When the mother of my five-year-old foster daughter ran toward her and scooped her up in tears and smiles after an eight-month separation, I knew I was seeing shalom embodied.
Julia had lived in my home since February, one of the more than 3,000 children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border since last fall. After her sponsor family neglected her, social services took her into custody and within hours, I became her foster mom.
Restoring children to their parents is the goal of foster care, but it’s also what repels many people from fostering in the first place. Why? The potential heartbreak is hard to reckon with. That prospect of loss is what I feared most last summer when my family and I initially embraced the call to foster.
After pursuing adoption in Mexico—where my family had served as missionaries—we found only closed doors and returned to the US with a greater attentiveness to the needs in our own community. I began to seriously consider America’s broken foster care system and found myself wrestling with Joel 2:12–13: “‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments.”
My excuse for not fostering had been the possibility of heartbreak after a child left, but I began to recognize this anguish as an essential part of the calling. I realized that not only is there a deep human need to be part of a family—there’s also a deep need to know where one came from. In seeking adoption, I had focused on the former. In becoming a foster mom, however, I had awakened to the latter.
Embracing heartbreak, I learned, is part of carrying each other’s burdens in a broken world. From a kingdom perspective, I had to recognize my own limitations in order to participate in God’s redemptive purposes.
Our journey toward this truth started on a Friday afternoon when I got a text from a social worker. It read: “How good is your Spanish? Would you be able to take in a 4-year-old girl? She’s from Honduras and speaks minimal English. We think her parents were deported.”
I read and reread the message. On paper, our lives seemed perfectly prepared for this moment: Our son was attending a bilingual school, my husband and I were comfortable speaking Spanish, and I had even lived in Honduras for 15 months as a bilingual teacher. But we already had one foster child living with us. The last time we had had two simultaneously, it had pushed our family to the brink. I told her we’d think about it.
A few hours later, the social worker called and explained that Julia was under federal custody and would be returned to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) on Monday. Not long after, I was signing papers to take temporary custody of Julia—just for the weekend.
Over the next couple days, Julia batted a piñata at a family birthday party, jumped on a trampoline with our children, and attended church with us. On Monday, she and I showed up to court expecting that she’d be taken back into custody by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. But no one showed up in court. The following Monday, it was déjà vu. What we thought would be a weekend placement was quickly turning into something much longer.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Gena Thomas