Join co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber for this special interview with Jay Watkins. As the pastor of Redlands Baptist Church and director of Camp Rock, Jay has seen first-hand what a church’s impact has on the lives of children in foster care. Listen to some of Jay’s stories, and learn how you can make a difference in foster care and adoption ministries.
For more information, visit sendrelief.org/foster-care-adoption. Discover more about Camp Rock at camprockga.com or attend their informational meeting, January 17, to learn more about how you can get involved.
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 are 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, doing this, Tera, and being able to use the resources of the North American Mission Board, the Lord has brought some incredible people in our life.
Tera Melber: He absolutely has.
Lynette Ezell: And a couple of years ago we were able to meet Jay and Sandra Watkins and they are doing such a ministry to foster kids. We actually got to take our kids down there, our kids. And do a Christmas party with them. How they bless foster children and foster families during Christmastime. So we could not keep going forward without having jay on the podcast and get to hear his incredible story.
Lynette Ezell: So, Jay, welcome. Thanks for being with us today.
Jay Watkins: And thanks for the invitation. I love talking about kids in foster care.
Tera Melber: Awesome. Well, tell us a little bit about your family down there in south Georgia.
Jay Watkins: well, Sandra and I, as of today we have five kids.
Tera Melber: That’s incredible.
Jay Watkins: It is kind of funny. Pedro arrived from Venezuela this week, and we signed papers this week and so we’re super excited about Pedro. He is 16 and he’ll be coming over here, and we’ll just be helping him through school and through university. I’ve known his family for years, but we have Hope, Faith, Grace, and Luke. And all of those are our children from birth, but they’re all adopted and of course they’re all of a different race, different ethnicity.
Jay Watkins: But when God puts a family together, no matter what it looks like, it’s just good.
Tera Melber: That’s right.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right. Jay, I love the way you’re able to simplify something and I get it. It is good. Tera and I live it.
Jay Watkins: It is good.
Lynette Ezell: It is. It is. But you weren’t content with just to do that.
Jay Watkins: No. Adoption and being adults with infertility, we just really had a heart for children, and as our church started growing and started becoming more and more mission minded, now take in consideration our church is still a small country church.
Tera Melber: And you’re the pastor of that church.
Jay Watkins: Yeah, I’m the pastor. I’m sorry. I pastor Redland Baptist church and been there 20 years. But the last 10 years has been phenomenal watching our church get involved in the welfare of our community as far as birth parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and foster children. It’s been amazing.
Tera Melber: So you saw the needs of the vulnerable children in your community and said, “Oh, we’re totally engaged in this.”
Jay Watkins: We did. We did. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tera Melber: So how did you that charge with your church? Were they all in right from the beginning?
Jay Watkins: Well, God has blessed Redland with some great people. And we used to do events called community day, serving across North America. And that really took hold and they’re done all over. As we were doing those events, we realized when we see a family that they had nothing. And then we just started getting involved, and actually a social worker called me as we had a relationship. She was a friend of mine. And she called me and she told me. About 10 years ago she said, “Jay, the economy has crashed. The state has cut our benefits for children, and we don’t know how we’re going to do Christmas for the kids this year. Would your church be willing to help us in any way?”
Jay Watkins: So we just kind of sat around a table and started brainstorming and read some ideas of how churches in Alabama and other places were helping foster care, and we kind of come up with our own idea which was called Christmastime in Kent Rock. And basically what that is, is we give Christmas now to over 40 counties in the state of Georgia and about five or six in north Florida and we just supply them with a day of Christmas. And what’s happened, is not only has our church just really poured into that event, but local churches around us have said, “Hey, we want to learn this. We want to get involved in this,”
Jay Watkins: So now, there’s five or six churches serving alongside of us and making this day for children in foster care and foster care workers and families. Just feel appreciated and forget about all the things that have happened and just pour out the love of Christ to them.
Tera Melber: Well, I have to tell you, when we brought our kids down just to witness everything that happened-
Lynette Ezell: It’s a big party.
Tera Melber: It is a huge party. And they were astounded. Our kids still talk about how amazing that was. But I know you mentioned that you’re a rural church. It’s not like you’ve got 3000 members in a city. So how do you pull that off? That’s a lot of foster kids. And we’ve there. It is a big deal. It’s not like you get one little candy cane. I mean, you guys are providing meals and gifts and carnival rides. I mean, it’s incredible.
Jay Watkins: It is. That one day costs our church anywhere between 35 and 45,000 dollars. And we don’t even put that in our annual budget. It’s Kingdom work.
Tera Melber: Exactly.
Jay Watkins: And it’s the fashion of the people. It’s just a God thing. I can only tell you that he makes it happen every year. But we do have to do things to really get involved in the community. It takes getting out, seeing what kind of needs they have. Every year we go to DFACS. We don’t just assume they need jackets. We don’t assume that they need suitcases. We go and we actually have an ongoing relationship with all of our DFACS workers and the directors. And we literally ask them what you guys need this year, how can we bless you this year.
Tera Melber: I love that.
Jay Watkins: And it didn’t start serving 3000 people, it started serving one family. I mean, you got to start somewhere. You just can’t go to a 3000 event. And it just takes that one person and that one rural church. Listen, we have a [inaudible 00:06:15]. We don’t have anything around us. But God has so blessed us, that it is just unbelievable. And right now, what’s cool, is as this ministry has grown over the last 10 years, so has our church’s mentality about what is happening [inaudible 00:06:33] the children. What is happening with this opioid crisis. Many ministries have launched off of this foster care ministry. And just a few weeks ago, on a pew was a foster mother and father with their foster children. And the birth mother and the birth father and they were all in church together, worshiping together.
Lynette Ezell: That’s incredible.
Jay Watkins: When we teach our impact classes, with our foster care agency, our church, when we teach that, we know that the only, the only thing that’s going to make big change and break the cycle of poverty and drug abuse is the name, the power, and the love of Jesus’s people.
Tera Melber: Amen.
Lynette Ezell: That’s great. So your church has also done some other things when we were there visiting. Kind of outside the box. Not only are your people serving, but you’re using your resources. You’re building. For God’s glory and to serve foster families and social workers, and tell us about the boutique and how that came about.
Jay Watkins: Oh, yeah. So, all the time DFACS brings children into their system with nothing. No clothes. You’re aware of that. I watch your posts on that. And I think, Man, that is great.” So you guys did, I watched, did a storage building and a [inaudible 00:07:53]. Well, I like, “Guys, we got all this square footage across the road.” One of our churches was our old church, was like 150 years old, so we had Sunday school rooms that we didn’t use anymore. We had all kinds of space over there that was filled with things throughout years, because we had opened a new sanctuary, a new education place across the street, and we just decided one day, let’s turn this into something.
Jay Watkins: And so, what we did is we took the whole top floor, which used to be nothing but Sunday school classes, and ended up being storage rooms, and we turned it into, I mean a beautiful, beautiful boutique. And when I say boutique, I know it’s kind of funny for a country church to say boutique, but it really we wanted our foster families, anybody in our community that needed help and the DFACS workers. When they came in there, we wanted it to be the best experience possible. And we wanted it to feel like a place that they were shopping with the most expensive clothes and the best environment.
Jay Watkins: So that’s what it looks like. And it has worked so well. I mean, it’s so wonderful to see families come in and get things that they need. Especially with relative placements. A grandmother that gets a set of, you know, sibling group of four, and she has nothing. So she can come in our boutique, and she can get everything she needs for those children. And it’s just beautiful. We have everything from clothing to hygiene products to school supplies. And we have our church members, they run the boutique and they keep it up, and they keep everything spotless.W
Jay Watkins: What’s really cool is on Wednesday night we have what is called Redland Academy for children, Redland university for youth, and Redland university, one of their requirements is they have to work in missions in this university, so we have a group that works in the boutique every Wednesday night, and they restock and they check everything out and they make sure it’s all clean and ready to go and it’s just an amazing thing.
Tera Melber: Oh my stars, I love that so much. I love the fact that you are not only the example of growing your family in a different way, through adoption, and through even bringing in Pedro right now to help him through school, but you’re leading the charge. You got certified to teach state impact training for foster families. So you teach impact training. Then you engaged your congregation to say everybody can do something.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right.
Tera Melber: And not only can they do something, but let me tell you what you can do. And then training the next generation to say, “You’re going to be the hands and feet of Christ. It’s what we’re called to do.” It’s this all-encompassing leading from the pulpit and, man, we love it. We sing your praises all the time.
Lynette Ezell: We really do, and just, to listeners, be encouraged. It’s like Jay said, I love what you said, Jay. You started small. Tera and I too. We just went into a DFACS office and said, “How can we help you?” And that’s where you can start. It doesn’t start with a mega church.
Tera Melber: How did the DFACS person respond when you went in and say, “Hey, we’re here. What do you need?” Do you remember?
Jay Watkins: Yeah, I don’t want to be discouraging, but they were like, “Yeah, right.” Yeah, many people have said that before. And I said, “Okay, I’m going to make a deal with you. I’m going to stick with you until I really annoy you.” And boy, did I ever. But now, we’re a resource that they call every day. It’s amazing the lives.
Jay Watkins: Yesterday, I’m sorry the day before yesterday, guys, I got to go to this special event that our local school system honors children in middle school that are in eighth grade that excel in academics. Show that they are promising with a future of post-secondary studies. One of the foster children that go to my church that their foster parents go to my church, she won that $10,000 scholarship.
Tera Melber: Oh wow.
Lynette Ezell: Oh wow.
Jay Watkins: Yeah, it was amazing. And what was so amazing, I didn’t even ask her, she was like, “I just am so thankful to be a part of Kent Rock.” So she’s grown up now, and she’s one of our junior counselors in mandatory wilderness camp. And also a church member, so it’s just kind of full circle. The pastor gets the vision, or some leader in the church gets the vision. Passes it to a small group. That small group takes the vision. Passes it to their inner circle, and before you know it, the whole congregation is ready to roll. And it’s a blessing to watch God take a church way out in the country and do great big things for the Lord. And that’s really what he has done.
Tera Melber: It is really incredible. I love the fact that your congregation has not just caught the vision, but they are ready to go and they know that not everybody is called to be an actual foster family, but there are so many things outside of being a foster family that they can do, and they do it well, and they do it with excellence.
Lynette Ezell: So many layers and we need each other.
Jay Watkins: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: Yes, we really do. So now, where do you see this going, Jay? I know it’s growing and I know that you could have never really envisioned everything the Lord’s doing. I’m never surprised to hear what you’re doing in south Georgia. And I love it because you just, you encourage me and you challenge me.
Jay Watkins: Well, so the funniest thing I can ever was when we hired Drew Boswell to be our director for, which we now are a licensed foster care and adoption agency. And our offices are in our church. Our church lets us rent those offices for a small amount of money. So not only is our watching this grow, in fact they’re a part of it. I mean, everybody that’s an employee is in our church. And they’ve left jobs to come and serve in a capacity.
Jay Watkins: But the funniest thing I ever heard someone say is, “At Redland you just need to put your seatbelt on and hold on.” But you said, where do I see this going? My heart’s desire is to see it break a cycle. And both of you know that the reason foster care is exploding is because of this opioid crisis. It not only affects the lower income, but now it’s affecting even the middle class. Oh man, it’s everywhere. And so, I had a church member come up to me just last year and say, “I feel like we need to work in this crisis shelter.”
Jay Watkins: I said, “Well, if you feel like it, I feel like you ought to.” Praise the Lord. She took a group of people, went into this addiction facility for single mothers with their children and started working. And we started seeing them get saved. And they started coming to church, and their children started participating and coming out of foster care. And so, we looked at each other and we said, “This is our next step.”
Jay Watkins: So right now, what we have is we have our church has a scholarship program that when these women come out of their first year of treatment, and they’ve been vetted. I mean, they have to be in our Bible study-
Lynette Ezell: Accountability, yeah.
Jay Watkins: Yeah, they have to be willing to meet with our counselors, our church members at our church. And they come into this program and for two years we work side by side to teach the how to be a parent. We teach them how to follow Christ. And we teach them a trade. So I’m super excited to see that this is the next step of where we’re going. And I really believe that that’s going to be the answer.
Tera Melber: One on one discipleship. It’s a novel concept written in the Bible.
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Tera Melber: And you’re doing it. You really are.
Jay Watkins: We didn’t create it.
Lynette Ezell: And everyone can do something. If got an electrician or a mechanic. I don’t know how to do any of that. And so, I have a son who likes that kind of thing. And for someone to come alongside a child in foster care or that’s aging out of the system and say we’ll help you make a living. We’re going to show you how to lead a family. How to take care of a family. How to be a man of God. And heres a trade you can learn. That’s the body of Christ at work.
Jay Watkins: I’ll you this is one thought that I always think, because I kind of think simple. And God gave us our own personalities and he gave us our passions and our own talents for a reason. And how nice for him. Why not the guy on the pew? why not the sweet little lady who’s lived her life on the pew? Why not them? Why not take what they have and why not pastors encourage those who have never done anything to try. And it’s just an amazing an job. Everything that we do is run by volunteers, except the foster care and adoption agency. And the volunteers are from our church.
Tera Melber: Well, and you think often about many pastor church leaders often think that a foster care, orphan care ministry is a nice. It’s just an add on kind of thing.
Lynette Ezell: That’s a good point.
Tera Melber: But if you think about all the different facets of everything that you guys are doing, you’re talking every possible spiritual gift. Every possible personality. Every possible human being with all sorts of talents and passions can fit into any of that. And it’s life on life discipleship in every aspect of everything you’re doing. So it’s not a niche. It’s looking at the vulnerable population in your area, and saying, “What can we do, Lord? Show me the door.” And then lay that thought and passion on a person that’s sitting in the pew. The 75 year old lady who wants to work in the boutique who’s got great organizational and social skills that just wants to talk and love on people and hang clothes up. I mean, it’s everybody.
Tera Melber: So it’s not a niche, it’s just your community. Your community of your congregation. I love it.
Jay Watkins: It’s just doing life together.
Tera Melber: Right.
Jay Watkins: And most people, I think most pastors and most people think that someone else is doing it already. But I’m going to tell you, the need for churches and pastors and lay people to get involved in foster care, is like fast growing cancer. I mean it is the biggest need I know that is out there. And I always do it like this, because you know, I’m a preacher and I love to see people come to know Jesus. So, in our state, “Well, we have 15,000 people in foster care. Let’s just say those 15,000 kids, they both have mom and dads. And then they have a few siblings. I mean you’ve talked to 100,000 people that need Jesus right there.
Tera Melber: That are broken and in messy situations. And I think that’s sometimes what makes us fearful. This is a messy ministry. It’s complicated. It’s complex. Having foster parents, foster kids, and bio parents sitting on the same pew worshiping. That’s complicated.
Jay Watkins: It’s complicated. And it’s not easy.
Tera Melber: It is beautiful all at the same time.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right.
Tera Melber: And that’s what life is.
Lynette Ezell: So we can simplify it, because the Lord’s called us to show up and to care. And so like you said, Jay, we don’t know who we have sitting on the pews, our neighbors. We don’t know what gifts they bring to the table or how God’s equipped them, or made their personality, but we can all show up and care, so we got to show up.
Jay Watkins: That’s right. And it’s not hard to find out who is sitting on the pew. I mean, literally. I’ve already told you we’re a rural church, so one day I just got blank sheets of paper and put it in the bulletin and provided writing utensils. And I said, “Okay, write down three of the things that you love to do. Write down what you do for a living. You don’t have to put your name it, but if you want to you can. And put them in the plate as they go around.” That’s how we determined how we would start serving. I had to know what I working with, and it wasn’t that hard to do.
Tera Melber: Right. So what do you tell a pastor of a church who has maybe heard about foster care or maybe has had an inkling about some of this and they want to do something and they have no idea how to start. What would you say?
Jay Watkins: It’s very simple. You said it already. Look where God is working. Join in. See what door is opened. They could just call their local DFACS and say, “What is your needs right now?”
Tera Melber: And don’t be offended if they say, yeah right. Because they’re not going to trust you at first. Why would they trust us at first?
Jay Watkins: We have let them down. I mean, when we started working with DFACS, they have said that churches have promised this and didn’t follow through, or promised this we didn’t follow through. I said, but we’re going to follow through, and now we’re 11 years in, 12 years in and it’s amazing.
Lynette Ezell: And they’re calling you.
Jay Watkins: Yeah, and we speak at their events. And they know, they call us their religious partner. And so they know that we preach Christ, but they ask us to speak at their events. It’s just that one step. And the biggest thing for pastors is, think about the hurt that is amongst foster care and the children and the both parents and the foster care parents. And just find one person to help. And then it turns into two people. And at Redland, way out here in the country, we had no foster parents that attended our church, and I don’t even know how many we have now.
Jay Watkins: What’s really funny is the director of one of the regions just joined our church.
Tera Melber: That’s amazing.
Jay Watkins: Yeah, it’s all because our testimony is our church really likes to help children and families. And that’s a pretty good testimony.
Tera Melber: And as much of a bad rap as believers sometimes get these days, for you to be exactly what the Lord says, to be a light in a dark place and a city on a hill, you guys are making a difference for the gospel and we are grateful to be your friends.
Jay Watkins: Well we love what we do. Were gearing up now, our theme for this Christmas is going Wild with Jesus.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, that sounds like so much fun.
Jay Watkins: Hey, if any pastors or anybody wanted to come and check us out, you’re welcome, anybody’s welcome to come and see what we do at Christmas. You don’t have to serve 5,000 or 3,000 people. You can serve 30 people in your church fellowship hall.
Tera Melber: Well, we would encourage people in your area or wherever to come and visit, because if you think about that what’s going to happen at Christmas time happened because of one phone call and one willing heart to go into a DFACS office, you’ll astounded. So, Jay, we really appreciate having you. We’re going to put all of your information about your agency and about your camp and your church in our show notes, but we’re super grateful that you joined us today. Thanks for taking time.
Jay Watkins: Thank you, guys.
Lynette Ezell: Thanks, Jay.
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 sendrelief.org.