The Christian marketplace can make an eternal difference in the lives of orphans and those who care for them.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27, NIV). The Bible is clear that Christians are to care for the fatherless, but fulfilling this mandate through foster care and adoption can feel like a large— and overwhelming—task. According to Bethany Christian Services, a nonprofit organization that offers adoption, foster care, and pregnancy counseling, more than 100,000 children nationwide are in foster care with an average of 23,000 youth “aging out” every year without finding a family.
For the Christ followers who open their hearts to foster or adopt a child, they have a challenging path to follow.
“It’s not always high notes,” says Kelley Nikondeha, co-director of Communities of Hope and author of the recently released Adopted (Eerdmans). An adoptive mother and an adopted child herself, she adds, “There are lots of ways adoption can go sideways. It’s a complex storyline.”
The Christian products marketplace can play a bigger role in supporting adoptive and foster families, and the churches, ministries, and outreaches that work with them, not only by producing needed product but also by recognizing and giving this audience a louder voice.
‘A BIGGER VISION’
The church and Christian retail can get involved, but it needs to be thought through deliberately.
“We need to be strategic,” says Chelsea Guyer, executive director of DC127, an initiative of Washington, D.C., churches committed to children in foster care and those at risk of entering the child welfare system. “Many times we get excited about things that make us feel good but are short-term. For example, people want to hold drives for products, but these kids don’t need teddy bears—they need parents. We need to invest in ways that accomplish a bigger vision.”
One such event DC127 applauds is a Christmas party that includes the foster child, the foster family, and the biological family. As for the materials that would best support this audience, Guyer says, “Parenting books for our families need to be culturally sensitive.”
Nikondeha agrees. “When I adopted two children from East Africa, the church threw us a baby shower and celebrated us. Years later, he wasn’t a cute little baby anymore—he was a young black man. He looked like Trayvon Martin, the teen who was killed in Florida. No one was with me from that church to help me through that,” she says. “So part of resourcing parents has to include discussions on racism. Churches need to be equipped. We have to get ahead of this—we need to have hard conversations about race.”
For country recording artist Jimmy Wayne, the cause of kids needing forever homes is personal. A former foster child himself, he has made it his mission to bring attention to children in the child welfare system. In 2010, he walked from Nashville to Phoenix to raise awareness of kids aging out of the system. Recently he released Ruby the Foster Dog, a picture book for young children that gives insight into what a good foster parent-child relationship looks like.
“The relationship between Ruby and Mr. James is parallel to foster children and good foster parents,” says Jimmy Wayne. “Ruby represents foster kids: their habits, insecurities, fears, etc. Mr. James represents every single good foster parent.”
When asked how Christian retail can step up and help, he says it all begins with awareness. “The month of May is National Foster Care awareness month. Put this information on your marquee in front of your store. Show that you care about these kids. Offer foster and adoptive families a discount on all books about foster care and adoption.”
Heather Trost, owner of The Greatest Gift and Scripture Supply in Pueblo, Colorado, and a CBA board member, says, “We have several customers who work in the foster care system and we have informational posters up at the store asking for foster and adoptive homes.”
Beyond promoting the cause, says Guyers, retailers can help in other ways.
“Youth who are aging out of foster care need people who are going to invest in their lives,” she says. “Whether that’s being a mentor, an employer, or offering a job program. If you’re in a position of privilege, the best thing you can do to help a youth is to give a youth the skills you have.”
“Whatever you think your child needs and deserves is exactly what a foster child needs and deserves,” says Jimmy Wayne. “They definitely need more good men in their lives stepping up in mentoring them.”
Retailers can also seek out ministries, churches, and nonprofits that support adoptive and/or foster families and become their champion.
“Join a board,” suggests Guyer. “They need people to come alongside them. They may need your business knowhow. Use your expertise to benefit the nonprofit. For example, retailers could offer classes for a nonprofit’s staff in finance or marketing.”
November is National Adoption Awareness month, with the Saturday before Thanksgiving National Adoption Day.
“We have how-to and inspirational books—and that is good, except it isn’t complete,” says Nikondeha. “The full arc also has sadness and lament, loss, injustices. Adoptive parents wrestle with the challenge of bonding, especially with an older child. We need resources that cover all of this.
“I wish our retail spaces could make available resources that let us talk about the full gamut of emotion,” she adds. “Adoption is good and beautiful—and hard. We need to connect with other adoptive families. We need to have hard conversations and support. We also need resources for our children.”
The cause of foster kids and adoptive families is large, as are their needs, but the Christian marketplace is uniquely positioned to make an eternal difference in their lives.