Ministry relaunch aims to 'love the least of these'
Each year, more than 150 children in Forsyth County enter the foster care system and need help to escape lives of abuse, neglect, or both.
A newly relaunched outreach ministry at Triad Baptist aims to open up more homes and hearts to these children and not only love them but those serving as foster-adopt resource parents for the Forsyth County Department of Social Services.
Directed by Jeff Chandler, the “Loving the Least of These” ministry marks the rebirth of the former “Miles of Hope for Orphans” ministry with a new and broader focus. “Loving the Least of These” is based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:40 that we demonstrate our love for Jesus by how we love and care for those He loves.
The revived ministry honors the legacy of the Miles of Hope for Orphans founders by adding domestic orphan and foster care to their original focus on international orphan care — one reason for the ministry’s name change from “Miles of Hope” (the miles between children overseas and their potential U.S. parents) to “Loving the Least of These.”
“Loving the Least of These” is led by a core team for operations that includes Jeff and his wife, Melody, Scott and Heather Still, and Braden and Ashley McKinley plus a steering team: Duane and Linda Cross (mentoring and support); Will and Erika Gibson (finance); and Tim and Cindy Wall (outreach). Jeff Chandler is leading prayer for the group, and Melody is coordinating service projects. The Stills are over education and training, and the McKinleys will direct care for new foster/adoptive families.
About seven Triad families are currently involved in foster child care while another 20 more are families who have adopted children or are led by those who been adopted themselves.
“International orphan care was the passion of those who birthed this ministry, and we didn’t want to change that,” Jeff Chandler said. “We wanted to add to it. So we took their burden for overseas orphan care and added to that domestic orphan care and foster care to meet the needs of our church and community.”
The name came as the McKinleys, Chandlers and Stills connected their experiences as foster and adoptive parents with the truth in the Audio Adrenaline song, “Kings & Queens,” about the nation’s forgotten and neglected children. The song not only inspired the group’s name but its logo.
The chorus begins “Boys become kings, girls will be queens” wrapped in God’s majesty when “we love the least of these,” and the song features this verse:
“Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won't you look around
These are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open.”
“We were all thinking the same thing when we heard it and thought about this ministry,” Heather Still said. “My family’s story is that song as it is for many here at Triad who have seen a boy became a king or a girl became a queen when we ‘loved the least of these.’ ”
The right time
The departure of Daryl and Leah Burnette for missionary service in Mozambique left the Chandlers as the only remaining Miles of Hope charter members so they prayed and waited to relaunch the ministry until God provided additional resources.
Those came in the form of encouragement from Pastor Rob Decker — noting the increased need for foster care — the arrival of contemporary worship leader Braden McKinley and his wife, Ashley (who had been foster parents themselves in California), the Stills (foster parents who recently added two children to their family through adoption) and other key supporters and advocates.
“We knew we couldn’t do it ourselves and waited for God to open the door, and He did,” Melody Chandler said. “God definitely picked our three families to come together and those who stepped up for steering team roles.”
The team hopes to build on the momentum of its Nov. 13 relaunch on Orphan Sunday to recruit more volunteers through Jan. 1 — needed manpower for bringing some of the services and events brainstormed to families and put on the church calendar in 2017.
Those include monthly Support Group meetings, three Parents’ Nights Out, a Response Team arranging meals as needed, training for how to become a foster parent and other related Sunday Night Adult Class topics, and outreach events.
Ashley McKinley said there are a host of ways church members can support the ministry without adopting children or serving as foster parents.
“There is so much that can be done, and opportunities for people to serve in whatever capacity they want,” she said. “You can pray for children by name, help families financially with adoption, or by fostering if you have those resources. Bring a meal. Volunteer to babysit for one our Parents’ Nights Out. Donate items the ministry can use. Mentor or disciple someone. Write a card or make a call or offer other support. Or consider having your Sunday School Class or Connect Group sponsor an orphan, as many already do.
“The needs are great, and while we’re certainly focused on the children, there’s also the need to take care of the people providing safe and loving homes to them.”
According to the Forsyth County Department of Social Services, children an average age of 7 years old and up need foster-adopt resource parents because of situations involving abuse, neglect or drug use. A 2015 Winston-Salem Journal story chronicled the growth and need. In 2012, the agency said an average of 106 kids were in the foster care system. The number grew to 130 in 2013 and 169 in 2014. In 2015, Forsyth County had nearly 170 under foster care.