Everyone has a role. So what's mine?

Julie reflects on the role that the Church can have in the lives of vulnerable children.

As I left, my heart was swollen with inspiration – but tight. A painful tight. Like I had stared at a masterful piece of art with a smudge on the corner.

Wenford and Shirlee have been fostering for eight years. Retired and well within their rights to 'relax' at this life stage; go on cruises, brunches, enjoy relaxing walks and the like. But being obedient to follow God's heart means that thus far, they have welcomed 35 children and young people into their home through fostering.

Despite the challenges they have faced and the harrowing stories of vulnerable children they have cared for, they oozed a sense of ease. An ease that allowed them to carry this pain with a sense of hope: grounded as a strong tree, firmly rooted despite the winds howling attempt to displace it.

As we chatted over cups of tea, they began to share what support the Church has been to them. The stories unfolded chapter by chapter. The more I heard, the more my heart grew. Not once did they mention tea parties with Mickey Mouse, helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon or swimming with dolphins, but instead, small and simple acts.

For some of these children and young people, the trauma of the world has shredded their worth and so they are collecting the scraps on the ground to feel valuable. These small simple acts are strong arms that embrace the hurt and surmountable pain and begin to rebuild the hope in their lives. It looks them in the eye and says 'I see you'.

With every simple act, you're known.With every simple act, you're loved.

One encounter in particular caught me. They were invited to the evening reception of a wedding, and Shirlee explained that they were unsure how their foster child Amy*, aged 10, would respond. But the bride wanted to be sure that Amy knew she was welcome, so gave her a personal invite. Looking her in the eye, calling her by name and inviting her to the party, she offered Amy a place at her table of celebration - there was even mention of a tiara so they could both ‘feel like princesses'.

Amy couldn't believe she was going to a party ‘for real' and this phrase was heard more than once. Wisely, and in order to manage expectations, Shirlee explained that the tiara may not be there, but they would still go and have a great night. (With the list of things you tick off during the morning of your wedding and the whirlwind of emotion it brings, who would remember a child’s tiara?)

I wasn't convinced.

Yet, sure enough, that evening there it was. What thoughtfulness. Amy was not only invited, she was remembered and included. Feeling like princesses, they both danced the night away.

The prayer is that Amy carries that feeling of priceless worth with her through all her days.

As we refilled our cups of tea, I asked Wenford and Shirlee to sum up how the church can be a support and in the midst of all the stories and examples of practical help, they voiced these three nuggets of wisdom:

1) Prayer

How wonderful it is to lift up the names of the most vulnerable to the most wonderful Name of all, and it is in these moments when the heaviness of the trauma can be laid down. And what is so amazing is that not all details are required, sometimes just a faint whisper of the word 'PRAY' is suffice. Prayer not only for the children and the foster families, but also for social workers and birth families.

2) Sounding Board

'I don't need advice, I just need a sounding board!' -Shirlee

Not every question has an answer and not every problem has a solution, but just caring enough to listen can be an invaluable support. That sense of 'I've got you and you've got this', over a coffee, lunch or text message emphasizes the connection of being a part of the wider church family.

3) Where everybody knows your name

When someone knows your name it’s an invitation for us to connect and makes us feel like we matter. It can help the young people feel they belong.

‘The important things are not always the big things, it's the multitude of small events that can have the more resounding impact on the children – sometimes just people knowing their name.' -Wenford

Children in care have often lost contact with their wider community of friends and relations. The church has an incredible opportunity to step into this space and be additional ‘aunts’, ‘uncles’ or ‘cousins’ for children who might be missing this.

But what can this look like?

Wenford and Shirlee explained ways in which the ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ in their church had gathered to play this role.

  • A young girl who had never been to the beach before – never felt sand between her toes and heard the rhythmic roars of the waves. An amazing couple in the church knew this and took her there one afternoon. It meant the world to that little girl.
  • A sibling group arrived at the door with only the clothes on their backs. The troops rallied and ensured there was underwear, trousers, jumpers and toys. In fact, the children moved on with enough to fill two suitcases.
  • A school trip didn't go to plan and left a young girl in her room by herself whilst everyone else had a party, but a thoughtful friend brought a small gift – just a €2 bracelet. It came at exactly the right time and said, ‘you are not worthless’.
  • Many, many invitations to walk the dogs, come to BBQs, visit the farm to see calves being born, and countless play dates for children to simply have fun.

What a village.

My heart was swollen with these acts of love, yet tight as I thought of the children and young people who needed them.

Each small piece of kindness shown weaves a tapestry of love into their lives, working towards overcoming the self-doubt and feelings of being unworthy of love.

May the Church continue to pick up that needle and sew this masterpiece.

This is an invitation to us all – to be present in the lives of these children and young people and make a resounding noise that lets them know they are welcome, loved, and valued.

Julie from Village Faith



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