Addressing the Orphan Care Crisis Upstream
To explain his clarion call to the Church regarding orphan care, Aaron C. Blake Sr. shares a fable about villagers desperately trying to save babies swept into the river before they disappeared over a waterfall. Then somebody had an idea: Go upstream and find where the babies are falling in.
That’s Blake’s call to action. Blake, 68, pastor of Greater Faith Community Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Brownwood, Texas, knows that the gospel will change the culture upstream. He’s helping the AG and churches across denominational lines throughout America do just that.
Many AG leaders who attended the inaugural national foster care roundtable in March credit the pastor with their involvement in orphan care. In the early 2000s, after Blake encouraged congregants to become certified foster parents and created Harvest Family Life Ministries , Brown County had more families waiting for children in foster care than kids needing placement. Later, when Blake expanded his ministry to Ellis County in metro Dallas and engaged churches in recruiting foster parents, soon that county had more than enough families for children awaiting placement.
“The clarion call is for the Church to respond to the needs of children and families in crisis,” Blake says.
But in time, he discovered that after county social workers found placements for its orphans, the need for families remained.
“We were catching some, but some were going over the waterfall,” Blake says. “How can we go upstream?”
Blake learned from years of pastoring a church in an impoverished, under-resourced community that the key is to engage, equip, and empower neighborhood congregations. Local pastors have the heart for the community where they live, he says.
“They’re going to be there long after the government leaves,” Blake says. “They have the DNA — the sense of culture and community values.” Local congregations provide emotional and spiritual support, but often aren’t valued by government social workers in terms of what they can provide.
“We didn’t have the resources, but we learned that the agencies that had resources didn’t have the cultural competence to understand cultural poverty, regardless of color,” Blake says. “Consequently we don’t have community transformation.”
The pipeline that places children in Child Protective Services custody frequently leads straight to the state penitentiary, according to Blake.
Blake points out that five times more children enter protective custody of the state because of neglect rather than abuse. He cites the example of the desperate mom forced to leave her children to go to work, hoping against hope that her 9-year-old child can care for an infant sibling.
“Maybe a church with a small day care can be the answer,” he says, noting the solution Greater Faith Community Church provided for working moms. “If a mother goes to work, is earning minimum wage, and has to get day care, she can’t make it. She’s making the best decision she can make.” Solutions may include tutoring, mentorship, or access to computers to take online classes, initiatives that Greater Faith offers through its Harvest House and Honors Program. That program has spread from the church’s Brownwood campus to Glenn Heights, a Dallas suburb.
Blake believes Christians who heed Jesus’ commands in Matthew 25 can solve poverty and the orphan crisis.
Rick DuBose, assistant general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, served as North Texas District superintendent when Blake invited him to speak at Greater Faith. Blake pointed out that the choir was composed of children fostered by families in the church. That opened the door to share with DuBose the depth of Greater Faith’s involvement in orphan care.
“He asked me what would happen if all the churches in the Assemblies of God valued foster children and were doing this?” DuBose recalls. “I told him It would change foster care as we know it.”
Blake continued to share his heart for helping orphans until DuBose agreed it must be a churchwide priority.
“Foster care in the Church today wouldn’t be where it is without Bishop Blake,” DuBose says. “His influence is obviously God ordained.”
Bottom Photo: Aaron Blake (right) discusses foster care with Chris Beard, pastor of Peoples Church in Cincinnati, at the foster care roundtable in March.