Those aren’t my kids

Nothing like some tickle-tackle time at Life Group with iThemba mentor Mashinini
Nothing like some tickle-tackle time at Life Group with iThemba mentor Mashinini

“Your idea will never work,” the head of Child Protection Services said to David Anderson, “You will never be able to get people to voluntarily open their homes to kids on a temporary basis until they can get back with their families. It just won’t work.”

When David asked why, the CPS official explained, “Children are not valuable in our society.” 

That seems weird, right? In the West, it seems that it’s the children and youth that are idolized and the elderly who are forgotten. You can hardly get a small-group Bible study going, because parents are spending all their time shuttling their children between ballet class and soccer club and karate and extra math. In the US, parents will move to a different neighborhood to get into a different school district so their children can get into a better school. Children are encouraged to share their ideas, and the whole “be seen and not heard” thing died out in the Victorian era. How is it that children are not valuable in our society?

The CPS officer went on. “Our OWN children are valuable. We’ll do anything for them. We’d die for them. But children that are not our own– nope. That’s why adoption is so much more appealing to people– we’d rather take individual adoptable children and make them part of our tribe, make them our own. Then we’ll sacrifice and pour love and attention on them. But someone else’s kids? Someone else who is probably battling drug or alcohol addiction and that’s why their kids were removed by the State? No one wants those kids.”

David Anderson is the head of a movement called, ‘Safe Families‘. It’s got branches in the USA and in the UK. The goal of Safe Families is to give hope to parents and children in crisis. Rather than waiting until abuse or addiction forces the State to intervene and terminate parental rights, plunging their children into a dysfunctional foster-care system, Safe Families steps in before things get really bad. Volunteers take in kids until parents can get counseling and find their feet, and then reunite them with their parents. You should check it out.

But this idea that children are not valuable in our society is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The director of iThemba Projects brought it up a while ago as well, this time from a Christian perspective.

“Do you think God loves my child more than he loves the children in Sweetwaters?” he asked me. “Then why is it that we pray for God to bless our children, and pour money and energy into them, but never consider the thousands of children just a few kilometers away who don’t have parents?”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pouring money, energy and love into your own children. It makes sense (and I think it’s good and right) to care for your immediate family first. I’ve been around too many bitter missionary kids who feel like their parents would have paid more attention to them if they were an orphan in a township rather than part of their parent’s family to say otherwise.

But on the flip side– I think we idolize the nuclear family too much sometimes. God’s plan of redemption for this broken world will probably include us taking in orphaned and abandoned children into our nuclear families. But I think it also includes us thinking differently about what “family” means, and how far our care should extend. What would it look like to really love someone’s kid, knowing that they would never be “ours”? Could we do it? 

  • Could we put aside money to send a kid from Sweetwaters on camp every time we fork over money to send our own children on camp?
  • Could we put aside money to improve education for kids in Sweetwaters every time we pay our own child’s school fees?
  • Could we even say “no” to a few of the wants of the children in our nuclear family, so that we could say “yes” to some of the needs of children in Sweetwaters? Could we help the children in our nuclear family to understand that decision and be excited about it?
  • Rather than seeing our giving of time or money to kids in Sweetwaters as an “extra and above” whatever our nuclear family needs, could we see the kids in Sweetwaters as part of our family, and factor them into our budget in the way we do for our own children?
  • Could we give our time to children who are not in our nuclear family? Could we volunteer to visit children in hospital, even though they are not our own? And could we do this with commitment, not just dropping in and out when we feel like it, but being a consistent presence in the life of a lonely child?
  • Could we start to see the kids in Sweetwaters as part of our family, even if they’re not part of our nuclear family? Could we defend them, stick up for them, and sacrifice for them?

Jesus has a pretty wobbly definition of family by Western standards anyway. When his nuclear family came to visit, and everyone in the crowds was praising his biological mom, for being such a great mom, he said, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters?” Then he pointed to the disciples and said, “These are! Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and brother and sisters.”

In the Kingdom, blood ties and nuclear family don’t matter as much. When we’re following Jesus, anyone who ends up in that rag-tag band of followers is family.

I’m interested in hearing what you guys think of this idea– it’s something that has been bouncing around in my head, but isn’t fully formed. How do you care for kids that are not in your nuclear family?