When Andrea* walked through our front door, she had nothing but her father’s t-shirt. Unlike our other placements, who at least had a change of clothes and maybe a stuffed animal, Andrea had nothing. She came straight from the top of a train, through the desert, across the border with her father, into ICE custody and then to our front door. In a panic, the only thing her dad could give her was the shirt off his back. Nothing had prepared me for moments like this.
A year before, my wife, Lauren, and I were talking with my sister about the flood of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America’s Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador). Because of the extreme violence, poverty, and corruption in these countries, the amount of kids making the treacherous journey through Mexico had risen to unprecedented levels. The facilities in the United States were overrun. This was a very real and very present humanitarian crisis. Growing up in Phoenix and working off and on with an inner city ministry called Neighborhood Ministries, my heart already had a deep burden for the immigrant population, so Lauren and I were naturally very interested and concerned.
In the conversation, my sister told us that Neighborhood Ministries, working with a national non-profit called Urban Strategies, had procured a federal grant to run a foster home program for unaccompanied minors and needed host families. Lauren and I’s initial reaction was, “That’s an incredible thing for someone else to do!” At the time we had two young kids of our own, had just started at Redemption Church Arcadia, and were quite frankly not ready to jump into something like that. But as the week continued, something started gnawing at us.
One of the more profound and frustrating things about the Bible is that it calls us to a practical every day love. It doesn’t call us to some high minded concept, some ethereal experience that is indescribable and unquantifiable, it calls us to love in the every day mundane details of our life. The Bible says that if we have a coat and we see someone cold, give him the coat. If someone needs help walking a mile, walk with her two miles. The week after our conversation about these kids, Lauren and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
We had an extra bedroom. We had an extra bedroom.
Despite all the reasons we could think of to not jump into fostering these kids, we couldn’t shake that fact. We had an extra bedroom, an unused bed, and these kids needed a place to sleep. After that, we began the long process of getting licensed, the ups and downs of program delays and all the politics that go with that, and finally were able to welcome 4 different kids over the course of about three months into our home. There was chaos, laughter, a lot of tears, exhaustion that we couldn’t believe, high levels of stress, our family felt disrupted, and our kids didn’t always respond with the same hospitality we would have hoped. But in the midst of all of this, our lives were forever changed.
It has now been a year since we welcomed our first kid into our home. The programs funding was not renewed, and with the birth of our third child, we needed to step away from fostering for a season. But there are three things that we took away from our experience fostering:
1. A little justice in an unjust world – One of the hardest parts about fostering is coming face to face with the seemingly insurmountable evil of the world. Whether it’s working within the state system, or something unique like the unaccompanied minor population, fostering cannot fix the depths of the brokenness. It just can’t. And that can be incredibly discouraging. But that does not mean that we are doing nothing.
In Honduras, there is a saying that says, “No Childhood Here.” As these kids came into our home, one of my favorite things was to watch them morph from these hardened, cold, hurting people back into kids. I knew that a few weeks in our home not needing to worry about their next meal or whether or not a gang was going to kill them couldn’t fix the full damage done to these kids or the system that brought about the damage. But they were able to experience a little bit of justice in an unjust world, and I have faith that God can use that.
2. A Paper Problem Becomes a Personal Problem – Lauren and I will never be able to talk about immigration or foster care the same. It is now impossible for me to hear people spout off policy decisions, either against or for immigrants, without connecting it to the kids we had in our home. These weren’t just kids we read about in the news or heard about on the radio. These were our kids. We cooked them breakfast, helped them tie their shoes, wiped them, played with them, cried with them, tucked them into bed, and held them when they woke up with nightmares. Immigration and the foster world is no longer a paper problem, it is a personal problem to us.
3. Learn the love of Jesus –Jesus had no reason to do for us what he did. We rebelled against him. We were his enemies. We were strangers to his family. He had no reason but love to do what he did, but he still did it. He brought us into his home, he fed us, he cleaned us up and adopted us as sons and daughters, he fought the system that produced such evil and in the end overcame it. Fostering trained us over time to love like Jesus in a way that years of bible study and church involvement couldn’t do. It taught us that love doesn’t happen through our feelings or are good intentions, it happens through our disciplined actions.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity