As a new year dawns, many will be making resolutions, looking to make changes, and searching for ways to meaningfully connect with the Divine. The truth is, we all want our life to have purpose and meaning. We want to invest in something beyond the humdrum of our day-to-day lives. Many are looking for that nourishing soil in which to plant roots and draw up the richness of life.
Today, I want to turn our attention to the rich soil of compassion in Griffin and Spalding County. There are countless examples of groups and individuals in our community that are brimming with compassion and care for the vulnerable and marginalized around us. Many engage in this kind of work because of passages like James 1:27, which states, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Foster care, however, is tough…our family understands that firsthand. For almost five years, we served as a foster family for the state of North Carolina. We had a number of children in and out of our home over that time – some for a night or two, some for as long as eighteen months.
We found that it doesn’t really matter how hard you try, if you have a heart at all, you will get attached. Over and over again, we had the chance to love a child for a short time and faced the difficult task of sending them back into situations that we wished were different.
In most cases, these kids came from families that loved them dearly. They weren’t bad people. Rather, they were caught in circumstances where they felt trapped and needed help getting out. The parents we worked with needed our compassion and love so much more than our righteous indignation.
Our time as foster parents was a time filled with both laughter and tears – joy and sadness. Pictures of children who became part of our lives still hang on the walls of our house. If you close your eyes and get quiet enough, you can still hear their little voices and feel their arms wrapped around you in an embrace. I can’t help but believe that foster parenting gave me a deeper understanding of the expansive love of our Heavenly Father.
Have you ever stopped to consider what the experience is like from the child’s perspective, though? Have you stopped to consider that children never ask to be in these situations? Have you ever wondered what it is like to be taken away from everything you’ve ever known and loved, only to be dropped into a strange family and a strange house with nothing but the clothes on your back?
Traumatic. Unsettling. Fearful. Sad. Panic-inducing. Relief. It’s all of these and so much more. In these moments, the deep compassion of Jesus is needed more than ever. In these moments, people of faith must step up, step out, and step in to be the arms that a hurting child can fall into. People of faith can become the ears that listen to their stories and the metaphorical punching bags that help absorb their pain. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”
Michelle Norris, founder of “Grace 127,” a ministry that supports foster families in Spalding County says, “Not everyone is called to be a foster parent. Not everyone is called to open up their homes and their lives in that way. But the need is great and we can all do something.”
Norris started Grace 127 in 2019, to provide “gotcha” bags for children that have been taken into custody. On the day that they are taken into custody, a child receives a handmade bag with a stuffed animal, a new blanket, an age-appropriate toy, coloring book, hygiene items, clothes, and diapers (when appropriate). This helps communicate to a child, “You are important. You are loved. You are valued. You are not forgotten.” This also helps a foster family bridge the gap between the immediate needs of a new placement with the financial assistance that eventually comes from the state.
Though a foster family does receive financial support, it is rarely enough. This is where other ministries like “Fortify” step in. Fortify is a faith-based ministry made up of partners from numerous churches and individuals. The Fortify Resource Center collects donations of clothing, furniture, toys, baby items, and school supplies to provide a go-to resource for foster families that is completely free.
While the Fortify Resource Center is open to foster families within Region 4 (a 12 county region in central Georgia), Grace 127 focuses its ministry in Spalding County. “It is my hope that other churches in other counties might step in to provide a similar ministry in their respective communities,” Norris states.
Maybe it is true, we may not be capable of doing everything, but everyone is capable of doing something. May the compassion we share with others in the year ahead richly nourish our hearts and souls and connect us to the God who loves us (and every child made in God’s image) more than we can imagine.
If you are interested in volunteering or donating to the Fortify Resource Center, please visit their website at fortifyga.org. You can contact Grace 127 by calling First Baptist Church at (770) 227-5517.
Rev. Steven Norris