Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 2

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the ChurchReason two: Because vulnerable children occupy a significant place in the biblical narrative

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells a big story (the big story) of God’s purposes to restore the whole of creation to himself. This is the story in which we find ourselves, encompassing the past, present and future of the Church.

In a previous post I noted the characteristic of vulnerability in this grand narrative. Let’s think about just some of the examples:

  • Consider the plight of the outcast baby Ishmael in Genesis 21 whom God sees, protects and enables to flourish;
  • Consider the helpless baby Moses in Exodus 2, floating on the Nile in his basket, who went on to lead God’s people out of slavery;
  • Consider the unnamed (trafficked) servant girl in 2 Kings 5 whose wisdom puts Kings and Generals to shame;
  • Consider the fatherless children whom Job protected and nurtured, who ‘grew up with me as with a father’ (Job 31:18);
  • Consider Jesus himself. What could be more vulnerable than a child born in his circumstances? The God of the universe chose the vulnerability of an embryo inside a young girl to enter the stage of history as a human being. Born into hardship and suspicion. On the run at an early age with his family, fleeing for his life (Matthew 1-2).

The biblical ‘norm’ is for God’s purposes to be fulfilled in and through vulnerability. These are the embedded traits of the biblical narrative, of the Church’s story. What could be more natural, then, than for Christians in the UK to recognise and resonate with the vulnerability we see and experience in society and to be involved in (and support those involved in) fostering and adoption?

Read part one of the series: Because of who God is

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Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 1

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church (public domain image https://pixabay.com/en/dna-biology-medicine-gene-163466/)Reason one: Because of who God is

To mark national adoption week (19-25 October) here in the UK I’m going to post each weekday on a different way in which caring for vulnerable children is at the heartbeat of the character of God and the calling of his Church.

Today we’ll consider who God is:

17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19, ESV)

This brief text from Deuteronomy dwells on God’s supremacy and authority. Israel’s God, the supreme authority in the universe, chose to dispense his power in such a way that those at the opposite end of the power spectrum benefited. What this text seems to show is that it is in God’s nature to fiercely protect the vulnerable and it is therefore a requirement of God’s people to reflect this commitment in society.

It simply won’t do to consign advocacy and action on behalf of the vulnerable to an optional extra. This, of course, will mean more than just engagement with fostering and adoption but the framework for the Church’s calling is defined by the character of God and the character of God is marked by, among other things, a commitment to the poor and vulnerable.

In the UK today this commitment is not restricted to looked after children, but it absolutely must include them.

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Calling all academics with a passion for Fostering, Adoption and the Church!

Man with Megaphone (creative commons)One of the aims of this project is to produce ‘rigorous published research that raises the profile of fostering and adoption in the academy and the Church.’

We want fostering, adoption and the Church to be on the agenda of academic communities.

We want fostering, adoption and the Church to be a more common theme in scholarly journals and at conferences.

We want the academic community to serve vulnerable children by thinking deeply, rigorously and creatively about how Church and society can support them better.

We want Church communities to see that academic theology, Biblical studies and missiology have important roles in motivating and supporting Christians in fostering and adoption.

Are you an academic with a passion for fostering, adoption and the Church? Are you a student wanting to think and write about this topic?

We’d love to gather a network of scholars interested in fostering, adoption and the Church. Whatever your field of study, drop Tim a line and let’s connect: tdavy@redcliffe.org

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Jesus blessing the children: why it isn’t a ‘nice’ story and why it calls us to action on behalf of vulnerable children

Cranach the Elder Christ blessing the childrenVery little, if anything, was included in the Bible simply because it was ‘nice’. The account of Jesus blessing the children cannot be summed up or contained by the word ‘nice’. In reality it could be argued that this act was deeply subversive, striking at the very heart of the Church’s attitudes and actions towards vulnerable children.

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16, ESV)

As Judith Gundry puts it, ‘Little children were the weakest and most vulnerable link in the social chain and therefore in many and profound ways dependent on God’s rule being implemented in their lives.’ (pp.153-154) This is how one should enter the Kingdom: needy and vulnerable.

But this is not just a story of how to enter the Kingdom; this is also a story of God’s embrace of the marginalised. This is an account of subversion and transformation. Previous accounts in Mark of people bringing others for Jesus to touch them suggest the genre of a healing or miracle story (see, for example, 3:10; 5:41-42). There is something to learn about the Kingdom of God here, and the business of the Kingdom of God is transformation.

Echoing language of Jacob’s ‘adoptive’ blessing of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48), Jesus’ embrace of the children ‘can be seen as an adoptive embrace, an assumption of a parental role’ (Gundry, p. 156), which, in the light of the cross, foreshadows a gift of inheritance seen in the salvation achieved at Calvary.

Andries van Aarde even goes as far as to suggest that the children in this story are effectively street children and that by embracing and blessing them, Jesus is reversing their rejection, marginalisation and exclusion. They are no longer outsiders; they now belong:

“To bless your children is to accept them into your home; to not bless your children is to abandon them. Being put out of the home was often the lot of unwanted children, such as the handicapped. The same fate fell on children born of unlawful unions (cf. Wis 4:6). Physically and mentally disabled children, the blind, those with only one eye or one arm, the leprous, the deaf, and the mute were often ostracized in this way.” (p. 139)

van Aarde’s contention is that, by blessing these marginalised children, Jesus was reversing their plight, from exclusion to inclusion, from rejection to embrace.

Ephraim Radner (quoted by Anne Richards) helps us tease out the implications: “To bless something, in the New Testament, is to disclose its goodness as from God, as from God’s creative hand for God’s life-giving purpose.” (p. 117) Later, Richards says,

“The bestowing of blessing is a serious business, since it emulates the primordial acts of God. Blessing is also not about external attributes like a getting a gold star for a particularly good piece of homework; it is about naming the essentials of things…

So every child who is excluded from school, every ‘difficult’ child, every child who goes off the rails, every adolescent stomping off in a huff, every child who brings ‘shame’ on the family, these are pronounced ‘good’ by Jesus in the act of blessing. There is no child anywhere who deserves less than the unconditional love of God, and if we want to share God’s kingdom then we too must find ways to allow such children to come to us and be blessed and to discern where children can find and know themselves blessed.” (p. 118, my emphasis)

So, not simply a ‘nice’ story but a necessary and challenging one. As followers of Jesus will we seek to imitate his blessing of the children by seeking the embrace and shalom of children on the margins?

Further reading:

van Aarde, A., Fatherless in Galilee: Jesus as a Child of God (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001)

Gundry, J., ‘Children in the Gospel of Mark, with Special Attention to Jesus’ Blessing of the Children (Mark 10:13-16) and the Purpose of Mark’, in in M.J. Bunge, T.E. Fretheim ad B.R. Gaventa (eds.), The Child in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), pp. 143-176

Richards, A., Children in the Bible: A Fresh Approach (London: SPCK, 2013)

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Could your Church take part in Adoption Sunday on 1st November?

Would you consider highlighting the needs of vulnerable children at your Church? One simple way of doing this is to take part in Adoption Sunday, which is coming up on 1st November.

Here is a video about it by our friends at Home for Good. Please visit their website for more information.

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What are the key issues the Church needs to consider when engaging in fostering and adoption?

What are the key issues?Later this Autumn I will be giving some input on a module in Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology programme on the topic of fostering, adoption, vulnerable children and the Church.

In preparing for the session I’ll need to be focused and concentrate on a few absolutely key trends and issues. So what do you think I should be focusing on? Which do you think are the absolutely indispensable topics the Church needs to be wrestling with, and why?

Students are working in a variety of contexts so your suggestions can be either UK-focused or more global in scope. Do contribute some suggestions below or on our Facebook page.

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Caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children pamphlets

Caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children pamphletsThis series of pamphlets was recommended to me recently as country-specific resource for those fostering unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. They can be ordered from the CoramBAAF website.

Even before the UK Government’s announcement to accept up to 20,000 refugees by 2020 there was a need for the Church to be more fully informed about the issue of unaccompanied minors in the UK care system. In the year ending June 2015, for example, Government statistics say that they received 2,168 asylum applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This was up 46% on the previous year and accounted for 8% of all asylum applications for the year ending June 2015.

If you want to register interest in fostering an unaccompanied refugee child please visit Home for Good’s response page.

If you live in or near Gloucester why not contact Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers to find out how you can support their vital work.

Here is the blurb for the pamphlet series. Why not buy a series for your Church?

A series of pamphlets aimed at foster carers looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people, consisting of an introductory booklet and six titles that focus on young people coming from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Somalia and Iraq.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people have been through difficult and sometimes horrific experiences in their home countries and in their journeys to escape. They have lost their home and family or had to leave them behind to seek refuge in the UK and, through no fault of their own, find themselves alone and in need of care and protection.

These pamphlets aim to help foster carers and others learn about the circumstances these children have experienced, the effect of traumatic events on these young people, what their needs are likely to be, what issues are important for them now, and how they can help these young people cope with the profound changes in their young lives. Caring for these displaced young people is not an easy task, given the disruption and trauma they have suffered. Foster carers and residential care workers looking after these young people will find themselves playing a key role in their life and future.

The introductory booklet provides an overview of the following issues: why these young people seek asylum; leaving home and travelling to the UK; what happens when they arrive; welcoming a child into your home; the child’s emotional and psychological well-being; health and disability; meeting the child’s religious and cultural needs; education and language; building trust and resilience; and much more. A list of useful organisations is also provided.

The country-specific pamphlets provide more detailed information about the religions, culture, food and family life that children and young people may be accustomed to. They will enable foster carers to understand more about a child’s background, welcome them and help them to feel more at home. Each pamphlet also contains a recipe from the country of origin, and points to various networking groups, organisations and websites from which foster carers can get more information.

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Responding to the refugee crisis – what role could fostering play?

How can the Church respond to the refugee crisis? For a broad overview on some of the options have a look at this video

One of the highlighted points of action is the possibility of fostering unaccompanied minors who come to the UK. At the forefront of this aspect of the Church’s response is Home for Good and I would urge you to spread the word about what they are doing. Here is the text from their website and a link as well.

Home for Good works with many local authorities across the UK and are compiling a database of people who have space in their homes and may be interested in exploring further the possibility of fostering unaccompanied asylum-seeking children for a few days in an emergency, short term or long term.

Unaccompanied minors are extremely vulnerable and may also be traumatised following the loss of everything and everyone they know, long and tortuous journeys, and possibly having witnessed the death of family members.  They may find it difficult to communicate and difficult to trust. It is vitally important that these children are placed in safe homes where they can have the time, space and support to begin to rebuild their lives.

If you are happy to be contacted about welcoming asylum-seeking children please leave your details below. Alternatively if you can offer any other support to social services (e.g. translation) during this critical time, please explain in the space below.

We will contact you over the coming days once we have established how Local Authorities are going to manage this situation.

Go to Home for Good website

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Five Old Testament texts we need to pay attention to when acting on behalf of vulnerable children

Five OT texts about vulnerable childrenI am convinced that the most helpful way of thinking biblically about fostering, adoption and the plight of vulnerable children is to develop a whole-Bible approach or framework for doing so. One of the purposes of this blog, therefore, is look across the whole of Scripture and point to passages that will contribute to such a project.

As a way of whetting the appetite, here are five texts from five different parts of the Old Testament that relate to vulnerable children in one way or another. I won’t comment on them today but will do so in future posts. Needless to say, I could have picked dozens!!

Which parts of the Bible do you most associate with the Church’s engagement with vulnerable children?

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.

2 Kings 5:1-5

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favour, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” 5 And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

Job 31:16

16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,

17 or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the fatherless has not eaten of it

18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),

19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or the needy without covering,

20 if his body has not blessed me,
and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,

21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
because I saw my help in the gate,

22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.

23 For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.

Psalm 10

1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

2  In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised…

8 He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;

9  he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

10  The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.

11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.

13 Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

16 The Lord is king for ever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.

17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Isaiah 1

11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?

13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,

17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

(all quotes are from the ESV)

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Why understanding adoption enriches our Bible reading

When OT writers use parent-child imagery to describe the relationship between God and Israel were they borrowing imagery from (for want of better terms) ‘biological’ or ‘adoptive’ relationships? For Janet Melnyk there seems to be a preference for the latter.

I’ve been reading Melnyk’s fascinating 1993 essay, “When Israel was a Child: Ancient Near-Eastern Adoption Formulas and the relationship between God and Israel” (see the bibliography page for full details). She uses texts from Israel’s neighbours that record adoption ceremonies or declarations to provide an understanding of the nature and process of adoption of the period in the Ancient Near East. She then shows how parent-child imagery in the OT echoes this language, suggesting that the idea of adoption would have been prominent. Here is her conclusion:

The biblical writers were interested in portraying Israel as chosen and adopted by God. One wonders why the parent-child relationship was often portrayed as one of adoption, rather than one of biological birth. Perhaps because the metaphor of Yahweh as parent is almost exclusively a male image, there must be a mother if Yahweh is to father a nation. Although the land is sometimes given a role, the adoptive process conveniently circumvents the need for a birth-mother, and Yahweh is shown to be capable of every other maternal nurturing. By conceiving the relationship as adoption, God’s election of Israel, his beloved son, was emphasised. This, in turn, distinguished Israel as the people chosen by God over all the nations, and as the recipient of a desirable land for all generations of God’s [extended family] to enjoy. By identifying Israel as God’s child, the biblical writers wrote Israel into a state of legitimacy, recognition, and inalienable inheritance. (p.259)

While it would be possible to overemphasise the significance of some imagery, Melnyk provides an insightful exploration of the adoptive relationship as the background to what is, after all, a central biblical image: God as parent. The adoptive relationship (albeit the Ancient Near East understanding of it) was the normal way of thinking about God as parent and his people as children.

Doesn’t it then follow that the more we understand adoption, the more insight we will gain into the biblical story and our relationship with the God we call Father?

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