Faith to Foster isn’t a how-to guide—although the practical tips are there. It’s not a self-righteous “look at what we’ve done,” memoir—although, what they’ve done is remarkable. It’s an invitation to peek inside the Menn’s home to see what it looks like for a young couple to take a step of faith and care for children in need.
Not once in my life have I ever considered becoming a foster parent. When I hear the term “foster care,” I immediately imagine lots of children, dirty and misbehaved, in the homes of people who may or may not actually care about their wellbeing. Maybe it’s a product of bad stories in the news or strange ideas from movies—but the pictures that come to my mind aren’t pretty.
And, as it turns out, they’re not really all that true.
TJ and Jenn Menn authors of the new book Faith to Foster, understand the wild misconceptions people have about the foster care system. After fostering 22 children over the last eight years, they decided to write down their experience in hopes that their story would dispel fears and inspire action.
Faith to Foster isn’t a how-to guide—although the practical tips are there. It’s not a self-righteous “look at what we’ve done,” memoir—although, what they’ve done is remarkable. It’s an invitation to peek inside the Menn’s home to see what it looks like for a young couple to take a step of faith and care for children in need. Self-published with minimal design, the book’s chapters are separated by stick-figure cartoons of the Menn’s changing family—from zero to six children and back again. But don’t let the stick-figures fool you. The meat of this story is in their words.
“If you’ve ever broken a glass, you know cleaning it up presents an inherent risk of cutting yourself,” Jenn writes. “But if you don’t clean it up, many other people will likely hurt themselves by stepping on the shattered pieces. Engaging in family brokenness comes with risks, too.”
Here are some of the things I learned about the foster system while reading Faith to Foster. First, children only come into foster care as a last resort. Second, the goal of foster care is to provide a safe and loving home until the time comes to reunite children with their biological parents or a relative. Reunification is the primary goal for foster care, and it happens in about seventy percent of cases. Sometimes foster families adopt the children in their care—but that, too, is a last resort. Third, if you’re waiting on a voice from God to tell you to become a foster parent, you might be waiting a long time.
“Some people told us the season we lived in seemed like the perfect time to foster, before we had kids of our own,” TJ writes. “But our twenties were also the perfect time to travel, build a career, complete additional education, live in a city, and have lots of other non-kid-friendly adventures. [In that way…] it was one of the least convenient times to care for foster children. Why not wait until we had a baby of our own and were in parent-mode already? Why not wait until we had older children who were more self-sufficient and could help? Or take some time for ourselves first?
“Why? Because they’re children, and their lives don’t wait for our plans. Waiting for the perfect time to foster parent is like waiting for the ocean to stay still.”
For TJ and Jenn, caring for orphans is one of the few specific calls on the Christian life. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The world would tell a young twenty-something couple to focus on their own lives, to build a foundation and chase the American dream. Make money and then, sure, someday, you can give that money away. Clearly, what the Menn’s have done is counter-cultural. It’s unusual. And precisely because it’s unusual is why they wrote Faith to Foster in the first place. They want their story to be far more common—particularly among fellow Christians.
Not once in my life had I considered becoming a foster parent. Until I read TJ and Jenn’s book. Without hesitation, I passed it along to my husband, earmarked and underlined. As he read, it was clear that our minds were both taking a massive shift in understanding. We, too, had been looking for a purpose to serve together. Foster care seemed like too big of an ask. Too hard to tackle. But with Faith to Foster in our hands, suddenly the idea of caring for a child and then saying goodbye didn’t seem crazy, it seemed imperative. Suddenly, the foster children we imagined weren’t caricatures, they were real children with real names and real stories. And the excuse that our time to serve would come later, no longer held water.
We called our local Department of Child Services and signed up for the training classes, starting in just a few months. It’s a small step. But you know what they say about faith. You only need a little bit to move mountains.
Claire Gibson is a writer and reader based in Nashville, TN. Claire’s works and journals here.