Did you know there are more than 24 million children in the United States living in single-parent families? Join co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber as they dive into a conversation with Christi Haag about Brave Moms, a Florida Baptist Children’s Homes initiative. Discover how this program delivers help and hope to single moms working hard towards self-sufficiency as they provide for their children.
For additional resources, check out the links below:
Florida Baptist Homes for Children
New Start for Single Moms
By Diane Strack
In this month’s podcast, I spend time with Al Gilbert and William Brown. Al is the Executive Director for Church Mobilization and William is NAMB’s Multiplying Church Coordinator.
Both Al and William share a passion to see the church expand through intentional, strategic reproduction. As church planting catalysts, our goal is to have our hands in th
Announcer: Welcome to the adopting and fostering home podcast, whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started. We’re here to support and encourage you along the way and now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Welcome back to the adopting and fostering home podcast. You know Tera, compassion is not an emotion of stagnant sympathy, but compassion is action. It’s when we enter into the pain of others and move forward to offer them our love and help just as Jesus has shown his compassion to us. You know the greatest way he did that was through his sacrifice on the cross, but simply put, compassion means doing for others what Jesus did for us. And this brings us to our guest for today. Just a sweet, sweet friend who truly fleshes out compassion.
Tera Melber: We’re so happy to welcome Christi Haag to the podcast today. Christi has a really unique perspective on serving vulnerable children. She grew up in a children’s home in Texas where her father worked for over 30 years. What you might not know is she’s married to Dr. Jerry Haag, who is the president of Florida Baptist Children’s home, which also encompasses Orphan’s Heart and the Porch Light Ministry. The Florida Baptist Children’s home has a really deep ministry, they’ve ministered to over 171,000 people this last year, both domestically and internationally. So Christi, welcome to the podcast.
Christi: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Lynette Ezell: You know, there are children in our community whose lives are just … They’re unstable and their everyday challenges just can be a meal or just other basic needs. They have mothers who deeply loved them, who want the best for them. We all know this, but their moms may not have the resources, the support system, were not trained to be a mother. Christi, we know that you are actively engaging this growing problem through a ministry called Brave Moms. Can you tell us more about that?
Christi: I would love to, Brave Moms is something that we are just beyond excited about. As you said, I grew up at a children’s home, my father actually is 40 years, 40 years [inaudible 00:02:23] This year, he’ll get his 40 year little pin. I know he’s a precious man of God, but all my growing up years the traditional model was we took a child into our care and we raised that child. Now what we’re seeing and we still do that, we still have amazing residential and foster care, but we’re putting so much more time and energy and prayer and effort toward the preventive side where we are coming alongside these precious single moms and we call ’em brave moms because that’s what they are.
Christi: There are single moms out there being mom and dad and they’re making the sandwiches and they’re doing homework and they’re holding down jobs and they’re providing for their children, they’re these great moms. So what we’ve done is the Lord put on our hearts to start this really cool program called Brave Moms and What we do is we take the mom and her children into our care. They come and live in one of our homes and the program usually lasts about nine months and we just wrap around them with a lot of really cool services and so it’s been highly successful and I’m so glad that y’all wanna talk about it today.
Tera Melber: Yeah, ’cause there’s 24 million children in the United States living in a single parent family.
Christi: That’s right.
Lynette Ezell: And you think about it when we talk about our mandate as believers to come alongside and care for widows and orphans in their time of need. We have to look at the foster care system in itself, children having to be removed from homes. What could we do beforehand so that they wouldn’t have to be? And how can we keep that nuclear family together even if it’s a single mom, is the nuclear family with her children. What can we as believers do to keep that family intact and to come alongside and mentor these young girls to be able to help them be the moms that they have been created to be? Keeping families together is always the best scenario if it can be a healthy situation.
Tera Melber: So I assume the first thing you would do is provide housing?
Christi: Yes. So, if you’re a mom and you wanna be in our program, we give you a house and we provide … We carry all the utilities and we have an amazing compassion ministry, [inaudible 00:04:41]. We have a compassion ministry, we’ll do over 5 million meals this year. That’s a fun thing to talk about too. We provide all their food and resources and then we bring them into our home and then one of the most important things we do is we pair them up with a Godly mentor.
Christi: We have, I feel like the best materials on mentoring these single moms out there, we have a really cool program it’s called New Start. One of our great board members wrote this material, her name is Diane Strack, and she wrote material called New Start and it’s a mentoring program where we ask you to come alongside these girls and it’s a commitment but we empower you and we give you the tools you need to be a mentor, but you come in and we pair you up with a mom and you actually mentor them weekly with this amazing material.
Christi: Part of the material is even teaching basic things like budgeting and parenting skills and how to be a good mom and how to get a better job and those basic things that a lot of these young ladies, they just didn’t have that family to teach them these basic things. Then we also have in the program it’s really [neat 00:06:07] is we have like a mandatory savings program, they pay a minimal rent, but they actually get all that money back at the end of the program. And so-
Lynette Ezell: That’s awesome.
Christi: Yeah. They actually graduate the program with a nest egg which puts them down the road in self-sufficiency.
Tera Melber: That is incredible, and that just heading off the problem before it gets too big for them to get their arms around and a woman walking with the Lord who can come beside them and say, “here’s how you do it, here is everything that I kind of had to learn, that maybe my mom didn’t teach me, here’s what I’ve learned ’cause I’m further down the road than you are right now.” Right? And so just investing time with them. Do you connect them with a local church or how does that work?
Christi: Absolutely. That is a massive part of our program and we’re so fortunate to have this great relationships with so many amazing churches. That is vital in this program to see that the girls that are coming out of it, they’re successful, we’ve done a couple of things and one is we’ve found them really good Christian mentors and the second huge thing is plugged them into a local church. What’s great is that, that Mama, that sweet mama graduates from program and she still is engulfed in and surrounded by loving body of Christ. So that’s just pivotal to what we do and if someone [inaudible 00:07:32] wants to replicate this program or wants us to come in and help them, we would say that is a major part, something you’re gonna have to have is a local church that will be ready to get involved.
Tera Melber: Exactly, ’cause you’ve taken them to the point of no safety nets, no support, trying to do it on their own, waking up to no answers, and just providing basic needs for their children, to a whole new group of a whole new community now.
Christi: That’s right. Now we’re seeing these precious young ladies who’ve chosen to keep their children, wanna be a good Mama, but they just literally don’t have the tools, we’ve some that are running from prostitution. Some that are coming out of just horrible situations with a deadbeat boyfriends or very dysfunctional family that they need to get out of actually, that they don’t need to be around and so there’re mamas that wanna be mamas, but they just haven’t … They don’t have the tools or the resources and that’s where we can step in as the body of Christ and just wrap our arms around them and we’re just seeing …
Christi: I’ve been in the ministry a long time now, decades and decades and the success of this program is just exciting. We’re seeing girls come out and they’re so proud of themselves, they’re so excited and seeing that they can do it, they can be moms. And I have to tell you at the beginning of this program, I was trying to [grump 00:09:02] in and give everybody a ride here and there, taking their groceries and the sweet director of our program, Laury Ingram, he’s just so good. She said, “Christi, you need to step back, what we’re trying to teach them is how to be a momma.” How to do this on their own, with the body of Christ around them but they’ve got to learn to take these steps and what to do and to hold down a job and to … Some of them have gotten reliable transportation, they saved enough to get their own vehicles and then graduated with a … One little girl, little girl 20, she just graduated with $5,000 in the bank. Now you think, what a headstart for her?
Tera Melber: Yeah, that’s a game changer.
Christi: That’s a game changer.
Tera Melber: She’s got $5,000 in the bank, she’s got a skill and she has community, right?
Christi: That’s exactly right. And we will always be her family too. We all get attached and we’ve had tons of girls go through this with their children, but you get attached to all of them and we help them find furniture when they do graduate, it’s a big deal and we help set them up in their apartment or whatever they’re doing. We just, it’s the body of Christ coming together to launch them into independence even though they still have us too … ’cause we still love them.
Tera Melber: Right. Christi you said this takes about nine months. Do you see it go a little longer or? I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but is that about the right amount of time?
Christi: It is. We’re saying that’s kind of the right amount of time. We’ve had some that have stayed a year, some that have actually started and then just found that they took off. One little girl finished her CNA and just was way ahead of the program. She just needed confidence in herself actually, she needed to know she could do it so she was only with this three months. [inaudible 00:10:54] about nine months.
Lynette Ezell: Right. I think that these girls find, I would feel like maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but it’s a lot of a generational cycle of what they grew up with and then how they … The choices that they’ve made in the situation that they’ve gotten in and so by being a part of the community and by being loved and being mentored, it does give them the confidence to say I can break this generational pattern and formulate not just a new life for my children and for me, but for my grandchildren and my grandchildren after that. So it’s breaking that cycle. But the enemy wants us to feel isolated and when we feel isolated, we can sometimes have wrong judgment and make decisions that we ought not. So by getting them in community, I feel like that’s probably one of the most valuable things. And they feel loved and treasured and worthy, which they are.
Tera Melber: And they don’t feel alone anymore.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Christi: Right. You’re exactly right, Satan is the king of isolation. [inaudible 00:11:55] to isolate us. And that’s why in all of our ministries we see that as a pattern of just Satan and what he tries to do, he tries to isolate you and make you feel like you’re alone. That there’s no way you can come out of this, and that my parents did it, my grandparents, in a bad way, the bad cycles, and teaching them, just like you said, I can break that generational cycle and Christ does have an awesome plan for me and these people really do love me and are gonna stand by me. So yeah, you’re exactly right, it’s really exciting to watch these young mommas become good self-sustaining mothers and to watch their kids. The kids, it’s so fun to watch them progress and to see what normal should be, it’s not what they’ve seen before it’s a new normal. Showing them what life should be like and watching the kids grow, that’s another fine element of this.
Tera Melber: Sure, because kids thrive in safety and felt safety and security and love and with the proper nutrition and a good place to be, and when mom’s in a good place, kids are gonna be in a good place. So [crosstalk 00:13:03] this program, Braves Mom is a way that we can as the body of Christ come alongside these girls and keep kids out of foster care and keep families together. I do know though that the Florida baptist homes for children has an incredible foster program, so when it does come to a situation where a child needs to be protected and removed from a home, tell us in your mind, I know you all serve about a 1200 foster placements, which is huge because they’re Christian families, which is incredible and that’s up about Florida has what? You said about 15,000 foster kids in the state, so 1200, so how have you seen that placing children in Christian homes has been beneficial?
Christi: There’s no other way to do it. If you’re gonna be a Christian foster parent with us, you’ll have to get a reference from your pastor, you have to share a testimony and that you’re active and growing in your relationship with Christ and in your church and there’s just no comparison to placing a child in a loving Christian home and not. And so we’re just passionate about it, if we could find 5,000 or more families that would be willing to be christian foster parents, we could take all the kids and I would love to see every child in Florida, every child in the nation, in fact, that’s in the foster care system, be absorbed into Christian families and we could do that [inaudible 00:14:34]. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be.
Tera Melber: Yeah. Lynette and I were just talking the other day, in Georgia alone, there are over 13,000 kids in foster care. There are 3,400 approved homes, which is tragic that there’s only 3,400 homes, but there are 3,600 southern Baptist churches alone. That’s not including other Evangelical Bible believing churches and so if one foster family rose from every rural church, every urban church, one foster family from every church, we would over double, just the amount of foster families and they’d be believing families, who would be loving these kids as Christ would have them to be loved.
Christi: We could do that. I felt like part of it is just education [inaudible 00:15:19] and churches just constantly I know people get tired of me saying what you just said but it’s true, if every church had one foster family we could absorb. And you know what we’re seeing too, is if the senior pastor of a church gets behind this, it really takes off in their area.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely, we’ve seen it happen every time. Every time. Yeah. The math is not hard.
Christi: So proud of you, Tera [inaudible 00:15:50]. Y’all really stepped up and modeled this and I’m so thankful for Y’all in leadership and what you do for [NAM 00:15:58] we’re just so appreciative and really love and respect what y’all do too.
Lynette Ezell: We appreciate that, that’s very kind.
Tera Melber: Well, it’s exciting to see what Florida Baptist or are doing and I really do appreciate the fact that you all take really seriously who you’re going to allow to be foster parents. So when you say you’ve gotta have a reference from your pastor and you’ve gotta share your testimony, it’s not just I’m gonna write Christian on my piece of paper. So what kinds of training do you all do to prepare your families? Or how do you encourage churches to kind of do wraparound care to your foster families?
Christi: [inaudible 00:16:35] the word, we have wraparound services. We have a great church relations department and we have great staff that come in and of course do training, but then they help churches learn how to wraparound these families, because we’ve all seen it too. I mean, it’s great to get one family in church, but if you can get three or four and they can help support each other and do life together and then if you can get a church to really engage with them.
Christi: The children’s home comes in and helps train churches even on how to wraparound and we train on prayer and then on [respite 00:17:19] and then resources how to wraparound them. We really believe it’s a mission field, I mean you don’t have to … And we work in 14 countries, our international arm is called Orphan’s Heart and we’re passionate about our international orphan care also but you can be on the mission field right here in your home with one child or three kids. So we’re passionate about Christian foster care and I know we can absorb those children, I know we can do that.
Tera Melber: I have a really kind of another question, when you were talking about the senior pastors getting on board. How do you and Jerry kind of come alongside pastors who say, well, foster care or adoption ministry or Orphan Ministry is just another niche in the church, it’s just another ministry to go along with the 18 other ministries I’m trying to juggle. So Why does this one need to be elevated or whatever the right word would be? Why is this so important for our church to really be behind it?
Christi: Well, first of all, because it’s a command of Christ and because it was huge to him and it’s really we don’t have … It’s not like we have to convince pastors. I mean, I think pastors know that orphan care is high on the priority list. I think most churches … I mean they do have tons of programs, I know there’s a lot of competition within the church, but most churches that we talk to they just need the tools and then someone to say, this is how you do it, we’re almost 115 years old, we’ve been doing it a long time, we can tell you what we’ve done wrong, [inaudible 00:19:01].
Christi: Just helping the church know and what we do is we actually come in to church and say, what do you want? And how do you wanna reach the children and community and let us come up with the orphan care strategy in your church that’s good for you. And so it’s just part of what we do, we meet with pastors, but it does have to come from the pulpit.
Christi: I could draw a ring around, in the state of Florida where senior pastors really gotten on board from the pulpit and said, “guys, we gotta take care of our children. This is the church, this is what we’re called to do, this is pure religion.” When a pastor really gets behind it, so a lot of times we’re just going in talking to the pastor about it and saying, this is what you can do, and the church benefits too, you’re observing those families and everyone can use their gifts for … If they wanna get involved in foster care, the whole all spiritual gifts can be used in that. So we come in and try and help the pastor and then their staff know how they can add their own orphan care ministry.
Tera Melber: And then I think it’s beautiful when that happens in a church when the pastor gets on board and it infiltrates to the people and you just see that love for foster children begin to grow and then that first family gets their first placement. It is so fun, I love watching that. Then it begins to spread like other families like, well if they can do it, we can do it and they begin to support one another and I know we just had foster families at our church to get together for a meal Sunday night and they all left so encouraged was very simple, but they all left so encouraged and men and it just, nothing excites me much more than that.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah. And in our church alone, I just love the fact that our preschoolers collected socks for foster kids and then our senior adults are super excited in doing things like doing the Amazon deliver to your door diapers once a month for our foster families. So everybody from little people to our senior saints can be involved in some way to do wraparound care and support our foster families. So it becomes a church culture, not another program.
Tera Melber: Exactly.
Christi: Exactly, We’re actually on … Every year we have a goal and this year, it’s 600,000 diapers, We’re gonna [inaudible 00:21:28] that because we got lots of little bottoms out there [crosstalk 00:21:31] ministry, and it’s like you said, anyone can take their child to the grocery store and say, pick out some diapers and we’re gonna give this to foster family and this is a teaching moment-
Lynette Ezell: It is.
Christi: -on sharing what a foster [inaudible 00:21:47] is, and I’m with you. I’ve seen this churches when that first family finishes their whole training-
Lynette Ezell: It’s just great.
Christi: -and they get their first kid and everybody feels like they got their first child [inaudible 00:21:57] yeah, it awesome.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, they do. Everyone feels like they got their first child. That’s a great point. Christi, this morning I was just reading through Philippians, in Philippians 2:4, “let each of you look not only to his own interest but also to the interest of others.” Paul was just training the church, the early church in the beginning stages to look after each other and then he backs up and in chapter one verse 27, he says, “let your manner of Life Be Worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And you’ve done that and we’re so blessed to call you our sister in Christ and we’re so encouraged by the work you guys are doing in Florida and it makes us wanna work harder where we are-
Tera Melber: It does.
Lynette Ezell: -So, thank you.
Announcer: You have been listening to the adopting and fostering home a resource of the North American mission board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit namb.net/sendrelief.
e process of making that happen. We share a privileged calling to shape and lead our existing churches into a healthy future of disciple making and leader reproduction. Al and William will share the definition of a Multiplying Church as well as how the Church Planting Pipeline plays a significant role in advancing our churches toward to goal of multiplication. I hope you find this informative and empowering.
What is a Multiplying Church? Multiplying Churches discover, develop and deploy church planting teams from within.
How can we effectively change the culture and the practice of church in North America leading to viral multiplication?
One last thought on staying productive in the field. We care about your health and balance as you self-supervise and strive to be the best you can for the Lord. I threw together these quick points that you may or may not have already considered.
Staying productive is a challenge for the best of us. As field leaders, doing so is imperative to staying relevant and engaged. Field work has its challenges and attention given to productivity can help overcome even the most daunting ones.
He’s my two cents when it comes to staying productive.
- Get back to the basics. Eat right, and get the sleep and quiet time that you need. You and I both know that having a sense of calm comes with basic health. When the body, mind and spirit are fatigued, your productivity suffers. A recommitment to overall heath is paramount.
- Set goals, and focus on their achievement. Work on the important things, not the urgent. Sure, the urgent will need to be taken care of, but you need to create margin to work against the longer, more important goals. Stop procrastinating, and focus.
- Avoid those traps that kill your productivity. You know what they are. Social media is proving to be the number one detriment to workplace productivity. Perhaps, for you, it’s something else. I had a friend tell me that his number one distraction is the refrigerator. He wasn’t overweight, but every time he reached an impasse in his work or thought process, he would walk to the fridge, open it up and stare. The point is, we all know what distracts us. Knock it off.
- Create a productive environment. It’s amazing what proper placement or layout of your workspace can do to increase productivity. I have things that I need in the moment within arm’s reach and thing I may need every hour or two across the room. It’s healthy to have a workspace design that forces you to leave the chair at regular intervals yet still have the productive necessities close at hand.
- Try to balance to flow of field work and office time. The number one challenge I face is a lack of doing the important, longer tasks because I have left too little office time between field meetings. It’s the admin and strategic thought that allows you the production in the field. Don’t short change one for the other.