By Carl Stagner
The church used to do it. Government stepped in, however, where the church left off. In the past fifty years—at least—churches became more and more inward-focused, sheltering themselves from a “contaminated” world. But it didn’t used to be that way. Orphanages were established by believers. God’s people were once the loudest champions for the poor and afflicted. Too often in recent years the church has run away from problems it once ran toward. Several Church of God families and their congregations have discovered one avenue consistently taking things in a different direction. They’ve partnered with Safe Families for Children to care for children from homes caught in the midst of crisis. A redemptive solution to the need for foster care, Safe Families is now being offered as an effective resource for the Church of God movement through Be Bold Academy.
By definition, crisis strikes powerfully and unexpectedly. When it does, parents lacking a network of support via family or friends find themselves in a world of hurt and hopelessness. Often the downward spiral of financial strain, coupled with the everyday stress of raising children, leads to dangerous living conditions. That’s where the foster system comes into play. But well before the government takes on another statistic, Safe Families offers parents-in-crisis the opportunity to temporarily place their children with a safe and loving host family. Emma serves as director for the Madison County, Indiana, chapter. She explains that “when it involves the government helping people, there’s bound to be a struggle. It is really is the church that should be at the forefront.”
Unlike the foster system, marked at times by gridlock and rigid regulations, placing-parents maintain full custody throughout the Safe Families experience. In fact, they can request the return of their children at any time. “Safe Families allows the parent to voluntarily reach out for help,” Emma Johnson explains. “They’re able to say, ‘I’m in crisis,’ or ‘I’m homeless,” or ‘I just need help.’ Host families open up their homes voluntarily, too. It’s part of their belief system. On the other hand, foster care steps in and, if they choose to remove the child, the child becomes a ward of the state, which means that the state makes decisions on behalf of the child, and parents are usually given up to eighteen months to get the child back.”
Sometimes host families are asked to care for a child for a few days; other times, as much as a year. During the stay, parents can talk to the child over the phone every day if they choose. Unlike the foster care system, Safe Families encourages a relationship between the host family and the biological parent. This relationship doesn’t have to end once the formal stay ends. In fact, Emma Johnson says that relationship can blossom even after the child goes home. “And then you have a network of support for the family-in-crisis going forward,” she explains. “They now have someone they can call, oftentimes they are connected to a church, and their lives are completely different. We bridge the gap. That is so much more than the Department of Child Services can offer a family.”
For potential host families who feel their lives are just too crazy to handle another child, consider Emma’s response: “Our form of crazy is a like a gift to kids who are displaced or in tough situations.”
Kristin Stayer and her husband Eric understand this gift very well. They attend Park Place Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, where she directs the ministry of the community center. In November 2013, they got involved with Safe Families, and had their first placement in December 2013. “Safe Families was a really good fit for us,” she reflects. Kristin and Eric blessed their three little ones with love and a safe environment, but they’ve been blessed themselves by the experience. “It’s not an easy thing by any means,” she explains. “But the moments you have together are amazing. You show these children that they truly can be loved. And you can grow, you can be stretched, and you can all learn together. Take the risk, open up your home, and just be willing to love others as Christ has shown us.”
At Church of God Convention 2015, Safe Families was featured as one the community outreach organizations setting the example for the church at-large. Be Bold Academy is pleased to make Safe Families for Children accessible to you. For more information about Safe Families for Children, visit www.sffcmadco.org/chog-ministries.
Today, twenty-seven states benefit from the services provided by Safe Families, and the program continues to expand. “We have really gone beyond just being a parachurch ministry to being a pro-church movement,” Emma explains. “We want to come underneath churches and allow them to do this work again. We provide the professional part, we provide the screening, but ultimately our churches really can do this.”
Discover what Be Bold Academy can do for you and your church. Visit www.beboldacademy.org to learn more.
Were you blessed by reading this story? Support the ongoing work of Church of God Ministries with your gift to the World Ministry Fund at http://www.jesusisthesubject.org/world-ministry-fund/.