Baptist Children’s Homes Meet Diverse Needs

by David Roach

Charles Spurgeon was once accosted by an agnostic who challenged his Christian beliefs. In response, the great Baptist preacher contrasted the failure of unbelievers to mount a sustained program of aid to the needy with the myriad ways Christians helped the weak and defenseless. Then, playing off the prophet Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, he said, “The God who answereth by orphanages, let Him be God.”

More than a century after Spurgeon’s death, twenty-three Baptist children’s homes affiliated with twenty state Baptist conventions stand as a continued testimony to the truth of his observation. In contrast to much of the world’s failure to help needy children, 530,000 children and family members received some type of assistance from Southern Baptists through state convention and regionally sponsored Baptist children’s homes in 2012. More than 9,260 children found a safe refuge in residential care facilities. This—combined with more than eight thousand decisions for Christ among those children and families—demonstrates the power and compassion of the God Southern Baptists serve.

Southern Baptists are making “a huge impact for children” and have been among the leading voices in the orphan care movement since the early 1900s when most Baptist children’s homes were founded, Jerry Haag, president of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes (FBCH), told SBC LIFE.

Baptist care for neglected, homeless, and abused children varies from state to state. Some states operate residential care facilities, adoptive services, crisis pregnancy centers, and even international childcare services, while some provide foster care only. Some ministries accept government funding while others do not.

“What we all have in common and which has not changed is our mission to care for God’s most vulnerable children and families,” Lorie Morris, executive director of Alaska Baptist Family Services (ABFS), said. “Our boards of directors look to identify the greatest needs for neglected children and work to meet those needs in Christ’s name.”

Southern Baptists, through their Baptist children’s homes ministries, “are uniquely qualified in carrying out this work because of our historical experience in the field, our organizational structure, and the number and strength of our churches,” she said.

TENNESSEE BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES
Based in the Nashville area, the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes (TBCH) operates six residential care facilities and is about to re-begin foster care services after the state government reconsidered restrictive policies that hampered TBCH from placing children in foster homes. The ministry relies entirely on contributions from churches, including gifts through the Cooperative Program, and individuals to fund its $6 million budget.

“Our primary purpose is . . . to share the Gospel,” Dwyte Winningham, TBCH senior vice president, said. “The secondary purpose is to provide all the other things that the child needs to survive and grow and flourish and fully develop to take advantage of the Gospel we’ve shared with them.”

Among the children helped by TBCH are a young woman who went on to attend Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and serve on the staff of a Nashville-area Christian school and a young man from an abusive family who was saved while living in a children’s home and now serves as a police officer.

“We’re always running into people that were here decades ago that tell the story about having been here,” said Winningham, who also serves as president of Baptist Child Care Executives, a network of executives from Baptist children’s homes.

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES
Similar stories abound in Florida. Recently police brought three children to FBCH because they were living in squalid conditions and had been caught stealing food. They entered a residential program and soon returned to normal, healthy living conditions.

Through their children’s homes, Florida Baptists provided residential care for 297 children and provided some type of aid to more than 63,000 children and families in 2012, including 28,000 through FBCH’s seven international ministries.

According to Haag, Southern Baptist missions dollars are well spent to provide food and Gospel witness to starving children in their respective states and around the world—5.8 million of whom will die from hunger-related conditions this year. Haag met a seven-year-old boy in Guatemala who weighed only twenty-six pounds and died despite the attempts of Florida Baptists to help him.

“The biggest challenge that we are all facing is putting our compassion into action,” Haag said. “I think there are plenty of resources out there—both within the church, outside the church, and also personally—for us to be able to meet the need of every child in the United States as well as around the world. But we’ve got to take a step to put our compassion to action.”

Haag added that the world produces enough food for every person alive to consume 2,720 calories per day. But “the problem comes in the distribution of that food, getting it to the children and families that need it.”

ALASKA BAPTIST FAMILY SERVICES
With 479 children in residential care, Alaska Baptist Family Services provides assistance for some children only for a few days and others for years. In both cases, though, they make a difference for Christ.

A boy named Keith was sent to ABFS from an out-of-state treatment hospital to see his dying father for the last time. But his father died an hour before Keith’s flight landed in Anchorage. So ABFS bought him a suit for the funeral and attended with him. After just one week of care, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, leaving behind a drawing of Heaven for ABFS.

A long-term resident with ABFS, Dana, met her husband while living at the children’s home and went on to become a social worker in order to serve other troubled teens. In a written testimony, Dana described what she experienced through ABFS as an “amazing transformation.”

CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE
Despite the victories, there are also challenges for Baptist children’s homes. Funding is a perpetual need. The amount of Cooperative Program contributions received by children’s homes varies from state to state. Most receive less than 10 percent of their annual budgets from CP. In Tennessee, for example, it costs nearly $250,000 per year to operate each cottage that houses eight children and their house parents.

There is also a limited pool of younger leaders who feel called to continue the ministry of children’s homes when current leaders retire. But the greatest challenge, according to ministry leaders, is making Southern Baptists aware of the need to give sacrificially in order to help the world’s 144 million orphans.

Still, Haag is confident that when Southern Baptists learn about the need, they will respond with compassion, like a ten-year old Florida boy named Will who raised $6,000 for FBCH’s Malnutrition Center in Guatemala. When his mom noticed that he was hungry after school each day, she questioned him about it and learned that he was saving his lunch money to help feed starving children.

“Mom,” he said, “those kids don’t get to eat. I need to make sure they have something to eat.”

David Roach, a member of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, is editorial associate for SBC LIFE.

 

Baptist Children’s Homes Meet Diverse Needs

Editor’s note: The following were taken from the 2012 Historian’s Report of the Baptist Child Care Executives, a network of leaders from Baptist children’s homes across the nation. Ministries not included in the report were contacted by SBC LIFE for information. Below are highlights from the ministries of each Baptist children’s home.

ALABAMA BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOMES & FAMILY MINISTRIES

ALASKA BAPTIST FAMILY SERVICES

ARIZONA BAPTIST CHILDREN’S SERVICES

ARKANSAS BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOMES & FAMILY MINISTRIES

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOMES

GEORGIA BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOMES & FAMILY MINISTRIES

ILLINOIS BAPTIST CHILDRENS HOME & FAMILY SERVICES

SUNRISE CHILDREN’S SERVICES (KENTUCKY)

LOUISIANA BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOME & FAMILY MINISTRIES

BAPTIST FAMILY & CHILDREN’S SERVICES (MARYLAND/DELAWARE)

THE BAPTIST CHILDREN’S VILLAGE (MISSISSIPPI)

MISSOURI BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOME

NEW MEXICO BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOME

BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOMES OF NORTH CAROLINA

OKLAHOMA BAPTIST HOMES FOR CHILDREN

CONNIE MAXWELL CHILDREN’S HOME (SOUTH CAROLINA)

TENNESSEE BAPTIST CHILDREN’S HOMES

BUCKNER CHILDREN & FAMILY SERVICES (TEXAS, BGCT)

CHILDREN AT HEART MINISTRIES (TEXAS, BGCT)

EAST TEXAS BAPTIST FAMILY MINISTRY (SBTC)

SOUTH TEXAS CHILDREN’S HOME MINISTRIES (BGCT)

TEXAS BAPTIST HOME FOR CHILDREN (SBCT)

HOPETREE FAMILY SERVICES (VIRGINIA, BGAV)