In the past couple of years, individuals who are part of the Assemblies of God — elected officials, pastors, missionaries, and laypeople — have gradually started connecting to discuss their involvement in solving the nation’s foster care and orphan crisis.
A little more than a year ago, individual stakeholders gathered for a foster care roundtable in Springfield, Missouri. At the Fellowship’s biennial General Council last August, leaders laid the groundwork for a nascent group known as the AG Foster Care Network.
“The Foster Care Network is for anyone in the Assemblies of God who has some kind of involvement in the effort to reach and care for foster children,” says Jay Mooney, newly appointed chief ministries and resource officer at the AG National Office in Springfield. “It’s for the pastor who has a heart for kids, a foster parent, counselors, child welfare workers, or someone advocating for vulnerable families.”
Until beginning his new role in February, Mooney served for a decade as executive director of COMPACT Family Services, the national child welfare agency of the Assemblies of God in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Mooney moved the ministry to the forefront of foster care, in part by developing a strategy based on wraparound care that assists those caring for kids in their home.
One of the major problems with foster care providers is they quit in frustration due to a perceived lack of support.
“Fostering can be a lonely journey,” says Mooney, 60. “People who venture into a battleground like this alone can become demoralized.”
Through local churches, the AG Foster Care Network connects prospective and existing parental providers with the proper organizations and ministry partners. The network is in the early stages of providing a place for those involved to learn from others through online discussion forums.
An ultimate goal is to see AG constituents caring for 20,000 foster kids. There are around 407,000 children in foster care in the U.S.
“The heart of the network is to show our 13,000 churches that they all can do something in foster care, adoption, or orphan care,” says U.S. missionary Eric D. Porter, “God has mandated that the Church should care for the vulnerable.”
Porter and his wife, Trisha, have adopted two children. They lead Backyard Orphans, a ministry in Midlothian, Texas, that has a dozen team members. The Porters have been involved in training church leaders about orphan care for a decade, with Backyard Orphans playing a part in seeing over 1,000 hurting children placed in healing homes. The couple, married for 22 years, also have four biological children.
The AG Foster Care Network website lists multiple ways Christians can provide supportive roles for foster parents, including praying; donating furniture, clothing, or meals; and providing services such as baby-sitting, respite care, and transportation. Churches can help with efforts to donate backpacks, offer kinship care, and sponsor kids at camp. Porter, 45, says a dozen of the AG’s geographic and language districts/networks have developed an organized foster care/orphan ministry.
Rick W. DuBose, assistant general superintendent of the U.S. Assemblies of God, says the network has made a diverse group of individuals and churches already involved in foster care ministry aware of each other.
“We have discovered that a lot was going on, but they weren’t doing it together,” says DuBose 65. “With COMPACT bringing their tools to the table and connecting with individuals — many who are now U.S. missionaries — we can reach the whole nation.”
Now any church that wants to be involved can visit the network website and get started, according to DuBose, who, with his wife, Rita, has been a respite care provider.
DuBose says when he learned of the need, he felt compelled to get involved. He believes many congregants will follow suit.
“The goal of the AG Foster Care Network is to make people aware of the modern-day orphan,” DuBose says. “We’re this far down the road because all these pioneers have jumped in when they realized how scriptural it is.”
In early October, the inaugural AG foster care conference will take place in Dallas. The two-day networking event for ministry leaders will further cement relationships in the denomination for those focused on making sure that children who need a home find one. The conference will feature workshops and a variety of speakers, including AG General Superintendent Doug Clay, foster care pioneer Aaron C. Blake Sr., orphan care advocate W.C. Martin, and DuBose, who believes the conference could be a game changer.
Porter, who hopes district and church leaders will attend, calls the AG a trailblazer on the issue.
“The Assemblies of God is leading the endeavor to get the entire Fellowship to support children and families in foster care,” Porter says. “No other denomination has done that before.”
Porter, DuBose, and Mooney are all members of the AG Foster Care steering committee. Others on the team likewise have been in the effort for a long time. They include:
• Aaron C. Blake Sr., initiator of the Global Orphan Project CarePortal, which unites social workers with Christian nongovernmental organizations for families in crisis. Blake, pastor of Greater Faith Community Church in Brownwood, Texas, has, with his wife, Mary, fostered teenagers. Blake has been instrumental in advancing the cause of foster care/adoption ministry in the AG’s North Texas District.
• U.S. missionary Ted Stackpole, who with his wife, Angie, has adopted six children in Palatka, Florida.
• Ordained AG minister Sharen E. Ford, who is director of adoption and foster care for the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.
• Ordained AG pastor Allen L. Griffin, who operates a ministry for orphans and teens called Excellerate, with his wife, Hashmareen. Allen, who is pastor of Winston-Salem First in North Carolina, grew up in a home with 26 foster siblings.
• Ordained AG minister Wayne R. Tesch, who, with his wife, Diane, has improved the plight of children through mentorship, fostering, adoption, and camp experiences at For the Children, formerly known as Royal Family KIDS.
• U.S. missionary Gary P. Webb, who with his wife, Tammie, operates OCJ Kids in Phoenix, acting as liaison in contacting churches with those in foster care.
• Chris N. Beard, AG pastor of Peoples Church in Cincinnati. Under Beard’s direction, in 2008 Peoples Church co-founded the Coalition of Care in Cincinnati. Through that organization, Peoples Church helped launch Careportal in Ohio.
• Johan Mostert, director of family and community resources (CompaCare) for COMPACT Family Services, wrote a comprehensive systems manual for the agency that delineates the concept of wraparound care to support families with foster children in their home.
Meanwhile, Alan B. Bixler last week began duties as the new executive director of COMPACT Family Services in Hot Springs, Arkansas, replacing Mooney. Bixler and his wife, Heather, have been serving as lead pastors of Crosswalk Community Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the past eight years.
“Alan comes with a wealth of experience when it comes to leadership and strategic community endeavors,” says DuBose, who is COMPACT Family Services board chairman. “His professional expertise will bring about great execution in the future of this ministry.”
The Bixlers previously served as youth pastors at Legacy Church in Hot Springs.
Photo: The Porter family has firsthand experience in foster care and adoption. From left, Kelsey, 13; Halle Jo, 10; Isaac, 16; Robert, 15; Eric, Trisha, Kale, 13; and Madison, 18.