This article has been months in the making. Last fall, I dabbled around with how I wanted to shed light on this subject in light of my own experience. At the time, I decided to hold off until I got the perspective of others, their experiences and the needs they feel are being met and those that are not. So I set off to gather information from several in-person and on-line groups of foster and adoptive families across the U.S. and came up with some of the most pressing needs of their families as part of a body of believers. First I will share my experience and then I will share what my research revealed is taking place in a lot of churches across our country regarding foster care and adoption.
If you follow my blog and radio program, you know much of my story, so I will not burden you with all of the details. For my new readers/listeners, I will share just enough for you to know my back ground.
After several miscarriages, my husband and I realized that our goal was to be parents and that pregnancy was only one of the ways we could accomplish this. We set out on the road toward adoption and our immediate family and friends were thrilled to see our dreams of parenthood coming to past. We had celebrations & showers to commemorate the upcoming occasion after we were matched with 2 beautiful children and later that year, their infant brother. We were now parents of 3 children! WOW!
At the time we had been part of a church for many years and had lots of people around us cheering us on.....until the children came home (cue the mystery music). Most people bring home one baby at once. We had 3 in a matter of months....2 walking (or should I say running) and a newborn. We were both elated and exhausted at the same time. Imagine my horror when I am told that my family does not qualify for the service extended to new biological mom's after birth. Our church had a department that focused on providing meals for moms a few weeks following birth. I was a proud part of this department. I LOVED doing this for new families! I DID NOT QUALIFY! No, I did not have to recover physically from labor, but should that have been the criteria? I never made a noise about it, but I must admit it hurt deeper than they ever could have realized. I had not 1, not 2 but 3 new kids in my home and I did not qualify because I did not give birth to them. I took it VERY personal. I continued to serve in this department and let it go. After a few more families in the church adopted, I began to notice that it was not personal at all. They did not qualify either. Rather than being a personal issue against me, I began to see it was more a perspective on adoption being a 2nd rate choice or a sub-family option. I also noticed that key leaders in the church that adopted were not even celebrated but other leaders who gave birth had the red carpet rolled out for them. I personally took on the role of celebrating these families because I knew what it felt like.
We remained in this church far more years than we should have simply because there were many good things about it. Over the years similar things happened that showed me that I was surrounded by people that did not get adoptive/foster family dynamics. They had no clue what made our family tick or operate differently than others. I remember taking my infant son to church for the first time and trying to find someone to take my place in a department so I could be with him. I had blank stares and confusion as to why I could not perform my duties that day. He was 2 months old, on a heart monitor and I had him in my care for 3 days at that point. I became irate with the person I was speaking with and said, "If you gave birth to a newborn 3 days ago, I would not expect you to be away from him." Light bulbs simply did not go off! I let it go and continued to serve. See a pattern here? The more and more I was involved the more and more difficult it became to juggle my previous commitments in the church. I was a minister and I was expected to have a higher level of involvement. Although other moms who had given birth were cleared to take as much time off as they needed, I was not. I took it anyway and the results became clear. I was not considered "reliable" anymore. This grew into resentment, depression and a host of other feelings. On top of these issues were the expectations that my children that have experienced trauma should develop and be perfect like everyone else's (no one is perfect). When an issue arrived that was related to their background, there was little compassion or understanding. This hurt immensely!
We are no longer at that church or even in the same city any more. I am thankful that I am a part of an awesome body of believers that value, support and nurture my family!
From my research and polls, there are different kinds of churches when it comes to the acceptance and support of foster/adoptive families.
"See, We are Saving the World" Congregation- You have the church that focuses their entire vision on missions and adoption. On Sunday it looks like a UN Summit as you glance across the congregation. Is there anything wrong with that? Not totally. At a desperate point in your life when you need help, the last thing you want to be is the "one who needed saving" unless we are talking about salvation through Jesus Christ. Everything is so focused on how wonderful these parents are for saving these poor, destitute children from all over the world that the actual needs and identity of the children is compromised. I call them the James 1:27 church. Though this scripture clearly states what we should do to support and visit the orphans & widows, this becomes a complete doctrine in this church. If you are not a foster or adoptive family in this church, you may feel a bit uncomfortable because they feel EVERYONE should do it.
"Indifferent" Congregation- This church could take or leave foster care or adoption. They have too many other things to focus on. If you are a member and you decide to do it, you may or may not have support. There are no special groups or supports built into the ministry so you will need to seek that outside of the church. There may be myths fostered by the congregation that children in foster care are damaged or somehow not as good as other children. This is not the kind of church that you need if you are looking for community, support and someone to understand the unique needs of an adoptive family.
"Open" Congregation- I love this church! This church is open. They don't have a lot of experience with this sort of thing but are open to it. Willing to explore and provide what is needed as the growing need arises. They want to service the needs of their members in any way possible even if it has not been done there before.
"Supportive" Congregation- This is the well balanced congregation. Not only do they recognize that adoptive families have needs, they recognize seniors, special needs families, business professionals and more. They thrive off of supporting a wide variety of needs for their congregation. I am proud to say that I attend a church such as this.
HOW DO CHURCHES NURTURE THESE FAMILIES?
Myself and other adoptive families are not saying that every church should stop what they are doing and put all their money and efforts into foster care and adoption. I am saying that a balanced church recognizes the needs of their congregation, educates themselves on things that are unfamiliar such as adoption to better serve their people. Below are the TOP 5 things that adoptive families surveyed felt a supportive church has.
1 An adoption/foster friendly church has leaders that understand that adoptive families have unique needs and are willing to help support them. They may not have adopted or fostered themselves but they recognize that these families need to be nurtured in ways that biological families may not need.
2 An adoption/foster friendly church is a diverse body of believers that welcome families of other ethnic groups as part of their church family.
3 An adoption/foster friendly church educates children's workers and leaders on handling unique situations dealing with children who have experienced trauma so that the families are not left feeling misunderstood or alienated due to a child's struggles.
4 An adoption/foster friendly church recognizes adoptive families in the same way as they do biological families and extends the same love, nurturing and privileges to them as well. Families are not made to feel like their children are not good enough or "different" because they are adopted.
5 An adoption/foster friendly church supports adoptive families emotionally as they parent their children who are hurting and healing for years to come. This could be done through a church support group, materials or referrals.
The church has spoken! Or should I say the adoptive/foster families in our churches have spoken. Let the church say AMEN! If you want more information on starting an adoption & foster care group in your church (with the blessing & support of your pastor), here are a few resources!
Jason Johnson www.jasonjohnsonblog.com
Orphan Sunday www.orphansunday.org
"Launching an Orphans Ministry in Your Church" by Jason Weber
"Your Church and the Orphan" by Hope for Orphans