Dropping toys in the toy donation bin for my local children’s home used to be my go-to answer if anyone asked me how to help kids in need. But one year, I learned something that stung a little. I found out they needed more than my football donation. They were desperate for something much more expensive and maybe even a little messy.
My Local Children’s Home Had Real Needs
Everything I thought I understood about what children’s homes needed changed when I began serving at a local group home for teenage boys. My first tour was in stark contrast to what I expected. They really didn’t need me to paint a fence, sort their clothes, or donate a football. I thought they would.
My guide took a serious tone when he told me they’re hard-pressed to find someone who will throw a football with their boys. After their lifetime of tragically broken relationships, healthy relationships were what these kids needed the most.
Up to this point in my life, I’d successfully avoided football throwing, but there was something about those words that moved me to get out of bed early Saturday mornings, get a box of donuts, and toss a football with these boys. I was paired in a mentor program with a quiet 15-year-old named Dakota.
Presence over Presents
That same year, my family traded our typical Christmas for a Christmas with Dakota and the other nine boys in his lodge. In all of our collective Christmases, it’s by far our family favorite.
Generous people all over the city had given 64 of this and 64 of that, something to cover every boy at the group home. There were gifts for 11-year-old boys, 12-year-old boys, and so on. But I had never been so thankful not to have a gift under the general tree.
That year, we were able to get personal presents for Dakota and the other boys in his lodge. It was an OU Snapback for K. because we knew he’d refuse anything else. And it was boxing gear for E. because he can only hit the brick wall bare-fisted so many times. It was Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans for D., and yes, we sat on the floor to try every single one. Our Christmas together was personal. We knew things that could only be known from Saturday donuts and football time.
That night, I prayed for every boy who slept in that lodge. I prayed that a personal gift would be a reminder of a real and personal God who knows us and loves us and wants to have a relationship with us.
The sad and stark reality is these boys and many other children sleep away from family, away from the comfort of a home—on Christmas night—not of their own volition, but because of the care they haven’t received in their young lives. The best thing we can do in response is take the Bible seriously.
We care for orphans. And we know that God places the lonely in families.
I didn’t know it at the time, but tossing a football at the local children’s home helped me find my son. That’s right! Dakota and I are family now. No one had ever stayed in Dakota’s life. But God healed his loneliness by giving him a forever family with me. And God fulfilled a lifelong vision I had for adopting.
My role in caring for an orphan started with showing up at a group home, then showing up again. Yours may be teaching them how to bake or play an instrument. It could be tutoring or mentoring. It may be playing checkers, watching movies, hosting holiday parties, or just getting approved to drive them to church. Your presence matters. It has the potential to rob Hell, grow Heaven, and alter the course of an entire family line.
I’ve been forever changed. I’m closer to Christ. I understand His love on a new level. And it came from throwing a football. What could God do in your life through relationships built at your local children’s home?