Only as the Church wades into the raging river of child and family welfare can the waters of brokenness become:
There are thousands of children entering the system annually, leaving them and their families in the raging waters of uncertainty. One point of intervention will not be enough. Multiple points of rescue and recovery are needed in order to reach those being tossed and pulled asunder. As we stand on the bank of the river, we must consider our commitment to intervention, and wade in fervently until we can bring all through the raging waters to One Stream of Hope.
Imagine that three friends come upon a raging river. They see kids in the water rushing down the rapids towards a waterfall. One friend immediately jumps into the river and begins pulling as many out as he can, the second friend runs down towards the waterfall and tries to catch as many kids as he can before they fall to their death, but the third friend, however, wonders why the kids are in the river in the first place. He runs upstream to find out how these kids are getting thrown into the water and figure out how to put a stop to it. All three friends did what was right and necessary to ensure as many kids as possible could be rescued. All three responses are noble. All three responses are right and necessary.
Before we have a foster care crisis in our country we have families in crisis, and before we have an orphan care crisis in our world we have families in crisis. The question, "Where are these kids coming from, and how can we prevent them from ending up in the position they are in?", should both haunt us and drive us. Orphan care is not just about caring for orphans, it’s about caring for families in crisis in order to prevent their children from ever being thrown into the river. This is a right, necessary, and albeit messy and difficult place for the Church. It's a space, however, which is not isolated or disconnected from the larger picture. If we truly care about what's happening downstream, we also need to be willing to jump in upstream to prevent anything from ever happening in the lives of these kids downstream as much as possible. This broadens our perspective on orphan care beyond the lives of kids in crisis, to the families they come from. We have just as much responsibility there as we do anywhere else along the continuum of child welfare.
Generally speaking, orphan care in the Church has been reduced to foster care and adoption; to jumping into the raging child-welfare river, and pulling as many kids out as fast as we can. This is a right and necessary place for the Church, but not the totality of what the Church can or should be doing. It is too narrow and shallow of a perspective and fails to consider how these kids found themselves in the position they're in to begin with (upstream), and what the trajectory of their lives no one intervenes on their behalf (downstream). There are thousands of kids in our country caught in a system leading them toward demise. We do need to jump in and grab them, but we also need to consider how we can engage with a larger, more holistic posture.
It is often the case that churches are involved in some type of effort to feed the homeless, minister to the incarcerated or engage in ministries committed to rescuing victims of sex-trafficking. However, they're often doing this without a clear understanding of how interconnected the plight of those cross-sections of people relates to the larger continuum of child welfare. Over 60% of incarcerated males, the homeless community, and girls who are trafficked into the sex industry have at some point in their lives spent time in foster care. It is right and necessary for the Church to run upstream and catch these people before they fall off the cliff. We need to be standing ready in the water, but with the understanding that this water is flowing downward from a larger continuum and is all part of the same problem.
One Stream of Hope
A holistic ministry culture to vulnerable children and families will transform a raging river of brokenness into One Stream of HOPE. Not only do we want to see churches establish a holistic message to their people that everyone has a role to play, we also want to see them develop a holistic, strategic approach to how they are engaging in child and family welfare — from Prevention to Intervention to Restoration.
Orphan care is not a program to add to a church’s ministry Rolodex. Rather, it is an expansion of a culture that likely already exists. It’s our job to help identify evidence of that culture and provide necessary resourcing and action steps to build it out more. Generally, church ministries operate in silos — "That’s the missions ministry over there", "That’s the homeless ministry over there", "That’s the orphan care ministry over there", etc. We want to help them see that many of the justice, mercy, and hospitality related ministries are not mutually exclusive from one another. They are all on some level interconnected and part of the same continuum. When it comes to orphan care, we want to see churches engaged at every point of the “river” in a balanced, strategic and sustainable way.
This perspective helps churches be strategic; if it doesn’t fit on the river continuum then we don’t do it. It helps them know what things to say yes or no to. It also holds them accountable to having a balanced ministry approach and expands the space people have to get involved. Some people may say they don’t have the margin to do foster care or adoption – but now churches can engage them in a different space that’s on the same continuum, perhaps through child sponsorship with an organization like Compassion International (upstream) or by participating in a city food bank serving the needs of the homeless around them (downstream).
Some good questions to begin asking include, "In which spaces along the river are we already involved?", "Where can we expand our ministry efforts in other places?", "Are we currently operating in silos? ", "Do we have a balanced ministry approach?", and "How can we help our people see the role they can play in the larger picture?". Will you wade in the water and bring others through to One Stream of HOPE?