‘Forever Family’s’ and Finding a Place Called Home.

On Thursday the 28th June, I ventured into London because I was really keen to get to an event.   I went to a Fostering and Adoption consultation that was put on by Krish Kandiah from the Evangelical Alliance (http://www.eauk.org/  @eauknews  @krishk) and Care For the Family     (http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/ @care4thefamily)

It was a really great informative and inspiring evening.  It was so encouraging to hear what the Church is doing in this area, and the plans to do more.  It was also brilliant to see a room full of Christians who are fostering, have adopted, or who are in the process.  It was great to learn from each other, share with each other and encourage each other.

Now I know this is a very sensitive and personal subject.  However as someone who had a really great experience of being fostered by an incredible Christian family, I feel I am in a privileged position to encourage others and share the benefits, and how it can be done so well!  But as someone who has also seen a number of times how it has not gone so well, including a short placement in emergency care which was wasn’t pleasant, and what happens when difficulties overcome potential, I also feel I know a little about how it shouldn’t be done, and what some of the obstacles are.

I was Fostered when I was 15.  My foster family in lifestyle, happiness, choices, beliefs etc could not have been more different than what I knew.  It took a long time for me to start looking after myself.  My foster family showered us with grace, love, and affirmation (I had a terrible self-image, and deep set apathy and almost hatred for life).  It took a long time to stop swearing, acting in a self-destructive way, and to accept their ways of living, and that we could be a family.

When I turned 16, the thing that showed me in the most definitive way that we were now family, is that after only a few months, my foster parents wanted me to continue to stay at home (I was offered sheltered accommodation etc), and wanted me to regain my youth.  They supported me throughout 6th form.  We went on holidays, we spent time together just playing games or watching TV.  My mum taught me how to really care for myself and love myself.  Somehow over time, we became very much a family.  My family’s decision to care for us, and step out in that way, literally radically transformed my life, my prospects and my hope and future.

 

There are 59,000 Children currently in the care system in the UK.  Currently BAAF (British Association for Adoption and Fostering- (http://www.baaf.org.uk/) state that 6,200 children need adopting in the UK.  The Fostering Network (http://www.fostering.net/) state that 8,000 children currently need foster placements.

The Evangelical Alliance alone is in contact with 15,000 Churches.

The maths is simple.  If just one family in each if these Churches, supported by the Church as a whole took on the mission to Foster or Adopt, then the need for the whole of the UK could be covered by the Church!!

Fostering and Adoption shows with words and actions the impact God has had on our lives.  Our compassion (to co-suffer, be moved into action with empathy) on such vulnerable children (70% of whom have been abused or neglected), shows the love of Jesus in the most practical way.

I have a huge heart for Children, and can’t wait to show mine (whether fostered adopted or natural) Jesus and real love as my family did for me.  I am very passionate that anyone on Church if capable, whether they have their own Children or not, should make room in their lives for those children who need families.  I believe that it is a Biblical principle, and one of the best ways possible, to show in a practical, every day way the love of God, and to literally be able to transform someone’s life.

Krish asked us to imagine the impact on the Church if at least on family per church were looking after children.  Imagine the impact on our often “Middle Class” Churches.  Imagine children in Sunday School who would never otherwise be exposed the gospel.  Imagine the topics at weekly prayer meetings which would include all the complexities of the children’s and their natural family’s lives.  Imagine the Churches praying for the poor, not just overseas, but those in their own families and extended families.

Imagine the impact on our nation.  If the Church were not seen as homophobic, hateful, bigots, or crazy ‘Bible Bashers’.  But as those who literally open up their homes and their lives to some of the most vulnerable in our nation.  Wouldn’t this help not only the children, but our communities to see who God really is?

Ps 68:5-6 says:

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God sets the lonely in families;
He brings out those who are bound into prosperity;
But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.

Wouldn’t it be great if this is what the Church and our God was known for?  Being the defender of the poor and the protector of orphans and widows?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not in any way suggesting that every Christian should foster and adopt.  As I have said I have seen many cases, including with Christians, where the complexities of their life, their circumstances, character or callings have meant that it would not be suitable for them.  And this kind of parenting is ‘Extreme Parenting’ that includes a great number of difficulties as well as rewards.

I realise there are hindrances to people fostering or adopting, but in my experience, even within the Church this is often out of a lack of understanding, and a feeling that it is only something particular types of people are ‘called to’ not God loving, every day loving families.  I do believe that everyone in Church has a role to play in supporting the families who do this wonderful thing.  I think that there needs to be an education and new perspective within the Church that this is not only an answer to the problem of infertility (which of course it can be) but also a mission field.

Unfortunately I haven’t always seen that.  I haven’t always seen the Church supporting those who already Foster and Adopt, who have ‘difficult children’.  Nor have I always seen the Church ‘promoting’ Adoption or Fostering, as there can be much misunderstanding on what it entails, and often a desire to see healing or natural conception when infertility is the issue.

So many non-Christian families do an amazing job of Fostering and Adopting, and seeing broken children grow and be restored.  But imagine how much more Christians can do; with God, with the Holy Spirit guiding and protecting, and with the network of help and support from others in the Church.  This is what Church should look like.

As Krish said in his article:

“Collectively we can begin to discover how we can instil a mindset change in our families and churches to open our arms and hearts to the children who need temporary and permanent homes where they can be accepted and loved unconditionally.”

http://www.fiec.org.uk/news/article/finding-a-place-called-home

One reason I am passionate about Christian’s Fostering and Adopting, is that is one of the best possible ways to evangelise- how better to show a child or others that God loves them, than by showing them that you love them, in a real, every day, sacrificial way?

Another reason is that fulfils a God given mission to protect the defenceless.  One issue I have become increasingly passionate about as I learn more and more about the issues of modern day slavery (which I will share more about) is how vulnerable to children in the care system are to abuse or sex trafficking.  This makes my heart so sad.

‘Police figures show an estimated 10,000 children go missing from care every year’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18675986

“Under the current system you can have a situation where a sexual predator is sitting in a car outside a children’s home targeting the children inside that home, a home that the police don’t even know exists,”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-18425293

“One of the victims living in a privately run residential home was abused by 25 men in one night.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01j6t1t

U.S:

“Yesterday’s report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner makes for difficult reading. It highlights the risks of sexual exploitation faced by a “disproportionate” number of children in care.”

“As one tearful girl who called ChildLine said, “I just want a family. I just want to be loved”. Surely that’s not too much to ask.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tom-rahilly/we-must-do-more-to-protec_b_1645438.html

I am not saying that Christian’s are perfect, or always get things right.  And I don’t believe that they always have the ‘perfect family’.  But I find it hard to believe that within the loving context of a Christian family, surrounded by the support of the Church, that foster children would go missing, suffer from abuse or be as particularly at risk.  I believe that the Church; that Christian’s old or young, single or married, with or without their own children can be the solution to this problem.

I hope that this has been in some way encouraging or informative.  Please feel free to comment as I know this is a very complex subject, with many levels, and some challenges I haven’t covered here.

Another way that Children overseas can be protected from predators or trafficking is by the protection of education or sponsorship where they attend classes and are monitored.

Vision Rescue http://www.visionrescue.org.in/ do an amazing work protecting and educating children in India.

Stop the Traffik http://www.stopthetraffik.org/ and other anti-trafficking organisations I will talk more about do some great educational work for children.

And of course sponsoring a child through Compassion UK http://www.compassionuk.org/ can be another way to not only help a child receive food, education and spiritual development, but protect them further from trafficking.

 

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This Is My House, This Is My Home Part 2

This Is My House, This Is My Home

Part 2- What is ‘Home’ in the context of Church

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”  Maya Angelou

This quest or ache for home comes from the fact that in the very beginning, in Genesis, mankind was ‘Home’ in the Garden of Eden.  We were in perfect union with God and walked freely with Him, able to be completely ourselves.

But, as we all know, Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which began our separation from God, from our family, and home.  What I never really understood until recently, is how Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden wasn’t an act of anger from a raging father, but more an act of protection and mercy.

Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which separated them from God.  But there was also a Tree of Life.  If after eating of the tree of good & evil Adam and Eve had then been allowed to eat from Tree of Life, they would have stayed in the garden and been separated from God forever.  Eternal separation.  God however, by expelling them, was protecting them from eating from the second tree, and in doing so was saying; ‘don’t worry, I am coming after you’.  God then killed the animal and sewed their clothes together; this was an act of love, from a God of love.

The separation we face from God is often known as ‘The Great Divorce’.  It is a picture of loved ones torn apart.  When mankind fell, God didn’t just react to Satan and try to fix it.  He had already slain the lamb before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).  He already had a rescue plan in place before they even needed it.  The whole narrative of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the story of God pursuing mankind, and trying to bring them back home, after their tragic choice to move away from dependence on Him.  It is a long, love story.

 

 

“God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.”  Meister Eckhart

 

I love the story of the Prodigal Son.  The fact that he had messed up so much, was broken, poor, had severed all relationships, yet his father, when he sees him coming, RUNS towards him, embraces him, and throws him a huge feast.  This is how God feels when we come back to Him, and the Bible says there is a huge party in Heaven when people remember where there home is, who their family is, and come back into relationship with Jesus.

I believe that throughout my life, God has been actively pursuing me, and trying to bring me back home- into relationship with Him, and into His family the Church.  I love the fact that my church Hillsong Church (Leatherhead) put such an emphasis on the idea of coming home.  As you enter into church there are big signs saying ‘Welcome Home’ because they want people to feel like they are coming back to be with family, and for people who don’t yet know God; to find their way back to their spiritual home.

 

 

Home is supposed to be a safe haven.  A place of security, well-being, family.  A place to be cared for.  Where strangers are always welcome.  I love that my family’s home is like this.  And I love that Church is like this.  It is a place where you should see hope.  A place where you can fulfil your God given potential, be fed, encouraged, and grown.  A place where you can be completely yourself, no matter how broken you may look or feel.  Home and Church should be a place where there is unconditional love and forgiveness.  A tangible place that people are drawn to because of the love of Jesus that is there.  I know this is true of my church, my family’s home and of any good home.  Home is a place you should be able to un-mask, and be exactly who God made you to be.

The things that we have in our homes, the ornaments, furniture, and décor often say a lot about us.  The things that we put in our homes, often show what we think is most important.  For example some people have giant homes with many cars to show their wealth.  Our surroundings influence our thoughts and shape our identity.  This is true of the people and things we surround ourselves with.  We should try and place ourselves in a Church family where you can be fully yourself, but also be around things and people who show who you might ideally be.  So that you can grow more into the likeness of Jesus, surround yourself with Jesus like leaders.  One thing I LOVE most about my church is not the worship, teaching (all of which are excellent) but the sense of family, and mostly the heart for others.  They live beyond themselves.  My church is dedicated to giving back, and support many amazing charities, which I love.  This is the kind of person I want to be; someone who is blessed to be a blessing.

http://www.hillsong.co.uk/makepovertyhistory

God has put eternity in our hearts.  Our home should be a place that reminds people of that, and shows them, who they are, who they belong to, and what their inheritance is!  It should un-ashamedly show people who Jesus is, and lead them to him.  Church and Home should have an open door to those who don’t yet know Him.  It is not an elite club, but a place where all are welcome.  Where all can see Him and be drawn to Him.

You only have to watch the news for 5 minutes to see that we live in a broken, fatherless, lost generation.  Events such as the London riots show that there are so many living day to day with no hope and no sense of future.  I know I used to be the same!  But Jesus is the Hope for Humanity.  He offers transformation for the broken, inheritance for his children, healing for the hurting, family for the lonely, undeserved and scandalous grace and favour.  Jesus wants to embrace the lost.  And He wants his Church to do the same.  To remind people of who they are, where they have come from, who their Maker is, and the value that is upon them.  He wants wandering hearts to come home and to be free.

 

 

I pray that I never stop putting Jesus at the centre of what I call ‘Home’.  Whether it is my church life, my work, my family, my friendships, my future relationships- my Home should be in Him, and I should be drawing people into His Home and His family, until the day we all return to our eternal home.

 

“My home is in Heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”  Billy Graham

 

Ephesians 2:19-22 The Message (MSG)

 19-22That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

 

This Is My House, This Is My Home Part 1

This Is My House, This Is My Home

Part 1- What is ‘Home’?

“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action. ”  Mother Theresa

At the moment, my housemates & I are in the process of looking for a new house to rent. We have found a new house nearby, and are just in the referencing stage.   It’s an exciting time in some ways as it offers new opportunities, and a fresh start.  But it can also be really stressful because it requires you to re-define what “home” is, and to create a new home in an unknown place.

This move, along with a wonderful blog from my friend Sabine  (http://sabineamy.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/home-is-where-the-heart-is/), and the ‘Vision’ put forward by my Church (Hillsong) recently, got me thinking again about what home is?

In the last 6 years I have moved house 9 times!!  That’s more than once a year.  I have lived with family, with friends, in little rooms, in big rooms, in Derbyshire, in Cheshire, in London, and in Surrey.  I don’t mind moving house, but it does up-root you in a way little else does.  I have moved because I needed to and because I wanted to.  I have moved for convenience, for clarity, for necessity and for opportunity.

Recently I watched an episode of one of my favourite programmes One Tree Hill.  In it the characters discuss their home- Tree Hill, and what makes it so wonderful.  They reminisce on all that has happened there, how they grew up, fell in love, got jobs, and had families all within the context of this magical place they call home.  For them, no matter where else they go; Tree Hill will always be their home.

When you ‘Google’ home you get a lot of images of houses, but are they really homes?  Or does home conjure up more of an image of family, sanctuary, or something very different for you?

Now, for me, to be honest, ‘Home’ is a very interesting subject…

When I was 7 my half brother committed suicide and even at that age it changed me forever. My parents divorced and ‘home’ changed completely.

At one stage I was in emergency foster care then went to stay with a friend from school and had a new ‘home’ for a week.

Age 13 in my 2nd year of high school ‘home’ became a women’s refuge, for over a year, which seemed lifetimes away from where I grew up.

‘Home’ was next a council estate which has the least ‘homely’ place I ever knew.  It was a place, and situations that filled me with darkness and dread.  My only joy- a little cherry blossom tree outside.

One day in the summer when I was 15, home changed in a way I could never have anticipated.  I was put into foster care.  I was given a few moments to pack up my thing then taken to a new family, a new house, a new home. A strange family, a strange house, a strange home.   I didn’t know how long I would be there for or how life would change.

I say all this not to be dramatic, but to paint a picture.  For some people the concept of home is reasonable straight forward.  A house, a family, security, comfort.  For others it is a very different thing.  And for many, it is often changing as life progresses.

Over time, my idea of home changed irrevocably.  As I experienced the love of my new family, including boundaries, discipline, grace, and forgiveness, my understanding changed.  As I began to learn about Jesus, how he is my saviour, friend, father, comforter, protector, and family, my understanding of family and home again was dramatically re-defined.  I don’t think I could begin to even describe the process, or how my mind was blown by the understanding of God’s love and grace, and how that was put into action by my foster family.  And I definitely cannot explain, through all the changes and complexities, how a group of people, from such different backgrounds, understandings, and lives, were drawn together to become a family!

But that is what is so amazing about Jesus.  And that is what is so amazing about ‘Church’.  That a group of lonely, broken, incomplete people can become a whole, strong, loving, inseparable family.

And that is what my family have become to me.  That is what ‘home’ is now to me.  It has become a place of safety, comfort, love, security, hope, care, acceptance, forgiveness, freedom, and belonging.  And all because my foster parents, and sisters decided to lay down their lives for others, to give of themselves, to overflow with grace, and to be every single day, in every practical way, ‘Home’ and family to others.

And trust me, it was a challenge on all parts, but a challenge worth fighting for.

Home is a total sanctuary for me because of the love that pours out from my family  ❤

I will say, as a side note, that if you are a Christian, and you have never considered fostering or adopting, please do.  I know that it is not for everyone, and it is a challenge.  But if you have the love of Jesus in your hearts, and you want a practical, real, every day way of showing that love; you could literally transform a child’s life, and show them Jesus, by bringing them into your home.  There are thousands of children in the UK who have no idea of what ‘Home’ is, and what it means to be in a family.  You could show them.  I believe that it is an incredible evangelism, and God has put it on my heart, that as I was saved by my foster family in so many ways, how incredible would it be for me to do the same for other children who don’t yet know him…

Psalm 68:5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
    this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
    he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.