Stand Sunday

Lara Lynn Sturgess

It seems these days that every day is special. When I was growing up, we had the major holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Now every day is a “Day.”  Take today, for instance, October 29th.  I’m writing this blogpost on National Cat Day. For all you cat lovers out there, congratulations! For those wildly allergic to the feline friends, myself included, we will survive.  Tomorrow, October 30th, is National Candy Corn Day.  There are so many “Days” now that you pretty much have to rely on Alexa or Siri to tell you what “Day” it is.

Out of all the “Days” out there, though, one “Day” is near and dear to my heart, and it’s quickly approaching.

This year stand Sunday falls on November 7th.  It started back in 2002 with a pastor at a church in Texas.  As the recollection of the day goes the pastor had already written his sermon for the week and eaten breakfast at home with his children that morning. Later as he stood up to deliver the sermon, the image of his family at the breakfast table crossed his mind. The message he delivered was not what he had prepared, but a drastically different sermon instead.

The pastor lead a call to action for his congregation. Bishop Blake asked, “Who will stand with me to defend, care for and support the abused, abandoned and neglected children in our community?” One lady stood, then others in the congregation, then more. We can say it was a start of a “Day,” but the reality is, it was the start of a movement.  A movement that has now spread to all U.S. states and to many countries as well.

Here’s the thing – I saw some of the numbers this week and I shared them with my team yesterday. In Georgia, where I live, we currently have 12,952 children in foster care. In one region of the state alone, in the last 7 months, 272 children have entered foster care. That’s more than 1 child per day! And in that same region within the same timeframe, only 231 children went home.

In a county that neighbors mine, 30 children have come into care just in the last 30 days. These children are uprooted from their moms and dads, their schools, their friends — everything they know — and placed in a home with strangers. They are told everything is going to be okay when, quite clearly, things are not okay.

You may be asking at this point, “What does this have to do with me?” Scripture tells us over and over again that we are to help and advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves. Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves … defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Psalm 82:3 commands, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed.” In Zechariah, we are instructed to, “show mercy and compassion to one another” (7:9).  Paul instructs us in Galatians 6:2 to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” John implores us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and truth” (1 John 3:18). James tells us that taking care of orphans and widows is part of the pure religion that God is looking for (James 1:27). And, if we will not listen to these others passages, Jesus Himself tells us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40).

“This” – children in foster care and families in crisis – has everything to do with us. If anyone is going to serve these families, it should be followers of Christ — the Church. We are the ones who can introduce these families and children to the power, love and healing of a God who is their Abba Father (Romans 8:15) and who cares so deeply for them (Psalm 68:5). We are the hands and feet of Jesus. If we do not help them, who will?

I hear it in my head, “You want me to foster or adopt?” And I get it! We hear James 1:27 all the time, “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” When we consider James 1:27, we immediately assume we’re hearing a message on adoption or fostering in our own homes. And it could be for you — but it might not be. This not a call for all to foster or adopt. This is a call for all to serve in some fashion.

So the question changes from, “You want me to foster or adopt?” to “You want me to serve a family or child in need?” To the second question, the answer for any believer is unequivocally “YES!” Not only do I want you to serve families and children in need, but our Heavenly Father instructs us to serve families and children in need.

But how?  Well that is easy — ish. Remember 1 John 3:18 from earlier? I could easy list “pray” as our first or last bullet point here. And, yes, we should all pray for all the families and children affected by the foster care crisis in the United States. However, the Bible also says, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions” (1 John 3:18). So here are some tangible action items:

  1. Support a family in need. Folks, this is where it all starts. If we as the church can support families in crisis before their children ever go into foster care, the trauma that comes when a child is removed from their birth family may never have to happen. Think hard, who do you know that might need some extra support right now? If you cannot think of a family in your congregation or community that could use some help, look harder. The last 19 months have been far from easy in every way — physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.

People are struggling. Does a family you know need help with a utility bill? Could you provide clothing or food on a consistent basis? Maybe they need a bed? Do they need a routine babysitter or after school help so that they can be at work to provide financially for their family? Does the child need tutoring or mentoring? When you support a family with tangible items, friendship, and community, you help prevent children from coming into foster care for neglect due to a financial inability to provide.

  1. Support a foster family. Fostering a child can be difficult. A lot of times foster families feel like their family is an island. The most amazing thing that a foster family can have is the support of their community of believers. Can you provide a meal? Help with transportation? Do laundry? Cut the grass? Tutor a child? Mentor a teen? Babysit or even provide overnight care for a child so the foster parents can have a night out? Can you be a listening ear or a shoulder of support to the foster mom or dad? There may be other points of contact that you can make to support a foster family. Be creative! Think outside the box!
  2. Build a Wrap Ministry in your church. What is a Wrap Ministry, you ask? Excellent question! It’s a ministry that organizes members of the congregation into action, to serve foster families and families in crisis. Wrap Ministries create community around birth families and foster families to provide support and assistance. It is an organized way of providing the services listed above to those in your church and your community. You may have volunteers who will cook meals and others who will tutor, while some offer babysitting supports. A well-organized wrap ministry will identify birth or foster families and set up multiple volunteers to support their assigned family in a variety of areas. If you’re looking to get started but aren’t quite sure how to begin, Promise 686 is an amazing organization that helps churches develop this type of ministry. Visit their website, promise686.org, for support. They provide guides and trainings to equip you to understand and implement Wrap services in your church.
  3. Adopt a Case Manager. The State employees on the front lines are weary. Their jobs are endless and, most often, thankless. Write encouraging notes; provide a meal to the office; or give small gifts of gratitude. Even small considerations go a long way to making these employees feel seen and appreciated for the work they are doing in keeping families and children safe. It also shows them the love of Christ from the church.
  4. Foster a Child. Yes, I said it. Some of you are called to open your hearts and homes to children in need. You may already know it and feel the tug deep in your heart — you can welcome a child or children into your home. And you may be thinking, “I definitely could if I had the support of my church in the form of the action steps listed above.” If this is you, please reach out. If WinShape does not offer services in your area, we’d be glad to point you to someone who does. (insert winshape email address)

Stand Sunday and all of November.  It’s a day when we are reminded that we can all do something to serve families and children in need.