15 years ago in Madison Street Jail, level 5, block 3 God began readying my heart for foster care. I graduated from college with a degree in Biblical-Theological studies and got married weeks later. Knowing that pastoral ministry was God’s long-term call, I wanted to do something that would impact me and impact others, but outside of traditional vocational ministry. A billboard on the highway promoting the need for Detention Officers struck a chord and six months later I stood dressed head to foot in starched brown in a concrete box in downtown Phoenix that was Maricopa County’s Maximum Street Jail.
It was in this inhospitable box that God began to show me not just the impact of individual sin, but the impact of structural sin, and this was no more apparent than in 5-3, where I worked my last year at Madison. 5-3 housed juvenile inmates. Madison Street Jail is an adult, not juvenile jail. However, juveniles who commit crimes that are violent enough can be remanded to an adult facility. And so, the 3000 square feet that made up 5-3 housed the worst 120 juveniles in all of Maricopa County.
Can you imagine how it must feel to be a 16 year old dropped in the middle of that environment? It didn’t take long as an officer to see straight through the façade these young men put up and see kids, who, for the most part, were born with the tracks of their lives leading straight to this place: dad, uncles, and cousins were all part of the neighborhood gang that made up the entire lives of these kids growing up. To land anywhere else than Madison 5-3 would have been the true miracle. The tracks were set at birth.
It was seeing the impact of these broken family structures that prepared my heart for God’s call to step in on the front end of this brokenness in foster care. We who foster know we’re no heroes – we’re broken people ourselves who must rely on grace. And we know that ultimately the kids we care for will be responsible for the choices they make, no matter their circumstances. But we also know that, perhaps, by God’s grace and opening the doors of our home, the tracks of one child can be directed away from 5-3 and toward hope. I pray that every night as I lay our two handsome little foster boys down to sleep: “Redirect their tracks, Lord.”
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