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Jun14FriWhy I opened my heart and home to foster children. June 14, 2019 by Captain Brent Haas
I can’t do it—I’ll get too attached. That was my response whenever my wife, Melissa, brought up the idea of becoming foster parents. From early in our marriage, her sense of purpose and passion to make a difference in the lives of children and youth through fostering had been clear. But my consistent answer was, “I can’t.”
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I knew the need for foster parents was great, and it wasn’t that I had no desire to respond. I just couldn’t imagine how I would deal with the emotions when the time came for a child to leave—a child I had grown to love and care for as my own.
Thankfully, Melissa was understanding and patient with me, and no matter where I turned, I couldn’t escape it. There was the TV ad campaign, called “Foster a Future,” that spoke about the shortage of foster homes in Newfoundland and Labrador. Then we were appointed to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., a town with one of the highest rates of children in care in the province. One of my daily devotions was titled “a father to the fatherless.” At church on Sundays, we sang, “This is amazing grace—who makes the orphan a son and daughter.”
Just when I thought God could speak no louder, I walked into church and right there on a table in the foyer were brochures on fostering. I went into the office and asked Melissa, “Did you see this?”
“Yes, but before you ask, I had nothing to do with it!” she responded. “A social worker dropped in and asked if she could place them in our church and, of course, I said yes.”
With all these signs around me, and a wife who kept the topic at the forefront of so many conversations, I started to think about fostering in a different way. The pivotal moment came when I asked myself, Who is this really about? If it was simply about me and how I might be negatively affected, then clearly, I couldn’t do it. But if it was about the children and youth who needed help, the lives I could touch and the love of Jesus I could share, then I could.
Changing my answer to the question of “who” was the beginning of our journey with foster parenting. In March 2016, less than 24 hours after saying “yes,” we received our first phone call about a teen who wanted to finish his final year of high school with a family.
I Wouldn’t Change a Thing
Since then, we have welcomed five children and youth into our home. Each one of them has become part of our family and holds a special place in our hearts. Fostering has brought some of the greatest joy I have ever experienced to my life and ministry. But to be honest, it has also brought the greatest sorrow.
When I look back at my early reservations about fostering—“I’ll get too attached”—I had no idea how true those words would prove to be. I did become too attached to a child we fostered for 18 months. When she had to leave our home, I experienced a deep sense of loss and emptiness. I didn’t know it was possible to cry so many tears. Until this point in my life, I had never been so filled with emotion that I had to fight for my next breath.
I can hardly believe that I am writing these words, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I want to do this as long as my health and strength allow. I can’t imagine my life without fostering.
I agreed to start this journey because I wanted to see lives transformed, but ultimately, it is my life that has been transformed. Even my faith and understanding of God as a heavenly Father has been deepened by fostering. The song How Deep the Father’s Love for Us will never be the same for me, especially the line, “The Father turns his face away.” I know what that’s like now, because it was too painful to look as a child left our home for the final time. As I have learned to love as a father, I have gained a new understanding of the Father’s love.
The Answer to “Why”
When I share my experience, many people ask why. Why would you do this? Why would you put yourself through this torture? Why do you continue to take new children? Answering the question “who” started this journey. Answering the question “why” is what makes me committed to fostering for the rest of my life.
I agreed to start this journey because I wanted to see lives transformed, but ultimately, it is my life that has been transformed.When I witness a child grow socially and cognitively by living in a stable home where they receive unconditional love, I am reminded of why I am doing this. When I watch a 14-month-old child establish attachments that will forever impact her ability to form healthy relationships, I am reminded of why I am doing this. When I think about kneeling at the mercy seat with my seven-year-old foster son as he made a choice to follow Jesus, the same age I was when I made the same decision, I am reminded of why I am doing this. The list could go on and on, and it is the “why” that keeps me going on the most difficult days.
Why am I sharing my journey of being a father to the fatherless? Because the need is so great. In Canada, there are close to 30,000 foster children, age 14 and under, according to the most recent census. There are not enough foster homes.
But most of all, God calls us to care for and be a father or mother to those who have no parents. He calls us to speak for those who are not able to speak for themselves. He calls us to care for those who are not able to care for themselves.
More Gained Than Lost
Is God calling you to be a foster parent? To provide a short-term home, while the long-term solution is being worked out? To offer respite care for a foster family? To start a support group at your church for parents with children in care or for foster parents? To be a church that loves, nurtures and supports the foster children in your congregation and community? There are so many ways that each and every one of us can make a difference. Fostering can be a way to live out our mission to share the love of Jesus Christ, meet human needs and be a transforming influence in our communities.
You could say you have too much to lose. I said the same thing, until I realized I had so much more to give. How unfortunate that a child might never know a father’s love or experience God’s love because of our unwillingness to experience loss, so that some of the most vulnerable in our society might gain.
For me, fostering has meant denying myself and choosing to take up a cross that for so long I cast aside. I started fostering to bring transformation to the lives of others, and I trust that has and will continue to be the case. But in the end, my life has been transformed. I am not the same husband, son, friend, pastor or Christian. I will never be the same.
If you are waiting for a sign to start your journey of fostering, I pray God might use my story to encourage you. Or perhaps you never planned to be a foster parent. It was never part of my plan, either, but clearly it was always part of God’s plan.
Captain Brent Haas is the corps officer at Happy Valley-Goose Bay Corps, N.L. He is appointed to Fairview Citadel, Halifax, effective June 28, 2019.