Why Foster When You Can Retire? - Making room in my heart for more
What am I doing fostering children when I could be enjoying my retirement?
For several years, I was the obstacle to my wife Joyce’s desire to foster. We have 3 grown-up children and they are all independent. I felt like I had finally earned my freedom.
In 2013, I was working as a regional IT Director for an American company. It was a demanding job with frequent travel and conference calls in the evenings. In addition, Joyce and I both served in a number of ministries in our church.
What little time we had to ourselves was for us. We could dine out, catch a movie or take short trips to places like Malaysia, Hong Kong or Taiwan. Bringing young children into our lives would put a stop to these fun activities. It simply did not appeal to me.
Yet, the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) had made a deep impression on me. The man was robbed, stripped naked and left on the side of the road half dead. He was completely helpless and needed someone to rescue him. First came a Priest. If anyone would love sacrificially, it would be this man. But no, he couldn't be bothered. Then came a Levite, another believer. He too, ignored the victim. Finally, the victim was rescued by the Good Samaritan who risked his life to show compassion to the man.
I found it infuriating that the two religious people didn't do their part. Perhaps they were so busy serving God that they had no time to really serve God. Still, I told myself, I never want to be like them. In fact, I was one of them.
Until God frees room in my heart...
One evening in October 2013, my wife received a message about an 8-month-old baby girl in the KK Hospital. She had spent most of her young life until then in and out of hospital and desperately needed a home.
That was my Good Samaritan moment. Was I going to be like the first two selfish men? Or was I compassionate enough to help?
Joyce and I looked around our 3-bedroom HDB flat that night and decided we could fit a baby cot in the study room. I discovered that when I found room in my heart, finding space in our home was easy.
Dora — still a baby
Dora (not her real name) came to us when she had just turned one. She is now four-and-a-half years old. She can speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese. She loves to dance and sing. She runs pretty fast on her short little legs as well. She’s a happy little girl, smiling all day long until she goes to bed.
Being 61 myself, Dora’s playmates sometimes think I’m her “Gong Gong” (grandfather). Dora corrects them and tells them I’m her “Baba” (Dad). I feel proud rather than awkward when I correct others’ misunderstandings as Dora does. But she has certainly melted my heart. Once, I stepped on something at home and hurt my foot. Dora ran to me and ‘sayang’ (soothed) my “pain pain” by rubbing the sore area with her tiny fingers, then kissed that spot and assured me, “You will be well soon.”
At my age, there weren’t too many things I hadn’t seen or done. But Dora’s curiosity quickly expanded my imagination too. A dried leaf from the sidewalk could end up on my pillow as a piece of her “nature art”. The same goes for rubber bands. Through her eyes, I have rediscovered the beauty of God’s little creations around us.
Watching her grow and playing with her has brought more joy and delight than any of those dinners, movies and short trips could ever deliver.
Cinderella — the plight of older children
Living two years with Dora ‘expanded’ our hearts’ desire, and we decided to foster more children. We moved into a 4-bedroom home with more space. Around that time, Joyce came to know a friend who runs a children’s home. Affirming sound theories, this friend believes that children do much better in a family environment rather than in institutional homes. Despite the best facilities and programs at these institutions, the children are missing one thing - a stable figure, someone they can call mommy and daddy, or auntie and uncle. Unfortunately, once a child is older than 6 or 7, his or her chance of finding a foster home will diminish rapidly. So we decided to foster an older child.
Joyce’s friend picked Cinderella for us. She was 10 then and had spent half her life in the Children’s Home.
Cinderella yearned for her mother’s love intensely, but her mother would visit her two sons at the same Home and ignore Cinderella. It’s hard to imagine the pain of rejection experienced by this girl. It was only after we had spent almost a year at the Home befriending her that she was ready to move in with us.
One evening when we went for a walk at the nearby park, Cinderella held Joyce’s hand, looked up at her and said, “This feels like a family.” We pray that she will experience love within our home.
Jack & Jill - an unexpected pair
Another evening, we were urgently approached to consider taking in a pair of siblings for just one night. We were to provide a temporary place while the social worker looked for another family the following day. We’ll call them Jack and Jill. He was seven years old and she was four.
It is traumatic for children to be moved from home to home. As it turned out, both of them adapted to us quickly and became playmates with Dora and Cinderella. The social worker must have been relieved that in the end, the two of them stayed not just one day, but until circumstances permitted them to go home.
They became accustomed to always praying before each meal, and loved when it was their turn to pray. Jack says he is a Christian and he loves Bible stories. Their bedtime routine included stories, hugs and prayers. My home became filled with a chorus of “Auntie Joyce”, “Auntie Joyce” all day long. Sometimes they would get confused and call me Auntie Joyce!
We thank God that the twins were able to go home to their mother in December. We still keep in touch and arrange for play dates from time to time.
We are not sure how we manage
We are not special. We are simply answering the call of our Savior who has given us everything. It is He who has given Joyce and I the capacity to love these children, and the energy to persevere.
You might wonder whether my life has become more burdensome? Have we suffered as a couple, with more children in our home?
The answer is NO! Absolutely not! Guarding my own free time and comfort would be like hoarding the five loaves and two fishes in my private possession. They wouldn’t go very far. But when turned over to Jesus, He can feed more than 5000 people and still have plenty of leftovers. These days, we are more dependent on God than ever. We are delighted that we can honour Him with our small acts of obedience, and experience more joy and fulfillment than before.
I used to believe that retirement would be the time to finally do all the things I didn't have time to do. I had earned my freedom to see the world, to indulge in whatever delight I wished for. I later realized that our modern affluent culture may see it this way, but the Biblical view is radically different. As a Christian, I am no longer my own. I am purchased with the blood of Jesus. I belong to Him. I will keep serving Him until the day I meet Him. It is not my prerogative to say that “because I have reached retirement age , my life suddenly belongs to me to do whatever I want”.
We are delighted that we can honour Him with our small acts of obedience, and experience more joy and fulfillment than before.
Joyce and I often imagine that when it’s time for us to go to Heaven, it will be marvelous if we meet again some of these children we have fostered!
Too Teh Hsin has worked for an American MNC for 36 years. He resigned and joined his church as a Pastoral Intern in 2016. Teh Hsin and Joyce are active in promoting fostering in Singapore and belong to Home for Good Singapore, a network of Christian foster families. They have 3 adult children and are currently fostering 3 girls, aged 4, 9 and 11.