I’ve been a Shazam! fan for quite a long time, and I’m more than happy to talk about him, as anyone who listened to episodes 16 and 12 knows. I was thoroughly delighted by the film, and I’m more than happy to talk about that, as well. But there’s something about it that hit me harder than probably most of the audience, and it made me realize that there is a pair of quiet, powerful heroes lurking almost in the background of this film. Yes, Billy Batson has tremendous power, and Freddy Freeman knows how a hero is supposed to behave, but in both of their cases, becoming a hero means freeing themselves from the shackles of their everyday lives. What makes a film in the superhero genre most compelling, though, is when being a hero costs something. It’s the willingness to make a sacrifice for the sake of righteousness and justice that makes someone a hero. And that brings me to two people who I view as the real heroes of this film:
Rosa and Victor Vasquez are the foster parents of the Shazam family. Without getting into any spoilers, they know before taking him in that Billy’s had trouble in previous homes. They already have five other children in their household, each with their own unique issues and histories, each presenting challenges that they deal with on a daily basis. And yet when they learn that there is a boy who needs a family, they step up and open their home to him. Not as a waypoint, not as a temporary measure. They’re all-in, ready to love him as unconditionally as any of their other children. And these are their children! It’s clear from the very beginning that this is a real, functioning family, although it certainly doesn’t look like what many of us are used to calling a family.
You may be wondering at this point why this is so personal to me. No, I wasn’t fostered or adopted. I had just about the most ordinary and ‘traditional’ family experience one could have. The reason Shazam! hit me so hard is because there are a pair of superheroes just like Victor and Rosa in my own life. My sister and her husband are foster parents. In addition to their two biological children, they fostered and eventually adopted two more kids, and they’re currently caring for a fifth, becoming attached to him and loving him, even though they know they probably will not be his permanent family. Every time I think about what they’re doing, the sacrifices they make and the emotional battering they take from having those children in their lives, I genuinely well up. My sister is, truly, the most heroic person I know, and this film drove that home to me all the more. I knew that fosterage was going to be an element of the movie going in—like I said, I’m a fan of the character, and the Vasquez fosterage has been a part of his back-story for several years. Plus it was referred to in the trailers. But I don’t think I appreciated how seeing this family on the screen would affect me.
In addition to serving as foster parents, my sister and her husband are also missionaries to the foster care system in Kansas, operating a non-profit called Hope Fostered. I don’t think I can do better than to let them describe their work themselves, so this is how they describe their mission:
Our focus with Hope Fostered is to bring hope to the foster care community by encouraging or promoting the development of churches in wraparound outreach to the four main areas of Foster Care: Foster Kids, Foster Homes, Foster Care Workers, and Vulnerable Families.
It is crucial for the church to learn how to help vulnerable families in the ways they need, rather than the perceived needs from outside. Understanding poverty as well as generational trauma is important in order to approach families with humility. The church is full of compassionate people who desire to make change in their community, but not all churches are equipped with the knowledge and tools to approach families in crisis in order to work together to assess needs.
Our motivation for ministry is to bring the people of the church along with us as we implement the values of James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Since the government was given the charge of caring for vulnerable children through the foster care system, it has become clear they can intervene, but they cannot stop the continuation of abuse and neglect over multiple generations. We want to see the church enter into the foster care arena in all areas in order to not only care for the many children affected, but also to affect real and lasting change for multiple generations through practical assistance as well as the changing power of Jesus Christ.
I hope that Shazam! can serve as a vehicle for Hope Fostered and other similar organizations to raise awareness of the needs of the foster care system. There are thousands of children who have suffered unspeakable trials, some from simple, cruel chance, and others at the hands of family members who should have given love and instead meted out abuse. My skin crawled at the way Sivana was treated by his father in the film, but that was sunshine and puppies in comparison to the horrifying circumstances that some real children are suffering under even now.
I have to shamefully admit that I simply don’t have the strength to do what my sister does. There is an urgent, urgent need for people to step up and help the most vulnerable among us: the lost and abandoned, the abused and neglected. I can’t even bring myself to think too much about what some of these kids have gone through, and are going through right now. I am not able… I have to be honest: I am not willing to make the sacrifices that would be necessary to be a foster parent. But it’s a burden on my heart, so I have to do something. Part of that something is writing this article, in the hopes that you might take a further step. Part of it is making what financial contributions I can to Hope Fostered. I admit that it’s a little self-serving since my own family directly benefits from my donation. It’s not going to stop me from offering up a link, though: Give to Hope Fostered
As a missionary organization for the Assemblies of God, Hope Fostered is supported through the AG’s giving system. This provides accountability for the way they spend the money and ensures that donations are properly reported to the IRS for tax deduction purposes. If you want to donate to a foster care cause but have issues with giving to a church or religious organization, I recommend using Charity Navigator to find an organization that matches your values.
My sister isn’t perfect. I see how she struggles, and she’s very honest that she makes mistakes. But that’s part of being a hero, too: knowing that you aren’t adequate to the job ahead of you but doing it anyway. In the film, Rosa and Victor occasionally doubt themselves. They wonder if they’re up to the task of helping Billy. If you’re watching closely, you’ll see glimpses of frustration with all of their kids. But when one of them falters, the other is there with encouragement, and they never, ever show any signs of wanting to give up. It’s hard, and they know it. But they do it anyway.
So go see Shazam! Even laying aside the family message, it’s just a rocking good movie!