Friday, November 22, 2013

The Minnesota 500

If you've read my blog or seen my Facebook you know that I have an incredible amount of passion for the issue of kids in foster care who are waiting for a family. Recently that passion has expanded beyond those in the U.S. to include older waiting children in other countries. Recently my branch has been assigned 22 children over the age of 10 across the world who are waiting for a family. I can't get them out of my mind.

For this reason I have designed the Minnesota 500. I really believe that God is asking the church in MN to step forward and consider adopting older kids out of foster care and around the world. The 500 number comes from the 350 who are currently waiting and not in a preadoptive home in Minnesota and 150 of the children internationally that Bethany has been asked by various countries to find families for.

I'm meeting with pastors who will give me time to do so to discuss with them how to set goals as to how many children their congregation will step forward to adopt in the next few years. It is my dream over the next three years to have churches step up to claim a total 500 future adoptions.

So why am I telling you? You might have a connection to a church that might like to hear about my plea. Or, even more significant, you might feel like God is calling you to adopt.

If you would like to hear about the 22 kids that I'm referring to... or if you would like to connect me with your pastor, I'd love to hear from you....

To adequately communicate the passion I have for this, let me post here my gala speech from our gala at Bethany two weeks ago...

In our world today there are a multitude of agencies that exist to deal with the myriad of human needs that we find ourselves facing in a broken world -- homelessness, the incarcerated, those caught in human trafficking, hunger, unemployment, and on and on. And while many see us as not that different from the others, I want to explain tonight why we are unique and why I personally I am humbled by the opportunity God has given me to lead the MN branch of Bethany Christian Services.

Most of you know that my husband and I have adopted twelve children. In 1996 we learned that 120,000 children in the US were in foster care and legally free for adoption… and we felt God calling us to do our part. That began an incredible journey. Now ten of our kids are adults and we have four grandchildren – and my passion for 3children who wait has only increased over the years.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why do I get out of bed every morning?” For seventeen years now I’ve had the same answer. I get up every morning because each year over 25,000 teens celebrate their 18th or 21st birthday and are forced out of foster care, alone and unwanted, never belonging to a family.”

Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision, answers that question for his own life. He says, “I get up every morning because I get to be the answer to the prayers of a child.”

So what happens to those children whose prayers go unanswered? What happens to those who never know the love and safety that comes with family? The statistics are both alarming and sobering. Of these young adults who age out of the system:
30% are homeless,
63% don’t complete high school,
55% are unemployed,
62% have trouble accessing health care,
40% are on welfare;
42% get arrested,
26% are incarcerated,
60% of the girls are pregnant within a year of leaving foster care.
And over 60% of child trafficking victims across the United States are current or former foster youth

These numbers are what make Bethany stand out as unique from other non-profit organizations. We have been entrusted by God to change the statistics of the future. Every year here in the U.S., these 25,000 plus kids leave foster care without anyone to claim them and no place to belong. The average age now for young adults becoming financially independent from their parents is 27. How can we as a society release foster youth into the world without parents and expect them not to become a statistic?

Bethany Christian Services as a global organization envisions a world where every child has a loving family. In Minnesota Bethany has been working towards that end for over twenty years. Before a child is born we provide compassionate and wise counsel to those deciding whether to parent their child or make an adoption plan. We place newborn babies into families, we bring children from across the world into homes that are planning and hoping and dreaming of their arrival, and we work to find families for older children and teenagers in the foster care system. Today there are 350 kids waiting right here in Minnesota, and 143 of them have been waiting for a family for over three years. 9 We make a difference because each time a child finds that place where they belong, are loved unconditionally, and have consistent support, the likelihood of them becoming a statistic as an adult decreases substantially.

22 teenagers have recently been assigned to our Minnesota branch from our global office. They are older kids from Africa, Asia, Colombia, and Bulgaria and they have taken over my dreams and permeate my waking hours. I have read their paperwork, I know their stories and I have memorized their faces while creating profiles and working on a slide show. Their pictures are in my office... they are hanging on the walls around me.

Most of you don’t know that prior to coming to this position I worked for a non-profit agency that specialized in matching children in foster care with families. In my years there I was personally a part of over 500 children finding their “forever family.” But these 22 kids have hit me harder than any of those 500 ever did.

You may wonder why these 22 haunt me and I want to give you an honest answer. Even after all of my previous success as a recruiter and matcher, I don’t think that I can find these kids a family. The words “how would you like to adopt a sibling group of teenage boys from Bulgaria?” don’t come up naturally in daily conversation. The job is too hard. The task is too difficult. I don’t even know where to begin.

To make it even harder on me, I know for a fact that my husband and I could parent any of these kids. But our bedrooms are full -- in fact I’m not even sure we have a free couch this weekend. So instead of taking them in, I need to talk you – or someone else – into adopting them. And without God I know that is an impossible feat. I share the need but it is God who will speak to hearts and we at Bethany are praying that someone, maybe even you, will listen.

Regardless of the difficulty of the challenge, I compelled to tell you about them because I believe with all my heart that God is not ignoring the prayers of these 22 kids. It cannot be God’s plan for these beautiful teenagers to end up on the streets of their home country.

And it’s not just these 22. How can we say that it is His plan for millions of kids to spend their lives without family? And this is the problem: God doesn’t have a plan B. He looks to us. We are his hands and feet here on earth.

When the statistics came out about children aging out of foster care several months ago I saw that the number was continuing to grow. In 2011, 26,286 left the system and went out into the world without a family. That day I wrote a blog entry and I want to read some of it to you:

The God I serve would not intentionally let 26,286 young adults loose in a world with no support and without anyone to turn to in crisis. So I ask myself, “could it be that He asked His people to adopt them, but they said no?”

When I think of those 26,286 kids I no longer can ask myself why God didn’t do something about their plight. Instead I realize that He did a great job of caring for them ... He called His people … but they didn’t respond. It may not be as simple as 26,286 families saying no to God. But what if it is.

SO there you have it. This is the kind of stuff I've been doing lately -- and the MN 500 program is front and center in my mind -- in addition to raising money, supervising staff, and doing everything else I do at Bethany.

I'm believing God for this miracle.

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