“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the fatherless and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world .” – James 1: 27
How can a hospital delivery room be a mission field? Families longing to adopt a child and expectant mothers anguishing over an unplanned pregnancy have been finding one another with the help of Christian Family Services (CFS). For over 40 years, this small non-profit has walked alongside some of the most vulnerable in Florida, offering them an opportunity to choose life for their unborn child.
“These mothers are in survival mode,” says Jerry Callens, director of CFS since 2003. “Many of them are faced daily with the question, ‘How will I feed my kids tonight? Where will they sleep?’ They’ve been hurt and burned and they don’t trust the baby’s father, their family or their friends. Initially, the only way we can serve them is to build trust.” Jerry explained that with every phone call CFS receives, “we try to set up a face to face meeting so that we can build a relationship with the mother. Our desire is to serve her holistically, to build bridges and to help her find resources in a crisis situation. We help her to explore all of her options.” CFS assists with everything from pre-natal medical care and transportation to appointments, food, housing and counseling. “I believe that God has invited us into that mom’s life for a specific time, a time when many feel alone or suspect that others may have some kind of agenda. We demonstrate God’s love by planting seeds and showing by example God’s care and concern.” The seeds of faith planted by CFS have borne fruit – more than 500 babies have been placed with “forever Christian families.”
The vision to give birth mothers an alternative to abortion was cast by Rogers Bartley and Richard Whitehead, elders for the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida. When CFS received its official license from the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services in 1978, they focused their efforts on placing homeless children of all ages in homes of committed Christians who would become adoptive or foster parents. There is a rich history of church members opening up their wallets, their hearts and their homes to support this ministry. The “pure and faultless” religion embraced by Brothers Bartley and Whitehead impacted many lives, especially their own families. Three of Brother Whitehead’s children became adoptive parents.
“What can we do to support the fatherless?” Barbara (Whitehead) Brunson and her husband, Jimmie, pondered that question. They decided to go all in, opening their home and fostering babies – 30 babies, to be exact. Some they kept for several weeks, and others for several months. One they ended up adopting! How did the Brunson’s three biological kids handle all the diapering, sleepless nights, babysitting and midnight feedings? “Fostering was a formative experience for all of our kids,” said Barbara. “It was hard to say ‘Goodbye’ to each baby because we got very attached; lots of tears were shed. We’d say ‘We’re babysitting for God!’ And we just kept doing it and it became part of our family rhythm. Jimmie and I explained to our kids that every home isn’t just like our home and sometimes people don’t make the best choices. But God can always work things out for good.” On reflection, Barbara acknowledged that despite any sacrifices her family made to foster babies, God certainly worked good in each of their children’s lives. “Being others-centered and loving others – I see this carried out now in the choices my adult children have made.”
Through the years, different plans and initiatives have been adapted and refashioned so that CFS can most effectively minister to expectant moms and families wanting to adopt. When you visit the Christian Family Services website, testimonials from birth moms and adoptive parents speak to the love and concern they encountered during a really stressful time in their lives. Impressively, CFS holds to a radical and unique tenet. “We commit to these expectant moms. During their pregnancy, they have access to us 24/7,” Jerry said. “And afterward, we wish to be a help to them for the rest of their lives. Post placement, many women deal with grief and loss and we just don’t want to leave them to work that out alone.” CFS assists birth mothers in getting their GED or resuming their education, finding employment and working toward independence. Some have given their lives to Christ, while others have at least returned to their faith roots.
CFS is affiliated with and supported by Churches of Christ and independent Christian churches. Brother Kent Brand was the very first director. Currently, the CampusView Church in Gainesville supplies office space and a creative fundraising enterprise: Game Day parking. Located just eight blocks from the University of Florida stadium, CampusView supplies volunteers to assist in parking and donates all parking fee proceeds to CFS. “We would love to see disciples who are considering adoption to look to Christian Family Services,” said Jarrod Robinson, minister for the CampusView Church. “This would give so many more children who are raised by disciples to have a greater opportunity to truly know God. CFS is a very important and loved ministry at CampusView, with our members volunteering their time and giving their money. We not only raised $55,000 through Game Day parking, we have also given CFS $10,000 from our Special Offering each year.”
“Christian Family Services is a ministry,” attests Jasmine Pierce, case worker for CFS. “Whether it’s charging adoptive families on a sliding scale to keep costs low or buying groceries for moms with unplanned pregnancies, I see how seriously CFS lives out it’s mission. I’m so blessed and thankful to work here – a job where employees, adoptive families and birth moms are treated like family.”
Currently, CFS is looking to fill two caseworker positions. If you are interested in a job with CFS, or considering how you might become more involved with their work, please call the office at 352-378-6202.
It’s true, a hospital delivery room can be a mission field: Providing an example of God’s love in action to hospital staff while ministering to birth mothers and adoptive parents eager to become a “forever family” to a newborn baby.