons?
It is this kind of vulnerable environment that can feel the most risky to invite others into, but I would argue that this kid of environment is the most fertile and contagious place to provide life change.
“We, too, as “aliens and strangers’ in a world that is passing away, need to learn that our home is not our refuge; God is our refuge. We nurture life in the face of death and leverage our homes for gospel work. For those whose hope is in the coming kingdom, our homes are less like retreats and more like a network of foxholes for planning and hosting kingdom advances into this present darkness. Our homes are centers of hospitality to show strangers and neighbors the light of Christ. And they are equipping centers for traveling ambassadors to help them on their way to doing the King’s business.”