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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Heart as Big as Texas

North Texas District responds to foster care needs

By John W. Kennedy
July 13, 2014

When Assemblies of God U.S. missionary Eric Porter sensed God’s calling to orphan care ministry he knew he couldn’t accomplish a great deal without the help of others. And the Lord quickly connected him with support from AG districts, local churches, other denominations, and the government.

Porter, backed by his wife, Trisha, had been a full-time youth minister for 12 years when he became an AG missionary in 2012. AG North Texas District Superintendent Rick DuBose made the ministry — originally called The Texas Moses Project but renamed The Keep — a priority by providing both office space and a high-profile platform for Porter, who raises his own financial support.

In cooperation with Aaron C. Blake Sr., bishop of an independent church group called Faith Covenant Ministries, Porter has been promoting The Keep ( in local congregations and at AG district events. Blake is director and Porter is assistant director of the ministry headquartered at the AG district office in Waxahachie.

Blake, who also is pastor of Greater Faith Community Church in Brownwood, has been involved in orphan care for a dozen years. He and his wife of 38 years, Mary, have served as foster parents to six high school boys after raising six biological children. Foster families have cared for hundreds of children through Harvest Family Life Ministries, which Blake started in 2003.

In their collaborative cause, so far Porter and Blake have enlisted more than 100 congregations, the majority of them AG. Beyond the Lone Star State, The Keep has expanded to locales from Hawaii to Haiti. Porter says an average of four families per participating church are actively involved in foster care.

“We want anybody who preaches Jesus and the Bible to help care for orphans,” says Porter, who has been married for 15 years and has four children. “We help create a ministry inside the church that recruits and supports families to foster and adopt. We’re trying to equip the church to take care of the local and global orphan crisis.”

Porter says there are 408,000 foster kids and 107,000 adoptable children in the U.S.

After an initial contact, The Keep is geared to create a support system inside a local congregation within nine months.

“We’re activating churches to be better stewards of this problem in their own communities,” Porter says. “We don’t recruit families; we recruit churches. We believe the church is the solution.”

Blake contends that James 1:27 (“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ... ” NIV) mandates that all Christians, from youths to senior citizens, assist in orphan care in some capacity. Opportunities include: providing respite care for foster parents who need a break an evening a week; stocking items such as diapers, clothing and hygiene products for a baby who will be placed in emergency care; or sponsoring music or dance lessons for a foster child.

A handful of AG churches already had an orphan-care strategy in place before The Keep visited with them.

Emily Hopkins has been the catalyst for the orphan care ministry at Lufkin First Assembly of God. In January, after attending The Keep’s initiative at the district office and enlisting support from the local church, Hopkins shepherded the launching of 1:27 Kids on a weekend when Porter preached the Sunday morning service.

The ministry at the church is designed to engage people at different levels of involvement. That might include hosting a shower for families who adopt a child, supervising monthly visits of biological parents with children, taking a meal once a month to a foster family, or tutoring a child in reading. Hopkins is on the phone virtually every day trying to drum up support for the ministry.

“Wraparound support is vital to the sustainability of foster families,” Hopkins says. “The goal is to raise awareness and support for families who are fostering.”

Lufkin First AG Executive Pastor Jeremy L. Yancey says 1:27 Kids has brought people through the church doors who otherwise wouldn’t be there.

“We are connecting with other families who are a part of the foster system and are looking for a place to have a meeting or to get respite training or some relational connectivity with people who are going through the same things they are experiencing,” Yancey says. “Just by facilitating multiple trainings on campus, celebrating birthdays of foster kids, having grocery runs for families, or providing bedding for children, we have tangible efforts to take care of the orphan.”

Despite foster children being wards of the state, Blake says The Keep — even with its spiritual grounding — has found favor with Child Protective Services officials because they realize the program is effective.

“If we do not engage the government to where the church has a seat at the table and a clear-cut freedom and access to share the gospel with these young people, then we’ve lost the battle,” Blake says. “We’re trying to bridge the gap between the transfer of ownership from the government back to the church where it should belong.”

Gail Gonzalez, CPS director of Placement Services for the state of Texas, says The Keep has achieved phenomenal results.

“We’re seeing the fruits of the partnership between the faith community and the child welfare system really make a difference,” says Gonzalez, who has been involved in child welfare for a quarter century. “The church affords individual families extra sustained support that’s needed to help resolve issues that have brought them to our system.”

The cooperative churchwide effort is having a broader impact than if individual families worked alone, Gonzalez says.

One person especially encouraged by The Keep is R. Bryan Jarrett, lead pastor of Northplace Church of the Assemblies of God in Sachse. For the past four years, in conjunction with Royal Family Kids Camp, Northplace has sponsored a weeklong summer camp for abused and neglected foster kids, thanks to 150 church volunteers. Jarrett has a tender heart for the emotionally scarred children because he suffered abuse and abandonment while growing up.

The Keep enables Northplace to offer support the other 51 weeks of the year, with 140 people signed up for some level of foster/orphan care training. Jarrett believes foster families are a tight-knit group, akin to home-schoolers.

“The church should be responsible for foster kids, not the state,” Jarrett says. “That means training children’s ministry workers to handle new behavioral issues to adequately care for kids, but that’s all right.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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