Redcliffe’s new Vulnerable Children MA module

Vulnerable Children SM 16by9-3

This Summer sees the launch of a new MA module at Redcliffe that aims enable Christians working with or on behalf of vulnerable children to advance their understanding and practice. The module ‘Vulnerable Children: Bible, Theology and Society’ is part of Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology and can be taken either as part of a PGCert, PGDip, or MA, or as a piece of non-validated Continuing Professional Development.

The module will be delivered for the first time on 16-20 July 2018, which is the second week of this year’s UK Summer School in Gloucester.

The module is delivered in partnership with Home for Good and builds on Redcliffe’s ‘Fostering, Adoption and the Church’ research project, including our research around unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Here’s the website text to explain more. For more information drop us a line in the comments, or contact Tim Davy at the college:

Vulnerable children or ‘children at risk’ live across the world and face numerous factors that can prevent them from thriving as whole people created in God’s image. This module aims to ‘upskill’ Christians involved in working with and on behalf of vulnerable children by developing them as informed reflective practitioners able to draw on a rich resource of applied bible, theological, and missiological thinking.

It is especially designed for:

  • Christians involved in fostering and adoption (or supporting or advocating in that sphere) ;
  • Christians involved in work with or on behalf of children vulnerable to, or caught up in exploitation, trafficking, refugee contexts;
  • Christians working for organisations, NGOs, local authorities, or other networks who want to develop as Christians in those spheres;

This module is delivered as part of our MA Summer School, and is available as part of an MA, PGDip or PGCert in Contemporary Missiology;  or you can take this module for non-validated active participation.

This module aims to enable Christian practitioners working with and on behalf of vulnerable children (sometimes referred to as ‘children-at-risk’) to advance their understanding and practice in that ministry context. Deep and systematic biblical, theological, and missiological perspectives are examined, and related to an analysis of several important and complex issues such as:

  • fostering, adoption and family-based care;trafficking and exploitation;
  • the migration of vulnerable and unaccompanied children and young people;
  • deinstitutionalisation;
  • ministry ethics in the midst of vulnerability.

Traditional and innovative ministry approaches are critically examined with a view to developing good practice for students’ current or future work with and on behalf of vulnerable children.

A student passing this module should be able to:

  • gain a nuanced understanding of the complex nature of different types of child vulnerability in the context of holistic child wellbeing;
  • demonstrate a deep and systematic understanding of key biblical, theological and missiological perspectives on vulnerable children;
  • demonstrate a critical awareness of different issues relating to vulnerable children in both local and global contexts;
  • critically reflect on Christian practice in working with and on behalf of vulnerable children in specific contexts and workplace settings;
  • articulate a thoroughly informed understanding of good practice for their own ministry (current or future) with or on behalf of vulnerable children.

(NB. the module is currently subject to validation by the University of Gloucestershire)

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BBC Podcast series The Adoption

Screenshot from BBC website page The Adoption
Last year the BBC hosted a podcast series called, ‘The Adoption’, which followed a real adoption case, aiming to tell the story from the perspective of the different parties involved. Here is a link to the page on the BBC website. I’ve also listed links to the individual episodes, below.

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New book | Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha

ResizeImageHandler.ashx-2I’m always keen to pick up on theological books that address themes relating to vulnerable children. Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha was recently published by Eerdmans and won a Christianity Today 2018 Award of Merit Christian Living/Discipleship.

The chapter headings are intriguing, comprising a simple set of single words: Roots; Relinquish; Receive; Reciprocate; Redeem; Repair; Return; and Relatives. The publisher blurb announces:

In this compellingly readable book Kelley Nikondeha—adoptive mother and adopted child herself—thoughtfully explores the Christian concept of adoption. Her story and her biblically grounded reflections will give readers rich new insights into the mystery of belonging to God’s big family.

I’m looking forward to reading it. In the meantime, here are a number of commendations from the publisher’s website to give a flavour of its content and reception:
Christena Cleveland
— author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart
“Part memoir, part theological exposition, Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World expands our understanding of what it means to be the family of God. As both an adopted person and an interracial adoptive parent, Kelley Nikondeha writes with transparency, tenderness, and racial awareness. . . . This wonderful book will illuminate a path for all people to experience sacred relationships.”
Brian D. McLaren
— author of A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith
“Kelley Nikondeha writes with the heart of a poet and a theologian, and as an adopted child and an adoptive parent. Who could have guessed that her story could give such rich insight into theology, family, society, racism, fear, and belonging?”
Sarah Bessey
— author of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith
“We need to hear Kelley Nikondeha’s voice these days. Her Adopted will deeply shape your own prophetic imagination and create pathways of belonging in our world. I’ll be recommending this book to everyone.”
D. L. Mayfield
— author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith
“Kelley Nikondeha is my favorite kind of theologian—a hybrid of poet and prophet, both mystical and yet very much planted in our world. This book is a radical look at belonging, and it will change all of us who are looking for ways to expand our tables.”
Drew G. I. Hart
— author of Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism
“Nikondeha effortlessly interweaves her lived experiences of adoption with provocative biblical stories and a daring theological imagination. So good!”
Seth Haines
— author of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith
“As an orphan, daughter, and adoptive mother, Kelley brings a depth of experience and clarity of pen to this work of lived theology. If you’re looking to adopt a holistic theology of orphan care, grab this book.”
Idelette McVicker
— founder and editor-in-chief of
“Through the metaphor of adoption, Kelley Nikondeha calls us to a vision of family that is generous, inclusive, and always ready to add another chair. This is the vision of the family of God I long for.”
Nish Weiseth
— author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World
“I am so thankful for this work from the brilliant mind of Kelley Nikondeha. Theologically rich yet entirely accessible, her Adopted will surely become a favorite among church leaders and laypeople alike. It’s easily one of my favorite books of the year.”
Publishers Weekly
“An elegant primer on adoption. . . . Nikondeha persuasively showcases how adoption can bolster families, enlarge love, and affirm faith.”
Byron Borger
“Beautifully written. . . . Nikondeha’s lovely and dramatic story and passionate insights about reconciliation point us to more deeply understand what it means that we belong to God’s family because of God’s inclusive grace.”
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Speaking about vulnerable children at a recent Refugee Highway Partnership conference

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 10.47.15

In February I attended the Refugee Highway Partnership roundtable. This is an annual gathering of people involved in working with and on behalf of refugees. On one evening I was asked to give an update on the issue of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children. I asked people to raise their hands if they came into contact with UASC in their work and a significant number did so. The situations and needs of these children across Europe are vast and complex. Let’s keep working and praying.

You can read a report of the whole conference here.

You can find out more about the RHP here.

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Guidelines Bible Study Notes on Adoption in the Bible

As part of the activities of the Fostering, Adoption and the Church research project, I’ve contributed a week’s worth of studies to the current issue of Guidelines Bible Study notes on the topic of ‘Adoption in the Bible’.

Guidelines cover 2018

Over the course of the week I look at Moses, the adoption of the king of Israel, the adoption of the people of Israel, adoptive language in Jesus’ story, and two reflections on adoption in the apostle Paul’s letters. You can order copies in your local Christian bookshop or online. Here’s a link to BRF’s website

Here is the opening section of the material to whet your appetite!

As I write this introduction it is national adoption week in the UK, a concentrated few days when peoples’ newspapers and Facebook feeds fill with articles on the joys and challenges of adoption, and stories of families who have permanently embraced a child into their home.

Such stories may be easily missed, however, if we are not tuned in to the topic and I wonder if this can be the case with our Bible reading as well. The purpose of this week’s studies is to alert us to examples of adoption imagery in God’s word, and to see how the biblical writers explored this rich theme. Thinking about the Bible and adoption can take us in a number of directions, two of which we will pursue over the next few days.

First there are stories of ‘adoption’ in the Bible. While we should be careful when drawing parallels between what happened in biblical times and our own, there are cases in Scripture where a child is taken in by a household and becomes a member of that family.

Secondly, the Bible uses the language of adoption to describe God’s relationship with his people. While this is well known of Paul’s writings perhaps it is less recognised as something that happens in the Old Testament.

I hope this will make for an interesting series of studies but I hope, too, that they will raise the question of how our identity as God’s adoptive children will encourage us to look outwards to consider the plight of vulnerable children in our midst. Historically the church has done great things to address the needs of vulnerable children, yet with nearly 70,000 children in the UK care system there is still so much to do. Adoptive families are needed, but so are foster families, as well as churches that work hard to know how to become the best supportive communities we can be.

How can the Church respond? How can the Bible shape that response? Perhaps one step we can take is to renew our understanding of our own transforming adoptive identity in God, the roots of which are traced in these studies.




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Article on two biblical stories of displaced and vulnerable children

Portrait of cute sad little girlRedcliffe’s mission journal, Encounters, was relaunched earlier this year and focused on the topic of hospitality. My contribution was an article comparing and contrasting the biblical stories of two vulnerable and displaced children. Here are the details and an extract from the beginning.

‘Hostility, Hospitality and Hope: A biblical reflection on two displaced children’ Article webpage; full issue pdf


Contemporary life in the West seems to be increasingly marked by a suspicion or fear of ‘the other’. While not wanting to overstate the case, there does seem to be a concerning trend in the West towards a self-absorption that leaves an inevitable vacuum of kindness, generosity and hospitality towards those unlike ourselves, or who are outside of our immediate sphere of experience. Consider these words of Walter Brueggemann:

‘Fear makes us selfish. Fear makes us do crazy things. Fear turns neighbors into threats. Fear drives us into a desperate self-sufficiency and a yearning for privatism. Fear drives to greed and idolatry. Fear refuses the other. And now we live in a culture of fear… perfect fear drives out love.’ (Walter Brueggemann, ‘All Seminary Chapel: Dr. Walter Brueggemann “1 John 4:7-21” Podcast, Fuller Theological Seminary, 29 April 2015 c. 8:00mins “Diving in and Casting Out” – Dr. Walter Brueggemann on 1 John 4:7-21)

The issue of unaccompanied asylum seeking children is a case in point…

The first text I looked at was 2 Kings 5:1-4, the story of a young Israelite girl who was captured and taken to be a slave in Syria. The second was the flight to Egypt of Jesus’ family when he was very young. Both are stories of desperation, but both give rise to hope as well.

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Ethics in Brief on unaccompanied refugee children

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 14.39.23The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics have just published an issue of ‘Ethics in Brief’ that I have co-written with Mark Walley, who runs Home for Good‘s unaccompanied minors project alongside establishing its political advocacy work. The title is ‘Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children: Shaping A Church Response’.

This is one example of the kind of work we are producing as part of the research project, ‘Meeting the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) in Gloucestershire: Enhancing the Response of the Local Church’. Here’s a link to the full article, as well as the introductory paragraph.

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children: Shaping A Church Response:

The phenomenon of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) has featured prominently, at times, in press coverage and political debate around the current refugee crisis in Europe. When engaged, the national mood seems to have ranged from deep pity to suspicion and hostility. But how should the UK church respond and how might the Bible play a part in shaping that response? The article gives a brief overview of the scale and nature of the situation in Europe regarding unaccompanied children, explores several biblical passages that could contribute to a church response that is both theologically informed and practically expressed, and concludes with some ways forward for churches.



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Job opportunities with Home for Good

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 21.37.40A slightly unusual blog post but I wanted to highlight a number of opportunities that are currently available to join the awesome team at Home for Good. They are doing such valuable work in advocacy and engaging the UK church with the needs of looked after children. I’ve listed the vacancy title, brief description, and the application deadline in each case. For more details on each one visit Home for Good Job Opportunities.

From the vacancies page of the Home for Good website:

Would you like to be part of the Home for Good staff team?

There is an exciting opportunity to be part of the rapidly growing Home for Good team as a PROJECT COORDINATOR and taking a lead role in developing our work in KENT. Delivering an initial one year campaign in Kent in partnership with The Diagrama Foundation and The Diocese of Rochester.

Applications Close : 1st May

We are recruiting for a PROJECT MANAGER on a full-time, fixed term maternity cover contract. The position is based on our London office, and is responsible for delivering our key national events and campaigns – for example, Adoption Sunday 2017.  

Applications Close : 10th May

Join our team as our NORTH WEST PROJECT MANAGER. This is initially a one year contract, for 14 hours per week. Working in partnership with Adoption Matters, the role is to develop relationships with volunteers, chuches and Home for Good local movements, delivering campaign specific targets of more adopters in the region.

Applications Close : 5th May

Join our team as our LONDON REGIONAL MANAGER. This is initially a one year contract, for 14 hours per week. Networking with churches and champions across London, to run campaigns and events to deliver our vision across the city.

Applications Close : 10th May

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Churches as supportive communities – how Easter confronts us

How can churches become the kind of supportive, loving communities that are so needed by many who have fostered or adopted? How do we ensure we provide a place of hope and support when people feel isolated and overwhelmed?

In his first letter to the church in Corinth the apostle Paul includes an extended discussion on the reality and significance of the resurrection of Jesus, which ends with the wonderful conclusion:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58, NIV)

For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus, and the victory of God that this demonstrates and enacts, is grounds for hope and perseverance in his readers’ work for the Kingdom. If this is the case, and if we Christian communities really want to be a place of welcome and support for the families of looked after children, I’d suggest we need to have this stamp of resurrection evident in who we are and what we do.

But what does this embracing of Easter look like in individuals, families and church communities who are striving to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children? Let’s pick up on a couple of ways in which Easter may help us to do this.

Easter confronts us with brokenness

The events of Easter declare that God has not forgotten or turned his back on the world’s pain. God has reckoned with the world as it is, in all its brokenness, and has faced it head on. He has dealt with the causes of this brokenness in a definitive way.

Our calling as Church is to declare and work for the Kingdom of God in the world as it is, not as we would prefer it to be. We are called to be a people who do not flinch from the sober realities, struggles and pain of others. We are called to enter into it, and bring a word of hope.

Easter confronts us with hope

The stories and statistics concerning vulnerable children can feel debilitating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the need. It is easy to become overwhelmed by our own lack of capacity and energy to keep trying to meet those needs on our own.

Easter reminds us that God has transformed despair into hope. Friday was followed by Sunday. A sober reckoning of the brokenness of the world must be matched and swallowed up by a sober reckoning with the transformative work of God in Jesus. There is no point that is beyond the transformative capacity of our God. This can be hard to believe sometimes, especially in the midst of struggle and stress, but this is what Easter declares.

We are called, then, to be a people filled with hope and preoccupied by the transformative work of God.


We are not built to journey alone. Reckoning with brokenness and hope are not purely individual endeavours. Rather, we are called to be communities of hope that point to the possibility of transformation and perseverance, in practical activities as well as in words. We are called to be communities that labour in hope, and this is a labour that is not in vain.

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5 things to think about when preaching on adoption

img_0907This Sunday is ‘Adoption Sunday’ in the UK, which offers a chance for churches to have focused time to consider our adoption by God and also the needs of vulnerable children in the UK. Do visit Home for Good’s website for more information on this important day.

For my contribution I wanted to write something brief for those who are spending this week getting ready to preach or speak on the theme of adoption in their church. Plenty more could be said, of course, but here are five things to think about as you prepare.

#1  You are not asking the Church to do anything the body of Christ has not done before

As you step into the pulpit, remember that you are not bringing a brand new innovation to God’s people. At our best the Church has always cared for the vulnerable, including children in various desperate circumstances. Put simply, caring for vulnerable children is part of the DNA of God’s people. Have a look at last year’s series to follow this up: 5 reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the church

#2  ‘Orphans’ then and now

If you mention passages in the Old Testament like Deut. 10:18 ‘He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.'(ESV) or Ps. 146:9 ‘The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.’ (ESV), try not to make jumps that are too simplistic between ‘orphans’ in biblical times and today. The word, ‘orphan’ in the Bible tends to refer to a child who has lost their father and whose loss, because of the societal structures of the time, meant they were economically, legally, and socially vulnerable.

‘Orphan’ in the UK often conjures up Dickensian images that feel remote and outdated, implying a child who has lost both parents. While this might still be the case for some, most children in the UK care system have been removed from parental care. In over 60% of cases this has been because of abuse.

These texts are, of course, still deeply relevant but, as with all biblical interpretation, we need to account well for the original context and be sensitive to how we relate them to contemporary issues and people. Albeit with this caveat, do be adventurous in exploring the different strands of relevant material in the Bible…

#3  A rich tapestry

The Apostle Paul has some wonderful and profound things to say about adoption (see, for example, Gal. 4:1-7; Rom. 8:12-17), but there are many other ways of reflecting biblically on fostering, adoption and the care of vulnerable children. Here’s a few examples of texts that can be reflected upon:

  • Stories of ‘adoption’ in the Bible; e.g., Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter; there is also a sense in which Joseph is said to have ‘adopted’ Jesus;
  • The theme of God’s ‘adoption’ of Israel is a key way of understanding his relationship with his people. See this post for more: Why understanding adoption enriches our Bible reading;
  • God’s ‘adoption’ of king David’s descendants and how this informs our understanding of Jesus’ kingship (e.g., 2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps. 2; Mark 1:9-11);
  • The Torah‘s requirements that Israel look after the fatherless, widow and alien (Exod. 22:22-23; Deut. 24:17-22);
  • The Psalmists celebration of God’s fatherhood of the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) or crying out to God to intervene for the vulnerable (Ps. 10:16-18);
  • Job’s modelling of just and righteous behaviour towards the fatherless (Job 29:11-17; 31:16-23);
  • The prophets’ fury at the mistreatment of the vulnerable (Isa. 1:1-17;  5:20-31);
  • Jesus’ blessing of the marginalised children (e.g., Mark 10:13-16) and what this deeply subversive act means for the church today. See this post for more: Jesus blessing the children: why it isn’t a ‘nice’ story and why it calls us to action on behalf of vulnerable children
  • James’ call to authentic discipleship: ‘to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’ (James 1:27, ESV)

There is an enormous wealth of biblical material that can help us reflect on God’s call to care for vulnerable children: be faithful and creative in how you approach the topic.

#4  Be rooted in your local context and, where possible, make it personal

With 70,000 children in the care system, including 4,000 waiting for adoption and 9,000 waiting for foster families, the national statistics can seem overwhelming or abstract. Try to find out about the local picture so that it feels more ‘real’ to people. If you are in England, a good place to look for the raw statistics is this page: Children looked after in England including adoption: 2015 to 2016. So, for example, I can see there are 550 children recorded as being in the care system in Gloucestershire, where I am based. This is perhaps a more ‘real’ figure but it is still rather abstract. So, are there ways we can make it more personal; for example, with an interview with someone who has experience as an adoptive parent or social worker? (stats on children waiting from Home for Good website)

#5  Be practical and join with others

What kind of practical details can you bring into your talk so that the biblical vision of God’s heart can connect with your church’s locatedness. Ask yourselves, how can we become a more supportive community for those caring for vulnerable children (either those already in the church or those who might come to us for the first time)?

Are there local networks you can become part of? If you haven’t already, could you connect with the excellent work of Home for Good?

What attitudes, structures and practices (small or big) might need to be changed to respond to this challenge from Krish and Miriam Kandiah:

‘What if we the Church could be known as the people who truly care about the pain and problems of children who have no other family to turn to and whom, it seems, nobody wants? What if the Church was known as the most compassionate and hospitable family in the country?’ (Home for Good, p. 4)


What advice would you want to add? Leave a comment here or on Facebook to join the conversation.

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