Faith to Action

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Photo By Kate Riney

During her freshman year of college at Georgia State University, Kate learned about the second largest crime in the world: sex-trafficking. Through community engagement with her church, she learned about sexual exploitation and its impact on families in Atlanta. She quickly began volunteering in an at- risk community with a prevention program. Over the course of the next year, Kate changed her major from film production to social work and devoted the next four years to studying and combating sexual exploitation in Atlanta.

During her work with young female survivors of sexual exploitation and their families, Kate learned the importance of community support in the lives of vulnerable children. Almost always the most predictive factor in whether a child would become caught in the slavery of exploitation is the determinant of a capable and resilient care-giver versus an absent or unsupported care-giver. All too often, young girls rescued from life on the streets were a part of the foster care system (or had been at one time). Many of their parents meant well, but they were stretched too thin. As Kate learned these young girls' stories, she began to look for the ways strong families and individuals could support families made vulnerable by poverty, poor health, prejudice, violence and discrimination.
As a community mobilizer for Faith to Action, Kate seeks churches interested in working with vulnerable populations and gives them the resources to most effectively aid orphaned and vulnerable children in the hopes that one day no child will be sold for sex.

Faith to Action has developed a curriculum for churches on best practices in missions with vulnerable children based on six case studies of church-to-church partnerships with U.S. churches and Sub-Saharan churches. Kate is one of four graduate interns currently working to pilot the curriculum in over 75 churches across the country this year.

To prepare for work as a community mobilizer, Kate went to the heart of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to learn from natives, CBF field personnel and community developers about vulnerable children in their native context. She spent two weeks observing culture, interviewing native community leaders and studying their models of care for vulnerable children.

“What became more and more apparent was the church's significance in the community,” Kate said. “While government social services were struggling to be efficient and meet the needs of so many people, faith-based community centers and churches were able to meet needs of local people directly without having to pass through as much red tape as the agencies within the over-regulated government system.”

One community center, Isibani, has a child crisis center for young girls and boys who have to be removed from the home temporarily due to suspected abuse or neglect called Isipepelo, “the place of safety.” Kate's experience at Isipepelo revealed to her God in the face of a child.

“One day I went with my host to pick up a few children from the after-school program to take them to Isipepelo for the night. When we brought them into their house to greet the other children, one girl, about seven years old, came running up to me and stuck to my leg like glue. Because of my training with Faith to Action, I knew I needed to help her respond appropriately to me and not exacerbate any attachment issues she was experiencing. I worked with her to stand on her own and keep her hands to herself, while smiling and being gentle. As I struggled to re-direct her to play a game on the floor with me and some other children, I realized, this is just another reason I'm in seminary.”

“Ministering isn't always just showing compassion and loving on a kid with hugs and kisses or teaching them a Sunday School lesson. Being a minister modeled after Christ requires seeing beneath the surface. It begs us to understand that when faced with a hurting and developmentally delayed child, treating her like the capable seven-year old she is, empowering her and showing her love that doesn't require physical touch, speaks more to her little impressionable mind and to her deeply hurting spirit about her worth and dignity than a pat on the head or hug around the neck.”

At McAfee, students take a class called Faith Development. It teaches how to provide spiritual leadership to people at all levels of development across the spectrum. One of the topics discussed is how many ministers either underestimate or over- estimate kids' abilities. In the case of Kate's seven-year old girl, it would be easy to over-estimate her capacity to bond with adults and then let them go two weeks later; it would even be natural to under-estimate her ability to act in appropriate ways, but because of McAfee, Kate knows that part of loving her well and initiating a journey towards healing requires knowing what we can and should expect of children.

“Knowing, being and doing came together in a split second in that little place of safety in South Africa,” said Kate. “That's what it's all about; McAfee teaches how to integrate our study with real- life experiences that stretch us and force us to minister in ways we never thought we could. Suddenly God is everywhere; you can see God in everyone. And then you get to take these experiences back to your McAfee community, your church and family, and you begin to reflect spreading the realization like wildfire.”

So this is what ministry to vulnerable children looks like. This is how the “little ones” come to the throne of grace. They need more than three square meals and a warm bed. They need to be loved in a variety of ways, individually, 24/7.

Orphanages rarely have the capacity to meet those demands, but when you realize that over 90% of the world's “orphans” have at least one surviving parent, then the question becomes not where to put them, but how to support their family in order to keep them at home. If we diverted the resources we spent on building and staffing orphanages towards community churches, they could give families the services and the support needed to keep the family together.

While potentially messier, more relational and a longer commitment, the best strategy to meet the ultimate goal is keeping children in loving families where they grow best. It may feel too big and too complex to feel like you can do anything substantial, but it all comes down to supporting families. We just have to learn how to love and support them well.

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You can learn more about ministry to orphaned and vulnerable children at http://www.faithbasedcarefororphans.org. If your church or civic group is interested in learning more, contact Kate at kate.m.riney@gmail.com for more resources.

Kate Riney is a community moblizer for Faith to Action, an initiative of the Better Care Network aimed at guiding churches in using best practices with orphaned and vulnerable children. She is a second-year MDiv student at McAfee in the nonprofit dual-degree track. In her spare time, Kate loves cooking meals for friends, taking in the outdoors and drinking good joe.

Read more about “Ministry on the Margins” in the Fall Issue of Tableaux