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Reader feedback: Have churches lost their passion for Christian child care?

Robert Kimberly serves as executive director of Southeastern Children’s Home in Duncan, S.C. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

Blogging from Duncan, S.C.
After 30 years in Christian child care, Robert Kimberly still has a passion for it.
In 1981, Kimberly graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. Soon afterward, the native Floridian and his wife, Kim, went to work as houseparents for Mount Dora Children’s Home, northwest of Orlando, Fla.
Twenty-one years ago, Kimberly joined Southeastern Children’s Home in this small town west of Spartanburg, S.C.
“I love what I do,” the South Carolina home’s executive director told The Christian Chronicle during a recent tour of the 50-acre campus overlooking the Smoky Mountains.
Yet he wonders if Churches of Christ themselves are as passionate about caring for children in need as they were once were.

Residents pose for a photo at Southeastern Children’s Home in Duncan, S.C. (Photo provided by Christy Nodine)

Since at least the 1950s, Christian children’s homes have been a core ministry of many congregations, said Kimberly, a member of the Central Church of Christ in Spartanburg. But now, he said, “we’re sort of falling through the cracks.”
“I think that a big concern is that fewer and fewer of our dollars are coming from the churches,” said Kimberly, a board member for the Christian Child and Family Services Association. “And so the pressure then is to go to corporations and maybe even to take state dollars for the care of our children. That becomes a mixed bag.”
I’ll share more from my visit to South Carolina in a future Christian Chronicle story. But I’d love feedback from church members as well as those involved in Christian child care:
Do we in Churches of Christ support children’s homes the way we once did? Why or why not? Are these ministries still vital, or are other, less-expensive endeavors — such as caring for orphans outside the U.S. — a higher priority? Please be sure to include your full name and home congregation in case we decide to quote you.

  • Feedback
    I was involved in Christian Child care for 29 years, serving as a counselor, houseparent, houseparent supervisor, and other positions. I worked for 2 agencies in 2 states. I believe these ministries serve an often overlooked part of our culture. Many of us talk about the decline of the family in our country and in our churches, but Christian children’s homes truly make a difference in strengthening families! However, I can say from experience that when a program starts to make money from the state, the demands that come with that money come with a high price. The program that I left last year was funded by churches and state money; all of the youth in the program were state placements. I left because more often than not the youth had more rights than the staff–they could be vile in their speech, violent in their behavior, and to say they were ‘unruly’ would be a gross under statement. I do not support that program financially, but I do keep the staff in my prayers as they are in the battlefield. This program probably doesn’t receive as much support as it once did; it’s hard to get Christians to support a program that: a) takes state funding, b) gets negative media attention when the youth run away, commit crimes, etc. I do not maintain any relationships with any of the youth that I worked with in this program. On the other hand, I do maintain relationships (through facebook) with MANY of the youth from the other program, which I left in 2000. Time and again I hear from these former residents that being at the children’s home helped them and their parents. Many of these young people are now parents themselves, so I like to think that somehow I played a part in helping the be better parents.
    Cindi Cotton
    August, 31 2011

    Thanks for the reminder.
    August, 31 2011

    Regrettably, churches supporting children’s homes from the treasury was the spark that ignited a tragic division in the Lord’s Church over 60 years ago. Today over 2,000 churches of Christ in the U.S. and even more worldwide continue to stand opposed to sending any money to human institutions as a way of carrying out the work of evangelism, edification, or benevolence. While we will not support these children’s homes from the treasury, we continue to encourage and promote good works individually to help our communities, support youth programs, mission work, and those in need.
    Dennis Billingsley
    August, 31 2011

    At one point we were trying to get more involved with a children’s home. We were going to send items to a specific house on a monthly basis. Something for the kids like bday gifts, movie tickets, etc. Or whatever they needed. We planned on using around $50 a month. When it came down too it, it seems that the house parents didn’t have time to tell us what their needs were. It’s almost as if they would rather have a check sent to the children’s home than doing something more personal. We send a check to a mission work. Sometimes we’d like to do something other than mail a check. It’s not as personal.
    Christy Hunter
    August, 31 2011

    As a former houseparent, I’m sorry to hear that your outreach wasn’t well received. I would have been happy (back in the day) to have heard from Christians like you…I know folks often want to do something more personal than write a check. I’m the same way-it feels more like you are giving when there are people that you are connected to. Some staff at children’s homes are more receptive than others, and some have a houseparent supervisor/program director to oversee such activities, because houseparents are folks that never have enough time in their day!
    Cindi Stuart Cotton
    August, 31 2011

    I was a houseparent at Sunnybrook in MS and we had an awesome church that supported us. They sent a monthly allowance for us to do outings, sent birthday money and we threw us huge parties for Christmas. We visited them often and always felt very loved.
    Rene Blake
    August, 31 2011

    I still believe that the Lord’s church is as passionate as it ever was about providing for God’s children; however, many of these congregations are now having to spend their resources on families in crisis within their own churches. In the 1940s, home, church and school topped the list of the most influential things in the lives of youth. When that was the norm, churches were able to reach outside themselves to provide for other children and families in crisis. Today; however, those three influences from the 40s are not even in the top five. They have been replaced with the media, internet, movies, television, etc. In light of these influences on today’s home, leaders in our churches are having to scramble to meet the needs of their own families in crisis, which means they are also having to shift their focus and resources inward in many cases.
    Children’s homes are still a very vital part of the Lord’s work. We provide a loving, Christian environment in which children who have been neglected, abandoned or abused can find their value. We work to help these children see God and His glory in all things. We strive to help them come to the realization that they are, in fact, a blessing in this life and that they matter.
    In my opinion, the responsibility to provide for these children in Christian children’s homes rests with three groups: 1) The Christian – we are commanded to practice pure and undefiled religion before the Father and sometimes that involves sacrifices on our part to meet the needs of someone less fortunate; 2) The church – churches and their leaders must determine what is necessary in the work of Lord’s church and what is fluff. Sometimes, churches incur huge debt and ministry reduction because they deem is necessary to tear down old barns to build bigger and nicer barns; and 3) The children’s home itself – ministries that care for God’s hurting children bring a huge amount of responsibility to the table in the form of stewardship. We have to make sure we are using the Lord’s funds that people and congregations give to us for the care of His children in the best possible way.
    Micah Brinkley, CEO
    September, 1 2011

    We have lost our passion for a lot of things. Explains shrinking numbers!!!
    Don R. Pharis
    September, 1 2011

    Looking out for orphans remains a vital part of our faith, both personally and publicly. We need to renew our efforts to support children’s homes, adoption, and other methods that seek the long term benefit of the child.
    Jon Burnett
    September, 1 2011

    Our small congregation sends regular contributions of food, toiletries, or money to at least 3 or 4 different children’s homes in the area. These homes do a great and valuable work! I have seen the remarkable difference they can make in the lives of children. I hope that our churches are not getting so focused on entertaining people to get them in the door that we forget about those who really need us.
    Stephanie Skelton
    September, 1 2011

    I have a slightly different perspective from most of the previous posters. In the 1960’s I grew up in a Church of Christ sponsored children’s home in California – Sierra Children’s Home.
    I can tell you if it hadn’t been for the God-fearing, loving people who were associated with that home I wouldn’t be the person I am today! They sent me to a Christian college where I met and married a wonderful Christian man. Now I am an elder’s wife and my husband is the elder over the Benevolence Ministry.
    That being said I do have concerns about children’s homes today. Times were very different back when I lived at Sierra. We were nearly completely funded by church members. It wasn’t until I left for college in 1970 that more state funding came into play. It changed the home forever and not for the good.
    Now days the government is so involved and has made it nearly impossible for a houseparent to parent in a Christian manner. When a home has to accept state or federal funds they also have to accept the “rules” and limitations that go with them.
    One aspect for consideration…we always knew whenever the doors were open on the church were expected to attend. It was a foundational rule of Sierra. Now if the child doesn’t want to go you cannot make them. As a previous poster indicated, the kids have all the legal rights now and the houseparents and directors have little to none. This seems especially true as applies to Christian values.
    I don’t know what the future holds for children’s homes. I do know that there are still kids out there that need your love and guidance. You may be the only one that ever shows them Jesus. I’m a living example of a child that was brought to Him by someone just like you.
    Donna Heck
    September, 1 2011

    The growing missionary outreach among Churches of Christ has opened many eyes to a world full of needy and hurting children and orphans. It is estimated that there are over 143 million orphans around the globe. Orphan’s Lifeline of Hope, a Church of Christ supported ministry, has aided 28,000 international orphans in the past few years through the help of hundreds of churches and thousands of individual Christians. We believe that interest in helping needy children is grouwing, not diminishing. We are seeing churches in every state and in several countries becoming involved and passionate about the support and care of orphan children. And we believe that this passion will be revived and reflected in the 35 or so state-side children’s homes supported by Churches of Christ as we begin to emerge from the cocoons of our build-centered ministries and get out of the pew and into the streets. Most of Orphan’s Lifeline supporters are smaller congregations who are excited about the opportunity they have been given to become involved and to make a difference in the lives of needy children. Our “Guide to Creating an Orphan Care Ministry in Your Church” was written to encourage churches to think seriously and become passionate about practicing pure and undefiled religion, and to create an intentional and focused ministry to needy children wherever they are found. If we are truly striving to be New Testament churches then we must take seriously our Biblical mandate to care “for the least of these.” State-side children’s homes can do a better job about informing churches of the need and asking for their help. Churches need to respond to these needs, and understand that Jesus is more concerned about what we do for “the least of these” than about all the expensive Church real estate we try to maintain. All of us at Orphan’s Lifeline dream of what good could be done for millions of orphans (and for our churches too)if each of the 10,000+ Churches of Christ took James 1:27 seriously.
    Larry Bertram
    September, 1 2011

    A few years ago, I wrote an article for Christian Woman about the difference in the relationships between children’s homes and churches these days compared to when I was growing up. The research I did showed that many churches stopped giving to children’s homes because they assumed plenty of funding was available from government and because some congregations wanted to see immediate and tangible “bang for their buck.” It takes years to see the real affect Christian child care has on a child’s life. Giving to a three-week mission project makes churches and individuals feel more effective.
    It’s a shame because the impact Christians have on a child’s life can be powerful and carry forward in the lives of their children and future generations.
    Resources for children are disappearing every day with budget cuts in government programs and drastic reductions in donations to programs such as those offered by Christians. The need for services to sibling groups in foster care, teenagers and medically-fragile children is more critical every day. It is so important that the church begin to see this need and take up the challenge to bring Christ into these children’s lives.
    Supporting existing programs financially and as volunteers, financing new programs, and working within their congregations to recruit families to foster siblings – all of this needs to be happening. Now.
    Pam Baggott
    September, 1 2011

    I am a Preacher for the Church of Christ in Tennessee
    I am currently also a CASA volunteer(Court Appointed Specialized Advocate for abused and neglected children)-I have two cases that I am involved in right now-I speak on behalf of the children to the Courts-I’m only interested in what is best for the child
    If people in the church are interested and have a passion for helping children(especially abused and neglected children)here is your opportunity to be trained and become a CASA volunteer
    Bernie Barton
    220 Midway Subdivision,
    Rickman, Tn. 38580
    If interested in becoming a CASA volunteer-call me at
    931 498-3515
    Bernard Barton
    September, 5 2011

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