OBLIVIOUS!….?

Oblivious, that was me! I don’t think I should have been. At the time, I was serving as an Outreach Pastor, my wife and I had just completed a three year adoption journey to bring our daughter home from China and our church had participated in Orphan Sunday.

Just over a month after we brought our daughter home from China, I attended my first Summit Conference, put on by Christian Alliance for Orphans. This particular year, the conference was held at Saddleback Church in Southern California.

Through our own adoption journey and my role as an Outreach Pastor, God was really stirring in my heart to engage our church at a deeper level to care for orphans. Because of our own adoption journey, the focus we had presented to our church was primarily on adoption. I also began to realize, many of our international ministry partners were already caring for orphans in a variety of ways.

One of my goals at the conference was to research and learn ways we could begin to implement an orphan care ministry at our church. I was especially excited to attend one of the breakout sessions at the conference entitled, Building Church Ministries 101: Launching a Church Orphans’ Ministry.

There was a large turnout for this particular session as many churches had interest in engaging more into the orphan care crisis. What I quickly learned in this session was, the audience was mostly made up of lay people who had a passion for orphans. It didn’t take long to sense a common frustration amongst many of these lay people about the lack of support from their pastors about orphan care ministry.

Now there might have been more pastors present at the session, but they likely were staying quiet like I was out of fear of not making it out of the building alive.

Even though I was a pastor myself, I could certainly understand their frustrations as I was experiencing some of this same type of pushback or lack of interest in my efforts to introduce an orphan care ministry.

This was my first experience to witness a widespread lack of support amongst pastors on a topic that couldn’t have a more clear Biblical mandate, caring for orphans and widows in their distress.

Just one day later at the conference, I can safely say my world was rocked, in a big way. We watched the debut of a brand new documentary called, Faultless: The American Orphan. I don’t know how I could have been so oblivious to the foster care system in my own country, but I was.

I had no idea that at any given time in our country, there can range between 400,000 to 500,000 children in the custody of the state. Of this larger number of children, at any given time, close to 100,000 of these children are eligible to be adopted. Simply put, the parental rights of those 100,000 children have been terminated.

The title of this documentary speaks for itself. These children, through no fault of their own have been neglected, abused and are in situations bad enough that those outside their worlds notice there is something dreadfully wrong.

The sad reality is, our society and culture have masked that we actually have orphans living amongst us. I understand the sensitivity of how we label these children, but have we gone so far to protect them that now we don’t even know they exist? These children go to school with our kids, they live in our neighborhoods, but do we even know they are there?

What I was so struck by was the heartbreaking statistics of vulnerable children who are placed into the foster care system. Let these statistics sink in:

  • 80% of children in foster care have physical or mental health issues
  • 70% of the current US prison population has spent time in foster care
  • 80% of death row inmates have been in foster care
  • 65% of the US homeless population has spent time in foster care
  • 51% of foster kids will be unemployed after aging out of the system
  • 71% of girls who have been in foster care will be pregnant by the age of 21
  • 60% – 70% of those caught in sexual human trafficking in the US have spent time in foster care
  • Only 3% will attend college

This information rocked my world! Again, how could I be so oblivious to the realities of children who live in the smallest of rural communities, to the largest cities in our country, and everywhere in between?

In light of these staggering statistics, where does The Church fit into this crisis? The sad reality is, the frustration with pastors I was exposed to in the breakout session at Summit many years ago, is one I have now experienced on a wider scale personally as we have worked to engage churches in orphan care through our ministry, Faces With Names.

Having served previously as a pastor for many years, I understand the overwhelming work load many pastors already are facing. Having served as an Outreach Pastor, I also understand the numerous requests pastors and churches receive on a weekly basis.

A common response I often receive from pastors is, we are already doing too much. My question is, what if you are doing too much of the wrong things? Other pastors I speak too are narrowing their focus to such a small degree, there is no room to even consider another ministry option.

Either way, so many churches have eliminated a sacred space and left little to no room for something so close to the heart of God.

The unfortunate reality is, we will either deal with these children now, or we will deal with them later as adults. If Christian families and churches would be willing to step into their lives at a young age, there is more of a chance to see healing and restoration in their already broken lives.

Statistics show, the longer a child is in the foster care system, and the more placements or homes they have lived in, the more likely they become one of the unfortunate statistics listed above.

If we deal with them later, they will likely be the ones selling drugs in our towns, stealing our cars, breaking into our homes, selling their bodies voluntarily or involuntarily and making up a large percentage of those filling our prisons, living homeless on our streets, and requiring assistance from the government.

I often hear from DHS workers how they have worked with grandma, mom and now the children. The generational cycle of poverty, destruction and addiction is not only robbing these families of their God given potential, it is often blinding them of the enormous love God has for each and every one of them.

I love the statement my wife Susan once made and we now use as motivator in our ministry efforts:

“We believe, every time a vulnerable child or orphan is placed in a loving, healthy Christian family, through foster care or adoption, they are literally being snatched out of the hands of the enemy, and given a hope and a future.”

I know the hearts of most pastors is to reach the lost and to see peoples lives transformed. When we pray for revival in our towns and in our churches, are we only praying for those who will come in and make an immediate positive impact in the lives of our churches? These new people we have been praying for will provide leadership, they will serve, they will tithe, they won’t cause the pastor any headaches or additional work.

If we are honest with ourselves, this would be our selfish prayer. But what about those vulnerable families and kids who are not easy to deal with? If The Church is really going to be the answer to the foster care crisis, it will likely be more compared to taking up our cross daily for the sake of others than it will be easy wins.

Amazingly enough, that is exactly what Jesus called out for His followers to do, take up our cross daily. Not a popular subject most of the time, even to pastors. I write this blog with a continued desire to bring awareness to pastors and churches, there are vulnerable kids and families who desperately need our help!

But I must admit, I also write this blog with a bit of frustration at pastors who are ultimately the gatekeepers of what ministry transpires in their churches and are unwilling to even consider caring for orphans and vulnerable kids. I certainly understand how orphan care can seem like a very peripheral ministry idea.

But consider this, as pastors, have you ever tried to explain to a person who has never tithed before, why it is important to tithe? Tithing is a concept on many levels that makes no human sense and is often hard to explain why one should participate.

I equate orphan care for the church in the same way I equate tithing for the believer.

It might not make sense, but in God’s economy, it is better to participate than to not participate.

I love this quote I heard Andy Stanley make as he was addressing foster families at his church, NorthPointe.

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“Foster Care is the best and most significant ministry we do, and I really, really believe that. It will never be huge, but it will always be significant. It will will never make sense financially, but we are going to do fund it anyway. It means there aren’t going to be as many positive stories as there are heartbreaking stories, but that is just the nature of ministry. I really do think even though initially it seemed like a little sideways energy, a little bit off focus of what we do in terms of planting churches. I really believe there is not a more significant ministry that we do. Which means from my perspective as your pastor, as a church planter, of all the things I’ve seen, there isn’t a more important thing that we do as a church.”   Andy Stanley

I appreciate this heartfelt expression from Andy Stanley on the importance and significance of churches participating in caring for vulnerable children through foster care. The reality is, starting an orphan care/foster care ministry already parallels many of the ministries you already have in place. I have said to many pastors now to date, all we need is your support.

You already have people in your church who are passionate about caring for orphans and vulnerable kids. Support them, unleash them, and watch how God blesses every aspect of what you are doing through your church.

There is this pesky little verse we find in Matthew 25:40 where Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

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To those lay people who are frustrated, stay encouraged, and pray for your pastor. For pastors who are not interested in orphan care/foster care yet, would you ask God how He might want you to lead your church in caring for the most vulnerable amongst us? For the pastors and churches who get it, thank you! It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Every negative statistic from foster care represents an individual. Every one of those individuals has a face, with a name. Their real life stories can be swept into the abyss of negative statistics, or they can be embraced by loving families, from loving churches who can introduce a Jesus who can bring healing, restoration and salvation to all things broken.

I was Oblivious! Are you?

Faces With Names, serves as a catalyst ministry to engage and equip churches to create the culture of orphan care through foster care, adoption and global orphan care. To learn more about how we can serve your church to help care for orphans and vulnerable kids, please visit our webpage: www.faceswithnames.org

Craig Groeschel – “Orphans Embraced” Every child in need has a face, a name and a story.

One Handed Driver

As the story goes, it was just boys being boys. In the mid 1920’s, in a small town in Northwest, South Dakota, a negro league baseball team was using a local ball diamond for practice. This is a historical story all to its own, but not for now.

African American baseball players in rural South Dakota. Talk about a natural draw for any group of curious young boys, especially in a small town with not much to do. To add to the excitement and adventure, the boys climbed up a latter on the side of a building for a rooftop view of the practice.

As one of the boys made his way up the latter, another boy thought it would be funny to pull the latter out from under him. This young, nine-year-old boy fell to the ground and broke his left arm.

Just over fifty years after this incident took place, I began the annual summer journey with my family from Southern California to South Dakota. Thirteen hundred miles stood between me and my own South Dakota adventures.

No doubt, there was joy in the journey. This was back in the day when car seats and seat belts were only a distant thought. Sleeping in the back window of our 1973 Monte Carlo I am sure wasn’t safe, but we survived.

One of my favorite memories of our many trips, and one I got to brag about to my friends was sitting on my dad’s lap, getting to steer the car. In my young boy mind, it seemed like I drove for hundreds of miles. I am sure letting me drive the car as a young boy was a break from the monotony for my dad over the many miles we traveled.

I remember my dad’s right hand reaching down around mine in any instance where he needed to take control. It was my earliest recollection of watching my dad drive with only one hand. It was a driving style I would learn and take on myself.

It is amazing how much we learn sometimes without realizing we are even learning. To this day, I am a one handed driver.

I am sure the opportunity to drive on my dad’s lap didn’t completely eliminate the question every parent endures on a long road trip, “Are we there yet?” Twenty hours in a car is a long haul no matter how old you are.

As we drove through Hot Springs, South Dakota, we knew we were getting close. There was an excitement that filled our car as we rolled up to Grandpa and Grandma Mills house on Galena Drive. They were usually sitting on their front porch waiting for us. A wonderful image burned into my memory.

Our annual South Dakota summer adventure officially began as we stepped out of the car and took our first breath of the fresh Black Hills air. Over the course of the summer, I had the privilege of watching my dad interact with his dad.

I could tell my dad viewed his dad as a hero. Now as an adult, I am amazed at how often I recognize and say about myself, that is just how my dad did it. I am sure my dad said the same thing about his dad. But with my dad, there was a twist in how he learned from his dad.

The real life consequences of boys being boys was a broken left arm of a young nine-year-old boy. In most cases, a broken arm is a routine fix with a cast and a month or so to heal. This broken arm would be different.

My grandpa never spoke about how he lost his arm, so the details are vague. What we do know is, the break in his arm contracted an infection that turned into gangrene. The result, a young, nine-year-old boy had his left arm amputated well above his elbow.

The only thing I ever heard my grandpa could not do was wash his own elbow. I am not even sure that was true. I am pretty sure I watched him figure a way to accomplish this simple task that any two handed person could easily do.

My dad learned how to tie his shoes with one hand, button his shirt with one hand, bowl one handed, (my grandpa is in the South Dakota Bowlers Hall of Fame and bowled eight perfect games in his life) and learned to drive with one hand.

I am a one handed driver because my dad was a one handed driver. My dad was a one handed driver because his dad was a one handed driver.

My Grandpa - South Dakota Bowler Hall of Fame

My Grandpa – South Dakota Bowler Hall of Fame

This legacy of learning is now four generations old in the Mills family. If you asked Hugh Mills kids about how influential their dad was in their lives, it would be very clear the admiration they have for their dad.

It breaks many modern day statistical facts of the success a child growing up without a father might experience. My Grandpa Mills never had the chance to learn a single thing from his father. My Great Grandpa Mills was killed in WW1 before my grandpa was ever born.

I am reminded of two other nine-year-old boys we became acquainted with in our first year of marriage. These young boys’ were in Susan’s special education class. There were just five young boys in her class designated as emotionally disturbed.

On one particular day, one of the boys acted out in a way that required multiple adults to restrain him. A rage and profanities no nine-year-old should even know. The event became so dangerous the police were called in to control the situation.

The other boy indicated his ongoing deviant behavior was driven by the desire to be arrested. In his young mind, this was the ticket to go and be with his dad who was serving time in prison.

As I have lived in the orphan care world over the past seven years or so, I have learned the stories and tragedies of orphans and vulnerable kids with no one to love them and lead them by example. Too many times I have heard the stories from foster care social workers who worked with grandma, mom and now the kids. A generational cycle of poverty and destruction.

I have wondered before why I have been so blessed with two men who dramatically shaped my life with love, guided by a desire to live with character and integrity. I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes along the way, but my recalibration is guided by the Holy Spirit and desire to surrender to Christ.

My Heroes! The men who shaped my life.

My Heroes! The men who shaped my life.

It is amazing how much we learn sometimes without realizing we are even learning. Learning to become a one handed driver is only symbolic of the greater benefit of the men in my life who shaped who I am today.

There is not a church in America, rural or suburban, who does not have kids who are in state custody, otherwise known as the foster care system, in close proximity to their building. These vulnerable kids go to school with your children, yet many of them are unknown and forgotten. How can this be?

A common response I get from pastors when talking to them about caring for orphans and vulnerable kids is this, we are already doing too much!

Having been a pastor, I get it. But the question I think in my mind is, what if we are too busy doing the wrong things? There is an ongoing spiritual battle for the very souls of these vulnerable children.

When we are too busy doing other things to care, the enemy is winning, capturing these young souls with the purpose to kill, steal and destroy, with hardly any effort.

There are hundreds of thousands of vulnerable kids here in the US and millions of orphans around the world who lack any loving guidance in their lives. The unfortunate statistics tell us they are the ones who will likely break into our homes, steal our cars, sell drugs to our kids, sell themselves on the streets and take the lives of those who we love the most.

On my most frustrating days of trying to bring awareness to care for these vulnerable kids to pastors and churches, I am reminded there are those who are still answering the call to bring hope and a future to these valued children, made in the image of God.

Last week, I was honored to be present at the adoption proceedings of good friends of mine who brought a sibling group of four into their family. These kids had spent 1525 days in the foster care system. But on this day, they became a part of a loving family. I wish you could have seen the joy and relief on these kids’ faces.

Later on this same day, I attended a Wednesday night service at my church where the guest speaker talked about near death experiences. You might be asking; how does this relate? This particular speaker has interviewed over 1,000 people who have experienced near death experiences.

Those who had returned from their near death experiences spoke about going through a life review with Jesus prior to being resuscitated. What I was struck by were the things most important to Jesus in these life reviews. I can assure you, it was not about wealth, status or accomplishments, but about relationships. The most important thing to Jesus was how we treat people.

I guess when Jesus said, whatever you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do unto me, He wasn’t joking. I get that foster care and adoption are difficult. But there is this other pesky verse Jesus talks about in taking up our cross daily. The cross is never easy, but it certainly is selfless.

So how do we follow the call by Jesus to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily in a culture where comfort is the ultimate goal? What if someday a vulnerable kid wrote about the impact you made in their life? The possibility of a legacy you left that broke the cycle of generational poverty and destruction.

I count it a privilege to be able to say, “that is just how my dad did it.” My grandpa was a one handed driver. My dad was a one handed driver. Because of them, I am a one handed driver, and so much more….