Written by Dr. Tim Davy
How can churches become the kind of supportive, loving communities that are so needed by many who have fostered or adopted? How do we ensure we provide a place of hope and support when people feel isolated and overwhelmed?
In his first letter to the church in Corinth the apostle Paul includes an extended discussion on the reality and significance of the resurrection of Jesus, which ends with this wonderful conclusion:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
(1 Cor. 15:58, NIV)
For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus, and the victory of God that this demonstrates and enacts, is grounds for hope and perseverance in our work for the Kingdom. If this is the case, and if we Christian communities really want to be a place of welcome and support for the families of looked after children, I’d suggest we must have this stamp of resurrection evident in who we are and what we do.
But what does this embracing of Easter look like in individuals, families and church communities who are striving to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children? Let’s pick up on a couple of ways that Easter may help us to do this.
The events of Easter declare that God has not forgotten or turned his back on the world’s pain. God has reckoned with the world as it is, in all its brokenness, and has faced it head on. He has dealt with the causes of this brokenness in a definitive way – by stepping into the place of brokenness.
Our calling as Church is to declare and work for the Kingdom of God in the world as it is, not as we would prefer it to be. We are called to be a people who do not flinch from the sober realities, struggles and pain of others. We are called to enter into it.
Foster and adoptive families are often living with brokenness. All children will have suffered some level of trauma, regardless of what age they came into care, due to separation and loss of birth family, but many will have also experienced neglect or abuse. The outworking of this trauma may well last a lifetime.
To enter in to this by walking with families, supporting carers, and loving vulnerable children, will be costly.
But just as God did not turn His back on our pain, but came into the midst of it, and then lived a life on earth to the point of enduring the cross for our sake, so must we not shy away from the need to engage with those for whom pain and suffering may be a daily reality. This will require resilience, compassion, patience, and perseverance. It may also require us to be willing to change – our attitudes, our church programmes, our expectations – to ensure families are supported.
This is what Easter models to us. A stepping in to the place of despair, to bring hope.
To simply consider the stories and statistics concerning vulnerable children can feel debilitating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the need. It is easy to become overwhelmed by our own lack of capacity. To actually begin walking with families and loving children, or even to step into directly caring for children ourselves through fostering or adoption, can feel even more overwhelming.
The relentlessness of ongoing challenges, the horror of some past experiences, the frustrations of waiting for professional support, the depth of trauma, the pain of separation, all come in to play.
But Easter reminds us that God has transformed despair into hope. Friday was followed by Sunday. A sober reckoning of the brokenness of the world must be matched and swallowed up by a sober reckoning with the transformative work of God in Jesus.
There is no point that is beyond the transformative capacity of our God. This can be hard to believe sometimes, especially in the midst of struggle and stress, but this is what Easter declares. We are called, then, to be a people filled with hope and preoccupied by the transformative work of God.
This does not mean that our support becomes shallow or flimsy and we expect instant results, but that our perseverance and commitment is fuelled by a depth of hope that we cling onto through every challenge.
We are not built to journey alone. Reckoning with brokenness and hope are not purely individual endeavours. Rather, we are called to be communities of hope that point to the possibility of transformation and perseverance, in practical activities as well as in words.
We need to be willing to step in and hold on, to keep going and keep hoping. To pray and to act, to love and to give.
What might this look like for you? What might this look like for your church? How must we adapt and change in order to be this kind of community?
We are called to be communities that labour in hope, and we must believe that this is a labour that is not in vain.
Tim teaches Biblical Studies and Mission at Redcliffe College in Gloucester and has a PhD in the Old Testament. He leads the College’s newly established Fostering, Adoption and the Church research project and serves on Home for Good’s Council of Reference.
This article has been adapted from its original publication on Fostering, Adoption and the Church in April 2017.