While churches aim to meet different ministry needs, the foster care system is one that often goes overlooked. However, Citipoint Church in Mount Vernon, Washington, started such a ministry, called Foster Church, in April 2019.
Lead pastor Brent A. Kimball launched Foster Church with Dani M. Needham, who runs the ministry. When looking to help underserved areas, Kimball realized that congregations in the community of 35,219 had no connection with the foster system.
“Even though some Christian families are fostering, the Church as a whole was pretty unengaged in the foster world,” says Kimball. 49.
Kimball and his wife, Jessie, developed a heart for the foster world after adopting three children from foster care. The Kimballs, who married 30 years ago, tried for 10 years to have biological children.
Jessie suffered two miscarriages, and was later diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cancer surgery made it impossible for her to have babies. So the Kimballs became foster/adoptive parents. They adopted their son Jared in 2002 at the age of 6. A year later, 2-year-old son Titus became part of the family, and in 2006, 1-year-old Sophie joined the crew.
Needham, 46, also knows the joy and struggles of foster parenting. Over the past three years, she and her husband, Geoff, have fostered 10 kids on placement and 30 on short-term respite, all while having three children of their own (now ages 21, 16, and 13).
Needham worked in foster care for 20 years at Service Alternatives, a private social service agency. After she and Kimball started Foster Church, she left her administrator position to lead the ministry on Citipoint’s staff.
Foster Church began by offering support to foster families by connecting them to the Division of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). Kimball uses the analogy of a three-legged stool versus a four-legged chair. The three legs on a stool are foster children, parents, and agencies. The stool may be useful, but is not the most stable; however, the church can add a fourth leg for more stability, he says.
“It’s a lot of work to be a foster parent, so part of the Foster Church initiative is for teams of people to come around every foster family and support them in ways that will alleviate some of the stress,” says Kimball. “Not everybody can be a foster parent, but everybody can do something.”
Foster Church has a lookout team for each foster family at Citipoint. These volunteers from the congregation provide meals once a week, transportation, clothing, home repairs, mentoring, and prayer.
Citipoint held its annual Foster Church weekend event Aug. 13-15. Foster Family night out on the 13th allowed parents to drop off their kids so they could go to dinner courtesy of the church. Kids from 25 families participated in a carnival night at Citipoint with a bouncy house, dunk tank, games, cotton candy, and prizes.
Kickback to school on the 14th focused on teens, giving them free backpacks and tennis shoes. On the 15th, volunteers served local social workers by collecting 25 hydro flasks for them from the congregation. About 100 volunteers helped make the weekend happen.
Citipoint also has craft and coffee nights, where parents can connect with other foster parents over free coffee and a home craft. For Thanksgiving, the church brings food baskets to DCYF for biological parents whose children recently returned home. When DCYF offices closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Citipoint offered its facilities for foster visits.
Foster Church partners with nonprofits such as Olive Crest, which recruits and trains foster parents, as well as Safe Families for Children, which works to prevent kids from being placed in foster care. Safe Families for Children helps families in crisis by caring for their children short-term.
Needham explains that most cases of child neglect come from families who are in crisis or are isolated and don’t have enough support.
“If the church does a good job supporting the families in the community that are struggling, then the church can take the place of the government in certain ways,” says Needham.
Kimball wrote a guide for churches titled “Foster Church Playbook: How your local church can become a foster church.” The book was distributed to congregations a part of the Olive Crest system and the Assemblies of God Northwest Ministry Network.