During the past year, community and kindness — two values many of us took for granted — shone brighter than ever: a neighbor dropping off a bag of groceries, thank you notes to front-line workers, neighbors cheering and singing from balconies, or a friend calling to check in. How we live and respond to challenges affects those around us, and these small acts helped us to feel less alone in the world.
For the past 10 years at Bethany Christian Services, I’ve worked closely with vulnerable children and families to build a community of connections rooted in biblical hospitality through Bethany’s Safe Families for Children ministry. Safe Families is designed to help connect vulnerable families experiencing a crisis to volunteers ready to surround them with support and friendship. The focus of the relationship is not to fix anyone but rather to say, “You matter, just as you are.” At the core of Safe Families is the belief that grace-filled presence makes a difference to those seeking community.
Among the families I have worked with, Lisa’s story stands out to me. Lisa grew up in an abusive home that lacked the support and love she needed. Broken relationships with her family left her alone raising her two sons, Asher and Alexander. Lisa struggled with homelessness and job security, and when she was employed, she was unable to secure childcare for her boys.
Through Safe Families, Lisa was connected to a host family, Marjorie, John, and their kids, who opened their hearts and their home to Lisa and her boys. Their relationship began with providing a safe place for Lisa to stay with them while she was pregnant. Other volunteers threw a baby shower for Lisa and helped provide tangible needs for the host family and Lisa – meals, clothes, transportation to appointments. Even after Lisa was able to secure her own housing, the family helped with caring for Lisa’s sons. And, most important, her host family provided her with a sense of belonging and an extended community to turn to at any time.
“Because of the love Marjorie and John showed me, I now know exactly how I want to raise my boys,” Lisa told me. “I want them to know family isn’t always blood. Rather, it’s the people who accept you for who you are and the people who love you unconditionally. Family is the people who are always there for you when you need them most.”
Every person is created by God with a deep desire to belong — a desire that has only been amplified during the course of COVID-19. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 7:4 that Jesus died so that we might no longer belong to ourselves but belong to the community of Christ together. For Safe Families Month this April, the church can provide that place of belonging for children and families by getting involved with the Safe Families ministry. Churches can recruit volunteer host families who provide temporary care for children during the day or at night, for several days or up to a few months. Volunteers can also serve as family friends, providing meals, groceries, or transportation to vulnerable families, or resource friends who can donate items to help meet the critical needs of families. By extending biblical hospitality through Safe Families for Children, we can ensure that nobody has to navigate a crisis alone, especially during a once-in-a-generation pandemic.
Churches have long been at the center of communities answering Jesus’ call to love our neighbor, as there is no greater commandment than this (Mark 12:31). When we reach out and express kindness to our neighbors, we extend a sense of community, affirming that we belong to one another (Romans 12:5) just as we belong to Christ.
Julie Paine is the Senior Director of Domestic Family Preservation Programs at Bethany Christian Services. To learn more about Safe Families for Children of Bethany, visit Bethany.org/SafeFamilies