When Graham and Sarah turned 50, and had just one of their five sons living at home, they were looking forward to some time to themselves. They had been working in a University and leading an International English-speaking Fellowship in Africa for 20 years, and still regularly visited Africa.
The challenge around fostering came to them through the words of a preacher: ‘You can’t go round the world preaching the Gospel and not be living it in your own back yard!’ Sarah explains, “The preacher seemed to be speaking straight to us! “What is God saying to you?” I asked my husband. “Fostering!” he replied. I drew in a sharp breath. That sounded very full on. 24/7, infact!”
That was 11 years ago. Since then, Graham and Sarah have cared for nearly 40 children in long-term, short-term and emergency placements. “Most of our foster children are from overseas, arriving through our nearest airport. Several have been in potential danger, and have been on a security plan, where they are not allowed to use the phone or internet. We have been able to help keep them safe.”
Looking after vulnerable young people has brought both joys and challenges. “One lovely teenage girl was with us for two and a half years from Africa. She learnt English, went to school and grew in confidence until she was able to move to London, attend college and become part of her own cultural group and church there. She still comes ‘home’ to see us, and stays in touch with the family.”
Some placements have been more challenging, like the sisters who didn’t get on sharing bunk beds. “One of them, in her anger at being in care, barely spoke to my husband for the six months they were with us. “It was the best time of our lives!” they say to us now. They stay in touch through text and Facebook.”
Graham and Sarah see the value of their past in their present. “God is using our background experience and, at the same time, growing our understanding and capacity for new skills. This year, several of the children have been Muslim, and we have had to cook Halal meat and even help one doing Ramadan.”
God is at work in the lives of the young people they foster. One very traumatised four-year-old English girl stayed for 20 months, during which they saw God bring healing and restoration. She is now happily adopted and doing well. They meet up once or twice a year for a fun day together.
Graham and Sarah are supported by their friends and family –one of their sons, his wife, and a friend are all registered as back-up carers. This means that while they are away, the children can stay at home.
They are also supported by their church family. “Our theme at church over the past few months has been ‘Inside Out’: taking God’s love outside the walls of the church. Our church supports and encourages us in fostering as a great way to show God’s love to the hurting and the needy. Others in the church are beginning to consider fostering too. Healing the broken-hearted is high on God’s agenda.”
When asked what they would say to others looking to do something similar, Graham and Sarah’s answer was simple: “You need a spare room and some time in your life to commit to caring. Ask yourself not ‘why should I?’, but ‘why shouldn’t I?’”