Failing Naika

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April 10, 2017

Failing Naika

By Pastor Vinnie

 

Niakia Venant AP stock photo. May she rest in the peace she was robbed of in life.

Naika was 14 years old when she killed herself in front of the whole world on the popular social media platform, Facebook Live. We can blame Facebook; many are doing so. We can blame society, and rant and rave about the dangers of the internet and bad parenting; many will. We can get together on cable news and call for legal action and to force Facebook and other similar social media platforms to be subject to delayed broadcasting and 911 tracking laws and regulations, and I bet someone is already on that.

Still, when that is all done, Naika will still be dead! But because we live by the “headlines,” we will have missed the “fine print” reason. Naika was a victim of repeated sexual exposure and abuse. And the overwhelmed and overworked Foster Care System that took her in as a victim failed to have what it took to heal her of this pain. Naika was removed from her home at age 4 when authorities, according to Cosmopolitan, were ”called to her mother’s home after the girl was left unattended by a male babysitter, with no food or running water.”[1] What followed was a ten-year cry for help as Naika was bounced in out of 14 different foster- care homes in 10 years until she finally ended it all, hanging herself while broadcasting on Facebook Live to ensure we all heard her cry. How loud must our children cry to be heard?!

Naika had been exposed to not only pornography but also live sex acts performed in front of her from a very young age, and there were reports that she had already begun to mimic aggressive sexual behavior.[2] She had been beaten, hospitalized, and traumatized over the years. But like so many children in her situation she still loved her mother, and her desire was re-unification. The truth is Naika failed to find expressed love, or even safety, both in her biological family or in the care of the state. There has been no end to the blame passing since her death. That has produced as many questions as answers[3].

Who failed Naika? Her family? The state? The courts? The protection agencies, social workers, and case workers? It is hard to say where all the blame lands because of all accusations being made. But I’d like to ask if the Church should, at least not subjectively, share some of this blame? No, Naika was not some case of church level sexual abuse[4], but sometimes as a Pastor, I wonder if the people of God have forgotten the high call God has put on protecting children? Are we as a body of believers doing enough to save children like Naika?

It is easy for Christians just to look away and say children like Naika are not our problem and we must attend to our own but that is not at all the way God’s see it. The Old Testament is often wrongly accused by critics as depicting a cold and harsher God than the New Testament. Yet it actually, repeatedly, condemns the sacrificing of children to idols which was culturally common (Leviticus 20:2-5, 2 Kings 21:6, 2 Chronicles 28:1-4, Jeremiah 32:35). It also openly declares God’s judgment on believers who stand idly by as fallen, sinful culture allows for their harm. Furthermore, Psalms declares God’s title to be the “Father of the Fatherless.”[5] The whole New Testament uses the idea of grafting non-families members into the family and even outright adoption as a constant metaphor for what Jesus has done by extending Salvation to Gentiles[6] And Jesus, Himself, put the highest curse of damnation on those who allow a child to be harmed.[7]

Don’t misunderstand what I am about to say; I am as against abortion as anyone. I am anti-abortion and pro-life all the way, and both out of my own pocket and via my church, we give much money to pro-life healthcare to help prevent abortions by supporting at- risk pregnant mothers. But I do sometimes wonder, in particular among the more militant lines in the church, if we tend to focus on saving babies from being aborted only to abandon them once they escape the womb?

We need to save babies, both while in the womb and once they come out of the womb. If we are pro-life then we need to also be pro- Naika’s life (and others like her)! I find it tragically ironic that my twitter feed is filled up daily by Christians decrying abortion but where are the Christians decrying what happened to Naika? It is a sad state of affairs when Cosmopolitan[8] has more to say about events like this than people of faith.

Adoption and Foster Care is not for everyone. I can personally testify to the fact that it is hard work, emotionally challenging, and brutally exhausting at times. It really is more of a calling than a duty. Hopefully, those who do it are called to it and do not serve robotically. However, you still have to ask sometimes, have you ever sensed God’s calling? Is God calling you maybe, even now?

I have lived a rich, full, and adventurous life, but offering foster care for me was perhaps in the top 2 or 3 most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. I don’t know if any of Naika’s 14 foster care homes were Christian or not. Or if they were, if their Christianity was cultural or authentic. I don’t know, that even if they were authentic if they would have been able to reach Naika after all the damage done to her. What I do know is Naika needed to see what real love looks like and seeing that was her only real hope.

God has called the church into the world to show the world the love that the world knows nothing of. We can’t just leave to the State what God has left to us all. I don’t know, yet, if my fostering has eternally changed lives for the children I cared for or not. But I do know, I loved those kids, and they, beyond any doubt, knew I loved them. They saw what healthy love looked like, and responded to it. The rest I can leave in the hands of the Almighty knowing his love continues when foster cycles end.

It takes a certain kind of skill set. Not everyone can, or should, foster or adopt. However, what we all can be are safe people. We all can ensure any child left in our care is safe, loved, and empowered. We can be supportive to those who do foster and adopt (Shout out to Solid Rock — My church was amazing in support!), and we can all advocate, get the word out, and volunteer in the vast many ways agencies serving children in need.

While Naika’s mom has been scrutinized as being a part of the events that led to her death, I have no way of knowing the full case. What I do know is that The Miami Herald reports her birth mother making a profound statement, “People were calling me, but I was sleep…and the calls were coming on the other line. I wish I would’ve woken up…Her last two breaths she started kicking, she didn’t want to do it, but it was too late.”[9]

In the end, Naika, did not want to do it, but it was too late. However, it may not be too late for the 428,000 children who on any given day in the US may be in foster care, and who on average will spend at least two years in that care.[10] Here is a tangible list of ways that you as a Christian can help.

  1. Practice being a safe person, at all times, in the presence of Children.

  2. If you suspect abuse report it, unless you’re a trained investigator you likely don’t have the skills or authority required to safely intervene. So when there is reason to question, report it to the proper officials who can investigate fairly.

  3. Donate funds to a good Christian foster or adoption agency.

  4. Volunteer time at good Christian foster or adoption agency (this can be anything from clerical work, receptionist work, painting office space, sorting, being on a board of directors, or certified childcare)

  5. Become a Volunteer Child Advocate (see CASA or Big Brother & Sister type organizations)

  6. Spread the word in your church, faith groups, and circles of influence of the great need.

  7. If a child (0r adult) expresses suicidal ideology do not leave them, do not assume it will be ok, get help! Call 911 or the national suicide prevention line 1-800-273-8255 (24/7)

  8. If you feel a calling explore the options of possible foster parenting or adoption.

Naika is not just a statistic. Naika was someone Jesus died for. Naika was someone who never got a fair chance. Naika is someone who never saw the Love which God intended her to be surrounded. Naika was someone who needed to see the love of God in ways that would have not only changed her life but saved her life. No, her death is not the direct result of the church but her death ought to awaken the church to the fact that God has many ways in which we can reach out and love people like Naika. Let’s bring that love in whatever ways we can creatively find to those in need before it is too late…Again.

 


Footnotes:

[1]http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a9130734/naika-venant-facebook-live-suicide/

[2]See Cosmopolitan

[3] http://www.bet.com/news/national/2017/03/14/dcf-believes-mother-of-naika-venant-watched-her-live-suicide.html

[4] At least that we know of.

[5] Psalms 68:5

[6] Non-Jewish non-believing people or nations.

[7] See Luke 17:2, Matthew 18:6

[8] While a fashion magazine traditionally, most Evangelical Christians likely would see in as a sexualized and liberal publication.

[9] http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article138936928.html

[10] http://www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/

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