In Mississippi, around 5,000 children live in foster care. For years, the state’s Child Protective Services agency was swamped. Then the church stepped in.
Tony Karnes is a pastor at Michael Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. In 2015, Karnes visited the Harrison County Children’s Shelter. It’s meant to be a one- or two-day emergency shelter for kids who must leave bad situations quickly. But it was filled with children. Some had been there for months. There was nowhere else for them to go.
The scene broke Karnes’ heart. He knew the answer wasn’t in just dropping off supplies. It was going to mean getting involved on a personal level.
Thinking of James 1:27 (Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction), Karnes set an ambitious goal. He determined to recruit 100 new foster families, including fostering in his own home as well. His church got on board. But potential foster families’ paperwork sometimes took more than a year for approval. Families had to gather references, complete home studies, get doctor approvals, vaccinate pets, and secure life insurance. The drawn-out process turned away some prospective parents.
Karnes and his church boldly pitched to the state a plan for a streamlined process that he dubbed Rescue 100. Foster parents train through online courses and an intense, one-day event. It takes just three months to get licensed.
It worked. The state made it official and soon added more than 300 new foster homes, including Kevin and Kelli Lundy.
The Lundys have fostered eight children since becoming licensed. They know their church—with more than 50 foster families—stands with them. Mrs. Lundy can ask when they need size 3 summer clothes or a sitter for the night. And foster kids involved at Michael Memorial Baptist Church reap another benefit. Kids who have experienced trauma can relate to other kids there with similar trials.
A shaky family foundation makes growing up and building a stable life a lot harder. If parents can’t or won’t take care of their children, foster families can offer a safe and loving environment.
But family reunification, if possible, is always the goal. The church works to keep biological parents involved. That could include connecting parents with job training or rehab facilities. Parents are also invited to church services and activities. One foster mom in the church taught a biological mom to drive. She had Bible studies with the mom and helped her get a job.
Karnes emphasizes the value of everyone involved: “That child comes from a family unit.”
After seeing Rescue 100’s success, other states are looking at Mississippi’s model too.
This story was made possible with reporting from WORLD News Group’s Effective Compassion team.