By Marilyn Stewart, Regional Reporter
NEW ORLEANS – The photographs on the wall of Adam and Anna Horsley’s home are pictures of children they pray for daily, though some they will never see again. Being foster parents, a growing need in Louisiana, was a call they couldn’t ignore. What they discovered were tiny hearts tender to the Gospel.
“Every child has been unchurched. They’ve never heard Bible stories,” Anna Horsley said.
One child, a 4-year-old boy, told the couple during their nightly Bible story and prayer time that his heart was broken. Later, during his four-month stay with the couple, he announced, “My heart’s fixed. You and Anna helped fix my heart.”
The aunt of the sibling group the couple cares for has attended church with them. Another child, age 9, came to faith in Christ.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to expose them to the Gospel for the first time and see them grow in the Lord,” Anna Horsley said. The couple, in their 20s and members of First New Orleans, have cared for 18 children in 19 months.
More than 4,500 children are in the Louisiana foster care system, a protective service for children who live apart from parents because of neglect, abuse, or special family circumstances requiring out-of-the-home care. Only 2,100 Louisiana homes are currently available to care for these youngsters with no place they can call home.
“We desperately need foster and adoptive parents who are willing to take children from zero to 18,” said Beth Green, director of church and community ministries for the Louisiana Baptist Foster and Adoption network.
The vision of the Louisiana Baptist Foster and Adoption network, a ministry of the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries, is to connect every Louisiana foster child to a Christian family and church.
Orientation certification, the required home study, and ongoing certification and counseling are services the network provides to equip and support parents throughout the foster care experience.
Kym Marques, a beautician in West Monroe, knows the impact a Christian foster parent can make.
Marques entered the foster care system in another state when she was 12. By 16, she was in Louisiana, estranged from her mother and extended family, and learning the ways of the street.
After spending a weekend with a friend’s family, Marques received word that the family wanted her “to be their daughter.” At first, she said no.
“I thought I was this broken, throw-away kid.” Marques said. “Why would these people want me?”
The family welcomed her in and soon Marques came to faith in Christ. A year later, the deep scars and unhealed wounds lured her back into a destructive lifestyle.
Marques, now a mother, gives testimony of God’s faithfulness throughout her five-year struggle and gives thanks for the foster mother she knows as “Mom.”
“The whole time God was with me,” Marques said. “He set me apart before I was born. Everything I’ve experienced, everything I’ve been through, there’s another little girl who needs what I’ve got.”
An Old Command. A New Frontier
Paul and Mandi Eastwood, parents of three preschoolers and members of Edgewater New Orleans, planned someday to adopt. They decided not to wait after pastor Chad Gilbert preached on the biblical directive to care for the fatherless, and turned to foster care.
“These children are placed in somebody’s home,” Mandi Eastwood said. “Why can’t it be a loving, Christian home?”
For Dustin and Alisha Lee, of First Baptist Church in Lafayette, the chance came after praying for a year for a child of their own. Instead, they felt God ask, “Will you be faithful? Will you be obedient?”
Soon after, a widowed mother who had become homeless approached the couple and asked them to be foster parents to her son, age 15. Caring for a teenager brought unique discipline challenges, some of them complicated by family issues, Dustin Lee said.
“It’s hard. The goal is for [foster children] to be back with family,” Lee said. “It can be messy.”
Lee said the mother was grateful for their help but struggled for assurance that she was still first in her son’s life.
The six-month arrangement opened doors for spiritual conversations. Through the experience, the teen recognized his need for a scriptural baptism following his earlier commitment. The mother came to faith in Christ, was baptized and joined a church.
“He [the foster child] was such a blessing,” Lee said. “Our lives were completely changed because of him.”
Lee said only God could have orchestrated the events as they happened. Today, the couple awaits the birth of their first child.
Counting the Cost
Anna Horsley worried about caring for homesick children. Adam Horsley feared caring for a sexually-abused child. One day the phone call came.
“It was everything I didn’t want, but I knew we were needed,” Adam Horsley said. “And it turned out great.”
Caring for foster children with histories of behavioral problems may be challenging. The first child placed in the Eastwood’s home was a toddler who interacted with others by slapping or pinching, an action that impacted their own children.
Children quickly respond to an environment where they feel safe and secure, Adam Horsley said. Schoolteachers have commented to the couple on the changes in the children’s behavior after being in their home.
“When children are exposed to God’s love, it’s amazing the difference in their behavior,” Anna Horsley said.
Harder still than discipline, or other issues, is saying goodbye.
For the Eastwoods, the foster baby they care for fits naturally with the ages of their children. His leaving will be hard on the children, Eastwood said.
A sibling group of three will soon leave the Horsleys’ care to return to family, leaving another foster child, age 5, at home. The couple plans a special family time together to help the child through the loss.
“We love them like they’ve never been loved before and teach them about God. It doesn’t matter if it’s for two days or a year,” Adam Horsley said.
Foster parents, and foster siblings, feel a sense of loss and mourning when a child returns home.
“But there’s another child waiting,” Anna Horsley said. “That’s what gets us through.”
What churches can do
Churches can minister to foster care families by offering encouragement and support.
• An evening of free childcare can give foster parents an evening out and a needed break from responsibility. Individuals, or partner families, can be on call to stay with the foster children while the parents run errands or handle appointments.
• Churches can stock “three-day bags” of age and gender appropriate clothing and personal items for emergency situations when children are removed quickly from a home.
• Pray. Many placements are very short and young children may not remember the Christian foster care they received. Often children return to less than ideal circumstances.
• Get involved. The Louisiana Baptist Foster and Adoption Network provides resources for help and mobilizes mission teams yearly for orphan care in other countries.
“We are praying that what we do makes a difference,” Eastwood said. “We give Christian care and pray constantly. The rest you leave up to God.”
To learn more, contact the Louisiana Baptist Foster and Adoption Network by calling 318.343.2244 or visiting www.lbch.org.