The puzzle table

Discovering your piece in the child welfare puzzle at BELONG SUMMIT 2017, Oct. 20-21

By Wendi Park

Have you ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle, only to end up with a scattered mess of odd shapes and seemingly misfits?

One of my earliest memories of my grandma was her love for jigsaw puzzles. She could pick out the oddest shaped or most mundane piece and just know where it went. Click. Click. Click. I desired that skill: to see purpose in the one piece by connecting it to the bigger picture. Yet I quickly grew weary of failed attempts and countless misfits. Why even try? I would walk away.

Grandma, on the other hand, was steady and optimistic, never giving up until every last piece found its rightful place. Her hours of dedication not only resulted in a completed masterpiece but also revealed her innate tenacity and delight in restoration.

Child welfare in Canada is much like an unassembled puzzle. Thousands upon thousands of vulnerable children are scattered across our nation in foster care without a permanent place to call home, longing for belonging. Thousands of vulnerable families are disconnected from healthy community, only another crisis away from being dismembered further as a family unit.

With social services severely fractured, churches preoccupied, and a culture that clicks “like” on self-absorption and individuality, it would be easy to despair that these disjointed pieces could ever come together, much less, to become something beautiful. It’s too messed up. It seems too far removed from God’s original plan of community and wholeness. We quickly grow weary of failed attempts, burnt bridges and daunting barriers. We walk away from the table.

Though our urge may be to walk away, our God draws near. Like my grandma bending over that puzzle table to restore a masterpiece, our Heavenly Father leans in over the brokenness of His creation. Yes, grieving with us in our pain, but with an unstoppable love and optimism for restoration. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). 

Make no mistake: if it were not for God’s redemptive love, we would simply be heaps of misfits. Yet God sees the irregularities of broken humanity, the vast array of colours and patterns that define us as individuals, and somehow is able to restore us collectively into something beautiful.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). No one is discarded. Not one is lost on Him. He sees that each person inherently possesses a valuable purpose much greater than themselves, a void in the puzzle that only they can fill. Each vulnerable child, struggling parent, burnt-out social worker, overloaded pastor, lonely neighbour, independent do-it-all – each were created to be interconnected.

It’s easy to be interconnected to those who think like me, act like me, and “like me” on social media. It’s much harder to be interconnected to the others who don’t. True religion is walking with the vulnerable in their distress (James 1:27); it is loving our enemy (Matthew 5:44), it is forgiveness and reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), gracious and compassionate (Psalm 145:8). God invites me; no, He urges me, to connect with brokenness, with suffering, with those who look and think differently than me.

That is what Christ has done for me – I too am broken and in the process of being restored, and this acknowledgement is a profound game changer. From one broken person to another, but with an unstoppable hope for change, we need God to lean in over us and restore us to a collective masterpiece. We were created to belong.

The welfare of vulnerable children and families is not an optional issue for the Church. It is not a calling for some people, or an item we check off our ministry to-do list once a year. I would assert that caring for vulnerable children and families (that is, journeying with others in their distress) is intrinsic to our understanding of who God is and who we are in Christ.

Canadian Church history will indicate that we’ve grievously gone amiss by years of ethnic cleansing and colonization. Ouch, our hands get slapped, but have we learned from our own broken past? Perhaps we’ve simply stepped away from the table. How do we move forward when generations continue to be impacted by these Canadian tragedies? 

The Indigenous story is part of our Church story, so it would not seem right to only connect with those who satisfy our comforts and insecurities. Why risk getting involved in social services and the web of dysfunctions of others, right? The problem is that our abdication places a big, ugly flashing “do not disturb” sign over our heads, while we live in the illusion that we are welcoming and loving. This is theology gone wrong. 

While religious leaders in all their spiritual fervour tried shooing the children away from Jesus (Matthew 19:14), let us rise up for the vulnerable and reiterate Jesus’ words “Let them come.” In whatever way God has created our unique pieces of the puzzle to be, and in whatever traumatized shape they come, let them come unhindered into our lives. In other words, stick around the puzzle table and be part of the restoration.

What I find to be most encouraging across Canada is a renewed desire and passion in little pockets across our nation to be part of the child welfare solution. Canadian Christians want to make a difference, they just need healthy connections and practical next steps to do so effectively. That is how BELONG SUMMIT has organically sprouted in Winnipeg. The BELONG SUMMIT helps participants discover their unique piece in the child welfare puzzle and offers practical supports and connections for the challenging journey. 

BELONG SUMMIT is an unprecedented national faith-based gathering that began in 2016 when Forever Families of Canada, and those we network with, asked the questions, “What would happen if we invited everyone we network with into one room? Could we facilitate meaningful conversations that would educate and promote change in how the vulnerable are cared for in community?”

Church pastors, Indigenous leaders, politicians, social workers, therapists, adoptees and foster alumni, parents, film producers etc. have all said “yes” to their collaboration in BELONG SUMMIT, offering a rich variety of topics and conversations in a faith-based event. Pieces of the puzzle are finding their fit here, every new link offering a better glimpse of the original masterpiece called “community.” Come join the table, there’s always room for more! 

Register for free today at Belong2017.com and join others across Canada, October 20-21 in Winnipeg. You belong!

Wendi Park is the executive director of Forever Families of Canada, a national collaborative network for Canadian churches and non-profit organizations focused on restoring families, foster care and adoption.