Two northwest Florida Baptist churches–Pensacola’s Olive Baptist Church and First Baptist Church on Bayshore in Niceville–are ministering to families who are bringing the light and hope of Christ into a child’s life through foster care and spurring other families to consider a similar path.
The ministry at Olive Church was developed two years ago, when Beth Harris sat down with Robert Zarahn, senior director of Foster Care for Florida Baptist Children’s Homes (FBCH) with the idea of beginning a ministry for families. From that meeting blossomed a partnership and in 2017 Olive began the ministry, “Fostering Family.”
“The vision was birthed through ten church families who were already involved in foster care,” said Harris. “We realized there was a need to introduce a two-fold ministry: one to advise and promote the opportunities to foster in the Greater Pensacola area and to also provide a path for our church family to support those called to foster.”
Fostering Family comes alongside families who decide to foster by praying, babysitting, or cooking meals for them. The ministry also refers new families who are interested in becoming licensed as foster parents through the FBCH’s One More Child program and hosts foster parent training sessions.
Currently an estimated 19,000 children in Florida are in foster care, according to American Adoptions, 2020. FBCH’s One More Child program works diligently to place children in loving foster homes. Last year, their licensed foster parents cared for nearly 1,700 foster children in the state.
Olive members Hesston and Ashley Hooten have been fostering for more than three years. During this time, 12 children have been placed in their home; three children have been adopted from foster care.
In recognition of their ministry, this year the couple was awarded FBCH’s Parent of the Year.
The Hootens began looking into foster care after Ashley read a blog about living out the belief that every life is precious to God. After a single foster care training class, they felt God was calling them to become foster parents.
“We were still apprehensive until we left the first class,” said Ashley. “Then we knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, this was where God wanted us to be.”
Fostering is different than one might imagine, she added. “I think most of the time folks get into fostering with really good intentions, wanting to help in any way they can. I think we underestimate how heavy some of these situations are until you’re actually in it.”
RJ Walters, FBCH communications director and a foster father himself, explained, “being involved in foster care means intentionally walking into family situations of trauma, brokenness and darkness and being determined that the light of the Gospel and the hope of Christ can restore and mend horrific circumstances.”
First Baptist Church on Bayshore pastor James Ross and his wife Christie are leading by example. They have been foster parents for 10 children and have adopted one child. The church’s associate pastor Justin Wyatt and his wife are also foster parents.
“A phrase some friends and I started using about foster care and adoption is that it is ‘hard but holy,’” said Wyatt. “As followers of Jesus we are called to engage the brokenness around us, love and serve, and share the news of Jesus.
He has a unique perspective on foster care after becoming a foster father.
“With foster care, sometimes people say, ‘I could never get attached to child and have to then send them back.’ I won’t deny that this is hard as I have seen so many close friends grieve in this process; however, each of them would also say this: ‘That is exactly what this child needs; someone to love them like that.’”
As their pastors take the lead, the congregation is proving to be incredibly supportive for the foster care community around them.
“Bayshore has collected tens of thousands of diapers over the years for local foster families, hosted speaking events on fostering, and hosted many foster parent training classes,” Walter said.
Here are practical ways you and your church can minister:
- Help meet physical needs of foster families: Cook meals, provide diapers, furnish clothes, give gift cards, help with yardwork, assist with laundry, tutor, or babysit. Encourage your small group to “adopt” a foster family
- Encourage your church to start a foster care ministry: FBCH makes it easy to start. Sign up as a Foster Crew, One More Child will work with your church to develop a team of volunteers to serve foster families and/or train them, inform them and help them get plugged into a community of people around the U.S. who are serving foster parents as well
- Pray for children in foster care or awaiting their foster family. Pray for families who have welcomed children into their homes, that they will be an example of God’s love. Ashley Hooten challenges, “Pray for God to show you how to serve and follow through! If you asked a foster family what they need the most, almost all of them would say this: we need more foster families! It is true. There is always a greater need for care of kids than there are families. So consider foster care and adoption, then take the next step!”