“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me…truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” –Matthew 25:35-40 CSB
Scripture often describes Jesus’ extended hand to the orphan, widow, outcast, and wounded. Christ also gave His disciples the same charge, beckoning them to follow His example and help those who are in need. If we look closely at our world today, we will notice a plethora of opportunities where we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. One area where our church is engaging others with Christ’s mercy and love is through transitional foster care for unaccompanied minors.
A particularly urgent opportunity has arisen due to the increasing number of minor children who are crossing the Mexican border into the United States. While many children come with other adult family members, some come on their own or are accompanied by a paid “coyote” who has agreed to help them until they reach the States. During the waiting period, the children are housed in facilities, holding hundreds or even thousands of children. At the end of 2018, there were nearly 10,000 unaccompanied minors waiting in these institutional settings. Here, their basic physical needs are met, but often, they receive only minimal mental and emotional support.
Bethany Christian Services has stepped up to provide an alternative through their Transitional Foster Care program. As the name implies, this program is accomplished through individuals or families who are willing to take the children into their homes temporarily until they can be connected with their permanent homes. The Bethany branch in Nashville is receiving an increasing number of requests for transitional fostering, but they are limited by the number of families whose homes are now available. Because this program is regulated by both state and federal agencies, foster homes are required to be approved through a licensing program while the children are in their care.
Bethany provides a large share of meeting the child’s needs, including medical care and counseling services, education and, if necessary, legal assistance. The Bethany case worker also helps to facilitate getting the child connected to his or her permanent family. In addition, Bethany supports host families through licensing assistance, counsel and support groups, monthly trainings, and 24/7 emergency support. Families are given a stipend per child to cover the costs of caring for that child.
For those whose hearts are drawn to this ministry, there are real rewards.
1. It is that opportunity to do something tangible in the face of all those heart-wrenching scenes we see on the evening news.
2. Those who have fostered in any context know what it’s like to see a child move gradually from fear and resistance to peace, confidence, and hope.
3. We are given this promise from Jesus when He said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matthew 18:5 CSB).