Pastor promoting foster care for state

GARLAND–The Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) agency is looking to the religious community to open their hearts and homes to the thousands of children under state care, and one Southern Baptist pastor has enthusiastically accepted the call to trumpet the cause.

Since 2007 Russell Rogers, pastor of Trinity Life Baptist Church in Garland, has spoken on behalf of CPS to inform and encourage church families to become foster and adoptive families.

The partnership is the result of Texas Senate Bill 1489, passed in 2003. The legislation directed CPS to target the faith community in its efforts to recruit and license families for foster care. With 33,615 children in the Texas foster care system (fiscal year 2007), the number of children in need of homes far outpaces the number of families willing to take them in.

Felicia Mason-Edwards, faith-based program specialist for the Congregations Helping in Love and Dedication (CHILD), said it is not unusual for the state to recruit from congregations because religious people serve as the majority of foster families within Texas. Calling on local churches to consider the issue of displaced children is only drawing from the well that has already served the state.

“One of the reasons we started with people of faith [is] they had a call to do what they were doing,” Mason-Edwards said in a telephone interview from her office in Austin.

But, she admitted, it was difficult for her state agency to get a foot in the door of churches in order to make their plea.

Rogers said there is a healthy suspicion of the state within some congregations and, therefore, an insider could more easily take the state’s request before the churches.

Mason-Edwards was introduced to Rogers through an associate with the Dallas Baptist Association. Rogers’ congregation hosts an annual celebration of foster and adoptive families and one visit from the CPS representative made it clear that Rogers’ passion for the subject and he and his wife’s experience as foster parents qualified him to speak on behalf of CHILD.

CPS needed to get into churches, Rogers said, and he was a pastor speaking on the very issue the agency needed publicized. So, he was asked to be a spokesman for the 12,000-20,000 children in the state of Texas who needed a place to call home.

Accepting the role for the CHILD program was a no-brainer for the gregarious pastor. Even before they were married, Rogers and his wife, Shelly, had planned to adopt children.

After marriage, that plan was expedited by the news that they could not have children of their own. In 1996 the couple was licensed by the state as foster parents and over the course of 11 years they fostered about 18 children (Rogers admitted losing count) and adopted three. In the course of that time, the Rogers were surprised with two biological children as well.

“We got to the point where our quiver was full,” Rogers quipped.

But, he added, just because there was no more physical room for additional children in their home, there was plenty of room in their hearts.

“The burden didn’t go away,” he said.

That was when Rogers and the families of Trinity Life Baptist began celebrating the lives of adoptive and foster families. After all, Rogers said, it was a family from his own church who introduced him to the idea of foster care and adoption from the state. Before then, the Rogers had inquired about adoption through private agencies. The $26,000 price tag–on a pastor’s salary–put adoption out of reach. That was until they began speaking with a couple at their church who arrived one Sunday with a baby in their arms–a baby put in their care by the state of Texas.

Rogers now hopes he can be “that person from church” who introduces others to the idea of state foster care and adoption. His purpose for the Minister-to-Minister Faith-Based Initiative is to present the need and allow the Holy Spirit to lead.

Rogers said there are people who have a calling to this ministry but do not know where or how to begin the process. From the 23 informational meetings he hosted last year, more than 35 families indicated an interest in becoming foster families. Mason-Edwards said she is still receiving calls with regard to those meetings.

She and Rogers said they are aware not all people can be foster parents. But, Mason-Edwards added, everybody can do something. As a body, she said, congregations can act to support adoptive and foster care parents in a variety of ways.

She applauded the efforts of churches to minister to people in foreign lands but added, “Those children are in your community. Here, in Texas, you have your own mission field.”

Rogers said the church should be the first to “step up” and take on the ministry of foster care and adoption. Last year, according to the Texas CPS overview for fiscal year 2007, there were 71,344 confirmed cases of child abuse and/or neglect and 33,615 children under 17 years old were placed in foster care. About one-third of those were eventually reunited with their families but the others remained in state supervision in homes with foster families, group homes, the homes of relatives, treatment facilities, or other care facilities and 4,158 children were adopted.

Because these children have been removed from their homes due to neglect and/or abuse, they need the love and care that a Christian home can offer, Rogers said.

“Imagine how awesome it would be if the church would rise up and Christian homes could be a place of healing. There are kids who will go to bed tonight in Texas thinking no one wants them.”

True religion, Rogers said, is defined in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

“I believe God calls and equips specific people, in strategic places, for significant purposes.”

The state has asked him to speak to congregations throughout a large swath of Texas, and he is asking pastors in the following regions/counties to contact him if they are willing to host an informational meeting:
>Region 3 (Greater D/FW Metroplex): Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Hunt, Johnson, Kaufman, Rockwall, Tarrant.
>Region 4 (East Texas): Delta, Gregg, Henderson, Hopkins, Lamar, Rains, Smith, Van Zandt, Wood.
>Region 7 (Central Texas): Bell, Brazos, Freestone, Hill, Leon, Limestone, McLennan, Travis, Williamson.
>Region 6 (Greater Houston): Harris, Montgomery, Brazoria, Galveston, Walker, Liberty, Chambers, Waller.

Rogers said he hopes to hold 70 informational meetings at churches in these areas by the end of August. He admits this is a tall order, but believes God will speak to the hearts of pastors and spur them to host the one-hour meeting at their churches.

Rogers is devoting his summer to this cause, traveling each week to hold these meetings at any time except for Sunday mornings, when he will be at his home church. Rogers can be reached at 214-693-1366 or by e-mail at pastor.russell@verizon.net.

“Children were important to Christ and therefore should be a priority to us,” Rogers stated.

More information can be obtained through regional faith-based recruiters and contacting Felicia Mason-Edwards in Austin at 512-438-4516.

Foster families are paid a stipend for each foster child they take in and some adoptive families are provided an allowance as well. The cost to adopt a child from the state is hundreds of dollars as opposed to thousands from a private agency. And in some cases, that money is reimbursable, Mason-Edwards explained.

“Adopting from the state is so inexpensive, it’s almost a non-issue,” Rogers said.

For Christians, Rogers concluded, the matter of adoption should be significant.

“If it weren’t for adoption, I wouldn’t be saved,” he said. “We’re children of God because Jesus paid the price on the cross for each of us to be adopted into his family.”

More information on Texas foster care is available online at www.dfps.state.tx.us.

Two SBTC-affiliated ministries provide adoption and foster care services—Texas Baptist Home of Waxahachie (tbhc.org) and East Texas Baptist Family Ministry in Timpson (etbfm.org).

TBH provides adoption services, offering training and on-going support. Call Director Jamie Hogan at 972-937-1321. ETBFM has set a target date of next fall to assist with foster care and adoptive services through Azleway Children’s Services, Inc. of Tyler. Contact Gerald Edwards at 903-822-3474.

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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