Finding New Recruits
Until recently, a half-dozen families have been actively involved in foster care at Pine Bluff First Assembly, a church with 800 regular attendees. Now, another three families have committed to becoming foster parents, while an additional 15 people have agreed to support these couples with “wraparound care” at the Arkansas church.
“The holistic approach to parenting and family involvement is the most important aspect of CompaCare,” says Karla M. Smith, who heads up the program for the church. “When children who are in foster care have a Christian mother and father in the home and other people in the church functioning as a complete family, they will be grounded in Christian principles of love and redemption.”
According to Smith, the end result is that many children — who never had been in a church before — return to their biological family with accounts of how the Lord has helped them.
Smith, 45, spent 14 years working as an Arkansas Department of Human Services adoptive specialist. Smith, who is African-American, notes that the majority of children in foster care in Pine Bluff are African-American. Pine Bluff is 76 percent black, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Lance E. Nelson, 38, foster care director with COMPACT Family Ministries, based in Hot Springs, believes some African-Americans may be less reluctant to become involved with a church foster care program than one solely operated by the government. Pine Bluff First Assembly is 53 percent black, although lead pastor Gary M. Bell is white.
“This is an incredible opportunity for us to make a difference in the community,” says Bell, who also is a COMPACT board member. “The wraparound structure is a great model for church ministry. Period.”
Smith is about to share the CompaCare ministry opportunity with other local congregations.
“We want families, regardless of race, that will love these children through the process,” Smith says.
Nelson is grateful that Bell is on board.
“The absolute key to CompaCare’s success is full-throated support from the pastor,” Nelson says.
Meanwhile, ecumenical backing for CompaCare has blossomed in Hot Springs in large part due to the influence of businessman and pastoral counselor Doug Gulley of Gospel Light Baptist Church, the largest Baptist church in the city. Gulley says reading the 90-page CompaCare Manual ignited his passion for the cause.
“The book helped me understand the depth and breadth of the problem,” says Gulley. “I read stuff I couldn’t unread.”
For three years, Gulley has been instrumental in overseeing an interdenominational pastoral prayer group that has more than 100 churches on its roster. He has talked about the CompaCare strategy to many of his pastoral contacts from the prayer meetings.
“Because of the manual, churches can embrace and own this,” says Gulley, who functions as somewhat of a COMPACT ambassador. “Each church I’ve gone to has been waiting for something like this.”