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“I Am the State”

By December 4, 2013 No Comments

How The Church and DHS are collaborating

At the end of October of 2013 Compassion Connect was privileged to host a banquet in honor of those who have contributed to the vision of Compassion Connect. It was a beautiful night, with candles, good food, and great company. As the group reflected on what they were thankful for, and how the Lord had blessed them, the once bare tree on stage sprang to life as garlands of leaves with ink on them laid gracefully on the branches. The leaves were covered with words spurred by the question, “What are you thankful for?” Grace, love, laughter, family, Compassion Connect, friends, a home, opportunities, sunshine, and numerous other words that symbolize the blessings that God has richly lavished on our lives transformed the bare branches. It was said that “from thanksgiving, comes life” and that was shown when the complete transformation of a tree, which almost looked dead, became radiantly beautiful within minutes.

All of the guests that were present had the privilege of hearing from a wonderful woman who works for the state of Oregon in Child Welfare.

Her name is Norene Owens and she came to share with us the type of impact that church serving as one body under Christ is having. She began by introducing herself, saying “I am the state” and for the state to be working with a faith based organization can be counterintuitive.

What follows are exerts from her absolutely captivating speech.

“In my nearly 20 years at Child Welfare, I have at times been overwhelmed by the bleak realities of what our children and families face, at times frustrated by the slow moving bureaucratic machinery and shifting political and economic winds, but the biggest heartache, acutely felt, was seeing too few examples of actual change, actual benefit from the State’s very serious insertion of itself into a family’s life.  Too few examples of how the State’s intervention really changed the projectory of a family culture of generational poverty, substance abuse, child neglect, criminal involvement.  Why?  Well, the answer is as old as time, and what I suspect most of you in this room would know automatically, and certainly what Milan knew – relationship.  We weren’t breaking cycles because – while the State could come in with help, some economic subsistence, referrals to services, attempts to put their children in a respite environment – most were unable to sustain the changes we were trying to achieve and we would witness this heartbreaking recycling back. People we worked with as children, back with their own children.  Why?  We were missing that most fundamental ingredient – connection.  That relationship of faith or community that is the hand up, not the hand out.  A relationship that is there when the State leaves.  That isn’t about authority and mandates but of love, service, mercy, and hope.  The kind of relationship that keeps us connected to the world, our families, our children – that tells us we are valuable and worthy and motivates us to keep going, to sustain the change that is hard and not natural yet.  Hope!  And, most definitely, acceptance.  To me, that is the fundamental outreach of Compassion Connect. “

So, the question arises, is it counterintuitive for the body of Christ to serve our community alongside state agencies?

“Compassion Connect has been an essential and integral partner in helping DHS connect, to connect neighbor to neighbor, to love and serve, building relationship and connection to people that will motivate and support them to make the profound and difficult changes for their good, and their children’s…Compassion Connect has participated with several other faith communities to physically make over lobbies and visitation room in all 9 tri-county DHS offices.  These visitation rooms are where parents, whose children are in foster care, get to visit with each other one hour a week.  I’ll never forget how impacted I was when one of the volunteers said to me, “You know, your spaces convey to the families how you feel about them.”  As I looked at the soiled couches, broken toys, windowless and empty wall, all I could think of was “What have we been saying???”

What would the church be saying if we didn’t work to meet the needs we see as tired employees, with under funded facilities struggle to help our community alone?

“Compassion Connect was working to remind young victims of sexual trafficking that they are beautiful and worthy; so was DHS.  Compassion Connect was working to provide the basic services of physical care; so was DHS.”

Two groups working toward the same goal can be powerful.

“…the mere act of standing up, of being vulnerable enough to offer a hand when you don’t know if it will be accepted, is bearing incredible fruit.  Those mustard seeds are moving mountains, folks.  The outreach to DHS by Compassion Connect and other faith communities has astoundingly included watering the parched seeds of compassion of the employees who, not unlike a lot of the families they served, were withering from vicarious trauma and lack of making the difference they desperately wanted.”

Now the impact of the church uniting to serve local DHS offices is part of their story, it is part of their success, it is part of the success that every individual who goes through the department of human services experiences.

And now…“There is a greater dignity in families who visit their children and meet their caseworkers in rooms that are bright and clean, where there are activities to remind them how to play and interact with their children in nurturing ways, where a rudderless teen defaulting to the streets can meet with those who remind them to dream of a prom dress and healthy romance, where a parent can be lifted by the ability to obtain basic medical care for their child.   Who knew that these connections could lessen that raw despair of isolation, that a neighbor’s outstretched hand could encourage someone to keep trudging that road to recovery, that unselfish service and a smile of welcome could make someone believe in their own possibilities?

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