When Foster Care Advocates Invade Someone Else’s Bubble

When one of our daughters (who is now a teenager and has approved this post) was little, she had a tendency to invade people’s personal space.  She had developed some sensory issues and was always seeking sensory input. From dragging her hands across the entire length of the glass case at the supermarket deli to spinning around incessantly, she was always looking for ways to get sensory input.  When we would have guests, she had a habit of sitting right up next to them or on top of them and touching their face and hair. There’s nothing that says “welcome to our home” quite like a three-year-old you don’t know trying to squeeze your cheeks together and petting you like a cat. One of the most common words you would hear us say to her was “bubble.”  That was our gentle prompt to remind her that she had entered into someone else’s “bubble” without their permission.

There is a relatively new reality in Christian foster care that has developed over the past several years.  In many areas in multiple states, there are a number of churches focused on foster care as well as Christian non-profit bridge organizations rallying those churches and connecting them to the state.  In addition, there are national organizations who are implementing programs and hosting events in a number of localities in various states. Said simply, there are a lot more Christians doing a lot more great work in foster care than ever before.  That is fantastic news!

But there’s also another reality that can come with that.  Sometimes folks can feel like their “bubble” is being invaded by another ministry, church, or organization.  Maybe you’ve been teaching churches how to develop foster care ministries and now another organization has come into town doing the same thing.  Maybe your organization’s donor base has begun giving to other organizations that have popped up. Maybe you feel another organization’s work isn’t quite as effective as yours and is diverting people away from more strategic activity.

So now what?

Here are few things for each side of this equation to consider:

To those “invading” . . .

  1. Recognize that you weren’t there first and with that reality comes additional responsibility.  If you are entering a community, you have a responsibility to know who else is working there, what they are doing, and how your work there may impact other organizations. You also must be very careful with the vision you are casting as to why you are entering that community. To cast vision that suggests, “We are entering this community because there is no one here doing the work that we do” is potentially damaging, prideful and counterproductive at best.
  2. Be a learner.  Just because your message or your program has been effective in other places doesn’t mean it will work the same here.  There may be small tweaks that will help more kids and families. The best way to find out is to talk to the leaders that have been there longer than you.
  3. Your very presence in the community may be raising the anxiety level of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You do not have the option of seeing that as their problem. There is too much work to do, and you need each other to do it well.  You are a part of God’s family before you are a foster care advocate. Family first. In humility, have the conversations you need to have and stay committed to unity.

To those “being invaded” . . .

  1. Unless there are already more than enough foster families, adoptive families, services for biological families, and family supports in your community, you need help.   It’s probably safe to say that more than enough has not yet been attained where you live.  When you compete with or resent other organizations, it is the equivalent of saying “our work is enough to get the job done.”  It’s not and anything else is pride.
  2. Having others doing what you are doing will make you both better.  We all produce better work when we hang out with with other people doing great work.  Treat other ministries and organizations like workout partners, not members of a different team.  Members of different teams look for strategic and calculated ways to beat each other. Workout partners cheer each other on, spot each other, and push one another toward better things.  You are partners in this.
  3. If you are telling others about the weaknesses of another organization and have never had that conversation with them, that is wrong.  Remember, there are people outside the church who are watching. Secular organizational leaders have observed Christians in the foster care space treating each other poorly at times and it has caused them to back up a little from partnership.  That’s messed up, my friends.

To both the “invaders” and the “invaded”:

  1. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)  There are forces who desperately want you to fail your mission.  If you find yourself locked into a battle with other people trying to help kids and families in your community, those forces are winning. Your “fight” is not against each other, but against those forces. Recognize who the real enemy is in this.
  2. When these feelings of violation or competition come up, it’s not a relational problem, it’s not a ministry strategy problem . . . it’s a theological problem.  We are choosing to live according to our flesh rather than according to commands God has clearly given us in scripture concerning unity, humility and love. The theology we know in our heads is not being lived out in our hearts and actions.
  3. Whether you are the “invader” or the “invaded” you have the responsibility to take the first step.  Many battles can be avoided and many more children can be helped if you will take out your phone, call the person you’ve been thinking about as you’ve read this post, and ask them to lunch.   Free chips and salsa will never change the world but humbly loving and listening to a brother or sister in Christ while eating free chips and salsa just might.

This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to http://bit.ly/1rwn6eO.