At the beginning of this week, DCFS officials asked us (Safe Families) what our capacity would be to help children whose families have not been located (unaccompanied minors) from Haiti in response to the US governement's request. We activated our network of churches to get a firm number of our capacity by Wednesday. We were told that planes were landing Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and there would possibly be a bunch of children, which increased the urgency. However, the decisions about who will be on the planes is made on the ground in Haiti by US and Haitian government officials and we do not know much until they land. The flight did not come in on Tuesday. On the Wednesday flight, all the children were accompanied by an adult.
United Airlines reported that they will send a plane a day for 30 days down to Haiti with supplies and will return with people in the evening. Although the process for welcoming children has been chaotic because it is an unprecendented catastrophy, systems are coming together. DCFS in Illinois will take charge of processing all "unaccompanied minors" that come in and then contact Safe Families to find homes. However, government policy can change at any moment so... we are called to prepare and then wait, which is what we are doing.
Some of you may have heard that there is a call from the international community to discontinue sending unaccompanied minors out of Haiti because of how difficult it will be to reconnect them with family. That does make sense. However, orphanges are being robbed of their food and water by starving people, and there are reports of unaccompanied children being claimed by strangers and then sold. Also, birth certificates and other information are absent so it is quite difficult matching kids with parents, especially the very young. I'm glad I'm not in a position to have to make decisions regarding who goes and who stays.
Luckily, Safe Families is uniquely positioned to welcome these children if they come because our host families are trained to love children and then give them up with grace if their families are found as the dust settles. Our primary goal has always been the reuniting of families. I was at the airport last night to get a better sense first had of the process and need. Adults and children were getting off. From my position, it looked like all the children were accompanied by a relative. I was later told that there were a number of unaccompanied children on that flight. I guess we will find out later today if/when we are called. There is also another flight tonight, and so on....
So... we hurry and wait. In my own spiritual journey, I've learned that this is a good practice. How quickly can I, my family, and my church be prepared to leverage everything we have (my family, money, home, possessions, etc.) for Kingdom purposes? The current Haiti crisis is compelling and forces us to loosen our hold on our money, possessions, homes, in order to act. Yet there are daily crises occuring in the lives of families who live right around us, which is how Safe Families first got started. In acknowedging our incredible capacity of Safe Families volunteers, the DCFS director said maybe this (Haiti crisis) is one of the reasons the Lord has been leading people over the past few years to live out biblical hospitality in their homes. If Safe Families hadn't recently grown so much in capacity because of the generous hearts of host families, Illinois would not be in as good of a position to assist (if needed) in this humanitarian crisis.
We are so excited that many new families are joining the movement and will be available to address the needs of domestic children after the Haitian crisis has lessened. The need is not just today and tomorrow. Flights wil not end even after 30 days. Millions of people have been affected by this tragedy. Identifying and processing the most vulnerable will be an ongoing challenge that will likely take months, if not years. Hopefully, support systems will be established and strengthen so unaccompanied children will not have to be shipped off to a strange land. However, if that is needed, we will be ready.
If you don't like waiting (which I generally do not) and would like to help the adults and families getting off the plane, I'm told that most, if not all, are going to the Christian Instustrial League's Shelter in Chicago. I'm sure they can use help and financial support. We did offer to them Safe Families because I know that a number of you have expressed an interest in taking in parents and their children. What a gift. Relief and development agencies also need your help (e.g. World Vision, World Relief). Local Red Cross volunteers are processing people as they get off the plane. The response we've received from people in Chicagoland is incredible.
Thank you for having your friends and family contact us. It makes me proud to be a follower of Christ the way people have been willing to give us their homes (well not literally). We are still processing new host families. DCFS has not been told what might be coming so we don't know the need.
If you are angry, I'm sorry. Some have demanded that we send them kids. This isn't a competition or a race. This catastrophy isn't about us or our needs. If you are impatient, I'm sorry. There is so much uncertainty, and the information we receive from DCFS changes multiple times a day. I've always understood the importance of compassion and hospitality as being foundations for the Christian life. However, I've never really understood why Christ mentions humility as being so important. Now I get it. A humble, compassionate Christian/Church is soothing and powerful.
Thanks. I love the Church.
P.S. If you would like to become a host family, go to http://www.safe-families.org/ and complete an application.