Matthew 22:37–39 reads “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is a familiar passage, but the question must be asked, who is your neighbor? Is it your siblings, parents, classmates, or the people who live next door? Jesus explains this through the parable of the good Samaritan found in the parallel passage of Luke 10:25–37. In the parable a man is found stripped, wounded, and left for dead by a group of thieves. Jesus gives us three individuals from different social classes and race that encounter the man; they are the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. These days we hear the name Samaritan and we associate it with a good individual who is helpful, but in Jesus’ time this was not the connotation that this name had. Samaritans were despised for their ethnic and religious impurities. Listeners to the parable would have expected the Levite or the priest to stop and aid this man. These religious leaders did notice the man, but went on to neglect him, whether for reasons of pride, busyness, or concern for their social status. Our neighbor can be of any race, social background, or anyone in need. In this article we are going to explore ways that families can emulate the Samaritan of the parable by loving and serving the less fortunate. We are going to look at foster children and families who have felt the call to serve them, and how youth and families can be neighbors to them.
God created families and established his covenant in the line of generations. He gave man one wife (Gen. 2:24) and commanded them to replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28). In Genesis 17:1–14 God establishes his covenant with Abraham and his seed. He promises to direct his path and bless him and the generations to follow. Abraham is instructed to circumcise each male in his household. “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (vv. 12–13). Abraham must obey God and circumcise all the males in the household, whether they were his biological offspring or whether they were brought into his home from elsewhere. In the New Testament baptism has taken the place of circumcision. When a foster or adoptive child is brought into a godly home, parents set another place at the table alongside their covenant children and raise them in the light of scripture. If parents adopt a child, they look forward to baptizing him or her as they would their own biological children. This is a beautiful picture of how we are brought into God’s family, not begotten or born from him, but adopted and made his heirs by his mercy and grace.
There is much sin and agony in the world today. The sanctity of marriage has been ruined by rampant divorce and remarriage. One of the results of this wickedness is that children are suffering, living in broken homes, sometimes with abusive and/or neglectful parents. Some of these children end up in the foster care system. Children are placed into foster care when the state removes them from their homes when it is discovered that the children are victims of abuse or neglect. The goal is to reunite the child with his or her parents, but this goal is not always achievable. If it is not possible for the child to safely be reunited with his or her family, the child is then in need of an adoptive family. In Michigan alone there are over 3,000 children in the foster care system each year that are in need of permanent, loving adoptive homes. It is estimated that there are 13,000 children in the foster care system at any given time, either working towards reunification with parents or waiting for permanent homes. The need is real and great.
Currently the people licensed to accept children into their homes include Christian couples, individuals, and regrettably, gay and lesbian couples. There is great need in our community for Christian families to provide stable, supportive, loving homes for these children. These children have experienced a range of trauma due to abandonment, rejection, abuse, and neglect. The only parents they love and depend on have been torn from their lives. It is likely that these children will suffer from issues of anger, anxiety, mistrust, fear, and detachment. Because of their difficult life experiences these children can be physically, emotionally, behaviorally, or mentally challenged. These children typically do not have the blessing and benefit of two God-fearing parents who have taken a vow to raise them in the fear of the Lord. The majority of these children have never learned about God and have never had a fatherly example of Christ as most of you are blessed with. Welcoming these children into our covenant lives and homes can be a great blessing to these children.
The families that feel a calling to open their homes to these children must go through the process of becoming licensed through the state to provide stable and loving homes for these children. Foster families who welcome these emotionally wounded or struggling children into their homes need support from their family, church family, and community. Whether the family welcomes a newborn baby, toddler, or a teenager, there are many adjustments to be made within the home. The parents will experience the difficulty of developing a relationship with a new child. This can be difficult for foster parents as they don’t have any idea of how long the child will remain with them, but it is essential for them to give fully of themselves to help this child trust and develop properly. The siblings will have to adjust to a new child that will require the time and energy of the parents. They may have to give up their bedrooms, share their toys, and learn to be more accepting and patient. The child himself will likely have a difficult time adjusting to his new family, wondering if this family will love him forever or if they will fail him like his previous birth or foster parents. He may continue to test the foster or adoptive parents by behaving badly, being destructive of property, running away, using abusive language, and telling the family that he hates them. He needs continuous forgiveness and love, in the same way God has forgiven his children of their sins every single day. Ephesians 4:32 states: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” He must be taught God’s forgiveness by our example. Parents and siblings can facilitate the child’s healing by teaching them how to trust and to love again. They must remember the unfailing love of the Lord, as Deuteronomy 10:17–19 teaches us: “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgement of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Eygpt.” This is our opportunity to show love to this wounded neighbor as the Samaritan did.
There are many families who may not feel this calling to open their homes. This belongs to the diversity of the body of Christ, and this must be embraced as well. Romans 12: 4–8 speaks of our role to be faithful and seek ways to serve others with what gifts Christ has given to us. We then have a great opportunity to support the fatherless and widows. This can be accomplished by supporting those in our church community who have lost spouses or parents and by supporting foster or adoptive families. This can be done in the way of lifting the family up in prayer, asking God to give them strength, patience, grace, and mercy. Foster and adopted children are in need of prayers, specifically that the Holy Spirit will work in them to know and believe that there is hope in Christ and to receive the new family’s love and trust. Church members can also help by offering to make meals or baked goods when the family has just received a child, because regardless of the age of the child, the parents are likely going through a time of significant adjustment. At times simply being a nonjudgmental sounding board for the frustrations and difficulties that come along with the foster care system and adoptive process can be very helpful. Individuals can easily have a background check performed through the child’s foster care agency free of cost so that they can legally provide babysitting services for foster children. This respite allows the foster parents to focus on their marriage, take time to regroup, or to spend dedicated time with the other children in the family. Families can also help by donating items to the area foster care agencies to aid and assist families and children. Individuals can be great assets to the parents and child by becoming a mentor for the foster child either in an official capacity or casually. This is a great way to be an example and resource to the child that does not take on the disciplinary role of a parent.
As young people your interactions with peers is extremely important. The way you treat your siblings and classmates will impact you and them for the rest of your lives. When you apply the great commandment of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourselves, you can reach out in humility and love. You are called to be kind and tenderhearted to each other (Eph. 4:32). This is true regarding children of different race, adopted children, foster children, or just simply children who dress, talk or act differently than you do. Some ways to do this are by forming relationships with those who differ from you, talking to them without judging them or making fun of them, and being an example to them of godly living, so they can learn from you. Love and help is more aptly given when we understanding some of the circumstances or challenges our neighbor may face. You may have no idea what another individual is going through or what difficulties they have experienced. They may be traumatized, scared, or calloused from a difficult life, and we need to show them compassion and love.
Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (mare.org) is a website with information about the children who are waiting for permanent homes in Michigan. The information is updated daily with roughly 300 children waiting each day, and some have been waiting for years. There are no adoption fees associated with adopting a child from foster care in Michigan. Information on how to become and support foster families and children in Michigan can be obtained through one of Kent County’s four local agencies. They are Bethany Christian Services, D.A. Blodgett of St. Johns, Catholic Charities of West Michigan, and Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. Each state has local social services agencies and children waiting to be cared for. Bethany Global is an international social services organization working in more than 15 different countries. The agencies work with interested families to help them become licensed foster homes, and offer ongoing support, training, and classes. The child receives a daily stipend for room and board, food, and clothing. These children are waiting here in your own neighborhood.
As God’s children we are called to serve each other and humble ourselves, to be “subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). Many times throughout scripture Jesus calls us to show mercy to the helpless and needy, especially the children. Luke 9:47–48 says, “And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me, and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” Opening one’s home to broken and hurt foster children can be uncertain and challenging yet also greatly rewarding. For example, these rewards can be seen when a difficult or defiant child comes to know God’s love and grace. God can use our times of pain to teach us and draw us closer to him. When we trust in God, he directs our paths (Prov. 3:5-6).