Callie Lillard joins our conversation today as we explore serving the often overlooked in our churches. I’m grateful for her passion and lifelong work to serve children & families journeying through foster care & adoption. I’m grateful for the practical ways she encourages & challenges all of us to support & love these families. But mostly, I’m grateful for her heart that loves God and seeks to follow His command to love the “fatherless”.
“Defending the fatherless” has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. When my mom was growing up, her parents opened their home to children in foster care and later to pregnant young women who were planning to place their babies for adoption. My grandfather, who was an attorney, volunteered his legal services to families who were adopting. When my older brother and I were eleven and six years old, respectively, our parents dove into their own foster care journey by saying yes to a newborn baby who needed a home for a little while. On Christmas day 1990, my mom left our family get-together to go to the hospital, and she returned with a tiny pink bundle who was most certainly everyone’s favorite gift that year. That kind of day soon became pretty normal for our family, with many more babies passing through our home over the next 22 years. I was eight years old the first time my parents took me with them to serve at a children’s home in Kingston, Jamaica. In 2001, when I was seventeen, I gained a brother through adoption, and in 2003, a sister.
Foster care and adoption were just what my family did. It was our thing. Anyone who knew us knew that. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I really began to understand that it wasn’t just our thing; it was the church’s thing. Or at least it was supposed to be.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
Caring for the fatherless is not a suggestion; it’s a command. One that’s repeated over 40 times in scripture. It’s not just a command for those who feel “called.” It’s a command for the whole church. We are all called. If we call ourselves Christians, we must respond. All of us.
I have good news for those of you who are starting to sweat. You don’t have to foster or adopt to care for the fatherless!
If God’s not leading you to foster or adopt, He’s probably leading you to serve those families who are. No one understands “it takes a village to raise a child” more than foster and adoptive families. We need people in our church to come alongside us and help us give these kids what they need to heal. Maybe that looks like bringing a meal once a week. Maybe you’re good at math, and you could offer to tutor a child who’s struggling in school. Maybe you could provide respite care or free baby-sitting for tired parents who need a night out. Maybe you could help a foster parent entertain their kiddos on those long days spent at juvenile court (and encourage a struggling birth parent in the process!). Maybe you could donate financially or plan a fundraiser for a family who’s adopting. Maybe you can be a prayer warrior for a child or family. Maybe you’re a photographer and could donate your time to your state’s Heart Gallery or offer to do free sessions for children in foster care (do you know how many former foster kids have childhood photos of themselves? Just about zero.). Maybe you could help meet a child’s emotional needs by helping pay for counseling that’s not covered by insurance. Or maybe you could help meet a parent’s emotional needs by offering to pay their way to a conference or retreat (or by babysitting while they attend said conference or retreat).
Another important aspect of supporting foster and adoptive families in your church is recognizing that our kids have some unseen special needs. Our kids have all come to us from hard places. What looks like misbehavior to most may actually be survival skills that our kids used when they couldn’t trust an adult to meet their needs. They need us to teach them how to replace those unhealthy survival strategies with healthy ones. Many of our kids have been exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero or suffered abuse, neglect, or trauma. Or all of the above. And every single one of them has suffered the loss of their first family. These events have changed the way our children’s brains work. Instead of inquiring about their stories, ask us how you can help meet their needs.
Fostering attachment and building trust is a huge focus for families with new arrivals…and maybe even for those who’ve had their children for years. Let our families participate in church activities according to our kids’ needs. Our babies may never be in the nursery, and our big kids may need a parent to come with them to VBS. It’s not that we don’t trust you with our kids; it’s that we are trying to teach our kids that they can trust US. We get that it seems a little weird to you (it did to us once, too), but trust us – we have spent lots of time trying to learn how to help our kids heal. Help us help them by encouraging, supporting, and believing us, even when our parenting seems a little “out there.” And we would LOVE it if you wanted to educate yourselves about our kids. Attend a conference with us or ask us about resources we use (Empowered to Connect is a good place to start). We want you on our kids’ team!
One year on Orphan Sunday at our church, an elderly woman approached our ministry’s table after service. We had a sign-up sheet for our email list but she didn’t have an email address. She wrote down her phone number and told one of our volunteers, “I can’t foster or adopt, but I’m an artist and I can give free art lessons to children.”
This woman got it. She understood that God commands all of us to care for orphans and vulnerable children. And she was willing to use the gifts God gave her to respond to that command. This is “taking up the cause of the fatherless.” This is the gospel made touchable. And you don’t have to foster or adopt to be a part of it.