March 2, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
I See…
#3—What I See for our community and beyond…

Introduction:

Thank you, Mira and Vlad, for sharing your story with us.  Beautiful!  And Zoie is beautiful!  Mira volunteers in our coffee bar, the Common Cup.  When you buy a coffee drink at the Common Cup, all of the profits go to various missions.  The next mission we’re supporting is Antioch Adoption, the agency that Mira and Vlad went through to adopt Zoie.  The cost of an adoption through Antioch ranges from $6500-8500.  In the next few months, we hope to raise that amount through the coffee bar and pay for an adoption for a family who wants to adopt but can’t afford it.  So drink up! And together we’ll place a child in its forever family.  More about that in a moment.

This is the third and final week of our vision series, I See.  For these three weeks, I’m being a prophet—in the Old Testament they were called “seers”—and telling you what I see for you, for our church, and for our community.

In the first week, I talked about what I see for you.  Last week, I talked about what I see for us, for our church. Today, we finish by talking about what I see for our community.  Specifically, this is how I see us engaging our community for good.  I want to approach this in two ways: what I see us doing as individuals, and what I see us doing together as a church.

The Big Idea: This is our community! I see us serving all over our community, and caring for the most vulnerable.

Let’s unpack it.

1. I see us serving our all over our community.

Jerry Cook, in Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness, defines the church as “people, redeemed, filled with the Holy Spirit, equipped to serve, meeting needs everywhere in Jesus’ name.”  I love that.  You are filled with His Spirit, and equipped to meet needs everywhere in Jesus’ name.  And you are doing it.

I see thousands of us serving all over our community, right where we are, in hundreds of ways.

Last year, I sent an email to all of you (if you don’t get those and would like to, write your contact info on the tear off and turn it in at the info center). I asked how you serve in our community.  I got over 150 responses back, and they were amazing!  Inspiring stories!  People were doing things I’d never dreamed of; they were serving on their own, or volunteering with dozens of different groups or agencies.

I sent a similar email out this week and received dozens of emails with lots of great stories. To all of you who sent in emails: please forgive me for not responding personally to each one, but know that I read every one—it took me several hours on Friday.  And thank you for sending them in and for your amazing service!  There are hundreds of you serving all over our community in all kinds of ways.  I’m going to share a sampling, and I hope it will inspire you.  If I mention something that grabs you, write it down and check it out.

  • Coaching youth sports or activities. 
    o   There are many of you who are coaching or helping with youth sports teams, or Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, or cheer squads.
    o   One couple is working with “Beats and Rhythms”, a summer camp for kids with heart defects.
    o   Another man works with Camp Stix, a summer camp for kids with diabetes.
  • Working with refugees—through World Relief or Global Neighborhoods.  One woman shared a story of helping a refugee family from Eritrea; three years later, they are good friends, and the man was recently baptized here at Life Center.
  • Serving your neighbors.  I got lots of stories of people babysitting, delivering meals, shoveling snow, doing fix-its. One of my favorites was a lady who has lots of elderly neighbors and she simply visits and listens—a huge gift.
  • Serving others at or through your workplace. 
    o   One lady works at a medical clinic and takes time to listen to her patients, and pray with them.
    o   Another is an occupational therapist working with the elderly. She noticed that many of them couldn’t afford the necessary in-home equipment and has organized people to locate and purchase the equipment.
    o   One young lady is studying to become a doctor, but double majoring in Spanish, so she can provide medical care for under-serviced Hispanics.
    o   A veteran teacher volunteers at Anna Ogden Hall and is helping the ladies there earn their GED.
    o   One family used their family business to provide and distribute 100 Christmas dinners to families in need in their neighborhood.
  • Volunteering with dozens of service organizations.  Lots of you volunteer at Union Gospel Mission and Anna Ogden Hall, Habitat for Humanity, Life Services, Christ Clinic and Christ Kitchen, Salvation Army, the Gideons, Youth for Christ, World Relief, Hospice of Spokane, Second Harvest Food Bank, Cup of Cool Water, Toys for Tots, Special Olympics, House of Charity, the Spokane Lilac Festival, Make a Wish Foundation.
    o   One man is deeply involved with the Spokane Central Lions Club and sent me a long and impressive list of good things they are doing in the community.
    o   Another serves in the Union Gospel Mission’s volunteer ministry at Juvenile Detention, leading a weekly Bible study with 25-35 kids at Juvy.
    o   A woman leads Operation Spokane Heroes, which provides care packages for our deployed service men and women, and also helps them readjust when they return from deployment.
    o   Another created the Every Woman Can yard sale that has raised over $10,000 for Inland Imaging and breast cancer prevention.
  • Helping the elderly or the ill. 
    o   Lots of you work with Meals on Wheels, providing meals to homebound seniors.
    o   One lady quilts for cancer patients at Sacred Heart.
    o   There are five “pillowcase ladies” who form the local chapter of ConKerr Cancer.  They make colorful pillowcases for children in the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. Last year, they made more than 1000 pillowcases and got to share God’s love with the kids and their families.
    o   Another lady each month buys the snacks for the kids with cancer at the SH Children’s Hospital.
    o   Some of you volunteer at the Clubhouse at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, caring for the siblings of critically ill children.
  • Helping the homeless.
    o   Instead of giving cash to those holding signs on street corners, some of you make “goodie bags” with ready to eat food, water, socks, gloves, hats, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a Life Center invite card or scripture verse.
    o   Some of you provide meals and clothing to the homeless through Blessings Under the Bridge.
    o   One of you volunteers every week at the Union Gospel Mission’s Women’s Crisis Shelter, teaching like skills classes that help these women get back into society.
  • Serving in our schools.
    o   One high school student started a weekly club in his school that brings special needs students together with regular enrollment kids.
    o   Quite of few of you volunteer at schools, assisting in the classroom or other ways.
    o   One man gives guitar lessons to a troubled elementary student; the boy’s behavior has improved dramatically.
    o   Lots of moms pray for our kids and schools through Moms in Prayer groups.
    o   One guy wrote, “I don’t know if this counts, but I’m a volunteer coach at a middle school.”  It counts.
  • Mentoring kids.
    o   Lots of you volunteer at Sheridan Elementary, where you mentor a child, one on one for an hour a week.
    o   One muscle-bound guy has turned his workout at the gym into an opportunity to mentor kids.  He currently is mentoring 18 kids at the gym.  Some of them have come to Jesus.  He calls it his “muscle ministry”!
    o   One man takes kids who could never afford it on ocean fishing trips.
  • Doing pro bono work.
  • Supporting teen moms.
  • Helping single moms.
  • Leading Bible studies.
  • Teaching money management classes for the under-resourced.
  • Working with inmates in the jail and detention systems.
  • Hosting exchange students.
  • Blue Collar Crew.
  • Coffee in the Community. Picture here.

The list goes on and on.  You are serving in ways I never imagined! I was so inspired by all that you’re doing!  And many Life Groups are doing these kinds of things together on a regular basis.

I see us serving all over our community!

Now here’s the back-story.  I sent that email last year because I wondered why more of you weren’t participating in our collaborative church efforts.  For example, I wondered why we had 50 or 75 people mentoring kids at Sheridan, rather than 400-500.  Why aren’t more people piling on to these opportunities?  It dawned on me, “Maybe they’re already doing things. Maybe instead of asking them to sign up for this, I should start by asking what they’re already doing.” Duh!  So I did. And you responded.  And I learned a lesson. 

God has a vision for you.  He has things He wants to do in you, and things He wants to do with you. There is no one quite like you. You can do things that no one else in the world can do quite like you.  God has uniquely gifted and positioned you to do things with you that can’t happen with anyone else. Part of our vision as a church is helping you discover God’s vision for your life and live it out. 

This means that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to serving our community. We each find our own unique contributions.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t work together.  We do and I’m talking about that next. But I confess that for many years, I cast a corporate vision for the church and ignored the individual visions God had for people.  I repent!

I see us serving all over our community.  Hundreds of you are already doing it.  If you’re not serving anywhere, here are two suggestions. First, start where you are. Look for opportunities right where you are: in your neighborhood, on your job, at your kids’ school. If your eyes and heart are open, you’ll see opportunities all around you to do good in Jesus’ name. Use what you have: your home, your stuff, your money, your time, your gifts and abilities. Too often, we think about what we can’t do, and are paralyzed. Use what you have to do what you can right where you are. Push past the barriers and get to, “I can do that.”

Second, I’m going to talk about something we can do together, as a church; I hope you will want to link arms and join us in that.

2. I see us caring for the most vulnerable in our community.

There are so many needs in our community; where should we aim our collective effort as a church to make a difference in Jesus’ name?  I see us helping the most vulnerable in our community. Who are they?  Children—particularly at risk children and families. You will find God’s concern for this all over the Bible: God cares for the widow and orphan.  (Jot down these references.)

Exodus 22:22 Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.

Care for widows and orphans was built into Israel’s law from the beginning. Why?  Because God is their defender.

Psalm 68:5–6 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 6 God sets the lonely in families.

God is a father to the fatherless; God defends the widow.  And He calls us to do the same.

Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.  (Read that last sentence together.)

Why defend orphans and widows?  Orphans and widows were the most vulnerable members of ancient societies.  That is still true today.  In our world, there are 150 million children who meet the definition of orphan, with at least one parent dead.  18 million “double-orphans” have lost both parents.  These vulnerable children are much more likely to be malnourished and stunted in growth; they are less likely to attend school, and more likely to fall behind and drop out.  They are more likely to live in extreme poverty, and be exploited as child workers or victims of sexual trafficking. 

This is true around the world, including here in America, where 70-75% of children commercially exploited for sex have spent time in foster care. The future for young adults raised in the foster system without being adopted is grim.  Only 2-4% of those who have been in foster care graduate with a four-year degree, compared to 36% of the general population.  By their mid-twenties:

  • Less than half are employed.
  • 60% of the males have been incarcerated as adults compared to 9% of men overall.
  • 68% of the women are on food stamps, compared to 7% overall.

Without a family, without parents to love and care for them, these children are the most vulnerable among us.   Every child deserves a loving family. Back to God’s law:

Deuteronomy 10:17–18 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.

There it is again: God defends the cause of the fatherless and widow, and the foreigner—the immigrants—among us. How seriously does He expect us to take this?  The Israelites took this oath. 

Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

God expects justice for the most vulnerable among us: for the fatherless (orphans), for the widow (single moms and dads), for the immigrant.  So James, the brother of Jesus, wrote:

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James says that pure religion is caring for orphans and widows.  How pure is our religion?  How much do we care about the most vulnerable in our community?

The early church took this seriously and was known for their love for widows and orphans.  Unwanted children in the Roman Empire were abandoned on the outskirts of town, exposed to the elements and animals, left to die.  Christians took these children home and raised them as their own. Candidates for leadership in the early church were to be “lovers of orphans.”

There is a growing movement in the church here and around the world to practice this pure religion, and care for orphans and widows in their distress. Churches are coming together to adopt and provide foster care, with the goal that every child would have a loving home. No more orphans! Not in our community, our state, our nation, or around the world.  It starts here!

I see us caring for the most vulnerable in our community.  I see us doing this together.  It is such huge and difficult undertaking, that it can’t just be the work of individuals.  We need to do it together. Jedd Medefind, in his book, Becoming Home, writes:

Not every Christian is called to foster or adopt. But every Christian community is called to embody the pure religion that includes caring for orphans and widows in their distress. No other institution in the world is capable of embracing orphans and supporting their families like the local church. This is something we can only do together​—becoming home for those who most need it.   Jedd Medefind, Becoming Home: Adoption, Foster Care, and Mentoring–Living Out God’s Heart for Orphans (p. 36).  (Recommend the book.)

I said that it’s a huge and difficult undertaking.  Taking in an orphan, whether through adoption or foster care, is very challenging. It’s a big mistake to underestimate the challenge.  These kids have been through trauma—many of them through multiple traumas—and come with a variety of physical, emotional, social and behavioral deficits.  It’s a daunting task, which is why we need to do it together.  The old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is especially true of these precious kids who are fighting an uphill battle through no fault of their own.

ILL: Laina and I raised 5 wonderful kids.  Our first two were adopted, the next three biological. People say, “You had two adopted and three of your own.”  No! We had five of our own and God gave them to us in different ways.  But they were all ours. 

Our second son, Jeff, had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism. Honestly, Jeff was as much work as the rest of them together.  There were days when we were pushed to our limits; days when he pushed every button I had; days when I wasn’t proud of my parenting.  When we got frustrated, we had to remind ourselves: it’s not Jeff’s fault.  He was dealt a difficult hand.  It wasn’t his fault. I’m telling you, it was a huge challenge—the hardest thing we’ve ever done.

Do we regret adopting Jeff?  Not for a moment.  We love Jeff and are so grateful that he is part of our family, and how God has used Jeff in all of our lives.  Hard?  O boy! Worth it?  Absolutely!

But we didn’t do it alone.  We are so grateful for our church and the support we received. Families who understood what we were going through and supported us, who took the kids for a night and gave us a break.  Youth groups that provided friends for our kids—there was a group of boys who were Jeff’s lifeline in junior and senior high.  Youth workers and small group leaders who loved him. 

It took a village…thank you for being our village.

I see every child having a loving family. 

Let’s talk about foster care.  I talked with Shannon from the local office of DSHS. There are 900 kids in foster care in our county; there about thousands more in foster care in our state and about 900 of those are legally free for adoption. DSHS’s goal is usually to help the foster child’s family of origin get on its feet and return the child to his family. The goal is the healing of the entire family, as it should be.  A child may stay with a foster family for a few days or weeks or months, and then most of them return to their families. Shannon said that their greatest need is for more foster parents. I see us providing more foster families.  I see us together with other churches one day providing homes for every child who needs one. I see the day when there will be foster families waiting for a child, rather than children waiting for a foster family. We’ll have to do it together. Let’s have foster parents stand up.

Then there is adoption. In some cases, parents relinquish their rights to a child and the child is available for adoption. Shannon said about one third of the kids in the foster system are available to adopt.  There are hundreds of children in our state waiting for a family. 

ILL: I spent quite a bit of time this week crying.  I went to the websites that profile kids available for adoption.  For example, go to Northwest Adoption Exchange nwae.org, or WACAP (World Association of Children and Parents) wacap.org.   It’s heartbreaking to read these kids’ stories. I listened to one 16 year-old boy’s video.  Shauwen has been in the foster system since 2003—since he was 5—waiting for a family.  He said that all he wants is a family—“to finally have a family after 15 years.” He wants a family that will care, “that will be willing to listen to me, and that won’t back out of an adoption.”

Can you imagine being a child without a family, and thinking, “Nobody wants me.”  There are hundreds of children like that in our state and 100,000 of them in our nation.  100,000 kids without families—that sounds overwhelming.  But imagine this: if one of every three churches in America each adopted a single child from foster care, there would be no children left waiting for families!  Can we make it happen?  Someone has to get it started, and in the immortal words of Russell Wilson, I say, “Why not us?” I see us becoming home for kids like these who have none.  Let’s have adoptive parents stand up.

Jedd Medefind said, “Not every Christian is called to foster or adopt.” Not everyone can; not everyone should.  But there are lots of others ways to care for the most vulnerable among us. 

  • Mentor a child at Sheridan Elementary.  Spend one hour a week with a child who needs and longs for adult attention and love. 
  • Mentor a boy at Morning Star Boys Ranch.
  • Mentor an at-risk youth at a Youth for Christ youth center.
  • Tutor a child in a topic you know well.
  • Sponsor a student at Sheridan Elementary who doesn’t have enough to eat with the “Bite2Go” program. The cost is $12/month and sends the student home each weekend with food.
  • Be a foster grandparent.  Support, encourage and provide breaks for foster parents.
  • Become a respite provider who provides short-term care for a foster child: a few hours, a night, a weekend.
  • Create “welcome boxes” for kids entering foster care.
  • Be an “office mom” at DSHS that plays with kids awaiting placement.
  • Support the DSHS staff with appreciation events.  These social workers have an unbelievably difficult and stressful—and often thankless—job.  Embrace Washington is planning appreciation events to support and encourage them. Let’s have social workers stand up.
  • Work with Life Services to be an advocate for a woman with an unplanned pregnancy.
  • Provide a 3 hour shift of childcare at Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.
  • Provide needed donations to foster kids or at-risk youth: suitcases, backpacks, gift cards.  Many of them arrive with little or nothing.

These and other ideas are on the “Ways to Make an Impact” sheet you were given on the way in.  Look it over.  And if you have questions, all of these agencies are represented in the Commons today.  Please—stop by the tables, ask some questions.  Each agency has more information on their table, and representatives to answer your questions. 

Here’s the deal.  Do something. Everyone can do something. Take one small step. For many of you, that first step will simply be stopping by a table, getting information.  Or going online and educating yourself. Or signing up to help one of these organizations.  Or offering to help a foster or adoptive family here in the church.  Or fostering or adopting.  But do something.  Take a next step, large or small, for the sake of the most vulnerable around us.

I leave you with this thought.  You are adopted.  God has adopted us into His family.

Romans 8:15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Was it easy for God to adopt you? No way.  Jesus died to make that happen.  God’s Son suffered and died so you could be adopted. Was it worth it? God thinks so.

And this is why Christians historically have cared for orphans, have led the way in adoption and foster care, despite all the hazards and hardships. Because God adopted us at the highest cost to Himself.