Mark Ottinger blogGuest post by Mark Ottinger, Family Ministry Pastor at Fellowship Memphis Church & Organizer of Mid-South Alliance

No one is clear on the number of children who are actually in foster care globally. 163 million? 147 million? 153 million? Domestically, we know there are approximately a half a million children in foster care across our 50 states with 22,000 aging out each year. Or was that 24,000? 25,000?OrphanSpeakUpSLIDER

The numbers just keep on coming when we talk about Memphis as well. We are in the ballpark of 2,000 children entering into the government’s care each year in Shelby County. With roughly 1,000 in foster homes at any given time…sometimes that might be 900 or maybe 1,200. Of the children in Shelby County’s foster care system, around 75 percent of those children are there because of neglect or abuse.

Honestly, I’m not sure how many children age out each year locally. The national stats say that a high percentage of these children will be homeless, in jail or on drugs within the first 12 months of aging out. Unfortunately, I think that stat is consistent here as well.

BUT…

When it comes to adoption, foster care and international orphan care, we are not talking about numbers. We are talking about children. We are talking about Felix and Robert and Jasmine and Lakisha and Miguel. We are talking about children who long to laugh and be silly, who want to eat Jolly Ranchers instead of broccoli, who want to throw a ball with their dad, have a tea party with their mom and slide down the slide into loving, waiting arms.

We are talking about children who want to have someone look them directly in the eyes and actually see them. We are talking about children who want to share their heart and dreams and have someone actually hear them and care. We are talking about children who want to have someone actually defend them and protect them.

Unfortunately, these are children, through neglect and abuse, who have been told through words and actions that they are worthless, they are not loved and they have no voice.

BUT…

As Pastor Shane said, “There are things that the church can miss on, but when it comes to orphan care, adoption and foster care, the church cannot miss here.”

We, the church, as an adopted group (Romans 8, Ephesians 1) should understand adoption (and foster care and orphan care) deeper than anyone.

BUT…

We do not enter into this lightly.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress… (James 1:27)

The great privilege in adoption and foster care is to enter into the child’s pain and distress. The great challenge in adoption and foster care is to enter into the child’s pain and distress. We are not called to SAVE a child. There is only one Savior, and we will let Him do the saving. We are called to love a child who often feels unlovable. We are called to feed a child who knows the realities of going hungry. We are called to be protectors of these children and their stories. We are called to be students of these children and realize they need more than a bed, a roof over their head and three square meals a day. We are called to trust them as they struggle to trust you and every adult around them. We are called to love them even when they shout, “I hate you.” We are called to give them a voice, even when what they say may not be easy to hear. We are called to treat them as human beings, not a project.

The reality: Not everyone is called to foster or adopt.

BUT…

Everyone is called to enter into their distress. Everyone is called to do something!

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless… (Isaiah 1:17)

My challenge: Ask the Lord what role you should play in “bringing justice to the fatherless.”

God may call some of you to open your home and, more importantly, your heart to a child. Some may mentor a child through Youth Villages or help keep families together and children out of foster care through AGAPE’s Families In Transition program or Bethany’s Safe Families. Some of you may need to carry the mantle of being a prayer warrior for the thousands of children throughout our city.

What is God calling you to do?

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