Visit to a Children’s Home
Author: Ryszard Pieron   Publisher: Augustana, Bielsko-Biala 1993   Translation: Sheri Torgrimson
This article will primarily look at the role of the spiritual caregiver or chaplain working with youth of elementary school age (10-14), who are forced to live outside their own home.
This is most often a “closed” home where children are placed, those who can’t be looked after, nor flourish in their family home. In this country most people think that children’s homes are filled with orphans whose parents have died. Unfortunately 90% of these children have parents, 30% of which are “half” orphans, not having one of their parents; only 10% don’t have a family home. Most foster kids have some sort of relationship with their parents and visit them, some more often, some less. Most frequently, children forced to live in a home come from societally marginalized families; their parents are unemployed, frequently alcoholic, often not owning their own homes. Children often come from broken families or have parents, who are involved in unlawful activities, families in which there are no norms or moral standards, indeed no moral education whatsoever. The children are taken away from their parents by the court system, a decision they often don’t wish to accept. They have been exposed to alcoholism, abuse, fighting, violence and even murder. The children are often neglected or brought up without any real care. Theft, beatings and even rape are not unfamiliar to them; they often don’t possess any basic human values. The only thing they heed is a hard fist; the only thing that matters to them is what is happening in the present. These kids don’t plan their future; they live from day to day, moment to moment.
The children’s home does not give them any material goods other than the most basic necessities for health and hygiene, modest clothing and food. The children often live together in large rooms, where a young person may only have a metal locker, a bed and a place to study. A normal day often looks like that of someone in military service: wakeup call, exercises, morning hygiene, assembly, breakfast and then off to school. They come and go at scheduled times and get passes only for good behaviour. Sometimes children cannot bear it and try to run away. They go to their parents or friends, thus breaking the law, and are sought by the police who return them to the home they tried to run away from. The situation repeats itself and the kids are brought back to the home or even sent to a juvenile detention center. The lives of these young people are deprived of the basic emotional needs of childhood: love and sincerity, smiles and laughter, warmth and faith. All this opens up a field for the “shepherd” to work in; the minister who can find time to spend with them and talk with them. Young people often complain that “others” rarely have time for them. They are troubled by loneliness, feel useless, that no one is interested in them, that their life has no sense, and they are not needed by anyone. To boost their self-esteem they retreat, while waiting for approval and smiles. Not finding acceptance, they withdraw even more.
Firstly, it is important to remember that often the foster child has lived with people who don’t appreciate the religious and societal values that are around them.
On one hand, a child from a children’s home feels a need for care and a quiet haven. On the other hand, we mustn’t rebuff his right to take steps toward independence and making decisions. We need to let him see that we are willing to walk beside him on the road to adulthood. It is not enough to look at him simply as the object of our efforts and care but rather we must look at him as a person who is able to accept responsibility for himself.
The minister should not play the role of apologist for the Christian faith; rather he should testify about Jesus Christ. That may mean nothing more than testifying to the presence of God, who desires to be among us through Jesus Christ, who helps us in all our hardships. Pastoral care should testify to this: that Jesus as one who has suffered greatly can sympathize with all who are anguished, disappointed and unwanted. In our sojourn here, surrounded by death, violence and struggles, we belong to the One who shares our journey and walks with us. The Bible talks about Jesus as the One who “went about doing good” and came “to destroy the works of Satan.”
There is no life situation in which Jesus cannot help. In contrast to social workers, counsellors, probation officers, and psychologists, the pastoral care giver has a different task concerning the child – to return him whose destiny seems to be rejection, back to fellowship with God, to help the child understand that God desires to talk with him. We must try to speak as simply and understandably as possible, as well as taking into consideration the community he lives in and his family circumstances.
The substance of our conversation should move to the heart of our young acquaintance’s spiritual state as quickly as possible. However we do need to wait for the right moment to say, “God has you in His care!” as the child may not always be ready to pray or listen to verses. Unfortunately he will probably be impatient and uninterested in talking about the Saviour, so we must show a great deal of patience and understanding. The goal of our conversation is not to give quick and cheap consolation or flood him with a load of treasured verses. The object of conversing should be only to give such help as will assist the child in coming to understanding himself and his errors, and to see where he has gone off course, so that he can discover what plans and intentions God has for him. Perhaps God wants to test his faith, as he did once with Abraham? If the pastoral caregiver is able to show the child from such a home that God is looking after him, that life has sense and that he is not isolated and alone in his problems, then he has fulfilled his task and given real comfort.
Foster children in homes don’t converse willingly. It is difficult for them to speak about their lives as they are often withdrawn, untrusting, and tight-lipped, but we shouldn’t become discouraged by this. They need someone they can talk with and open up to, because they are often unhappy, forgotten and despairing. We need to tell and convince them that the Lord Jesus Christ is with them.