Childhood is the time when our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing is developed so that we may enjoy and even prosper in our adult years. For many children, however, those formative years are disrupted due to unhealthy family situations such as drug abuse, domestic violence, incest, rape and/or neglect. Those situations usually require the removal of the children from those toxic home environments and placement in alternative homes.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services reports that as of August there were 11,921 children who had been removed from their troubled home environments and placed in alternative homes. That’s 7,000 “…kinship homes, foster homes, adoptive homes, private agencies, or group homes” fulfill this purpose.
Even though the state of Georgia pays a foster family/home a stipend for the care of those children, that does not cover all of a child’s needs. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board Women’s Ministries has been partnering with foster and adoptive families for years to help minister in this critical area. According to Lorna Bius of Mission Georgia, she and her ministry partners have sought to align with Georgia Baptist churches and ministries across the state who are ministering in this specific area to help them better minister in these areas.
Showing agape love
One ministry of note is the “The Agape Shoppe” in Bainbridge, Georgia. This ministry began in 2006 with the vision of two ladies in the First Baptist Church of Bainbridge. Delrose Betts and Jennifer Lusk were touched by the needs of foster children and families. They were convicted to act out James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The word “agape” is the Biblical word for the love which gives out of a pure heart, not expecting anything back.
They noted that often children would be removed in emergency situations, without warning, in the middle of the night. Those children and their “temporary” families would need emergency clothes, school supplies, baby formula, diapers, and even food. Those items could be a financial and/or logistical challenge in the heat of the moment.
The two ladies began The Agape Shoppe to serve those needs, and Jill Alvarez came on board to help. The ladies received the use of a building from Raymond Miles without any cost for 14 years. The shop had no bank account, no expenses, and no overhead during that time.
The Bainbridge community joined together and donated clothes, toys, and new underwear for 14 years. FBC Bainbridge made certain that each foster child would start the first day of school every year with a bookbag stuffed with every item their teacher requested.
By God’s design
In the early days, The Agape Shoppe was open by appointment only. Foster parents and kids were ministered to on a one-on-one basis. In 2010, Amanda Bailey came on board. Because she and Delrose worked, the Shoppe expanded to help any child in need and was opened through an honor system. People that served children’s needs were given keys so that they had access to needed items 24/7. In 2019, Donna Avery came on board to help sort the massive amounts of donations that the community provided.
During the summer of 2020, the building had to be repurposed. With no money and no bank account, the shop relocated to a donated building that had been damaged by Hurricane Michael and which would require much work to occupy. The repair expenses were too great. By God’s design, FBC Bainbridge, spearheaded by pastor Chris Humphries, stepped up and provided the ministry a building on Clay Street, one block behind the church’s facility.
With help, Delrose navigated the specific channels to start the new non-profit business, to manage financial gifts that would begin coming in, and to meet the City of Bainbridge’s business occupancy requirements. As she has noted many times, “God provided the way. I just had to step back and let Him do it.”
The Bowen Baptist Association notified Beth Ann Williams and Lorna Bius with the GBMB’s Women’s Ministries about the ministry and the challenges of the “The Agape Shoppe.” Bius responded by traveling down and visiting with Delrose, Pastor Chris Humphries, and associational missionary Tim VanLandingham. From that visit came a pledge of financial help.
Another outgrowth of that meeting with Bius was a special brunch sponsored by FBC Bainbridge and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board on Saturday, Oct.2 called “Agape Kids.” The program was free to anyone and focused on The Agape Shoppe. The meeting presented and discussed how an individual, a family, and/or a church can serve foster and adoptive families.
Panelists included: Delrose Betts of The Agape Shoppe, Sandra Brown of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Amanda Bailey who is the director of The Agape Shoppe (she and her husband Clayton are adoptive parents also), Misty Morris who is the president of the Southwest Georgia Foster Parent Association (she and her husband Ray have fostered seventy-one children), and Rev. Tim VanLandingham representing the Bowen Baptist Association and the Alpha Pregnancy Center.
Bius traveled down the day before the brunch to deliver a grant check to The Agape House Shoppe for a freezer, and for any supplies needed for the ministry.
If you would like to become a foster and/or adoptive family, visit fostergeorgia.com. If your church would like to serve foster and adoptive needs and would like more information, visit missiongeorgia.org.
How you can get involved
The most important tool we all have is to pray for foster families, foster children, and for the care systems that oversee this need. There are also some tangible ways we may help. Misty Morris has suggested that we learn of the foster families in our area and to help them with their needs. Provide a date night for a foster couple by caring for the children in the couple’s charge so they can have some away-time.
Amanda Bailey has noted that many foster parents have children with special needs and there are ways to come alongside those families.
Sandra Brown encourages people to become a CASA volunteer who will personally get to know certain children and advocate for them before a judge.
Delrose Betts encourages people to provide new and gently used, age-appropriate clothing, baby supplies, etc. for The Agape House. The blessing of gift cards allows the purchase of specific baby formulas and specific baby foods as needed. There are plans under way to have some emergency meals available. She also notes that any church and even association can sponsor a ministry like The Agape Shoppe. “You just got to want to do it! If you want to do it and need some help, just call me! I’ll tell you what we did and you can figure out what works for you,” Delrose has said.