Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Eternally Safe Haven (click here to purchase the LinC issue from Cokesbury)

This week, Cokesbury published the curriculum I wrote for their weekly current events curriculum called LinC (Living in Christ). Here's an excerpt from the introduction page...there are Sunday school programs for both Jr. and Sr. High youth with activities, discussion questions, plenty of Scriptures and a devotional. To purchase a copy, click on the link above.

In July of this year the state of Nebraska adopted a ‘safe-haven’ law, which is intended to save the lives of babies who might otherwise be harmed by overwhelmed or teenage parents, by allowing those parents to drop off the child at a hospital ‘no questions asked.’ But in Nebraska, the bill was passed not just for infants but for minors up to age 18. In September of this year a father dropped off 9 of his children at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha. Reports of the incident spread and before Nebraska could determine what course of action to take, parents and guardians from neighboring states started driving to Nebraska to abandon their teens. So far, 35 children between the ages of one and seventeen have been left in the care of Nebraska hospitals.
It would be very easy to pass judgment on all the parents who had abandoned their children. And in some cases it is justified to be appalled at parents who were too lazy or too busy to find real solutions to the problems they were having with their teens. But other cases reveal much more complex situations.
Gary Staton who left his nine children was interviewed by KETV in Omaha and shared that his wife died from a brain aneurysm shortly after giving birth to their youngest child. In order to care for his children Staton quit his job, but then could not pay for rent or utilities. He felt it was better to turn them over to the state to be safe than to make them homeless. “I was with her for 17 years, and then she was gone. What was I going to do? We raised them together. I didn’t think I could do it alone. I fell apart. I couldn’t take care of them.”
According to statistics published by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services comparing information from the first 30 cases, 90 percent of the children had previously received some type of mental health care; 93 percent were living in single-parent homes; 73 percent had a parent/guardian with a history of prior incarceration; 93 percent were living in or near an urban community; and 57 percent were previously, or are currently, a state ward in Nebraska or another state. In several cases, parents who abandoned their children at Nebraska hospitals reported that they tried getting help for their children from the local and state agencies and police departments, but that no real help was available to them unless their child committed a crime. Regardless of the reasons for abandonment the statistics reveal that there are many interconnected issues like socio-economics, health care, crime, family structure or support, and availability of social services that can all contribute to the inability of a parent or guardian to care for, or get the right help in caring for a child.
There are many challenging questions that this story brings to light. How could a parent abandon a child? What must these youth be struggling with that their parents/guardians would consider such action? How equipped are our state and county agencies for caring for families in crisis? What should our responses be in our local churches to families in our communities facing these same realities? What does this situation unfolding in our country say about our priorities when it comes to children and families?
While this story will continue to unfold in the media and the Nebraska state legislature will have to deal with amending their law in the months to come, our Christian faith and our Scriptures show us that the feeling of abandonment is universal and timeless.
From as early as Abraham being willing to follow God’s command to sacrifice his own son, giving him up to God, to Jesus leaving his disciples to be with God in heaven, the Bible is rich with stories that can teach us about abandonment. From creation God knew that humans were not meant to be alone, but were created to be in relationship with God and one another. So what is our responsibility as Christians, parents, students and churches to parents and teens like these and in our own communities? One of the over-arching messages of the Bible is that God never abandons God’s people. The Israelites sinned and strayed far from God, but God could not abandon them forever. “They [Israel] shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden;” (Hosea 14:7a). Not only did God restore Israel, but later gave all of us his own son, Jesus Christ, so that believing in him, we would never feel abandoned again. “For I am convinced,” Paul writes, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
In our churches, our youth are well aware of many of their peers who are ‘at risk’ and dealing with a host of complex issues. Regardless of whether the youth in our churches have friends in their own tribes dealing with these issues, or just know of kids at school or other places dealing with these issues, it is our responsibility to dialogue about and be in ministry with teens who feel abandoned, and with parents who have lost hope. Why? Because Jesus does not just ask us to be ‘good Christians.’ Jesus asks us to follow him in mission, serving the least, the last and the lost. Certainly, these teens and these families are feeling like the least and the lost.

Especially this week while we are feasting and joining together with family and friends, pray for the children and youth who have no real family, who feel abandoned and alone. Pray for the parents who have had to let go of their children as an act of love and courage.

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