by Paul Littleton
He was an angry young 9-year-old who didn’t know what to do with his hurt and fear.
He’d often been left alone. He’d slept in parks, dirty hotel rooms and rescue missions. He had larger-than-life impressions of a father who was sometimes present, but mostly absent due to repeated incarcerations.
His mother surely cared for her children, but she was so mired in a world of alcohol and drugs that she didn’t know how to properly express that love. She could barely take care of herself, much less the little ones. He lived with a relative who had taken the children in, but he couldn’t get along there, so the relative called the state and asked them to take custody of him. That’s when he was placed into the foster care system.
When he came to our home, there were only a few weeks of the school year left. Lucky thing. His anger was expressed in negative ways and, had it not been for the fact that school was almost out for the summer, he would have been expelled for inappropriate behavior. He was already a year behind. No one wanted him to fall behind another year.
We took him to church with us, of course. It wasn’t unusual for his Sunday School teacher to come get me or my wife out of our class because he had gotten angry and stormed out of class or just refused to participate. He didn’t like to lose, whether it was on the playground or in a Bible quiz.
At the same time, he was, and is, very charming. His smile will melt you. People often talk about how handsome he is, that he looks like Denzel Washington. He has a great personality. Sometimes it gets him into trouble because he loves to talk and interact with people, which is great, unless you’re one of his school teachers trying to teach a lesson. He loves to tell stories—true ones or ones he’s made up. He’s very tender-hearted. He’s very protective. He’s a fun kid.
Now he’s our kid. Almost three years ago we adopted Tony,* though he’s lived with us now for six. He was the first foster child placed with us. He’s no longer that angry young boy. He’s a 15-year-old young man who loves life, loves church, loves people. In the past six years, he’s been saved and baptized, made a lot of great friends at church and loves to pray at the dinner table. One of the most rewarding things we hear is when someone tells us what a transformation they’ve seen in his life.
Even though we’ve adopted Tony and have three biological children, we’re still involved in foster care. Foster parenting requires a lot, particularly for those involved in therapeutic foster care, like me and my wife. Time alone is rare. Date nights are even harder to come by. There’s paperwork, meetings with Child Welfare workers, attorneys and often biological parents and siblings. There are trips to the doctor’s office, to the dentist, to the eye doctor and sometimes to a counselor. We are required to have ongoing training to remain certified, and we attend group sessions once a month. It’s a definite commitment. But it’s very rewarding.
It’s also a mandate. James says that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). It saddens me to know that there are far more children who need a safe and loving home than there are certified homes for these children in need. Too many get shuffled into group homes or worse because the state has no other options.
I’ve been an Oklahoma Baptist all my life except for the few years I spent in Seminary. I know the generous hearts of Oklahoma Baptists. I’ve seen how we graciously respond to needs we’re made aware of whether we’re helping in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, relieving suffering in Haiti or launching out in a mission partnership in Africa or Asia. There are literally thousands of children right here on our doorsteps who are in need. It is my hope and prayer that the 1,700 Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma will respond to that need as well. What can you do?
Wouldn’t it be something if just one family in each Oklahoma Baptist church became foster parents? That would provide almost 2,000 children with a home—not just any home, but a loving, Christian home where these kids can be exposed to the good news of Jesus Christ. Many of them have never gone to church before. We’ve had numerous children come through our home who left knowing their books of the Bible, able to recite Scripture from memory and, more importantly, knowing the Lord of those Scriptures.
It would also provide the foster family with a built-in support system of love and nurture for these kids. In our own case, we have a number of families in our church who have become certified to be temporary care-givers so that we have a place to drop the kids off for an evening if we need a night out as husband and wife. It would also provide these kids who are dealing with a lot of hurt, confusion and anger a built-in prayer team, holding them up not just as nameless, faceless children somewhere “out there,” but children who have become a part of us—or a part of you!
Who knows, you might just get to watch God transform the life of a discarded child right before your very eyes. I get to see it every day.
Paul Littleton is pastor of Sapulpa, Faith, and a member of the BGCO Board of Directors.