“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7, ESV)
All throughout God’s Word, there is much to do about farming and agriculture, as that is what they did for so many years. Paul, while writing to the church in Corinth, compares ministry to farming. And for the moment, I am going to leave you with that thought, and come back to this spot in a short while.
I am Jonathan Bradley, and I am a house parent. Now, for anyone not familiar with Child Welfare, you probably have no idea what I, and my wife and children, do for a living. Well, we parent. In a nutshell, from Sunday nights through Friday afternoons/evenings, we have 10-11 fourth through sixth graders that live with us while they attend a non-profit private boarding school. We live in a house (called a cottage) on the campus of the school, and we parent these children when they are in our care. We get them up in the morning, we welcome them back to the cottage after school. We help with their homework. And we correct them when they step out of line (and boy do they step out of line from time to time!). So, in effect, it’s almost like we are “professional parents,” while I don’t really agree that we are because we are just as imperfect as the next set of parents, I do say that this has been a calling on our lives. I say “our lives” because it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not just me, or my wife, or the two of us. Our four children are also involve and invested in this lifestyle of ours.
A typical day for us begins around 5:30am, when we wake up and make coffee, all without (hopefully) waking up our own children. Then we head out into the cottage and get a few things ready in the morning. Then, we wake up the children that are staying with us, all ten of them, at 5:45am. For the next hour, they are getting ready for school, cleaning their dorm rooms, and doing their house chores. Then, at 6:45, they line up for pavement. What’s pavement you ask? Why, there is a military component to this school (though not directly affiliated with the military). It’s in place to help build up self-discipline and give the students a sense of pride. From pavement, we go to the dining hall for breakfast. They get out of school around 2:50pm and shortly begin to file into the cottage, with some coming late because of detentions or the whatnot. We then do homework for an hour followed by the girls changing into play clothes. Then at 4:45pm, back to pavement, and onto dinner. After dinner, we go to the park while some girls go to various extra curricular activities throughout the week. Then, ultimately, at 8:30pm, they have in-rooms followed by lights out at 8:45pm. One of us then stays up one hour after they fall asleep, doing regular room checks, before we get to go to bed ourselves.
Now, back to farming. I’ve come to realize that in all the places we have been house parents at (including a boy’s ranch and a foster care place), we aren’t the ones who do the watering. We aren’t even the ones who do the planting. We plow. Now, it was not until my missiology class that I ever realized that a person could be used by God for just plowing. When people think of reaching the lost for Christ, the first thing they think of is the great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, ESV). Too many people see this as a command to go and immediately be making disciples as soon as you get to where you’re going. Now don’t get me wrong here, I know this happens, and it happens often I think. However, there are many fields out there that are not ready for the harvest as soon as one gets out there.
House parenting is definitely one of those fields.
The children that we serve are very, very rough around the edges. And, for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, they are incredibly street smart and know things that I didn’t even dream of knowing when I was their age. They are all a product of selfishly self-centered, all about the me, my, I culture that has been engrained into all of us through social media, television, movies, and music. All about what can I do to get what I want to benefit me all the while not really caring about those around me. What you have just read is the soil that we come to in order to plow and make ready for hearing the gospel. When seeds get sown into the lives of the children we work with, we don’t want them to fall along the path, the rocky ground, nor amongst the thorns. We want the seeds to fall into the good soil.
“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:8, ESV).
That “good soil” doesn’t just happen by itself. The ground has to be worked. Plowed. Made ready. God wants us to work. He commands work, even of Adam before the fall in Genesis 3: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, ESV). I am a house parent because this is where God has me. This is the work God has me and my family doing. We are plowing. We sow when we can, but our primary mission here for kingdom work is plowing. And I and my family will continue to plow all to the Glory of God!
Why do we keep going when they twist our words and try to use them against us? To bring glory to God.
Why do we keep loving and praying when we get yelled and cursed at? To glorify God.
Why do we not just walk out when a girl throws a crystal vase at my wife and a metal picture frame at me? To glorify God.
Why do I read for 30 or so minutes every night to the children we work with, and then not get to go to bed until just before 11pm? Because God is enough for me, and it is my prayer that He calls (John 6:44) some of those that I work with to His Son, Jesus Christ.
I am a house parent, and this is what I do: Plow