I’m Kathryn Ann Holt, the Director of Local Mission at CSPC. Here’s how I’m living deeply, and how we’re inviting you to live deeply as well through this year’s special Mission Conference focus on foster care and adoption.
It was a call I wasn’t expecting at 7 pm, but when I saw who was calling, I knew I had to take it. ‘We need pillows and air mattresses- there’s no place for these kids to sleep.’ That call from the local DCS (Dept. of Children’s Services) office came during fall break last year. They’d received an influx of children with nowhere to go- kids temporarily living at the DCS office. I asked if there was anything else I could bring. It was, after all, fall break; a fun time for most kids. ‘A hairbrush and a sweet treat for 9 kids if you would like,’ they suggested, so after a Walmart run, I stopped by Krispy Kreme for some donuts. When I arrived at DCS, I was met by a sweet (yet obviously exhausted) case manager, along with a police officer, who chaperoned me to the back room where the kids were settling in. While attention was on one of the kids who was struggling a bit with his new surroundings, a teenage girl came out of the room to help carry in my supplies. Her eyes immediately lit up: ‘Oh my gosh, you brought donuts!’ I smiled at her, thrilled at her enthusiasm, and then with the gentlest sincerity she asked me, ‘Can I have a hug?’ A hug. What a simple yet profound request. I thought to myself, ‘When was the last time this girl had a hug? And even if it was yesterday, she obviously needs one right now.’ In that moment, I saw the image of Christ reflected in the child standing before me. I probably broke some rules that night, but for a brief moment, I got to embrace that precious girl who was living a reality I couldn’t even begin to understand. Through that hug, God revealed to my heart a bit of His own heart for the vulnerable. I still pray for that girl, that she would feel seen, and known, and loved… along with the other 650+ kids in Knoxville’s DCS custody who are in the same boat. Moments like I experienced that night are when the statistics become real, when the numbers become a child who just needs a hug… and a donut.
Over the last couple of years, God has been guiding CSPC toward a renewed focus on foster and adoption ministry. During the Mission Conference, we’re sharing about this new initiative with the entire church. The saying is true, ‘We’re not all called to foster, but we are all called to care.’ While we are asking people to prayerfully consider fostering, our desire is to also become equipped and ready to provide much-needed support to adoptive, foster, and kindship families. To start this process, we need to educate ourselves. Trauma has the ability to rewire a child’s brain, and this is particularly true of children with a foster or adoptive background, of which we have many in our very own congregation. It’s important that we know how to best love them and meet their (sometimes unique) needs. To help with that, we’re encouraging everyone to take a free, one-hour online course on becoming trauma-aware (https://belonguniversity.com/001-becoming-trauma-aware/). Next, we want to support those who have been called to open their homes to children in need, so we’re recruiting people to join WRAP Teams (Words of Encouragement, Respite, Acts of Service, and Prayer). After a brief training on April 23rd, these teams will provide wraparound support for foster, adoptive, or kinship families. In addition to supporting our church community, we hope to plug folks into opportunities where they can serve the broader community. We partner with several organizations (ex: Safe Families for Children, Isaiah 117 House, and the local DCS office) who are already doing this hard, messy, beautiful work in our community, and they need our help. As we inform people about different ways to serve the community in this arena, our prayer is that the church can really help to make a positive impact. We’re so excited about formalizing our foster and adoption ministry, and we also thank those who have been advocating for it and doing the work (of fostering, adopting, and supporting this kind of ministry) prior to us restarting the conversation.
God really started leading us in this direction during the pandemic, as we sought to discover the greatest needs in our community. Through conversations with a friend and fellow believer who works at DCS, I learned of the desperate nature of their situation. Abuse and neglect in our city had worsened, and with schools closing, there weren’t teachers around to do safe reporting. I started asking, ‘How can we help meet your needs and encourage you?’ During the pandemic, we were able to provide things like uplifting notes and goodie bags to overwhelmed caseworkers, and we started helping meet the immediate needs of new arrivals at the office. God granted us favor with DCS leadership, especially as they saw that we weren’t coming in with our own agendas. We were just there to help. As that relationship grew, I became better educated on what the issues were in our community, and through lots of prayer and several conversations, God made it clear that this issue was something we really needed to step into as a church. The heartbreaking reality that we were seeing on the news was true- there were kids sleeping in the DCS office, but was that partly because we weren’t stepping up to provide foster homes? And what preventative measures could we be taking to help families in our community find healing, hope, and restoration before DCS needed to step in and remove a child from their home? These thoughts broke my heart but then motivated me to ask the questions, ‘Isn’t it the Christian who we want stepping up and providing loving homes for these kids in need? How can we help make that happen? And how can we reach these vulnerable children before they become yet another statistic?’ Children who age out of foster care without the support of a loving family are far more at risk for things like trauma, poor mental health, suicide, sex trafficking, addiction, poverty, homelessness, incarceration, unplanned pregnancy, and losing their own kids to foster care. How much better to reach these kids now, BEFORE we might otherwise be helping them years later at KARM, or ReNew Clinic, or The Restoration House.
Foster care and adoption can be hard asks- often messy and complicated. But it’s important to acknowledge that Christ adopted us, despite our mess and the ultimate sacrifice that it required. To me, that speaks volumes about how we’re called to respond. We also need to trust that as we’re obedient to His calling, He will provide for our needs. One of the ways that He often does this is through the Church! We hope that WRAP Teams will step up to support foster and adoptive families in a way that says, ‘You’re not alone. We’re in this together.’ Another calling of the Church (and one that’s far too easily overlooked) is the importance of loving and supporting not just the children in foster care, but also the families that they come from. That’s part of the beauty of our relationship with DCS. They’ll call me and say ‘Hey, Kathryn Ann, we’ve got a mom who’s working really hard to get her kids back, but here are some barriers. Is there anything you guys could do?’ Sometimes it’s financial, sometimes she needs a support team around her – it’s always different. In building those relationships, walking alongside the parents and families, I often realize that they just didn’t have the opportunities I had growing up. They need advocates and cheerleaders- loving, non-judgmental circles of support who will rally behind them as they work toward reunification… because that IS the goal- families becoming whole again, with Christ at the center, and a community of support around them. What a beautiful depiction of living deeply that would be, not just for these families, but for us! Won’t you join me, Cedar Springs? Let’s live deeply as we step into this beautifully messy ministry together.