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The bishop who turned his town into the most active foster care community in the US

BISHOP W. C. MARTIN
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"God commands us to take care of the orphans" says Baptist Bishop W.C. Martin, and local parishes responded.

More than 20 years ago, Baptist Bishop W.C. Martin and his wife Donna, from Possum Trot, Texas, decided to offer a home to four foster children who would not only change their lives forever, but the lives of many others in the foster care system.

As one of 18 siblings, Donna recognized the “sacrificial love” her own beloved mother had shown her family throughout her life. This motherly love spurred Donna on when God called to her saying: “Think about all those children out there who do not have what you had in a mother. I want you to give back to them. Foster and adopt,the bishop’s wife shared with Charisma Magazine.

After a bit of encouragement, Donna persuaded her husband that they needed to respond to God’s calling. It wasn’t an easy process. Bishop Martin, who leads a congregation of 200, explained in his book Small Town, Big Miracle that he had many doubts, naturally questioning his ability to suddenly become a father. Yet, these doubts were quickly swept away when the couple welcomed Mercedes, aged five, and her brother Tyler, aged two, who greeted his new father with a “Hey, daddy!”

SMALL TOWN BIG MIRACLE
The Christian Broadcasting Network | YouTube

The couple went on to adopt Mercedes and Tyler as well as their two siblings. When the children went to worship at their father’s church it made other members of the congregation stop and think. These well-behaved children, who’d been in such need having been orphaned, had a new family. They were being loved and were sharing their love. They tore down all the preconceived notions of foster children being problem cases. So Martin used his pulpit to spread a very important message to his parishioners: “God commands us to take care of the orphans. The power lies in the hands of the church,” as Charisma Magazine reports.

And the bishop’s voice resounded within his church. Over the next few years, 77 children left the foster system and were adopted into the families, and church community of Possum Trot. Families set aside their own financial fears to reach out to these youngsters in need. The Lathan family, who already had eight children, five of whom were adopted, welcomed three more orphans into their homes. 

Encouraged by his own community’s response, Bishop Martin used his powerful voice to further the foster cause. “These are flesh-and-blood children that God allowed to come into this world,” he shared with Angelus. “With all the churches in the world, there should not be any fostering and adoption system.” 

Martin’s message comes at a time when the foster system is in need. In the US alone, the government’s Child Welfare office recorded approximately 427,910 children in the foster system as of September 30, 2015. While 30 percent of these children were staying with relatives, almost half were staying in foster family homes — that’s a lot of homes to find for these children who could be abandoned, mistreated, or orphaned. And as the Foster Care Newsletter reports, while the number of children needing foster care has risen over the last few years, albeit by a few percentage points, there is a shortage of foster parents to welcome these children in some pockets of the country.

Following the lead of Bishop Martin, other faith-based organizations are speaking out about the fostering cause. In Los Angeles, which has the highest number of children needing foster families in the country, the Archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace is spreading the word. Headed by Kathleen Buckley Domingo, the archdiocese has partnered with local foster care organizations, to connect parishes with local agencies.

As Domingo explained to Angelus, many families used fostering as a “last resort.” “It needs to be seen as a work of Christian mercy — welcoming children in love, with the ultimate goal of reuniting them with their families,” she says.

The Archbishop of Los Angeles, José H. Gomez, is also heavily involved with putting fostering on the map. With the help of non-profit Foster All, the prelate has managed to register 300 families who wish to become involved in fostering. However, those who might not wish, or be able, to foster are helping in other ways: collecting clothes, or organizing community breakfasts. It’s another way of showing these children that they are considered, that they are loved.

Additionally, programs such as Safe Families are putting the emphasis on preventing the need for fostering. By encouraging vulnerable single moms to seek help in their local parishes, with families in the church offering a support network until the mom’s situation improves. It can be as simple as looking after a child while mom goes to a job interview.

It’s about offering hope to a family, hope that their situation can improve. As Jaime Zavala from Safe Families so succinctly puts: “The local Church is the hope of the world.”

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