By Pastor Dave Hamlin
When you are left totally alone, more than anything else you need a companion. There is probably not a group of people more hurt and left out in our world today than children who experience abuse or neglect or who have been removed from their homes. In a perfect world parents are caretakers, but sometimes parents face challenges, and children may find themselves needing other caring adults in their lives. In the world we live in where many children grow up in the child welfare system, who in our community is going to look after them?
As a pastor, I believe Jesus calls adults who know him and realize that they have been blessed by him to mentor those children. Most churches have youth programs, but they are largely designed for group participation. What about the children who need one-on-one attention and mentoring? For far too long that has been left to others and many children have fallen through the cracks.
Across the state we are seeing increased momentum for improvements in the child welfare system and increased interest from concerned citizens in creating brighter futures for children who have been removed from their home. As these local communities initiate efforts to support at-risk families and the caring adults who take children into their home when they cannot remain safely with their parents, faith communities play a critical role in mobilizing their congregations to be a safety net for families in need.
Here at Shelby Christian Church we are partnering with Orphan Care Alliance (OCA) by providing volunteer connections. We are providing a hub for the recruitment of volunteers and hosting training sessions for those volunteers. One avenue of connection will be with Open Door of Hope Women’s Center, a transition home for women in recovery.
So what would it look like if other churches partnered with organizations like OCA and Youth for Christ (YFC) to provide adult mentors who could be trained by OCA and YFC to come alongside children that present themselves in our school system as children in need because of a missing parent or parents? What would it look like if OCA, YFC and other organizations knew that there was a church in their community that would help them vet and train great adult mentors who could build one on one caring relationships with children in need of all ages?
The church is the ideal breeding ground to build a community of caring adults for vulnerable children and families. The church is established and has a variety of great ministry programs for children and a great number of caring adults who could take mentoring to a higher level. The church is constant; it will be there. Even when children move up to a different school and ultimately graduate, the church will still be there. Many government based agencies force children to “age out” of their program. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a partnership that they didn’t have to “age out”?
Governor Matt Bevin, First Lady Glenna Bevin, and many other officials see the need and are trying to fix long standing problems. What if churches came along side and instead of complaining about the issues of our younger generations, we began working together to find solutions?
Kentucky Youth Advocates has created this toolkit for faith leaders to help their community better support both at-risk families and the caring adults who take children into their home when they cannot remain safely with their parents. Congregations can be welcoming sanctuaries for these struggling families, and the voices of congregants as advocates are powerful ones across Kentucky.
I’m thrilled to pastor a church that wants to make a difference and create a community of changed lives! Come on let’s do something. Let’s BE the church.
Pastor Dave Hamlin is the Lead Pastor Shelby Christian Church in Shelbyville, KY.