By / Feb 8

Today, we’re talking about adoption and foster care in the U.S. Welcome to the ERLC Podcast where our goal is to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues.

We believe it’s clear in God’s Word that his perfect design is for many people to eventually unite as one man and one woman in a lifetime of marriage. That marriage, in many cases, leads to the blessing of children and establishes a family that glorifies God and benefits society. Unfortunately, in a fallen world, reality is messy. Marriage is put off and misunderstood. Families are broken and difficult. Infertility is faced far too often. And children are vulnerable and in need. 

That’s where adoption and foster care comes in to provide care for these children and help them find the loving and safe families that they were made for. The need for these ministries, organizations, and for people to get involved has only grown since the Dobbs decision overturning a federal right to abortion. 

Joining us on this episode is Herbie Newell, someone who understands this reality more than most. He’s the president & executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms. Under Herbie’s leadership, Lifeline has increased international outreach to 25 countries through adoption and strategic orphan care, obtained licensure in 17 states, and established the foster care arm at Lifeline. 

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Lindsay Nicolet and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Oct 3

Southern Baptists have a long history of following in the footsteps of the faith and serving those in need. When Jesus was on Earth, he did not bypass physical needs but met them and used them as a way to share how he was meeting the greatest need of all—the salvation of our souls. Likewise, Send Relief, a collaboration between NAMB and the IMB, seeks to address needs that arise from various circumstances while also sharing the hope of Jesus. One focus of the work at Send Relief is foster care and adoption, which is all the more important in a country without Roe. Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministry at Send Relief, answered a few of our questions about this aspect of their ministry and how churches can be involved. 

Lindsay Nicolet: How does foster care and adoption ministry fit within the mission of Send Relief? 

Josh Benton: Send Relief is the Southern Baptist compassion ministry which seeks to meet physical and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name. Working alongside churches, we care for the vulnerable and strengthen communities around the world. Caring for families and children is one of our five ministry focus areas. Our work in this area includes developing and supporting ministries focused on crisis pregnancy, serving at-risk families, and helping churches develop or support ministries to vulnerable families within their communities. 

LN: What projects is Send Relief involved in as you seek to engage in the foster care and adoption space? 

JB: Send Relief engages foster care and adoption in two specific ways. First, is through our ministry centers. We have 20 Send Relief ministry centers across North America. Two of them, Valdosta, Georgia, and Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, are child placement agencies for foster care and adoption. In addition to child placement, these locations provide training for foster and adoptive families. We also work with churches to help support vulnerable families in their communities with resources, counseling, and respite care, along with providing an opportunity for churches to go on mission trips to learn more about and get hands-on experience with foster care and adoption ministry.  

Second, Send Relief helps churches start a Family Advocacy Ministry, which we call a FAM. FAM is a step-by-step ministry strategy that helps churches serve and advocate for vulnerable children and families as well as those called to foster and adopt. Send Relief helps churches implement FAMs so they can have a gospel-centered impact on the lives of vulnerable children and families.

LN: How does God’s Word drive your work in this key area? 

JB: Scripture is clear about the call to care for vulnerable families. Genesis 1:26-27 establishes that all people are created and designed by God, in the image of God, and are therefore valued by God. Genesis 2 describes God’s intentional design for the family. Then, Genesis 3-4 shows the damaging impact of sin on all creation but, specifically, how sin creates brokenness in families. 

From Deuteronomy 10 to James 1 and several references in between, God not only calls his people to remain committed to his design for the family but to also care for the those without stable, intact families. Romans 8 also beautifully portrays adoption as a picture of our redemption through Christ.

With this in mind, we can sum up how Scripture provides the truths that cultivate Send Relief’s perspective on serving in foster care and adoption ministry with a few statements:

  • Every person is created in the image of God, therefore, all people have value.
  • God designed the family and desires all to be in a family.
  • Christ calls us to reflect his compassion and care for the vulnerable.
  • Foster care and adoption portray how God redeems through a personal faith in Christ. 

LN: What challenges arise with serving children in need and families in today’s culture? And how have/will these change in a post-Roe era?

JB: The challenges for serving vulnerable children and families are significant. Here are a few key statistics from Adoptuskids.org and the Administration for Children and Families

  • Each year more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the United States.
  • At any given time, there are on average over 400,000 children in the foster care system.
  • Each year more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system when they turn 18 or 21, depending on a state’s laws.
  • Currently, more than 115,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted.
  • The average age of a child in foster care is 8 years old.
  • Troubling statistics for children who age out of the system:
    • Likely to experience job loss and homelessness
    • 70% of human trafficking victims spent time in foster care
    • 71% of women who age out experience pregnancy within one year 
    • 65% of individuals who are incarcerated aged out of the foster care system

These challenges will likely intensify in our post-Roe world. These are all harrowing statistics, but one of the most significant issues is that there are more children in need provides an opportunity for churches to fill the gap. With more than 115,000 children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted each year, churches can play a role by recruiting families to foster and adopt, mentoring vulnerable families, and providing communities of care for those who are fostering and/or adopting.

LN: How can pastors and ministry leaders create a culture of equipping families to care for children?

JB: No matter what community, city, or state you are in, vulnerable families are present. This isn’t a ministry opportunity that is somewhere else; it’s everywhere. Pastors and church leaders have an important role of recognizing the need that exists, articulating the biblical call to meet the need, and blessing those in their congregation who are led to pursue the ministry opportunity. Send Relief has resources on our FAM page to help pastors and churches pursue ministry to vulnerable families and children.

LN: What are some practical things that local churches can do to come alongside this mission to serve families and those involved in foster care and adoption?

JB: There are several ways churches join Send Relief to serve vulnerable families. One of the most important things is to recognize that there are many ways to serve. There is a great need for families to foster and adopt. Encourage those who are called but also understand not everyone feels that call, and there are multiple ways to serve outside of adopting and fostering. Here are specific ways churches can serve:

  • Praying diligently and consistently for vulnerable children and families
  • Developing a relationship with a local child welfare office
  • Raising awareness about the needs of vulnerable children and families
  • Recruiting families to consider adopting or fostering
  • Providing resources, as well as emotional and spiritual support, to biological families experiencing crisis
  • Helping to meet physical and financial needs of foster and adoptive families
  • Mentoring single mothers
  • Supporting and encouraging local child welfare workers
  • Providing meals or respite care to foster and adoptive families
  • Going on a mission trip at a Send Relief ministry center that serves vulnerable families

For more information on the Dobbs decision and its effects, visit erlc.com/dobbs

By / May 26

At any given moment, an estimated 400,000 U.S. children and teens are in foster care. There also happens to be roughly that many churches across the United States.

“Foster care impacts every community in the U.S., which means that every local church has an opportunity to fulfill the biblical call to care for the fatherless and the vulnerable,” said Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministries at Send Relief. “Through Family Advocacy Ministry, Send Relief is committed to helping churches serve at-risk families and children with quality, Gospel-centered ministry.”

Family Advocacy Ministries 

May is National Foster Care Month, and Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm for Southern Baptists, has been raising awareness for how churches can become involved. Send Relief equips churches to develop Family Advocacy Ministries (FAM) in their congregations that support at-risk children and families in their communities.

“Our good friends were fostering, and we wanted to do something to help them,” Shari King, an advocate of FAM at First Baptist Church Watkinsville, Georgia, said in written comments. “We found out that our FAM was providing practical support to foster families. Initially, we helped by providing one meal for the family each month.”

King and her family, over time, became more involved in volunteering with their FAM before going on to become foster parents themselves.Through a FAM, local churches develop volunteers who provide imminently practical service for foster families by babysitting, tutoring, providing diapers, clothes, and other resources or giving Christmas and birthday presents.

“We want churches to know that the greatest thing that they can offer is not the food that they may bring or other resources, but it’s the relationships,” said Logan Mabe, Send Network planter and lead pastor of Ocean View Church in Chula Vista, Calif. “It’s praying for that family intentionally on a regular basis. It is a phone call checking on a family. It’s all grounded in relationships. That is really, ultimately, what we want to see churches do in San Diego. It’s evangelism and discipleship. It’s long obedience in the same direction.”

When a FAM meets tangible needs and invests in relationships, it helps relieve burdens for foster care families in what is often a fast-paced, busy lifestyle as those families meet the needs of their children.

“Logistics are incredibly challenging in the foster care world. It’s not something I was prepared for, honestly,” said Hayley Catt, a NAMB staff member and single foster mom, in an interview with Send Relief. “Two to three times a week, we are opening our home to therapists, social workers, family consultants, volunteers, and more. We have to rush from one appointment to another, and we don’t get a lot of down time. Having help with transportation, house cleaning, meals, etc., helps to ease that burden.”

A FAM can also help meet spiritual needs when opportunities for gospel conversations arise within foster families as they come and participate in the local church.

“We have also seen kids come into care with families in our church who have accepted Christ,” said Marlaina Harper, an advocate of FAM at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, Georgia. “We’ve watched them take steps of faith to participate in baptism, as well. Watching both foster and birth families join together in their support of a child’s decision of faith was really meaningful for our whole church.”

In recent years, churches have become increasingly engaged in meeting the needs of foster children and families, but much work remains to be done.

“The work of Family Advocacy Ministries will not be done until there are more families waiting for kids than kids waiting for families. Intentional engagement from the whole Church could drastically alter the child welfare crisis as we know it,” said Connor McCauley, who works for Promise686, an orphan advocacy ministry. “I dream to see a world where every church in every community is dedicated to bringing hope, redemption and care for the kids and families living in the shadows. They need the hope of the Gospel. They need the Church.”

To learn more about how churches can engage in Family Advocacy Ministry, visit SendRelief.org.

This post originally appeared at Baptist Press

By / Mar 16

The turning point for me occurred at a funeral. I was holding a 4-year-old child I did not know. His mother had passed away after overdosing on a dangerous mix of fentanyl and cocaine. The family reached out to our church and asked for a pastor to officiate the funeral. I’ll never forget the young boy’s words.

“Are you going to help bring my mommy back?”

I didn’t have words for him. Only tears. 

He was placed in a foster home. Thankfully, it was one full of love and support. At about the same time as the funeral, a local newspaper headline caught my attention: “Bradenton is opioid overdose capital of Florida. And still no one knows why.”

Every year, hundreds of children are removed from their homes in our county. Over half of them are directly attributed to the substance abuse of parents and guardians. Most of the children removed are under the age of 5. I did not have the right words for the 4-year-old, but his question prompted me to act. I could not bring his mom back, but my wife and I could be foster parents for children in situations like his. So we got our license and began our foster journey. 

The foster system in our area is stretched thin. When licensed as a foster parent, you receive a child placement immediately. My wife and I recently cared for an infant struggling with the effects of cocaine addiction. Every drug a pregnant mother consumes passes in her bloodstream through the placenta and to the child. Babies are born addicted, and it can be a horrible experience for them as the central nervous system tries to recover.

Church members and foster care 

Foster children are one of the most overlooked and underserved groups of people in our nation. Most communities struggle to find placements for these children. Local churches in the United States have more than enough homes to solve the problem, but few Christian families are pursuing fostering. But what happens when people in your congregation start fostering children?

Your church is woven into the fabric of the community. In my role at Church Answers (a resource site for ministry leaders), I’m often asked, “How can my church better serve and reach the community?” There are many ways to answer the question, but one answer is obvious: start a fostering movement in your congregation. Caring for foster children forces you to be an active part of your community. You interact with social workers, struggling parents, judges, and police officers. Fostering weaves you tightly into the community and allows your church to be a thread pulling everyone together.  

Your church is recognized as a solution to community problems. The issues producing foster children are often the core sins plaguing a community. When people in your church foster, the neighborhood tends to view you as helpful. Foster children are the result of the worst problems in the community. Inviting them into your church homes makes you one of the best solutions for your neighbors. 

Your church is pushed outward with God’s mission. The church is not designed to be a shield protecting the Christian bubble of safety. Rather, the church is a vehicle engineered by God to send people into the darkest corners of the neighborhood. Fill your church with foster children, and your people will be filled with a desire to do gospel work. 

Your church is compelled into a posture of selflessness. I hear the excuse all the time, “I couldn’t foster because it would be hard to give the child back.” I understand the sentiment. Indeed, my wife and I live this paradox. The purpose of fostering is more than raising a child. It’s about reuniting a family. You care for children and encourage moms and dads. Fostering is a weighty burden that will bend you hard in the direction of selflessness. Is it painful? Yes, sometimes. Is it worth the stretch? Always. 

Taking a risk and doing what’s right

We see the risk and reward of caring for a child in need in the book of Exodus. When Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket floating on the Nile, she saw a baby and said, “This must be one of the Hebrew children” (Exodus 2:6, NLT). This must be one. One child saved. Imagine the desperation of Moses’ mom, placing him in the papyrus basket and letting him drift away from the safety of her arms. 

Imagine the courage of Moses’ sister, Miriam. At significant risk, she keeps watching over the basket. She is an advocate. She stays close to the crisis to help. She risks everything when she reaches out to Pharaoh’s daughter.

Imagine the audacity of Pharaoh’s daughter. She is part of the family committing genocide, but she becomes a person of power who uses her position to do what is right. The child in the basket moves her. A child in need should move us all to action.

There was a tremendous risk to all the women in this story, but it did not stop them from doing the right thing. What if the church looked at the foster system as a floating papyrus basket? What if the people of the church opened the basket and had the same response as Pharaoh’s daughter? Let’s not let these children continue to drift. Your home might be a promised land of sorts for them. A movement of God within your community and your church could start with just one child. How is he calling your church to step out in faith and care for the most vulnerable ones in your community?