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Separated in foster care, brothers, sisters reconnect

DeRIDDER, La. (BP)–The younger sister sits behind her brother, her arms firmly clasped around his neck. Most 15-year-old brothers might shun such open displays of affection from a 10-year-old younger sister; this brother does not.
This is one of the rare times the brother and sister are together. They live in separate foster homes and have for several years. But this weekend, they are able to enjoy one another in a camp retreat conducted and structured for just such siblings.
“The best part of the retreat was seeing my brother,” notes another retreat participant, 16-year-old Natasha. “It has been a while since we got to see each other,” she says about her 12-year-old brother.
When asked how long she has lived separated from him or just how long she has been in a foster home, her answer is a vague, “It’s been a while.” Perhaps vagueness about how many days, months and years helps keep the reality less painful.
The retreat was held at Dry Creek Baptist Conference Center near DeRidder, La., this summer under the direction of Richard Bullock, who grew up in the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home in Monroe.
Thirty-five teenagers and older children representing 14 family units attended the meeting that included group recreation, free time to spend with siblings, seminars offering kids help on dealing with their circumstances and enthusiastic worship.
“The first few years at the home, my brothers and sisters and I lived in separate cottages,” Bullock recalls. “Even then, that was painful because we usually just waved at each other across the campus.”
Bullock, pastor of Elton Baptist Church, grew more and more convinced he should initiate such a retreat for siblings who live in separate foster homes.
“Primarily, I knew the siblings needed time to enjoy being with each other, to re-bond and just get to know each other better,” he says.
About a year ago, he began organizing the camp and consulting with officials who work for the state in the foster home program in the southwestern part of the state.
It was an act of faith. There was no funding, no major underwriting for such a program and no organization with built-in volunteers to conduct the retreat. For more than a year, he enlisted people to help with the retreat and turned to any sympathetic ear to raise the money. An article in the Baptist Message state newsjournal brought some volunteers and money. The rest, Bullock enlisted.
“We were able to have the entire retreat for around $2,300,” Bullock says.
“Money came in extremely well. At first, I was not able to buy the kind of Bible I wanted to give each participant. I was able to give them only a New Testament. But since then, some more money has come in and I will be able to provide them each one the kind of Bible I think will be helpful to them.”
There were enough volunteers to meet the retreat needs.
One of the volunteers was Tim Lee, a 20-year-old who spent nine years in foster homes, the last eight years in the same one, separated from four siblings.
“I never lived in a foster home with any of them, and I did not see them much,” Tim says. “I could relate to their [retreat participants’] hurts and pain — I have been through the same situations.”
Tim says that as the retreat progressed, some of the kids really opened up and “shared with us their hurts of their pasts, and we were able to minister to them.”
Ben, a personable, polite 11-year-old, agreed the conversation was important. “We talked a lot, and that helped,” he says. He has a brother and a sister in separate foster homes. Both of them were at the retreat.
Bullock says one of the most touching times of the retreat came when cards and pins were given to each participant, who were encouraged to “write down any question you have about our situation.”
“Questions that would break your heart” included: “Who would adopt me?” “When will me and my brothers and sisters ever be a family again?” “Why do I have to be in foster care?” “How long before going home to a real mother?” “Why can’t life be easy?” “Why did my family treat me so bad?”
Bullock says about the initial retreat, “We knew going in this would be a learning experience.” But all the participants seem to think it was “a great time” and they are ready to return to the same kind of experience next year, he notes.
“We will more than likely have a few more children next year, but not more than 50,” Bullock says. “We hope others will conduct this kind of experience in other parts of the state, and even in other states. I would love to consult with them and share what we learned and get them off to a great start.”
Bullock says another touching time was when the siblings had to say goodbye and head to their separate foster homes.
“We had a hard time getting some of them apart to leave,” he recounts.
“They just didn’t want to let go of each other.”
Tim Lee, who is presently associate pastor at Rapides Station Baptist Church near Alexandria, and getting ready to start his education for ministry, was not surprised by the value of appreciation participants placed upon the retreat.
“I think it was a success mostly because when you minister to the less fortunate, you cannot go wrong,” he says.

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  • Lynn Clayton