Had Jon Wickes and Ben Law wanted to avoid a calling to foster care, they had a good list of excuses at their disposal. At the time, both men were in their mid-20s. Both were single. Neither Jon nor Ben were adopted. Yet, one night out of the month, along with their Missional Community group, they hosted a parents’ night out at the For the City Center for local foster families.
In the fall of 2012, The Austin Stone Community Church featured a sermon series on adoption and, as Jon and Ben’s community walked through the series, they began to feel convicted by the Spirit to serve in the area of adoption and foster care. But this proved challenging. The group was made up of unlikely candidates—mostly singles in their mid-20s.
“This is great,” Jon remembers, feeling the tension. “But how are we supposed to respond? We weren’t in a place to foster or adopt kids at that point.”
Still, the community group didn’t allow their life stage to overshadow the command in Scripture to care for the orphan. They continued to talk about what it might look like for their group to serve somehow, and eventually they met with Becca Harris, the Children’s Director at Austin Stone’s St. John’s Campus.
“There was a meeting with a couple of people in our MC and they basically said, ‘We are a group of single people, but we want to be obedient to care for the widow and the orphan, so what can we tangibly do to help?’”
Becca suggested that one of the things foster families needed most was childcare.
Childcare options can be extremely limited for foster parents. For the protection of foster children, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service requires that children only be left in the care of individuals who have gone through a state-mandated certification program. Completing the program can be taxing as it requires background checks, hours of training, and navigating convoluted requirements.
Still, the community group was undeterred. They began undergoing background checks and started the certification process while discussing how they might provide childcare for foster families.
“We thought, Well, we’ll just meet people who have foster kids, and then we’ll just go to their houses to take care of their kids or have their kids come over to our house and have an MC block party … We soon realized that’s not a good idea.”
Eventually, the church agreed to partner with them to provide the facility and front all of the costs and, in the spring of 2013, the For the City Center played host to the very first Parents’ Night Out.
The initial event was a great success. As the members of the MC began interacting with kids and parents, they saw how deep of a need they were truly meeting. It was a tangible reminder that they, too, were adopted by God as sons and daughters through Jesus’s payment of sin and defeat of death.
“There was a dad who dropped off his kid who was so excited,” Ben remembers. “He said he had to go to the mall because it had been so long since he and his wife had been on a date that he didn’t have a shirt to wear for date night.”
Unfortunately, the MC was only able to host the event a few more times before the program was put on hiatus since the service they were providing was a bit unorthodox. Even still, the group continued to push forward. They used this break to ensure that everything they planned was in compliance with state licensing standards. This time also allowed new members of the MC to become foster care certified.
Finally, after a nine-month break, Parents’ Night Out was restarted. Now, the members of Jon and Ben’s community group have expanded their commitment from one night a month to two. They are also seeking additional certifications that would allow them to provide in-home care for foster children when necessary.
James 1:27 (ESV) defines pure and undefiled religion as this: “To visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” It would have been easy for Jon and Ben—two young, single men—to decide this verse didn’t apply to them. Instead, they looked to their own need for adoption into God’s family to inspire and empower their service. Serving children and families in the foster care system has not been easy, and they have had to sacrifice much. However, without Christ, our adoption would have been impossible, and yet it cost Him everything.
“We were not convenient,” Jon says. “I wasn’t in a good place when Jesus began pursuing me, and I didn’t want to be a part of His family, but He didn’t stop pursuing me.”