They call it "new baby ministry."
Members of Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo., have found a way to give more than lip service to the pro-life cause: They have opened their hearts and homes to babies awaiting adoption.
"I flap my mouth against abortion, and even though this is a drop in the bucket, it's something small we can do as a church to stand against abortion and stand for adoption," said Springhill pastor Kenny Qualls.
Qualls is talking about the church's cooperation with Family Therapy of the Ozarks, an organization which began actively processing adoptions around the first of the year. Since the first informational meeting last fall, three Springhill couples have become licensed foster parents through the Division of Family Services, and three babies already have received care through the church.
Qualls first learned of the need for foster parents to care for babies awaiting adoption when a church member, Barbara Maples, called.
"This one baby came up kind of suddenly, and I didn't know any foster parents, so I called Kenny Qualls and asked if there were any in our church," said Maples, secretary for the agency. "He called me back and said he thought that would be a wonderful ministry for our church."
Qualls said he found it hard to believe that an adoption agency would have trouble finding foster parents for the babies. "There are sixty-five Southern Baptist churches in Greene County alone, with thousands of members, and the agency can't find people to care for these babies?" Qualls said.
The Lord hammered my heart, and I saw it as something practical we could do to oppose abortion and support adoption."
Babies often need one to three weeks of foster care while all of the paperwork and legalities related to the adoption are settled in court. The foster parents provide the transition between birth parents and adoptive parents. Foster-care expenses for the baby, such as diapers, formula, and clothes, usually run about $50 a day. Under normal circumstances, the adoptive parents must pay that amount to the adoption agency. However, as part of Springhill's ministry, church members take care of all expenses related to the babies' foster care.
In fact, church members were donating diapers and formula in preparation for the first baby to be placed in the care of the first licensed foster parents, Gary and Donna Wallace. They did not have long to wait. The Wallaces received a call from the agency in late January informing them that they would be caring for a three-month-old baby.
"When the church found out it was a boy, people started bringing little clothes and toys, so now we have lots of stuff for babies," said Donna, whose own children are grown. "We keep it all together, ready for the next baby."
Donna, who is the church secretary, took the baby to the office with her every day for the three weeks he was in her family's care. She used a bassinet from the nursery. "People would stop in just to see the baby and play with him," she said. "He was part of the church family."
Donna said one question she often is asked is: How can she bear to get attached to a baby, only to give the baby up in such a short time?
"When you see the faces of that mother and father who have waited so long for a baby, it's not hard to give the baby over," she said. "It wasn't hard for us. In fact, I was excited about it. We're still attached to him. We love him."
The Wallaces see the baby, Joel, occasionally because they have developed a relationship with his adoptive parents, Blake and Debbie Hayworth, members of First Baptist Church, Springfield.
"When I would rock the baby, I would pray for him that he would have a Christian family to raise him," said Donna, wiping away a tear. "God answered those prayers."
Qualls emphasized the church is not employed by or contracted by Family Therapy of the Ozarks, but that Springhill's purpose in offering this ministry is to help the babies and those involved in the adoption process. If necessary, all three families who are licensed as foster parents also would open their homes to birth mothers.
"It means a lot to have Christian families involved in the adoption process," said Ann Bluehdorn, adoption specialist at the agency. "We know we have wonderful families who are going to give good care. That's especially appreciated by adoptive couples. It also means a lot to birth mothers, knowing that there are good Christian families doing this as a ministry. That and the fact that we know them personally can help ease their minds about having their babies in foster care."
Qualls quoted Matthew 25:40 to sum up Springhill's involvement in a new baby ministry. "The Lord said, 'Whatever you (do) for one of the least of these ... you (do) for me.' Anything we do for God is not small. If it affects one baby and one family, then it's worth it."