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Church’s foster care ministry focused on school-age children

Senior Pastor Jacob Smith, standing left, and members of Union Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas, packed supply kits for foster children as a back-to-school outreach. Union Baptist photo

SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas (BP) – The new school year can be especially tumultuous for children in foster care, Union Baptist Church Senior Pastor Jacob Smith learned as the church prayed about the viability of a foster care ministry.

Seeing God affirm the ministry, Smith contacted Journey Road, a new non-profit, nondenominational foster care ministry in Pickton, Texas, to learn current needs. The new school year is a prime time to reach out.

Bibles were among the items Union Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas, included in back-to-school kits for foster children. Union Baptist photo

“Journey Road let us know there is kind of a massive uptick in CPS (Child Protective Services) actions that result in foster care placements at the beginning of the school year, which is unsurprising,” Smith told Baptist Press. “These kids are, for the first time in several months, going into a building full of mandatory reporters. Because of that uptick, this became a back-to-school kind of thing.

“These kids are now showing up and they don’t just need basic toiletries and things like that, but they also need basic school supplies to be provided for them. And so that got wrapped up into one ministry.”

Each backpacks contains school supplies, toiletries, a full set of towels, a set of twin sheets, a Bible and information on Union Baptist Church with online access to the Gospel.

Rachel Draper, who founded Journey Road in 2019 with her husband, learned the needs foster care parents and children after she and her husband became foster parents five years ago. A shortage of foster families, support services and resources are prevalent, said Draper, who is actively recruiting churches to help.

“Our foster care system, people say it’s a broken system. Well it’s beyond broken,” Draper said. “There’s just so many gaps in the system. Now, can we work through that? Absolutely.

“But I think it’s going to come down to churches. And I don’t really have any other answers, other than that.”

There were about 407,500 children in foster care in the U.S. in 2020, about 217,000 of whom entered the system that year, according to Kids Count data from the Annie M. Casey Foundation). About 8 in 10 children in foster care in 2020 were placed with families and relatives, as opposed to group homes, the foundation reported.

Union Baptist, a congregation of 29 members, packed 20 starter kits during its Aug. 14 evening church service to donate to Journey Road and plans to donate another 20 at the start of the spring semester.

“Oftentimes, foster kids arrive in their new homes with basically nothing but the shirt on their back. Maybe they have a few possessions. These families also don’t get a lot of advance (notice) before they receive a placement,” Smith said. “There’re times, quite often, when these families will wake up in the morning with a certain number of children or no children, not thinking they’re going to get anymore, and then by the end of the day they’ve got another kid, or three.”

Draper, a nondenominational Christian who feels called to foster ministry, spoke at Brashear Baptist Church in Brashear Aug. 14, encouraging members to support foster care.

“Everyone can be a part of the foster care process. You don’t have to foster to still be a part of this ministry,” she told Baptist Press. “There’re so many different ways that you can be involved, everybody of all ages. I believe it’s important for me to provide opportunities for people to serve in this area, to give them an avenue to serve and to be obedient to what God wants us to do. But also, I think it brings more awareness to where we are with foster children. And it just takes everybody.”

Fostering can attract people with improper motives or the wrong mentality to be foster parents, but Draper said it’s difficult to weed those from the crop of good parents.

“But I’m kind of the way, ‘Let’s just water the flowers we have,’” Draper said. “And let’s try to get some more good flowers so the weeds can kind of go out.”

In addition to foster parenting, Christians can provide supplies, volunteer to provide respite care for up to two weeks when foster parents need to travel, or serve as babysitters for several hours or overnight. Journey provides certification for respite providers and babysitters.

“We just have to have more people of faith stepping it up,” she said.

Journey Road runs a 35-acre rental community for foster parents and respite providers in northeast Texas where parents have a community of support.

Draper encourages churches to generate community among foster parents and providers.

“What we want to do is model what could happen if other communities did this,” she said. “Now you don’t have to live on 35 acres together, but you could still have a small community of foster families that get to know each other and start supporting each other this way.”

Journey Road also hosts activities for foster parents and providers from the region, such as an annual back-to-school bash where children receive new clothing and shoes for school and providing Christmas wish lists.

Union Baptist feels compelled to help.

“The kind of feeling we all got in prayer was that it was just kind of a compulsion,” Smith said. “It became one of the only things the Lord would let us think about in terms of ministry. This is an issue that is familiar to us as a church body, and so it was easy I think for us as we prayed to begin to feel the Lord’s impression. This is the kind of ministry we can work on, that we can really support these families and bless them, and reach out to them.”

Union Baptist plans to partner with Journey Road in various foster care outreaches.

“We’re hoping people come to know Jesus, people come to faith through this work, first and foremost,” Smith said. “But we also want to help these families who are doing kind of one of the ultimate acts of charity. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; I mean that in the sense of Christian charity.”