There is a fundamental question every believer must face, “If we don’t care for those Jesus described as ‘the least of these’, then how are we doing as believers?”
In Matthew 25 Jesus said it twice in different ways. First, He said in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Then, after more of the parable, He added, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
To read the full parable, go to Matthew 25:31-46. The message of this parable is clear; by serving those in need, we serve Jesus. If we ignore those needs, we have not served Jesus. No, you can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but is wringing your hands and saying the problem is just too big a real reason to do nothing? Jesus says no.
Who are “the least of these?” What needs do they have? One example is the largely overlooked foster children of the Tampa Bay area. There are hundreds of children out of their homes for a variety of reasons, many of them removed due to an unhealthy home environment – and many of those home environments reflecting an unhealthy community. For a quick view of just a few of the current needs, go to Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay.
At The Idlewild Foundation and Idlewild Baptist Church, we are working to make a difference. The Idlewild Foundation is committing resources to partner with Idlewild to impact what we call the forgotten children.
How bad is this problem? It is big enough that the problem has expanded far beyond just the issues faced by the foster child.
Picture a 27 year old lady who has given up her boyfriend. He made her chose between him or her 15 year old foster child! As a result, she lost transportation and will soon lose all of her furniture. But being a foster parent meant more than convenience. She made a commitment to God and to her foster child, and she stayed firm with her commitment despite the cost.
God took care of those details and helped her – He always does.
Now, The Idlewild Foundation is stepping in to help not just her but hundreds more. There are hundreds of foster homes still needed. There is clothing, furniture, car seats, shoes, diapers, and even volunteer guardians ad litem needed.
Imagine a teenage lady saved from sex trafficking by law enforcement. But she has nothing but the clothes she is wearing. What options does she have? What does she eat for her next meal and how does she pay for it? Where does she sleep tonight? What does she wear tomorrow? What is her next step?
She will very likely end up receiving clothes (and the gospel as well as a lot of love) at Loft 181, a unique facility helping teenage girls in need. She may find care at a facility such as Bridging Freedom, but their facilities and resources are limited. She may also end up in another foster facility, but they are also stretched to the limit – and beyond. She may go to a foster home and be helped by a family, but there are too few homes and the support provided to the foster parents from the state is too limited.
Now take the next step in your imagination. The young teenage girl is spiritually, emotionally and relationally damaged – and her education is way behind. Of course she is far behind; she has been used as a sex object and nothing more, often for years. There is special training needed for the foster parents to deal with the relational and emotional damage from the life she has lived. But the cost is significant and where are the foster parents going to find the time to take that training? They are struggling to deal with the day-to-day events and hold their own family and household together.
And that is only the beginning. What happens when she “ages out?” When she reaches 18 and becomes a legal adult, a lot changes in the eyes of the state. While there is still some help available, it is a tragic time for many foster children because they may move to being jobless and homeless, and end up back in sex trafficking, drugs and crime.
Is that scenario real? Yes, every day all around the country, but especially here in the Tampa Bay area, one of the worst problem areas in the nation. Let me ask again, how bad is this problem?
• There are 300,000 children in the U.S. are prostituted annually (ndaa.org)
• The average age that a trafficked victim is first used for commercial sex is 12 (DHS). But at least one four-year-old girl was forced into sex trafficking and not found and freed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office until she was eight.
• 2,700 child sex-trafficking victims have been rescued by the FBI in the U.S. the past 10 years (FBI Innocence Lost Initiative), 52 in the Tampa Bay area alone in one recent year.
• Florida’s rank in the number of calls received by the national human trafficking hotline is number 3 in the nation. (Polaris Project)
And those are just the human sex trafficking numbers. Those numbers are dwarfed by the number of children in foster care for other reasons. 19,000 children are in foster care in the state of Florida. That’s a small city of girls many of whom are hurting and unloved. US News did a report, recently updated, and the news was beyond depressing. Read Florida took thousands of kids from families, then failed to keep them safe. But the solution doesn’t lie in more government spending or new government programs. Government is not the answer, Jesus is.
But don’t just learn more – step up and help. Make a few minutes available to volunteer to offer support for those we call the nearly forgotten children. Pray about committing to be a foster parent. And give a few dollars to help those in such desperate need. The Idlewild Foundation has started Fund 1:27, based upon the words of the James,
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I know the common response. The problem is so great, what can I do that will make a difference?
The Department of Children and Families for the state of Florida has given some ideas for how you can get started. To their ideas, I have added a few more, many of which The Idlewild Foundation is doing using the resources God has entrusted to us. 100% of every donation to Fund 1:27 goes to foster care. Not one dime, not one penny, goes to overhead, administration or anything else!
Support these families with:
• Free haircuts, dental care, clothing or transportation.
• Free services based on your business: construction, home furnishings, family dinners at restaurants, mechanic services.
• Scholarships or free lessons for summer camp, sports, dance, art or music.
Help the children and their families by:
• Donate to our Fund 1:27
• Providing school supplies (books, pencils, book bags, paper, a backpack)
• Providing jobs for older youth
• Mentoring a child
• Helping with after-school care
• Free annual passes for the family to go to ZooTampa or the Florida Aquarium
• Helping with trips to the doctor or dentist or just grocery shopping
Contribute money or donate goods:
• For scholarships, field trips, or music lessons
• For holidays, especially Christmas and Easter, birthdays, and graduations
• Clothing for the start of each school year
• Other items such as car seats, beds, dressers, highchairs, a crib, toys, luggage, or clothes
Support agencies and the court system by:
• Recruiting foster/adoptive parents in your community
• Hosting social events for foster/adoptive parents (picnics, parties, bowling)
• Volunteer to be a guardian ad litem. It isn’t an effort to make you into a lawyer. Instead it makes you a supporter of a child who desperately needs an advocate to speak on his of her behalf.
Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Think Jesus:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.