SASKATOON — “Who will walk with me through my pain?” This was one of the questions that speaker Lynn Chotowetz of Hands at Work asked the audience Jan. 28 at St. Phillip Neri Church in Saskatoon, as some 40 participants gathered to learn about a growing ministry dedicated to supporting vulnerable families.
The “Foster the Foster Families” event was a joint effort of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, Time out for Moms, and Hands at Work, with support from Pure Witness Ministries, which offered a youth component for the evening.
Andi Early of Time out for Moms welcomed participants and introduced the speaker.
Chotowetz described a model of care for vulnerable families: “Christ the King who was first and foremost a servant.” The background of this model, founded on friendship and relationship, was born through Chotowetz’s experience serving in South Africa during the AIDS crisis. Chotowetz and his wife, Jamie, were motivated by a desire to be with “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”
The need for families to support families was clear. Although services to meet basic needs were available, depression, suicide, and family breakdown rates remained high. There is a need within the hearts of people that even the best services cannot fulfill, Chotowetz explained: the need to break down isolation through relationship and friendship.
Today, Hands at Work builds hope in 68 villages throughout South Africa. As Chotowetz began to plan to return to Canada, he and Jamie began thinking about the “most vulnerable of the vulnerable” in this country.
Looking across the spectrum of needs in Canada — “all of which are extremely complex,” stressed Chotowetz — the couple saw that there was often a link to the child welfare system. He and Jamie discovered that, despite a system of with competent and caring professionals, many foster families remain in need when it comes to the basic relationships and connections that can help sustain them in their work.
For foster parents, there can be a sense that they are under daily pressures, yet “when we are most in need is when we are least likely to ask for help,” said Chotowetz. This is not a fault of the foster parents, nor can a line be drawn to a system that cannot work well when it is overburdened.
Since policy and resources cannot ultimately solve this deeper need for connection, Chotowetz focuses on the opportunities that remain for churches and families to share these burdens and respond to families’ needs. For some, this may eventually lead to a call to foster, but for most it involves building a friendship.
Many basic needs can be met in acts of friendship and support: bringing meals, offering parents a break, becoming mentors. Chotowetz expressed confidence in the ability of churches to take on this kind of outreach, pointing out that the government’s mandate is not to love, and that love cannot be “outsourced” by Christians: “Christ did not pay someone to go to the cross for him.”
The government is doing a good job, he said, it is “we in the church who can build these needed relationships.”
For Chotowetz, this is not an abstract theory, but a practice with a process. An entry point for interested couples and families begins by attending a celebration with foster families.
The final challenge Chotowetz offered was for “families to become something bigger then ourselves.” As Mother Teresa said, “The problem with the world is that we make the circle of our families too small.”
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