Expressions of Our Christian Community

By Joyce Moffitt and Jessica Darnell – Greater Chicago Chapter

In 2003, the Safe Families for Children movement began in Chicago. Our goal then and now is to engage
families via faith communities to open their hearts and homes to care for children and their struggling families. Since then, we’ve had nearly 7,000 children placed into 1,400 Host Family homes. We currently have more than 1,200 volunteers opening their homes and hearts to more than 1,000 children each year in the Chicagoland area. We work closely with The Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) to prevent child abuse and neglect to reduce the number of children entering the child welfare system. We also receive referrals from other community partners such as hospitals, schools, social service agencies, and parents themselves.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which
God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ephesians 2:10

Judy and Javier Maldonaldo started their Safe Families journey back in 2014. A few years earlier this couple suffered the devastating loss of their one-day-old baby. After taking some time to grieve and heal, Judy and Javier decided they had a lot of love to give, and to honor the legacy of their son, they wanted to become Safe Families volunteers. During their Home Screening interview, they were asked if emotionally they were ready to care for a newborn knowing the goal would be to reunite the baby with their parent. Without hesitation Judy responded, “I know what it is like to lose a child, and I would not want another mother to suffer this type of loss.”

Who knew back in 2014, this couple in September of 2022 would be asked to care for a newborn baby boy for 9 months while his mother completed her prison sentence? Who knew back then they would be asked to care for this child as if he was their own, and then work with the mom and her coach on a transition plan for him to be reunited with his mother. God knew, and He perfectly orchestrated these relationships and prepared Judy and Javier in advance for these good works. As sad as it is for this family to have this precious little one leave their home, they know his mama is doing the hard work to live a faith filled life that will enable her to parent her beautiful son.

As of this week, his mom who we will call “Jennifer”, is preparing to be paroled from a women’s correctional facility. She is forever grateful she was able to utilize Safe Families. Jennifer’s family was unable to care for a newborn due to advanced age and the baby’s father passed away before his birth. Left with no one to support her, foster care looked like the only option. While pregnant, Jennifer awaited sentencing in a county jail where she met a nurse who was familiar with Safe Families as her church
participates in the movement. Jenny was able to contact the intake line who paired her with the Maldonado family. In late summer of 2022, she gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy. She was released from custody to do so and was able to meet with the Maldonado family in person. They were able to pray together, cry together and start a beautiful relationship. Since that time, Jennifer has been able to receive pictures of her son on a regular basis. She visits him weekly via video calls and even in-person visits at the correctional facility. She feels this kind of relationship would not have been possible if her son had gone into state custody. Jennifer has also been able to receive supportive coaching from her Safe Families staff Coach and a volunteer Coach for the duration of her incarceration.

The coaches said it has been an honor and privilege to walk next to this mother, her family and the Maldonado’s. Safe Families for children is not pigeonholed to one type of ministry, but it encompasses all issues that stem from separation from God’s love. This story had so many barriers that it seem insurmountable. Legal issues, incarceration, addiction, homelessness, lack of community, and death of the child’s father. Others may have just chalked up the story to the next statistic, but not SFFC. God’s loving and redemptive hand has been all over this hosting and He is making these paths straight. The relationships that have formed between the placing parent and the host family have been amazing. Once Jennifer is paroled this week, she will be transitioning into a new life. One of recovery, one of a mother and most importantly finding her identity as child of God. While the process of transition will be gradual, Jennifer still plans to keep a relationship with the Maldonado family. She has asked them to be her son’s godparents. To be a constant and steady force in his life, pointing him back to Jesus.

The Maldonado’s are preparing for Jennifer’s return and leaning on the Lord to provide what they need. The host mom shared this adventure has been a lesson in surrender and redemption.” As sad as I will be to see him go, he’s going to be with his Mama, and she gets to watch him grow up. None of us have control over the days and the time that we have with our children. We are not the one to number their days, that is the Lord’s job. Safe Families reaffirms that everything, even parenting or our own walk here on this earth is temporary. When I am able to parent and care for others through that lens, all things are possible!”

The host dad holds close to the truth that God’s design for children is a loving home. “They are gifts from above and He has the plans for them, plans that are far above my own. As a father, as a spirit-led member of the body of Christ, we are prompted to be protectors. We are prompted by the Spirit to protect not just our own family, but the ones who can’t protect themselves. That doesn’t mean just this precious baby, but his family as well. It’s only by God’s power, that we are able to be that vessel of protection.”
Javier says that he is proud to be part of a ministry that crosses all barriers of race, social economic classes, and backgrounds to serve the Lord in this unique way. ” To be able to share and tell the heart of the gospel through this hosting makes it all worth it. Everywhere we go, people are always commenting and striking up conversations because he’s such a beautiful baby. These small interactions at a Bulls game or dinner have led to spirit-filled evangelism, in a way that would not have been possible without
this hosting. We are at our best when we are sharing and telling the love of Jesus.” This hosting is coming to an end, but these relationships will go on, and this beautiful story will continue to unfold. We are so grateful that the Lord prepared this host family in advance for these good works!