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Demonstrating the Father’s Heart

Ohio ministry equips churches to care for vulnerable children and families.
Karie A. Griffin is a veteran of foster care ministry, taking in the first of six children — a boy she later adopted — five years ago. But when Adventure Church in Lewis Center, Ohio, wanted to establish a foster care ministry, pastor Kyle T. Hammond referred Griffin to Father’s Heart.

A ministry that trains churches to care for vulnerable children and families, Father’s Heart is part of the Ohio Ministry Network based in Columbus. Directed by ordained AG minister Paris L. Yanno, 56, Father’s Heart came to life in 2018 after her husband, Al R. Yanno, became director of the Ohio Church Multiplication Network.

Her role includes speaking, teaching workshops at conferences, and providing education and resources to encourage churchgoers to support foster families or to become foster parents themselves. Sometimes, that dovetails into adoption.

Griffin, 45, says Yanno helped her get the new outreach organized at the suburban Columbus church of 600 that she attends. About 20 members volunteer regularly and in late June, Adventure Church held its second respite event of 2022. It allowed foster and adoptive parents to take a four-hour break while the church provided children with a meal, fun activities, and Bible instruction.

“It’s an opportunity to feed into the kids and give families a break,” says Griffin, a social worker for a Franklin County agency. “Foster parenting is not easy.”

Yanno is a longtime resident of Youngstown, where she and her husband planted Metro Assembly. After the couple moved to central Ohio, Ministry Network Superintendent John Wootton asked Yanno if she would start a ministry helping churches minister to vulnerable children. She quickly agreed.

“That’s right up my alley,” says Yanno, a veteran of working with youngsters in Youngstown’s inner city. “That’s what God has called me to do.”

Father’s Heart focuses on three areas, starting with prevention. It is part of CarePortal, a network offering help to at-risk families so their children never enter the foster care system. It’s a way for churches to know vetted needs in their community and to be able to meet them, according to Yanno.

The second emphasis is intervention, by raising up foster and adoptive families. Although Father’s Heart doesn’t license foster parents, the ministry directs people to agencies that do. The organization likewise provides relational support for families, with congregants providing such services as preparing a monthly meal or transporting foster children to appointments.

In addition, Father’s Heart assists youth turning 18 to transition out of the foster care system. The ministry connects vulnerable teens to congregations that can help them avoid homelessness and sex traffickers. Adherents befriend residents, invite them over for dinner, and teach them life skills like driving a car or applying for college. One AG congregation, Rush Church in Boardman, provides mentors to teens in a group home.

“Two of the families wound up adopting teens, even though they were 17 and 18,” Yanno says. “One woman took a young girl under her wing when she aged out of the system and became pregnant. Now that young woman is in a church, serving God and starting a ministry to other girls aging out.”

Toledo First pastor Darren P. Gambrell and his wife, Heather, decided to become foster parents after hearing how the Yannos had taken in three foster kids after having three biological children. The Gambrells already have three birth children.

“We went into it because our heart is to follow God’s Word,” says Gambrell, 49. “James 1:27 talks about taking care of widows and orphans. We knew we were doing the will of God.”

In 2020, the Gambrells started offering respite care for other foster parents. Two months later, they began fostering three sisters, then the girls’ brother. They are on the verge of adopting all four.

It’s rewarding to see the lives of children transformed because of the love of godly families taking them in, Yanno says.

“Seeing these kids being loved and cared for and families changed is the favorite part for me,” Yanno says. “Not everybody can be a foster parent or adoptive parent, but everybody can do something.”

Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.