Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Waiting for the workers

Written by: on September 6, 2018

When I was about fifteen my aunt received her foster license and shortly after had a young boy placed with her. He had had a difficult childhood and as such bore the psychological scars of those difficulties. Anyone who has been a foster parent of a child with a similar background can tell you, helping a child in that situation is difficult for a long time and it gets worse before it gets better. As her first placement this boy was an unfortunate task for her to take on. Nonetheless she took on the challenge and tried her hardest, but eventually she reached the end of her strength. She determined that the boy had a demon and tried various techniques of exorcism that didn’t work. Shortly after that she gave him back to the foster system with yet more psychological scars. My aunt would never take in another foster child and the word went out across my family that foster kids were bad news.

“I needed to find Christian workers who loved the people they were working with more than the activity through which they were trying to reach them” 1

I have a series of numbers that run through my head whose end result is the idea that if every church in the United States were to have two families be foster families we would end up with a negative number of foster kids.2 3 4 Math is great in its simplicity. If only this problem was as simple as X minus Y. Unfortunately the assumption that all those churches have a family (never mind two) that is called and gifted for that sort of ministry is not a given. Also, what do we do with the kids that will enter the system in the next year, and the year after that? What separates Pullinger from so many who have come before and after her is her love for the people she is working with and the desire for co-workers that share that love. It is that love that was the start of her success with the youth of the Walled City. The task of caring for foster children is not about getting enough people to take them in, it is a task of finding the people who already love these kids and are ready to do what it takes to welcome them in to their homes – to find people called to the task. If we do not do that then we will find ourselves in a situation like my aunt who was over her head without the gifting to care for this child.

Since the task is not simply about numbers then what are we, as ministers with a calling, to do? The answer is painfully simple; wait. Wait on God to make the workers ready, wait on God to bring the workers, wait on God to tell us when to move. This is a hard lesson to learn, one that even Pullinger had to learn late in the course of her ministry.5 Interestingly the workers God brought her were not the workers she would have picked. This is yet another reason forcing the issue is unwise, the right people are often not who we think.

I would love to be able to put the word out to every church in the United States that they need to appoint two families to become foster families and be done with it. But God calls us to a ministry of waiting before acting, which is largely what Jackie’s ministry has been. I often feel like a kid on the last day of school waiting for that final bell indicating the start of summer as I wait for direction on how to further the work of caring for foster children. By God’s grace the time will come and so will the workers.


1 Pullinger, Jackie, and Andrew Quicke. Chasing the Dragon: One Womans Struggle against the Darkness of Hong Kongs Drug Dens. Minneapolis, MN: Chosen, 2014. 88.
2 Brauer, Simon G. “How Many Congregations Are There? Updating a Survey-Based Estimate.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 56, no. 2 (2017): 438–48. doi:10.1111/jssr.12330.
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. 2017. The AFCARS Report. Prepared by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.
4 Brauer reports that in 2012 there were ~384,000 congregations in the United States. The AFCARS report states that in 2016 there were 437,465 youth in foster care.
Thus 437,465 – (384,000 • 2) = -330,535
5 Pullinger 241

About the Author

Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

3 responses to “Waiting for the workers”

  1. I love your focus on numbers. Indeed, if our churches behaved the way they are supposed to we wouldn’t need a lot of government services we currently depend on. I believe this is the model God had in mind when we He commanded our parents in the garden to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” [Gen. 1:28]. Also if believers would simply try to disciple one other person a year, we’d double in number that first year and exponentially after that. I think Matthew 13, the parable of the sower, affirms just that when our Lord said that the good seed sowed on good soil would yield a harvest “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Thanks for your post.

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thank you for the numbers, the passion and the patience. You are not only making a call, you are a modeling what it looks like and you have captured the real competency that is needed, love. I was adopted so I have a deep appreciation for families like yours. I do believe it is the heart of God and it is becoming the heart of the church. We have a foster care advocacy affinity group in our movement and I am hearing more churches talking about the subject. The church my husband pastors has awareness weekends and as a result there are some five families now fostering and loving children. Keep speaking up, the message is getting out, more people are believing they have enough love to share. It is not easy, but a child who is healed, loved and given a family is a wonderful reward. Thank you.

  3. Mary Mims says:

    Sean, 38 years ago I worked in the foster care office in Lansing Michigan. My job was just to clean out old files, with one piece of advice; don’t read the files. However, I read the stories and I have to say I sat in a puddle of tears. The stories were heartbreaking on all sides. I can see how Pullinger reminded you of foster care. It does take someone who has a lot of compassion and Spiritual gifting to minister to broken people. The truth is we are all broken, just on different levels. If we realized how patient God is with us, we might exercise more compassion toward the less fortunate.

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