respond to foster care opportunities
By Becky Walters
Listen for names,
not numbers, when you ask Michelle Grassau how many foster
children she and her husband, Scott, have parented in four
see, there’s Jennifer, James, Misty ... ” says
the Glenwood, Iowa, mother before coming up with the answer:
who have two birth children, consider it their calling to
open their home to children: “It’s not work,
it’s a ministry,” Michelle says.
God’s desire for our life,” Scott adds.
Foster care numbers,
though, are hard to ignore. More than half a million children
are in our nation’s system, a system that is under
scrutiny on Capitol Hill and experiencing massive overhauls
in states such as Missouri, New Jersey and Florida where
gross abuses have occurred.
home: The Grassau family has provided care for nine
foster children through the years.
Department of Health and Human Services estimates, 48 percent
of the children in foster care across the United States
live with a nonrelative, 24 percent live with a relative,
and 18 percent reside in institutions or group homes. The
remaining 10 percent are in preadoptive homes, supervised
independent living, on a trial home visit or have run away.
The median length of stay in foster care is 19 months. Of
the children who exit foster care, 57 percent are reunited
with their parents or primary caretakers while 18 percent
The 150,000 licensed
homes don’t come close to meeting placement needs,
experts say, and children at risk — including those
with physical and mental handicaps plus teens with emotional
difficulties — are especially hard to place.
executive vice president of Assemblies of God Charities,
learned that there are 126,000 of these children in the
foster care system needing homes. While in Washington, D.C.,
attending meetings on President Bush’s Faith-Based
and Community Initiative, he met with Susan Orr, associate
commissioner of the Children’s Bureau for the Department
of Health and Human Services.
the programs of the faith-based initiative is to care for
the children that are at risk,” Bongiorno says. “Her
request for the church was, ‘Please, please help us
with these children.’ ”
Funds are available
to people willing to help, though Bongiorno emphasizes that
the faith-based initiative isn’t just about receiving
money. “It’s about what we can give,”
he says. “The government needs the church, and what
a great opportunity to get involved and have these children
be able to experience a Christian home.”
would agree, after observing changes in the lives of youth
sharing their home. They’ve documented the progress
in a memory book.
pictures of our foster children when they come and when
they leave,” Michelle says. “In the beginning
their eyes are cold, lost and empty. After a year, they’re
vibrant, full of energy, full of life, full of love.”
During the process,
the Grassaus have become teachers of the basics: study and
social skills, money management and morals. The Grassaus
don’t take credit for the changes in countenance or
attitude of the girls currently in their home — ages
17, 14 and 14 — or the ones that have moved on to
that heart and soul that have been so lost and abused and
see such a difference — only God can do that,”
At their church,
First Assembly of God in Council Bluffs, Iowa, there’s
a lot of support for foster parenting. In the congregation
of about 200, seven families provide foster care.
God has used
Christians to minister to the girls, according to Michelle.
“You don’t have to be in foster care to do something
special for these kids,” she says. “They notice
it and they remember it. One of our girls was visiting with
her therapist who said, ‘Tell me about your family.’
Jess, who’s 14, said, ‘I have four families.
I have my birth family, I have my foster family, I have
my old foster family and I have God’s family.’
of the “fourth family” involves the people at
First Assembly, plus friends she’s met at district
youth camp and convention. “There are kids from across
the state who have made an impact on her life,” Michelle
Pastor Shawn Oberg, his wife, Ruthie, and their children,
Erik, 12, Corrie, 10, and Gracie, 6, have opened their home
to offer respite care for foster children and a break for
the tremendous needs of these boys and girls,” Oberg
says. “We prayed about it and found this is a way
of offering peace and safety and showing love to these kids.”
Since that time
more families have joined the church’s foster care
the need to our attention,” Oberg says. “We
just saw what God was doing and jumped on board and we’ve
seen major changes in the lives of these children. The Lord
is doing a work through the loving care of our foster families
and our church family as a whole.”
One family requested
prayer for an infant suffering from the illegal drugs his
birth mother had taken. “They asked me if we as a
church could pray for this little baby,” Oberg says.
“We not only prayed for him but we dedicated him to
the Lord right there. The doctors have seen the changes.
He’s not showing the residual effects of drugs.”
girls have accepted Jesus as Savior and have been baptized
in water. Three of them have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
isn’t for everyone, but there aren’t enough
Christians involved, Michelle says. She and Scott, parents
of Jordan, 6, and Sophia, 2, first considered the ministry
after observing friends.
always worked with kids in our church and we loved children,”
Michelle says. “I did a lot of research before we
decided. You always hear the worst-case scenarios like the
kids who will set your house on fire.”
with small children before settling with teen girls. Some
children never respond to the new environment. But Michelle
remains upbeat. “God is in control and if we keep
His Word and do what He has asked us to do, He will bless
that,” she says.