Lessons Learned from Starting a Foster Care Ministry

It started as a feeling that just wouldn’t go away. A nagging, heart-worry burden. Something that resided in the back of our heads and hearts – a small, smoldering burn – and we sensed that something was moving. And once we paid close enough attention to it, that something ended up being God calling us to action.

For my husband and me, the burden was for foster care. There’s an obvious need in our country and state and county. The numbers are staggering: well over 400,000 children are in foster care on any given day. It’s obvious throughout Scripture that God cares for the broken-hearted, the orphan, the marginalized, the hurting. James 1:27 says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” It seems pretty clear that God’s heart is pleased when we care for the vulnerable. Why weren’t we doing anything personally? We realized God had planted the seed and it was growing and blossoming.

We talked with our pastors. We researched and attended conferences. And we eventually partnered with FaithBridge Foster Care to begin a foster care ministry at Dunwoody Baptist Church because God had told us that it was time.

Through our response to God’s call, we’ve learned a lot…

God is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18), so we should be too. Scripture says, “Be imitators of God…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Serving in foster care undoubtedly ministers to the broken-hearted: the children, the birthparents, the extended families, among others. No one comes into foster care without pain, disappointment and fear. We are able to serve these precious children and their families by taking care of the children, getting them the help and services they need to heal and grow, and by showing kindness and compassion to birth parents through visits and mentoring. Our day-to-day representation of Jesus is a sweet and fragrant offering to God.

THE Church IS THE answer. In the state of Georgia alone, there are nearly 10,000 children in foster care. But the good news? There are almost 15,000 local churches. No math degree is necessary to see that we have more churches than children who need help. We have more than enough Christian homes to embrace hurting children and their hurting families.

God is calling the church to help the broken-hearted. And there are people in your church – people you may not even know – who God is preparing for such a time as this. When a foster care ministry is formed at a church, God brings people together to form the most beautiful family. Give people a chance to serve…their hearts are burning for this opportunity just like it’s burning in yours.

God wants us to do hard things. When Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), He wasn’t insinuating that carrying a personal cross was easy. Look where it ended with Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice for us.

In the church, most people love the idea of helping foster children – in theory – but unfortunately, there are far less who actually step out in faith to do it. You’ll hear a lot of “I could never give them back” and “I’d be too worried about my own kids” and “My husband’s co-worker’s neighbor once had a foster child who tried to burn his house down.”

Leading a foster care ministry is hard because it’s asking people to become missionaries in their own homes and to look past the heartache and uncertainty of loving children who most likely won’t stay in their home forever. It’s asking people to allow their children the opportunity of serving and loving and possibly hurting. It’s asking people to trust God with the unknown. It’s looking people in the eye and saying, “This is going to challenge you and your kids. You will each have opportunities to carry your cross, daily. It will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But don’t miss this: It will also be the most beautiful.”

Nonetheless, don’t give up! Do it because it needs to be done. You may get frustrated that people are not quick to jump on board. But here’s a promise: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give us” (Galatians 6:9).

Everyone loves a redemption story but few are willing to “live in the middle.” Be the people who are willing to trust God at work in the middle of the story. It’s not glamorous. It’s often messy and heartbreaking. But isn’t this the church of Jesus? It’s made up of all of us people – broken and needing redemption – and Jesus meets us exactly where we are.

When you immerse yourself in foster care ministry, you will hear stories you wish you could un-hear. You will see the ramifications of painful choices and unkindness and hard, hard lives. You will meet children who need to know the unchangeable and unrelenting love of Jesus, and you will also meet their birth parents who need to know the same. Sometimes your role will be to show the love of Jesus even when you don’t see change. Sometimes you may see movement. But the guarantee is that you will be witness to miracles in the midst of the messiness, and it will help you grow closer to God while in the middle of the story.

Above all, you will learn – like we did – that God loves us all in our brokenness. Every last one of us.

Katie Kenny Phillips heads up Dunwoody Baptist Church’s foster care ministry. She, her husband and three biological children fostered a brother and sister and eventually adopted them. She maintains that their partnership with FaithBridge Foster Care and the Community of Care® from their church was what made their fostering experience such a beautiful example of God’s goodness and redemption.