Vulnerable Children: They’re Everywhere.
Yesterday, my five-year-old stated at dinner, “The kids in my class said, ‘Your dad is so cool. We wish we had dads too.’” This haunts me.
Turns out, one little girl’s dad has died, while two boys’ fathers are in prison. Those are just the ones who we know about. These kids are vulnerable.
This month, we’ve had many amazing blogs about foster care. But not all vulnerable children are in the foster system. In fact, there are so many vulnerable children all around us. Children whose parents are divorced. Children of unwed mothers. Children of illegal immigrants. Children growing up in poverty. Jesus’ call to care for these children is unavoidably obvious in Scripture.
Yet I feel so helpless.
The thing is, there is so much I can do, but all of it will require something very, very difficult for me.
To help vulnerable children, I will have to take some time and energy from my own family, even put my own precious children at risk. If I’m going to obey Jesus, bubble-wrapping my kids won’t be an option.
Matthew 10:37 records Jesus saying, “Anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus, give me the strength to love You as I should, to hold on to nothing.
My goal in this post is to share with you some things we’ve tried, what we’ve learned along the way, and some ideas from friends I admire. I hope our experiences will encourage you on your own journey of caring for vulnerable children.
Opportunity 1: Be present for children from single-parent homes
In our previous neighborhood, there were several single-mother-headed families on our street. They all lived in the dumpiest rental homes on the block. We “owners” sometimes would get together and trash-talk the renters for bringing down the property values in the neighborhood. Because that’s how Christlike I am. But God laid it on my heart to pray for my neighbors every time I walked past their houses. My hyperactive dog and toddler kept these walks frequent. Then we began to play in the front yard instead of secured behind the six-foot wall in back. The kids on our street were drawn to our family like flies to a barbeque. They climbed our trees, ate our snacks, invited themselves into our house and ate our peaches (with or without permission). They opened up to me about their moms’ boyfriends, constantly moving, trouble in school… I am so thankful for every moment God allowed me to participate in their lives. But in order to let them in, I had to kill the idea of sheltering my own children. We had to become accessible.
When I was growing up, my mom made a difference for one family by providing ridiculously cheap 5-day per week childcare for the baby of a teenage girl. My mom made it possible for this young lady to finish her education and provided stability and love for a sweet little girl who really became part of our family.
There are many other ways to get involved with children from single-parent homes. Volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club (not all the kids will be especially vulnerable, but I’ll bet you can find some). Become a mentor with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Provide support for children with a parent deployed with the military through an organization like Operation: Military Kids.
Opportunity 2: Go to schools where vulnerable children are
Last year my husband left a job at a school in a wealthy area to work at a school where 80% of the kids qualified for government-subsidized hot-lunch. There were so many kids living with relatives because their parents were in jail or on drugs. So many more who managed by themselves in the afternoons while parents worked long hours at low-paying jobs. My husband was often torn between anger, frustration, and wanting to rescue these kids. One wise teacher who grew up in similar circumstances told him, “The last thing these kids need is your pity. They need someone to challenge them and to demand they rise above their circumstances.” God gave him the opportunity to do that in so many ways. But the job came with a massive work load, high-stress, long commute and a pay-cut. In some real ways, there was less of daddy for our kids at home because of the needs of the vulnerable children at school.
Our friend Karin had a similar journey—from an upper-middle class school to one where the majority of students were children of illegal immigrants. As she felt God’s call to these vulnerable kids, she wrestled with the fact that she didn’t know where she stands on the issue of illegal immigration. God said, “I’m not asking you to solve the problem. Just go love my kids.”
If you aren’t an educator, you can still volunteer in a classroom. Teachers welcome the help, children relish the extra attention, and you may be the difference-maker for someone who would have fallen through the cracks. In fact, the reason my daughter’s friends said her dad is “cool” is because he’s been volunteering in their class, investing in them.
Opportunity 3: Teach your children to love the vulnerable
Our oldest is in Kindergarten. Dad-in-prison-kid sometimes picks on my daughter and often disrupts class. So far, I’ve resisted the urge to track the little punk down or demand he be punished. Instead, we pray for him together (sometimes) on the way to school and in bed at night. As much as I want to protect her, I must teach my daughter to pray for those who persecute her.
My friend Aimee does an amazing job of teaching her children to love the vulnerable. She approached the principal at her children’s school to see if he knew of any families in need. Schools are actually required to keep a record of homeless and transient families, so the principal has been able to share their needs (anonymously) with Aimee. Aimee’s family recently had a new underwear drive and collected 1000 pairs of underwear for homeless children in their county.
There are so many vulnerable children all around us. There are so many ways to help. I’m sure I’ve missed a whole bunch. I’d love to hear about how you’ve made a difference in a child’s life. Maybe you’ll inspire someone else to take a leap of faith and obedience!Image courtesy of USAG-Humphreys / Flickr.com