Linda* found our church during a Halloween parade. Many of the churches in our area shy away from being associated with the holiday, but we see it as an opportunity to celebrate our city and meet new people. Linda took some candy from us with information about our church. When Linda’s life took a surprising turn, she knew right where to go for help.
Linda worked at the front desk of a behavioral health center, so she was in contact with people from all walks of life. She befriended a woman who was receiving mental health counseling. One day, this woman asked Linda to babysit her son, and the unthinkable happened: the mother never returned, leaving Linda as the sole caretaker of the young boy. Over the next few years, the mother was in and out of jail and had two more children, placing them both in Linda’s custody.
During this time, Linda joined our church and was invited to attend a small group. Once the people in her small group heard about the situation she was in, they rallied around her. The first hurdle she faced was becoming a valid foster parent in the eyes of the state. They were continually questioning her parenting because she wasn’t the same ethnicity as the kids. She was accused of not fixing their hair appropriately, so a young man in her small group of the same ethnicity as the kids stepped in. He would go to her house once a week, style the kids’ hair, take the boys to dinner, and answer any questions they had. He was not only a cultural mentor, but also a vital male presence in their lives.
The members of her small group surrounded Linda with love, each taking on a role in the “family unit” in the absence of her extended family who lived out of state. An older couple in her small group stepped up and became the official “foster grandparents.” They remembered birthdays, took the kids to doctor appointments, invited them over for holidays, babysat while Linda had some time to herself, and acted as constant prayer partners through a very complicated and emotional season.
Our church has two days a year where we cancel our Sunday services, go out, and serve throughout the city. Linda’s small group decided to rally around her, choosing her home as their project for the day. They showed up to her house, fixed some door frames, added a screen door, repaired a fence, addressed some electrical issues, and more. They spent all day serving her, with no agenda other than to show her that they supported the great work she was doing with her new family. Plus, they saved her a significant amount of money and stress by taking care of these issues.
When Linda’s oldest foster son was starting to have severe behavioral issues, her small group saw that she was struggling and stepped up their level of care. They took turns bringing Linda meals, scheduling weekly babysitting for the other kids so she could have time to herself, visiting her eldest son in the hospital, changing her oil without asking, and more.
Linda moved back to her hometown a few years ago, but not before legally adopting all three children! She has since found a new local church and gone on her first mission trip.
I always say that as one person fosters a child, the local church should step in and “foster the parent” with just as much love and support. In this case, Linda’s small group stepped in and allowed her the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual space to provide a safe and loving home for these children. We all know our small groups can have a significant impact on people’s lives, but there are times when that impact goes beyond our expectations. When we experience stories like Linda’s, that portrait of community stays with us forever.
*Name has been changed
—Amber Day is the City Groups Director at City Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.