FROM THE STATES: La., Okla., Va. evangelism/missions news; La. families learning to care for orphans

Baptist Press
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Posted: May 27, 2014 4:22 PM
Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist Message (Louisiana)

The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma)

Proclaimer (Virginia)

25 La. families begin process to adopt children

from state foster care at adoption conference

By Mark H. Hunter

BATON ROUGE, La. (Baptist Message) -- More than 300 children in Louisiana state foster care are waiting for adoption and almost that many people attended a "Wait No More" conference to do something about it.

Dewayne and Sharon Smith of Slidell want to foster and/or adopt a little girl while Billy and Tessie Grigg of Gonzales want a baby. Buford and Lisa Quick, also of Gonzales, are praying about an older child or a teenager.

The Smiths and Griggs and Quicks were just three of more than 100 families and couples who attended the "Wait No More: Finding Families for Louisiana's Waiting Kids," conference, sponsored by the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministries, Focus on the Family, the Louisiana Family Forum and the state Department of Children and Family Services and hosted May 10 by Istrouma Baptist Church.

Testimonies from two women who grew up in foster care, a man who has adopted several children and a woman who grew up in a family who fostered other children moved the audience to both applause and tears. Reports from several officials detailed the long and complicated processes while encouraging the potential parents to not get discouraged with the wait.

"We had 25 families start the process of adoption from foster care on Saturday," reported Katie Overstreet, program director of Focus on the Family's Adoption and Orphan Care. "Our biggest prayer is that families will continue to pray about what role God may have for them in caring for vulnerable children in the community."

Approximately 4,000 children are in foster care at any one time and more than 300 of them are available for adoption, according to Kaaren Hebert, a policy advisor from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

"During the course of a year we serve over 7,000 children," Hebert said. "We work very hard to find the children a safe home in a safe and timely manner."

Istrouma's Senior Pastor Jeff Ginn reminded the audience, "Psalm 68:6 says 'The Lord sets the lonely in families -– God places the lonely in families -– and, of course, He did that with us -– He took us as sinners and adopted us into his family. We're thrilled to host a conference here to help the lonely find families."

Dewayne Smith, 51, a retired US Army Sergeant First Class, said since three of their four children are now grown, "we have some empty rooms and are looking at adopting a little girl. We've been blessed our entire lives with our children and we want to share that with some more kids coming up."

Billy and Tessie Grigg have three children of their own, ages 12, 10 and 7, and are praying about an infant. "God has been putting it on our hearts for about eight months or so and now it's time to step forward and trust God and believe in Him," he said.

Buford and Lisa Quick have six children and are praying about more.

"My heart was really moved toward the older children today," Lisa Quick said. "I've never really looked at that standpoint -- we always looked at adopting babies."

Speaker Shannon Vander Ark, now a worship pastor's wife with two children, described how she was abused by her mother's boyfriend and was removed from her home at the age of seven. "I went from foster home to foster home with all my belongings in a black garbage bag."

At the age of 10 she was taken in by a Christian foster family, "who cared about me, prayed for me and took me to church. I had no concept of who God was. Slowly, very slowly, love joy and peace began to overcome the bitterness and anger that I held onto for so many years," and at 13 years old she became a Christian.

Speaker Tiffany Jorgenson, told how her young life was filled with physical and sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, and the senseless death of her baby sister. The state removed her and her siblings and fostered them separately.

"I had lost everything I had known -- but fear. My perspective on life was shattered," she said, daubing away tears. She and her siblings were eventually adopted together.

"I personally do not believe that adoption is an accident or a way to fix a system that God did not plan for," she said. "I believe He uses our brokenness to show the world how he brings us into his own family. The love an adoptive family shows to a child is the same love He shows to us."

John Moore told how he and his wife have adopted seven children through Los Angeles County foster care, and Amy Perry, a member of the Selah singing group, told how her parents fostered more than 100 children as she was growing up.

Sharon Ford, of Focus on the Family and retired manager of Permanency Services for the Colorado Department of Human Services, explained government workers "work on behalf of the citizens of the state and the children. It is our job to protect them."

"Government was never meant to parent," Ford said several times, and explained that while the paperwork seems endless, "We need that information. We want to let go -- we want to find them a forever family."

Ford reminded the audience that while we get impatient waiting for the traffic light or the line at the grocery store to move faster, "some of these children are waiting for years. Our kids don't deserve to wait."

During the conference, the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home unveiled Connect 1:27, which offers individuals and churches a toolkit to be a "helper to the orphan." The toolkit includes an orphan ministry guide, the theology of adoption, an orphan care sermon, Bible study and prayer guides, adoption options, a foster care and adoption parent guide and "Fields of the Fatherless" by Tom Davis.

Churches will have access to online resources available only to Connect 1:27 Network members and will receive a monthly Connect 1:27 e-newsletter. Connect 1:27 is based on God's command of James 1:27.

Rev. Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said, "We're excited we have parents and organizations from all over the state cooperating in a common goal to connect children who are currently in the foster care system with permanent families. Having made the connections -- I believe a lot of these families will be connected."

This is the second year of an ambitious program kicked off last year with the Over the Edge event and repeated this year. The initial goal was to connect 100 families in 100 churches with foster care children and so far, Mills said, 92 churches have gotten involved.

"The process of adopting a child through foster care is a steeper climb than we understood initially -- and that's the reason we came back for the second year," Mills said. "I know dozens and dozens of families have been connected and are either fostering now with the hopes of adoption or who have completed their adoption."

The day before, Mills said, at the Over the Edge rappel event downtown Baton Rouge, he met a young lady who although she had "timed out" of the foster care system, was still following through the adoption process with a North Shore family to make their relationship permanent.

"Now she will have a family to fill that hole in her heart," Mills said. "She will have someone she can call on -- it IS working."

This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Mark H. Hunter is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message.

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Small Okla. church is

going & growing

By Staff

PONCA CITY, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) -- Donnie Hazlewood grew up in Ponca City. His early impression of Longwood Baptist Church there: "It was the church that was a little outside of town I thought nobody went to." Now he has a different perspective.

"God is doing something remarkable through Longwood Church in Ponca City," Hazlewood said.

This is something that has been repeated over and over again by members of the Oklahoma church. Founded in 1896, it is considered to be the oldest church in Kay County, but this body of believers is having an impact on its community today.

More than 30 people have joined the church since September 2012 (15 since October 2013). That might not sound like a large number, but for the people of the church, it's nothing short of miraculous.

In September 2012, Longwood called Hazlewood as its pastor. God is using him and the people of this church to be a light in Ponca City. With the new members and those who are visiting each week, the church has more than doubled in size. The church has hired two part-time staff members, and has seen the youth ministry grow from an average of 3-4 students to nearly 20. They even had to knock out a wall between two Sunday School classrooms to make a youth room large enough to hold the students.

The church also has found creative ways to minister and take the Gospel to Ponca City. One of these ways was an answer to a problem.

"Last spring, we faced the fact that we didn't have the number of children to justify having a Vacation Bible School (VBS) on the church campus. God provided a solution that has led to an amazing ministry to the community," Hazlewood said.

The decision was made to have a "backyard Bible club" or "backyard VBS" in a neighborhood in the town. Almost 30 children attended the three-day event. Church leaders led the children in games, fed the children lunch and shared the Gospel through the willingness of its members to be used by God.

"This ministry was a resounding success, but no one could have imagined what would happen next," the pastor said.

As the summer came to a close, the church decided to canvass the same area of town where the VBS took place. This time they had a back-to-school block party, where they served the community hot dogs, played games with the children, passed out school supplies and shared the Gospel.

"We sacked up 25 bags of school supplies, thinking that would be enough," said deacon Butch Hiatt. "We had no idea God was going to answer our prayers to reach our city like He did."

Before the evening was finished Longwood had almost 200 people in the neighborhood playing games, eating food, and hearing the Gospel preached.

"It was an amazing evening, but once again the church had a really good problem," Hazlewood said. "We had prepared 25 bags of school supplies for children, but that need had swelled to more than 75."

The next day at church, a special offering was taken to offset the cost of purchasing the remaining school supplies for 50 children. The money given was almost exactly the cost needed to purchase the remaining supplies.

"We had $2.18 left after buying the all the supplies," Hazlewood marveled. "As we look forward to what God is going to do next, we can all safely say, 'God really is doing something remarkable through Longwood Church.'"

This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

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Va. pastor must 'plow'

before planting church

By Walt Davis

CROZET, Va. (Proclaimer) -- Walt Davis (SBCV church planter) and Richard Boyce (SBCV church planter apprentice) have seen the benefits of "church plowing" as they've planted Life Journey Church in Crozet, Va. Davis shares their story in his own words:

In March of 2011, we sat in the SBCV office in Glen Allen, Va., at Basic Training (now PLANT), trying to soak up as much wisdom as possible before moving to Crozet, Va., a suburb of Charlottesville. God was calling us there to plant Life Journey Church. One of the golden nuggets of wisdom that we'll never forget is fellow planter Chris Dowd's explanation of "church plowing." He said that before a church can be planted in the soil of a community, the soil, very likely, will need to be plowed. As any farmer will prepare the soil for planting, the communities in which we plant churches in Virginia may also have hard soil. Western Albemarle County is no different than most counties in our state!

In order to gain trust, rapport, and build key relationships with "people of peace," we knew that we needed to invest all of our efforts in a variety of "church plowing" initiatives.

Richard and I led our church to plow by the usual servant-focus events like block parties and helping local businesses connect with newer residents. However, one of the church plowing efforts that has yielded exceptional results is our partnership with the boosters program at the local high school. Just a month or so after we moved to Crozet, we shared the idea of raising money from local businesses and organizations to print 1,000 "spirit shirts" for the biggest home football game of the season and then pass them out at the gate free of charge. Understandably, those in leadership at the school were not as excited as we were—they were somewhat guarded and cautious.

In order to try to further plow, we volunteered to paint one of the concession stands at the football stadium (which sort of stuck out like a sore thumb with its brown paint) in a sea of blue and gold. They permitted us to paint the concession stand and, with some limitations, agreed for us to give away the shirts. Once they saw the success and effect of the event with 1,000 students and fans in the same yellow shirt that was promoting the school and supporting businesses, they were eager to have us repeat it a second year! We have since done it a third year, and it's now an annual event on the school calendar known as the "Free WAHS Spirit Shirt Giveaway Day."

Because of the tedious plowing those first years, the school requested to become a part of the event this year. Therefore, we partnered with a division of the Guidance Department, using the t-shirts to focus on the theme of "Students Making Wise Choices as It Relates to Alcohol."

Further, seeing a need for concession stand volunteers at the game, we coordinated with Liberty University, and they sent 13 of their students to serve concessions during the game, all while wearing Life Journey Church shirts! As if it couldn't get any better, two of the administrators at our last "plowing game" went out of their way to find us and thank us for the t-shirts and the concession volunteers. One of them even invited me to their home.

There's much plowing yet to do, but as we stood there watching Life Journey Church serving from the inside of the concession stands (whereas just two years ago we were only serving on the outside as we painted the stand), we were overwhelmed with emotion seeing how God had done a work of plowing soil. Now, we are in and a part of the community, serving it from the inside out rather than being outsiders trying to get in. There are now several families associated with the football program who call Life Journey Church their home! We know that God is the one who does the plowing of the heart, but He certainly uses us in the process to prepare the way for His Spirit to bring forth life.

This article appeared in the Proclaimer (sbcv.org/articles/category/proclaimer), newsjournal of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Walt Davis is church planter of Life Journey Church.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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