Everyone has a piece of the child-welfare puzzle. Come join the table. --by Wendi Park
Have you ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle, only to end up with a scattered mess of odd shapes and seemingly misfits?
One of my earliest memories of my grandma was her love for jigsaw puzzles. She would bend over the puzzle table and meticulously pick out the oddest shaped or most mundane piece and just know where it went. Click. Click. Click. I desired that skill; to see purpose in the one piece by connecting it to the bigger picture. Yet I quickly grew weary of failed attempts and countless misfits. Why even try? I would walk away. Grandma, on the other hand, was steady and optimistic, never giving up until every last piece found its rightful place. Her hours of dedication not only resulted in a completed masterpiece but also revealed her developed tenacity and delight in restoration.
Child welfare in Canada is much like a disassembled puzzle: Thousands upon thousands of vulnerable children scatter across our nation in foster care without a permanent place to call home; longing for belonging. Thousands of vulnerable families are disconnected from healthy community, only another crisis away from being dismembered further as a family unit. With social services stretched beyond capacity, churches preoccupied, and a culture that clicks “like” on self-absorption and individuality, it would be easy to despair that these disjointed pieces could ever come together, much less, become something beautiful. It’s too messed up. It seems too far removed from God’s original plan of community and wholeness. We quickly grow weary of failed attempts, burnt bridges and daunting barriers. We walk away from the table.
Though our urge may be to walk away, our God draws near.
Like my grandma bending over that puzzle table to restore a masterpiece, our Heavenly Father leans in over the brokenness of His creation; yes, grieving with us in our pain, but with an unstoppable love and optimism for restoration. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer.29:11). Make no mistake; if it were not for God’s redemptive love, we would simply be heaps of misfits. Yet God sees the irregularities of broken humanity, the vast array of colours and patterns that define us as individuals and somehow is able to restore us collectively into something beautiful. “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). No one is discarded. Not one is lost on Him. He sees that each person inherently possesses a valuable purpose much greater than themselves, a void in the puzzle that only they can fill. Each vulnerable child, struggling parent, burnt out social worker, overloaded pastor, lonely neighbour, independent doitall - each were created to be interconnected.
It’s easy to be interconnected to those who think like me, act like me, and “like me” on social media. It’s much harder to be interconnected to the others who don’t.
True religion is walking with the vulnerable in their distress (James 1:27); it is loving our enemy (Mat. 5:44), it is forgiving and reconciling (2 Cor. 5:18-19), being gracious and compassionate (Ps. 145:8). God invites me; no, He urges me to connect with brokenness, with suffering, with those that look and think different than me. That is what Christ has done for me. I, too, am broken and in the process of being restored and this acknowledgement is a profound game changer. From one broken person to another, but with an unstoppable hope for change, we need God to lean in over us and restore us to a collective masterpiece. We were created to belong.
The welfare of vulnerable children and families is not an optional issue for the Church. It is not a calling for a few people or an item we check off our ministry project list once a year. I would assert that caring for vulnerable children and families (that is, journeying with others in their distress) is intrinsic to our understanding of who God is and who we are in Christ. Canadian Church history will indicate that we’ve grievously gone amiss by years of ethnic cleansing and colonization. Ouch! Our hands were slapped, but have we learned from our own broken past? Perhaps we’ve simply stepped away from the table.
How do we move forward when generations continue to be impacted by these Canadian tragedies? The Indigenous story is part of our Church story, so it would not seem right to only connect with those who satisfy our comforts and insecurities. Why risk getting involved in social services and the web of dysfunctions of others, right? The problem is that our abdication places a big ugly flashing “do not disturb” sign over our heads all the while fooling ourselves that we are welcoming and loving. This is theology gone wrong. James would argue that its not authentic religion at all (James 1:27).
While religious leaders in all their spiritual fervor tried shooing the children away from Jesus (Mat. 19:14), let us rise up for the vulnerable and reiterate Jesus’ words “Let them come.” In whatever way God has created our unique pieces of the puzzle to be, and in whatever capacity children and families are to connect with us, let them come unhindered into our lives. In other words, let's stick around the puzzle table and be part of the restoration.
What I find to be most encouraging across Canada is a renewed desire and passion in little pockets across our nation to be part of the child welfare solution. Canadian Christians want to make a difference, they just need healthy connections and practical next steps to do so effectively. That is how BELONG SUMMIT has organically sprouted in Winnipeg. The BELONG SUMMIT helps participants discover their unique piece in the child welfare puzzle and offers practical supports and connections for the challenging journey.
BELONG SUMMIT is an unprecedented national faith-based gathering that began in 2016 when Forever Families of Canada, and those we network with, asked the questions: “What would happen if we invited everyone we networked with, into one room? Could we facilitate meaningful conversations that would educate and promote change in how vulnerable are cared for in community?”. Church pastors, Indigenous leaders, politicians, social workers, therapists, adoptees and foster alumni, parents, film producers etc. have all said ‘yes’ to their collaboration in Belong Summit, offering a rich variety of topics and conversations in a faith-based event. Pieces of the puzzle are finding their fit here, every new link offering a better glimpse of the original masterpiece called ‘community.’ Come join the table, there’s always room for more!
Be sure to register for BELONG SUMMIT 2018 - NOVEMBER 9-10