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Homosexual rights activists gain influence in public schools (10/17/04)

Church’s prayer births children’s ministry (10/17/04)

Partner program revitalizes dying church (10/10/04)

Church music festival attracts variety of visitors (10/10/04)

Churches urge compassion for alienated smokers (9/19/04)

Youth ride wooden waves in church parking lots (9/12/04)

A/G, COGIC join forces through inner-city campus (9/12/04)

Christians respond to victimized women and children (8/29/04)

Growing slavic church shares new facility (8/29/04)

Couple embarks on capitol prayer tour (8/29/04)

ADHD requires multifaceted treatment approach (8/22/04)

Small congregation grows — by planting churches (8/22/04)

‘Under God’ stays in Pledge of Allegiance, at least for now (8/8/04)

Church reaches out to those feeling loss (8/8/04)

Churches act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse (7/25/04)

Credit cards ensnare record number of Americans (7/25/04)

Church helps out with donated CD, recycled buses (7/25/04)

New wave of pastors minister to emerging adults (7/18/04)

‘Walking Witnesses’ raise thousands for missions (7/18/04)

Healing center offers alternative medicine (7/18/04)

Growing number of Hispanics impact economy (7/11/04)

'Busy' couple finds time for compassion ministry (7/11/04)

Hand-copied Bible leaves 40-year legacy (7/11/04)

Pastor ends hunger strike when strip club promises to sell (6/27/04)

‘Military survival kit’ requests inundate A/G (6/27/04)

Fourth of July outreach draws thousands (6/27/04)

Drivers warned to steer clear of distractions (6/27/04)

Pastors face more counseling demands (6/20/04)

Church uses touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community (6/20/04)

Outrageous self-expression often starts, stops at home (6/13/04)

Runner raises $5,200 for Convoy of Hope (6/13/04)

Euphemisms tempt Christians to conveniently shed sin, guilt (5/30/04)

Funds for Easter play buy groceries instead (5/30/04)

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans (5/23/04)

Spanish speakers face challenges, opportunities in United States culture (5/16/04)

Health experts implore Americans to get fit (5/9/04)

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism (4/25/04)

Riders feel at home in Orlando sanctuary (4/18/04)

Churches try to keep human touch with new media (4/11/04)

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity (3/28/04)

Tutoring improves lives, opens doors for evangelism (3/21/04)

Cybertheft costly — especially for Christians (3/14/04)

A/G women seize new ministry opportunities (2/29/04)

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards (2/22/04)

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities (2/15/04)

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges (2/8/04)

Few men seek help from abortion grief, guilt (1/18/04)

Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

2003 PE Report stories

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities

By Becky Walters Reigel (2/15/04)

Listen for names, not numbers, when you ask Michelle Grassau how many foster children she and her husband, Scott, have parented in four years.

“Let’s see, there’s Jennifer, James, Misty ... ” says the Glenwood, Iowa, mother before coming up with the answer: nine.

The Grassaus, 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.

“It’s 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.

Open home: The Grassau family has provided care for nine foster children through the years.

According to 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 are adopted.

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.

John Bongiorno, 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.

“One of 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.”

The Grassaus would agree, after observing changes in the lives of youth sharing their home. They’ve documented the progress in a memory book.

“We take 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 others.

“To take that heart and soul that have been so lost and abused and see such a difference — only God can do that,” Michelle says.

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.’ ”

Jess’ explanation 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 says.

First Assembly’s 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 foster families.

“We saw 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 ministry.

“God brought 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.”

Four teenage girls have accepted Jesus as Savior and have been baptized in water. Three of them have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Foster parenting 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.

“We had 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.”

They started 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.

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