by Tom Sims
Little Billy stands at the window and looks out with a gaze that balances hope and disappointment. Mommy is scheduled to visit. Billy is dressed in his Sunday best. His hair is combed to one side. He stares into the dark sunlight of an endless day bringing no fulfillment. Mommy never comes. Billy is, for all practical purposes, an orphan.
Pretty Priscilla has a ribbon in her hair. Her sweet smile disguises years of abuse, but every now and then, something startles her and she jumps. She has been in six foster homes. Before that, she lived in four motels, a van, two cars, and a tent. She likes her foster family, but they are an emergency placement. Everyone tells her that someday she will have a forever family. She wonders when. She has almost lost hope. Priscilla is an orphan.
Baby Bradley wakes up in the middle of the night crying like a normal baby. What is normal? Bradley may never walk or talk. A chemical cocktail intended to silence the tormented screams of an addicted mother, malnutrition, and the angry fist of his reluctant father into his mother’s pregnant belly have given him the label, “special needs.” But Bradley’s arms reach out for someone to pick him up and rock him like any other baby. Bradley is an orphan.
These orphans are composites of many who live in Fresno County, children without forever families, children in crisis, little ones lost in a system that is straining to provide basic services to over 2000 children in foster care. They are the orphans of a city with nearly 500 churches.
What if there was an entire city without orphans?
That is the vision of Whitney and Daniel Bunker. In their 20s, Daniel is a pastor on staff at a church and Whitney was a social worker contemplating a career in counseling. In the course of living their lives and pursuing their dreams, they were ambushed by a calling. Through personal observations, workshops, and exposure to the problem of children without permanent homes, they began to sense God’s leadership to become involved in the solutions.
Starting with a workshop, called “Fostering and Adoption 101,” the couple launched “City Without Orphans” in early 2011.
Their mission statement reads:
“The Mission of City Without Orphans is to equip and partner with churches, families and service providers to help all children in the Fresno County child welfare system be placed in a loving home.”
It is that simple and at least that complicated.
Their vision comes from a biblical view of the City of God, New Jerusalem. There are no more orphans in that city. There is no death, sorrow, or crying and no more pain. Christians pray for that kingdom to come at the end of time, but also are called to work for its manifestation in the here and now. If the heavenly vision is for a city without orphans, it stands to reason that a people who pray the model prayer would also be seeking such a city in their own times.
Whitney Bunker believes that Fresno can be such a city and can be an example to other cities. She believes that every child should reside in a loving home – no exceptions.
City Without Orphans is a non-profit corporation committed to seven values:
• We believe anything is possible.
• We believe every child deserves a loving family.
• We believe in the local church.
• We believe in collaborative power.
• We believe in results over methods.
• We believe every person can contribute.
• We believe in stewardship and excellence.
They seek to live out these values and accomplish their goal with these strategies which are expounded upon on their web site: engaging churches, equipping churches to engage their congregations, helping churches organize special events to advocate for the needs of children in the foster care system, helping churches educate families who are interested in fostering/adopting, helping churches mobilize people who want to help in other ways, helping churches support foster and adoptive families, and keeping everyone connected.
At the core of the program is a three hour workshop “designed for families and individuals who are interested in foster care and adoption or simply want to learn more about it.”
The workshop covers issues related to foster care and adoption, various forms of adoption, how homes are approved by social service agencies, finding the right agency, biblical and theological bases for adoption and foster care, and financial concerns. There is a time for questions at the end of every workshop and resource people present include foster and adoptive parents, social workers, mental health professionals, and representatives from county and private agencies.
Follow up includes access to these agencies, a 45 page workbook, and networking opportunities.
CWO wants to create a culture of support which includes foster/adoption-friendly churches, support groups, easy access to resources, help with practical needs, clothes closets in churches, assistance with Christmas gift-giving, support for professionals in the field, and a constant flow of information. The organization is positioned to educate pastors and churches and to help them educate their people.
When asked what one thing she would like every Christian to know about the issue, Whitney Bunker responds, “If I could say one thing to every Christian, it would be an encouragement to seek God and ask him how God is calling them (and their church body collectively) to live out James 1:27. I don’t say ‘if’ because as we look at the scriptures, it is clear that this is a biblical mandate to all believers. I say ‘how’ because each church (or believer) has a specific mission and calling. You don’t have to just do foster care or adoption to care for the ‘orphan.’”
Furthermore, she continues, “Yes, what children in the foster care system mainly need is a loving home, but that is for a few chosen. It is important for everyone to know that they can do something! ”
What does she mean by something? What are some specific ways to help? Some of these suggestions can be found on the website and Facebook page, but Bunker says, “Are you a photographer or is it a gifted hobby? Take photos of families who finalized their adoption and bless them with a new family portrait, or bless a child in foster care with their senior photo shoot and portrait. Could you mentor a youth? Advocate for a child in court through CASA, a local non-profit. People have organized drives of duffel bags for kids coming into foster care with trash bags in their hands. These are all tangible examples of living out this scripture. City Without Orphans wants to mobilize believers on the individual and congregational level to do just this!”
In other words, the possibilities are vast and the opportunities are as enormous as the needs.
Churches can sponsor workshops, presentations, or displays. If a church has an idea, Whitney is open to discussion. Mostly, what is needed is support … for the organization and the cause, but even more, for the families that undertake the “calling” to be a big part of the solution. “Wrap Around Families” are communities that come alongside foster and adoptive families to be supportive and encouraging.
“Every time we ask foster/adoptive parents “what’s the one thing you would like to see from this ministry?” the answer comes back the same: ‘we want more support from our church family!’”
It is not an easy calling. It has unique challenges as well as rewards. There are heartbreaks and joys. There are risks and there is the potential for failure – just like natural parenthood. But fostering and foster-adopting is not just for super-parents. It is for people like my wife and I who raised two foster adopt sons and came back years later to be part of the foster system as a foster family.
It is for families like the Bunkers who have been walking through the adoption process themselves.
One of the most joyful times in the whole process is the adoption ceremony and party. Northpoint Community Church where Daniel Bunker serves as Student Pastor recently hosted such a celebration complete with a judge, cake, and balloons.
Perhaps, there will come a day when Fresno County will be one great city/county without orphans and Billy, Priscilla, and Bradley will find their forever homes.
For more information, visit: http://www.citywithoutorphans.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/pages/City-Without-Orphans/106548196100203
Whitney Bunker can be contacted by email at: Whitneybunker@citywithoutorphans[dot]com
Next Workshop: Saturday, May 18 at Radiant Church 388 NW 3rd Ave. Visalia, CA 93291 from 9am-12pm. Snacks and childcare provided. Please pre-register age and number of children on form.
Support Group: Central Valley Christian Alliance for Orphans monthly meeting is the 4th Monday from 7-8:30 p.m. at Campus Bible Church Rm. 202A, Fresno, CA
Check out this moving video about City Without Orphans: