By: Navy Schrock and Jen Potter
Do we view our homes as castles we retreat to, a place to hide from the world and it’s worries? Even within the church, many see their home as a place where they can shut out the stresses and unpleasant aspects of life. This can lead to our homes becoming a place where hospitality is the exception, not the norm. When we do invite others in, it is usually friends or family who we enjoy spending time with, not strangers or people in need.
The Potter’s Safe Families story instead demonstrates biblical hospitality. In the eyes of the world it is a radical shift in thinking. Our homes should be a sanctuary, yes, but not only for ourselves and our friends, but also for the least of these. Radical biblical hospitality is offering sanctuary to those who have nothing to offer in return, but have great need. By opening their lives and their home to families in need, the Potters have shown that the home is one of the most valuable resources we have been given to minister to others.
Five years ago, when Eric and Jen Potter joined the Safe Families for Children movement in Fort Wayne, they were actually in the application process with another hosting organization. They had been interested for some time in becoming a host family for children from other countries coming to the U.S for surgeries and other medical needs. A medical hosting opportunity came to the area right as Safe Families for Children was started in Fort Wayne. The Potters wanted to support Safe Families in Fort Wayne, so they chose to serve with their church through SFFC instead of doing medical missions at that time. They began as a host family and have filled several other roles over the past 5 years—to do whatever was needed to help the Safe Families ministry succeed.
Serve as a Family
The Potters have learned what it means to serve as a family using your home as a ministry resource.
Eric: It’s interesting that Safe Families is a ministry in your home. A lot of other ministries are things we go to, and then we’re done. Having this ministry that’s so much a part of your life changes how you view it. It certainly grew the way we think about hospitality in terms of how we can use our home and our family as a center of ministry and not use it as a retreat away from the problems of the world. I assumed it would be much harder on our family dynamic to have additional children in our home, but it was rarely like that. The kids get to see how we handle different situations. They get to contribute both in sharing their things and sharing their time. It has been a great way for all of us to grow together in selflessness and love for others.
Show Radical Hospitality
Radical biblical hospitality is not flashy. In fact the act of opening your home to the least of these can seem rather insignificant in the moment. What makes this type of hospitality radical is the motivation behind it: showing the love of Christ.
Jen: What you do day in and day out as a host family is very unglamorous. You’re wiping noses and changing diapers and lying on the floor next to the bed of a child who can’t go to sleep. In my selfishness, it can be inconvenient to my schedule or my well-laid plans. Ministering to these kids in crisis can be hard at times, and I think Safe Families has really taught me what it means to serve as unto the Lord. Because in those moments when you don’t feel like it and it’s hard, it’s such an opportunity. The joy comes from the Lord. Doing the work of ministering to these kids as a family has been true joy and an experience I cherish.
Eric: We’ve had many different hostings over the years, lasting anywhere from a few days to several months. We’ve had all different ages of kids in our home. With the younger kids, it’s really about showing them consistency, patience, and love. With the older kids, you have more opportunities for conversations and get to know them or answer their questions about why we pray or who God is.
One of the more difficult placements we had was for two children, for two weeks, over Christmas. The temperature outside hovered around zero degrees the entire time, so the kids couldn’t go outside and play.
Jen: What made it difficult was I didn’t have enough seats in my 7 passenger van to take all five of my children plus two more anywhere while Eric was at work, so we were trapped in the house—me and 7 children under 8. That was an interesting week!
But the wonderful thing was that we took the kids to our family Christmases. It was a neat experience for our extended families because they’d never heard of anything like Safe Families. We had to drive two cars to all our family get-togethers to get us all there. Our families thought we were crazy! At the same time, it was a great opportunity to explain why we do this. One of my favorite memories of that Christmas is the conversations sparked by Safe Families. It was wonderful to see our family wrap their arms around these kids, making sure they had gifts to open too and felt included and loved while away from their family for the holidays.
Safe Families has definitely broadened our view of biblical hospitality. When it comes to taking a placement, there’s never going to be a perfect time to add more children to your schedule and plans. If we waited for perfect conditions—when we had nothing else going on—we would never take a placement. Our friend Steve Dusseau always reminds us “the smallest obedient act is better than the greatest intention.” I’ve found that to be true for me with Safe Families. I can say yes to God because I know He’s going to work out the details.
Along with biblical hospitality, the Potters learned about the power of community. Safe Families is designed to build community for vulnerable families who are socially isolated, and it accomplishes this by empowering the local church to serve together as the body of Christ.
Jen: I learned through Safe Families that poverty is more than just a lack of money. Poverty is a lack of resources of any kind. Family support, reliable friends, options of any kind! I just happen to have resources of trusted friends and family. I have people who can care for my kids when I am in a pinch. Being a safe family is simply being friends and family to people who don’t have that. When I’m in a crisis I can turn to my mom, or my sisters, or my friends. This past year when I was being treated for breast cancer, they showed up in a big way! I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have anyone trustworthy or safe for my children in a crisis situation. My heart goes out to these moms. If the body of Christ can’t do this for them, where can they turn? Realizing that poverty is not only a lack of physical resources but also a lack of support really transformed my thinking!
Safe Families can sound like a difficult ministry because of the time commitment. But the Potters explained how the community of church volunteers enables them to serve.
Jen: The great thing about Safe Families is that I’ve never felt like I can’t ask for help. I never feel like as a host family you’re left on your own to handle all the needs of the child in your care. The way Safe Families is set up enables you to say yes, no matter what is going on in your life, because other volunteers can support you and help you do it. Anything from babysitting or driving kids to school, to respite or meals—you don’t have to do it on your own.
Eric: It was also neat that there were a lot of other families we have gotten to know better because of Safe Families.
Jen: I did not expect we’d make friends from other churches all over our city. It has been really cool to see the body of Christ coming together from all parts of Fort Wayne. It’s really exciting to see what God has done in only five years! It’s offered an avenue for people to love their neighbor and also really helped our city. There are so many people who need the love of Christ.
Through using their home as a ministry tool instead of a retreat, the Potters have been able to learn what it means to show the love of Christ as a family. Even in a ministry based out of the home, the local church has an opportunity to come together and build community for the socially isolated in their city who seek help through Safe Families. Hospitality may not be glamorous, but it provides the opportunity to share the Gospel and minister to people Christ calls us to love.