August 2009

We say the darndest things

August 25 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Art Linkletter hosted two of the longest running radio and television shows in American broadcast history. The longest, House Party, ran for 25 years and featured a wildly popular segment called “Kids say the darndest things.”

If someone were to follow suit with a segment called “Preachers say the darndest things,” they might open with John Piper, pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn. Piper surmised in his blog that a rare tornado in Minneapolis Aug. 19 was a divine, surgically precise warning to Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Lutherans to “turn from the approval of sin.” They were debating their position on the suitability of hiring non-celibate homosexual clergy.  

While North Carolina Baptists would wonder how in the world that issue even rises for discussion, the topic here is that we Christians have a tendency not to want to waste any good tragedy or act of nature without finding deep inside it a larger meaning, perhaps a message from God, or a warning. Maybe God does such things but maybe our own circumstances, timing and current concerns elicit from us a God-awareness that we would miss from any other similar storm.

When God told the prophet Elijah to stand on the mountain “for the Lord is about to pass by,” Elijah was looking, but he did not see God in the powerful wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, “for the Lord was not in” them. (1 Kings 19) Sometimes it’s just the wind.

Three people at Acadia National Park in Maine got a message from nature Aug. 23 when they were washed into the sea as they stood watching the waves whipped up by Hurricane Bill: “Don’t stand so close to the water.”

BSC layoffs simply a money issue
Don’t make any more of the sad news from the Baptist State Convention (BSC) that six positions are being cut than is there. There is no “shake up” in the staff. The layoffs are about the difference between income and expenses, nothing more. This will mark the fifth year of the past seven in which Cooperative Program gifts from the churches are lower than the preceding year.

There is more at work than the economy in the BSC budget and uncertainty still lingers like the smell of burnt popcorn. The 2010 budget will be the first in almost two decades without an optional giving plan.

As always, BSC income is completely dependent upon the willingness and commitment of North Carolina Baptist churches to support the work they initiated. No one knows how sure that commitment will be come January, when the first gifts are received under the new, single plan.

If BSC administration thought this year’s shortfall was just a dip, while the economy struggles to pick itself up off the floor, they could have covered the shortfall from reserves, which are in place for just such an event. A permanent paring of positions indicates enough concern for the long term that such action was necessary.

Avoid living with scarcity mentality
On a related note, I heard during a recent conference several professional fundraisers say there is as much money out there as ever. Only twice in the past 40 or so years has Americans’ giving to charitable causes been lower than in the previous year. And last year, which was one of those years, the entire drop of $6 billion out of $300 billion could be traced to wealthy people making smaller contributions to their own foundations.

Speaker Viken Mikaelian pointed out that a steady stream of bad news breeds a lack of confidence, which causes us to draw in, to hoard and to take no risks. Soon a “scarcity mentality” takes over, he said, and we start operating from a sense of what we no longer have, rather than what is available if we ask, plan, prepare and work.

Every entity, not only in Baptist life, but at every storefront in America, has to prove its worth day after day. That includes you in your job, your company in the marketplace and your church in the minds of its members.  When we do, there are funds to support the work.  

Increase easily justified
The BSC Executive Committee made a dramatic move by approving a 52 percent increase in the Cooperative Program gifts required from churches before church staff will be covered with retirement and protection benefits from the BSC. These benefits are not the complete coverage your church should provide its staff members, by the way, but they were put into place to provide minimums.

Too many churches have been giving nothing through the Cooperative Program or have been giving just the $420 per staff member to qualify for the benefit. Such a gift is not a gift at all, but the church simply buying a benefit. The minimum goes up to $640 in 2010 to qualify for coverage in 2011.

That is neither an unreasonable, nor a punitive move by the BSC. GuideStone Financial Services has been supplementing the coverage on a decreasing scale, which is at its end. Cooperative Program gifts from other churches are not intended to fund staff benefits for churches that will not fund their own.

NAMB on ice floe
Read the stories recently pertaining to the North American Mission Board and you may wonder how many chances remain for NAMB to erase doubt of its worth. Already the subject of at least nine studies on whether to continue its ministry as a separate missions board, or eliminate it or combine it with the International Mission Board, its trustees put the agency in position for yet another evaluation by forcing the resignation of President Geoff Hammond. Although North Carolina’s representatives on that board will not talk about meeting specifics, Alabama trustee Ellie Ficken quit the board in disgust after the meeting. Before the meeting, she’d said, “We should never be afraid of the truth. There should be full disclosure on what is happening.”

Full disclosure is not a NAMB trademark. The agency still will not disclose the terms under which it “sold” FamilyNet, the last remnant of the Radio and Television Commission, to InTouch Ministries.

“The first sin that our Holy Father judged in the church was hypocrisy, and He did not judge it lightly,” Ficken said. “What I observed would make it impossible for me to serve Alabama effectively as a trustee.”

It may be just global warming, but NAMB must feel like a polar bear on the last chunk of sea ice.

8/25/2009 8:12:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 3 comments

BCH residential care should be priority in child placement

August 10 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Listing and jerking down my driveway on a Saturday morning an ancient Oldsmobile rolled to a stop. Behind the wheel a large mountain mama filled the seat, with a skinny, beak nosed man occupying the shadow beside her.

They had come to see their daughter, who was a resident at Mills Home in Thomasville, one of 15 facilities operated by Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH).

I lived on campus and called the director on duty to learn where this couple’s daughter lived. I directed them to the cottage and resumed washing my car. A few minutes later they reappeared, and mama was a bit agitated. No one was home at the cottage.

I learned the cottage residents were on a field trip that morning and when I called the director back for more information I was glad they were. When he learned it was her parents who were looking for the girl, he told me they were to go nowhere near her. Their parental rights had been terminated after it was discovered they kept the girl in a cage behind the house.

Baptist Children’s Homes is filled with true stories like that. For 124 years BCH has been the light on the porch in a stormy night for thousands of hurting children and broken families.

One little boy came into care at BCH at age 12, wearing size 3 clothes. He had been kept in a closet his entire life. Other children have been beaten, neglected, abused by relatives, wandered town to town one step ahead of the landlord, lived in cars in relatives’ driveways, seen their mothers beaten or even killed.

When one little girl was put out of the car during a rainstorm on a muddy road in front of her grandmother’s house, only the light on the porch gave her any hope that she might find a safe place to lay her head that night.

Her mother already had chosen the boyfriend over her daughters and the boyfriend had no patience for the girls, feeding them from a bowl on the floor, “like the dogs they were.”

Offering primarily residential services since 1885, over the past several decades BCH has expanded services to include help for parents who say, “Please help me. I can’t do anything with my child.”

In those instances BCH social workers work with the family and child through their difficulties, sometimes without the child having to leave the home.

BCH was born while the South still reeled from the Civil War. The death or disablement of one parent meant the other could no longer care for some or all of the children.

A sad parent would drop children at the orphanage where they would stay until they graduated from whatever level of schooling was considered enough at the time. BCH has not been “the orphanage” for many decades.

With advances in health care and social services and in the absence of large scale war, there is very seldom a child in care who has no living parent. Instead, BCH has been a refuge for hurting children whose homes have been thrown into sometimes dangerous turmoil by a wide variety of circumstances.

Children at BCH live in a home-like environment with residential counselors or “house parents” who establish routines and run the household like a family. Children have chores and responsibilities. They attend local schools and local churches, and can stay as long as they need to.

It is a stable environment and for many children is the most stable, secure, safe and loving environment they’ve ever lived in.

County departments of social services in North Carolina have custody of almost 10,000 children.

That is a huge number of children who have been removed for their own safety or benefit from their homes.

Social workers try to place the children with other family members, or with a foster family or, barring those options, with a residential care provider like BCH.

It seems BCH would be a better first option than last resort. In the last three decades an anti-institutional wave has washed through the nation and tremendous institutions like BCH are considered by those agencies that need places for these 10,000 children only as a last resort. If a child can be kept safely with his or her family during a difficult time, that should happen. But there were 25 killed in North Carolina in 2007.

There are good foster care homes, families that pour their hearts into troubled children. But the system is not in good shape.

Two hundred twenty children in foster care were “maltreated” in 2008, according to the “Kids Count” national report. It is not unusual for a child who comes to BCH “as a last resort” to have been in a dozen foster home placements. Four or five such placements is common.

And yet, one of the benefits of foster home care cited by the North Carolina Department of Human Services is “stability.”

Residential care offers far more stability because staff is trained to deal with the anger and belligerence of children coming out of difficult situations and they won’t be shipped away if they act out.

Children in residential care like BCH have opportunities for field trips, beach vacations, athletics, public speaking, special educational enhancements, medical attention and post high school education help that many families and typical foster homes simply do not have.

Expense is always the primary reason given for departments of social services to avoid placing children in residential facilities. As usual, our children who have no votes, no political voice, no power get short shrift.

It is frustrating for BCH administrators to know they have more than a century of expertise, excellent facilities and staff, Christian commitment and professional competence to help thousands of children, and those responsible for the children hold a limited perspective of residential services.

Like the bulb on grandmother’s porch, BCH can light the way for others if those responsible will consider BCH services earlier in the process of finding what is best for our children.

Related stories
Morgan's smile welcomes children for decades
N.C. ranks low for children's welfare
BCH to restart foster care program
Children’s status getting ‘worse and worse’
Faith groups can protect children
Spoke'n: NC near bottom for children's welfare

Jennifer Shore's blogs:
From the Alumni's Perspective
She Believed Me
Ewww - What's That Smell?

More stories to come
8/10/2009 10:28:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments