Pilot program helps hurting foster children in Springfield
By Allen Palmeri
November 18, 2003
ST. LOUIS – John Marshall wants the Missouri Baptist Convention to come to the aid of Missouri’s hurting children.
Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church , Springfield , is pioneering a pilot program where his church is partnering with the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home (MBCH). About a dozen trained foster parents and more than 300 volunteers are working through the church to provide foster care to the greater Springfield community, said Debbie Cooper, children’s minister at Second. The model is meant to be reproduced all over Missouri, she said.
“It becomes a full program where the whole church is involved," Marshall said. “If Missouri Baptists would do this, the foster care crisis in Missouri would be over. Children would have good homes. They would get saved. Also, because we have to interact with the birth parents, the birth parents would get saved.
“This is a critical thing. This is our moment. If Missouri Baptists would step up to the plate in this foster care ministry and partner with the MBCH, it would revolutionize our state and revolutionize the concept that the lost have about Missouri Baptists. This is our opportunity."
The state has neglected to fix the foster care problem for three years, Marshall said. A year ago it became personified through the death of foster child two-year-old Dominic James, in Springfield . John Wesley Dilly was convicted Nov. 7 of fatally abusing his foster son.
The state’s child abuse and neglect system has undergone three government reviews as a result of the James case. The Legislature passed a bill this year tied to the memory of James that would have reformed the state’s foster care and child welfare system. Gov. Bob Holden vetoed the bill in July, calling some of the bill’s remedies misguided.
Marshall said that one of his church members, retired Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice John Holstein, was commissioned to lead a study group on the foster care crisis shortly after the death of little Dominic. Missouri Baptists worked closely with lawmakers on the bill that Holden ultimately vetoed.
“The government is not the solution to problems anyway," Marshall said.
Bob Kenison, MBCH president said the state “is ill-equipped to parent children, and a church has a command of God to strengthen families."
That philosophy is what led to the MBCH approaching Marshall with the idea of Second Springfield serving as a pilot program.
“I think this came from the mind of God," said Robbi Haynes, foster parent recruiter for the MBCH and the person responsible for initiating the plan.
It starts with one foster family in one church, Haynes said. The MBCH provides training and brings the foster child to a church. A support network that provides such things as money, goods, transportation, tutoring, prayer and respite care is set up to serve the foster family. Ideally, as is the case with Second Springfield, several foster families and hundreds of volunteers will step up to meet the need.
“It certainly is something that’s near and dear to the heart of our people," said Cooper, who explained that church member Jill Penticuff serves under her and actually oversees the foster care ministry.
“What better opportunity does the church have than to reach out to these children and put them in Christian homes?" Cooper reasoned.
In 2002, when the state’s foster care crisis was coming to light through the James case, Marshall was delivering three lectures on church health at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He based his second sermon, love your neighbor as yourself, on the night Jesus healed everybody in His hometown of Capernaum . Southern Baptists have overlooked the concept of healing every hurt, particularly with regard to foster care, he stressed.
“I think Jesus forevermore made a statement right there of what you’re supposed to do in your hometown," Marshall said. “You heal every hurt you can. I don’t care what the hurt is, what the problem is, you’re trying to find ways to help. That lecture of the three was probably the most surprising to the seminary because it’s a concept that somehow people have missed."
Kenison said the MBCH is eager to promote this type of church-based foster care in light of the ongoing privatization of social services work. Churches are wanting to know more about the model, he said, and Haynes is serving as a point of contact for pastors. The MBCH is a licensed child placing agency in Missouri.
“The Children’s Home provides an entrance into the state system for the church," Kenison said. “The church provides what the state can never provide. So we’re firmly convinced that this is part of our ministry."
As Marshall looked around the room Nov. 5 at the Millennium Hotel, the pastor of one of the three largest Missouri Baptist churches in the state felt the need to challenge the messengers of the 2003 convention. Marshall, who will give the convention sermon in 2004, wanted to give his fellow Missouri Baptists something to think about.
“Sitting in this room right now are the people who can solve the foster care crisis in the state of Missouri ," he said at the convention.
Pastors who would like to join with Marshall in caring for Missouri’s hurting children can call Haynes at (417) 831-2342.