“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” —Albert Einstein
DISCLAIMER: This post/blog may encounter some responses of defensiveness and/or resistance, so please let me (Jesse Rivers) invite you to read it thoroughly and completely before making an emotional or rash response. There is no desire within me to be contentious nor antagonistic. To all who are working on behalf of children (in foster care, orphaned, abandoned, abused, traffiked, homeless, living in the streets, or at risk), please prayerfully consider how this might be applicable to the work that we each are doing in this field! What I write here I write from a heart of passion and conviction from the Lord! I might not articulate perfectly, but it is my prayer that you understand the heart and message that is trying to be conveyed here. May you be blessed, challenged, and encouraged by the Lord through this piece!
Having lived myself through foster care, and living most of my life without any real family or sense of belonging and connected-ness, my perspective comes from personal experience. Also, now being in the leadership and executive world, as one who is helping lead a ministry to children who are orphaned, my hands-on experience also is an influence of my perspective. The greatest influence to my perspective though, is a God-guided, Bible-centered, and Jesus-following heart that wants to look and be more like Him.
Throughout the course of human history many have striven with pure hearts and great intentions to help children who are most vulnerable and in need of such help! While intentions and focus can sometimes become skewed, I feel certain that many have been sincerely striving to help these precious children. Unfortunately, I believe that the model used in this sincere striving to help has become what I call “The Invisible Epidemic”…
“The Invisible Epidemic” – What is it? Why do I call it invisible? Why do I say it’s an epidemic?
What is an epidemic? While many use this word referring specifically to the widespread, contagious, and infecting presence of a disease, the word is not limited to a physical, sickness-inflicting disease. An epidemic can be anything that is widespread, ‘contagious’, and carries a negative impact upon a large portion (if not all) of society.
What is The Invisible Epidemic? I propose that the invisible epidemic in our world is the response of the church, organizations, governments, and individuals around the world for centuries now to address the needs and issues of precious children with a temporary and broken system, model, and response! I know that no model is perfect, but we must be willing to look for advancement and improvement, and dialogue openly to do so! Due to legality, most children in foster care, orphanages, and children’s homes encounter a forced separation at the age of 16, 17, or 18 (“Age Out”); depending where geographically on earth they are currently living. While I do not have the statistics to quote here, it is a staggering percentage of these youth who “Age Out” whom end up in prisons, homeless and on the streets, in gangs, addicted to drugs and alcohol, traffiked for sex or forced labor, in prostitution, or committing suicide! We have applauded ourselves for helping children survive childhood, but to me this model is the invisible epidemic that perpetuates a cycle of dependency and need for this very same model from generation to generation. What these children truly need is community that is not temporal, but rather lifelong. We each long to belong, to be a part of something, to be included, and have a place at the table. This desire does not somehow miraculously disappear as one reaches some legal, technical ‘age of adulthood.’ And I believe it is God’s very desire that we start focusing on lifelong solutions for these children, rather than temporal and the honestly significantly-lacking responses that we have given fro centuries.
The reason I call this an “invisible” epidemic, is because these children/youth are released into society, broken and pulled away from any semblance of belonging or continued connected-ness or sense of belonging in community, to fight to survive on their own. It becomes an invisible reality for them that they lack stability, security, and genuine community to be able to thrive; thus leading to the majority of them encountering lifestyles and circumstances that we would not wish upon anyone! But now because they are adults we are blind (0r they are invisible to us) to their reality, and can often judge, condemn, and/or scorn them. We’ve felt great about helping them as kids, but now that they are adults they are just on their own.
This problem is invisible, because common sense says that, “They are adults now.” Reality is though, if you look into many good families, how many of your children were forced to have no contact, no support or encouragement, and no community when they became 16, 17, or 18 years old? How many parents stop being a source of stability, security, presence, help, hope, and encouragement for their children just because their children have now ‘become adults’?! I would venture to guess that is a very small minority of the population of parents that have done such. These children who are forced to age out, even with transitional living preparation but lacking a sense of belonging and community, become the most susceptible to a number of atrocities and challenges. We don’t really see it though, because we believe that because they are now adults they should be fine ‘on their own’.
As followers of Jesus, I believe the responsibility is ours to break centuries of a cycle and model that perpetuates a cycle of depravity and necessity. I pray that you too would be willing to consider and become a part of a new way, a new model, a new healing. There is no excuse, once an epidemic is revealed, for humanity not to work to eradicate the epidemic. We, as the church, must open our eyes and recognize the reality that there IS an Invisible Epidemic happening… but not just recognize it, but become committed more and more to God’s heart and solution to this problem! We need to start living out a model for these children that offers them forever families, forever homes, and through education and presence a way for them to be connected and belong in community!! Church rise up! Followers of Jesus, let’s unite!! Let’s eradicate an invisible epidemic!! Join me!! Will you?!?!