An Ancient Recipe for Addressing Brokenness Where You Live

My wife and I have lived in and renovated (yes, at the same time) a couple of different 100-year-old-plus homes during our marriage.  Most people who take on these kind of projects are different from us in one important way: They know what they are doing. 

I still remember the feeling of standing in the middle of our defunct kitchen in downtown Denver where I was hanging cabinets.  I had a drill in one hand and a Black and Decker handyman book in the other trying to figure things out as I went by looking at the hand-drawn illustrations.  Remember, this all happened before YouTube.  

I didn’t even know how to do demolition right.  I mean, for the love of Pete, how hard can it be:  Just tear stuff apart and throw it away. One night at our house in Little Rock, when Trisha and the kids were out of town, I set out to remove an old built-in cast iron tub (not a claw foot) from a bathroom we were turning into a laundry room.  These can weigh 300-500 pounds. I always liked projects that gave me an excuse to buy a new tool and this project was going to require a sledge hammer (I know, right?!). The only reasonable way to remove a tub like this is to smash it into smithereens and carry it out by the bucket-full.  

With great anticipation, I stopped by Home Depot and selected my weapon of choice.  Sledge hammer ownership is one of the true delights of human existence. I put on proper eye-wear and got busy.  I’m not going to lie — this is a satisfying project. Blow after blow, chunks of cast iron flew off the edges of the tub and landed on the floor.  

I did overlook one small thing.  On the other side of the bathroom where the toilet use to be, the water supply line was sticking up out of the floor.  One of my (earth shattering) swings sent a chunk of cast iron flying across the room where it’s sharp edge pierced the water line.  Wetness ensued.I also remember not being sure where the shut off valve to the house was.  It would have been super smart to have located that before carrying a sledge hammer into a room replete with water lines.  But, alas, that’s not how this went down.

Fortunately, over the years, I had friends who knew a lot more than I did.  I was at least smart enough to know I probably shouldn’t try re-wiring without Steve or soldering copper pipe without Jeff.  And who knows if the houses would have ever gotten done without David, Jason, Erin, Craig, Coletta, Adam, Mike, Brian, Doug, Joseph, and John (and a couple of youth groups some of those folks brought with them).  Big things are easier when you don’t do them alone.  

Maybe the best example we have of this in scripture is found in the book of Nehemiah.   After Jerusalem was destroyed (586 B.C.) , the people of Israel were exiles in Babylon. Babylon was eventually captured by the Persians and over time, the people of Israel were allowed by the Persians to return to Jerusalem in 538 and 458 B.C.  

In around 444 B.C., Nehemiah was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes which was a high-ranking position and a pretty good gig (except for the part where you have to test the King’s refreshments for poison).  Nehemiah’s brother came to Susa and told Nehemiah that the wall of Jerusalem was still in shambles and that the gates that were burned had not yet been rebuilt. Nehemiah was devastated to learn this and mourned and fasted for days.  King Artaxerxes saw Nehemiah’s sadness and asked about it. Nehemiah told him that Jerusalem is undefended because the wall is in shambles and asks for permission to go there and rebuild the wall. Not only does he give permission, the King basically gives Nehemiah the equivalent to an unlimited gift card to Home Depot for supplies (can you say “sledge hammers”!?).  

Nehemiah gets his gear and organizes folks into groups and gives everyone a section of the wall to work on. They are faced with opposition at the hands of Sanballet and Tobiah and have to work with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other.  Even with all of that, they eventually finished the job after 52 days and celebrated in worship.

There are three parts of this story that are important for us to notice.

ONE:  Nehemiah believed it was possible.

When Nehemiah became aware of brokenness, he was devastated, but he believed he could do something about it. When the king asked what could be done, Nehemiah was prayed up and was ready with an answer.  He believed it was possible to fix what was broken:

Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”   –Nehemiah 2:4-5 

It’s easy to take for granted that Nehemiah is the guy responsible for this, but think about how significant this was.   The wall of an entire city is in shambles for decades and this one guy says, “I can do something about that.” He believes that it is possible.

You have children in your county who have been abused and neglected, and through no fault of their own, wait for years and many times in vain for a family.  The brokenness is real and by the way, it’s been around for decades.  A normal response says “that’s a shame — someone ought to do something about that” (government, social workers, other “more spiritual” christians etc).  A Nehemiah response says “I can do something about that.” We have to believe that more than enough is possible.

TWO:  Everyone did their part.

Sometimes when we read our Bibles, we come to sections of long, highly detailed lists and the temptation is to go into “skim” mode in those places.  Whether it is a litany of ceremonial law in Leviticus or a chapter on who begat who in Matthew, it can be hard to stay with it. But when you do stay with it, every once in a while, you find gold . . . or in this particular case, goldsmiths.  

In the third chapter of Nehemiah we get one of my favorite snapshots in the Bible.  It is simply a list of who is building what part of the wall and what they do for a living (you know . . .when they are not repairing walls).  Here’s a small piece I especially love:

Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired.   -Nehemiah 3:8-9

Everyone had a part of the problem they were responsible for.  Every person, regardless of occupation, had a role to play. They even let the perfumer loose on that thing.  Yes, the perfumer.

Furthermore, you also find this kind of thinking when it came to caring for the fatherless. Check out Deuteronomy 24:19: 

“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”

In Israel, care for marginalized people groups was woven into the very livelihood of every person.  This wasn’t just work for professional “care-ers” . You are a grain farmer? Great! Do something to  care for these people. Oh, you are an olive guy or a grape lady? Doesn’t matter. You are in! Do something to care for broken and hurting people.  Set aside a part of who you are and what you do for the hurting, the marginalized and the oppressed. Everyone has a role to play.

So, what does being a project manager at a major department store corporate headquarters have to do with transforming foster care?  I know a guy who could show you. When Keith is not at work and not parenting his kids, he’s training future foster parents on the weekends for his county as a volunteer and he’s been doing it for over a decade.  

In fact, if you ask a room full of foster care advocates from the faith community whether their educational training or career path has anything to do with child welfare, you might find that very few say yes.  Most people have spent their careers doing other things. However, when faced with a need, these folks magically transform their gifts and skills into loving acts of care, nurture, fierce advocacy, and resilience.  

When you are speaking to a group of people about foster care and you think you are just there to recruit foster and adoptive families, you may very well be missing the point.  There are people in that room who may never foster or adopt but who will transform foster care in your county in ways you could never imagine. Never underestimate the ability of the perfumer to make broken things whole.

THREE:  They did it together

Not only did every person do their part, they did it together.  As is true with any good thing, there will be opposition. There are people who don’t want you to succeed and see you as a threat:

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.   -Nehemiah 4:7-8

When there is a threat, it’s going to take solidarity to get things done.  In chapter 4, there is a beautiful picture of this:

So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” -Nehemiah 4:13-14

The phrase I notice here in particular is “by their clans.”  Together, they did the work. Together, they defended the work.  Together, they finished the work.  

Most followers of Christ acknowledge the theological importance of unity and the practical wisdom of collaboration.  We even do a lot of things that emit the aroma of unity and collaboration. We share ideas at conferences. We get everyone together for a unifying event around an issue.  We invite other organizations or churches to be a part of one of our events. But, we should ask whether we are engaging in the kind of interdependent unity that gets things done better and faster than any one person, organization or church could do by themselves.

The book, Rooting for Rivals by Peter Greer and Christ Horst, tells the story of several Bible translation organizations coming together for the purpose of figuring out how they could get God’s word to people faster.  Their original estimate of when the New Testament would be translated into every language was 2150. They began meeting every month at the Dallas airport to discuss how they could work together to shorten this timeline.  By coordinating their efforts, eliminating duplication, and focusing on areas of greatest need, the new estimate for having the New Testament in every language is now 2033. That is a difference of 117 years!

Here’s the thing about collaboration:  Organizations don’t collaborate, people do.  You can’t have meaningful collaboration without trust.  You can’t build trust without relationship, and you can’t build relationship without spending time with someone.  Gathering a couple of times a year with leaders from other organizations and churches will likely not lead to the kind of trust that will be required for meaningful collaboration. 

If you agree that you can’t achieve more than enough in your county through your own efforts, then you’ll need to do it with others.  And to that end, you’ll have to start with spending enough time talking to them on the phone and in person to build trust.  If you’re not interacting at least once a month with those you are collaborating with it is not likely that this will happen.  

So what about us?

The book of Nehemiah provides a great example of what it can look like to restore brokenness as a community:

  1. Believe it’s possible
  2. Do your part
  3. Do it together

It’s instructive for those of us that want to see the brokenness of foster care repaired in our own communities.  These three commitments will help to get us there.

 

NOTE: If you believe that more than enough before, during, and beyond foster care is possible in your county, be sure to sign the MORE THAN ENOUGH declaration at MoreThanEnoughTogether.org.  More Than Enough is a collaborative movement facilitated by the CAFO community.

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.