“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.” – James 1:27
It’s a community crisis, but it remains invisible to most of us. Every day, six to 10 children are removed from their homes in South Florida alone. Opioid addiction may seem like just another troubling headline, but it means that even more children will be separated from parents, siblings and their community because of neglect, abuse or abandonment. These children are today’s“modern-day orphans,” because their parents are not able to care for them.
“As Christians, we wanted to meet a need where our communitieshaven’t been serving,” said Ralph Ojeda, evangelist for the Palm Beach Church (part of the South Florida Church of Christ). “Palm Beach has lots of churches with manyprojects to help the homeless, or provide a crazy amount of toys for kids atChristmas. We learned that one of thegreatest needs right now in Palm Beach is fostering.”
Ralph and his wife Aileen decided to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” In opening their home to fostering, they also opened the heart of their church to these modern-day orphans. The Ojedas sought advice from a sister-in-Christ, Andriene Gordon, who worked as a lawyer for the Department of Child Services.
“As alawyer, my first job out of law school was working with abused, abandoned andneglected children; it has been my passion for the last 18 years,” said Andriene. “Aileen reached out to me. She has a big heartand wants to save the world. We talkedabout the challenges foster parents face. But the Ojedas were the first ones: they went through the classes and the wholeprocess, and are leading our church with that great example.” Currently, eight families in thiscongregation of 360 members are fostering 11 children.
Dave and Deb Ferguson have fostered four children. “I heard that over 6,000 kids are displaced in Palm Beach County. It made us think about what we could do. What the Ojedas started by their leadership kindled a dream in us and our children. It was a family decision for us,” Dave remarked. The Fergusons’ three biological children, ages 18, 14 and nine, responded to fostering like the Ojedas biological children, ages 20 and 17 – they love it!
“Our kids decided to share a room just so that we will always have a bedroom ready to take in a child in need,” said Ralph. Dave, who is a high school principal, reflected on Luke 12: 48, “I truly believe that we have been given much, so we want to give back.” And the church is responding. “The Palm Beach brothers and sisters reach out to the foster parents – a true support group. They’ve been so eager to help, to befriend these children, help with rides, babysitting, submitting to background checks just so they can assist us.”
Aileen Ojeda echoed this sentiment. “It really does take a village to raise a child. The Kingdom Kids classes, volunteer tutors, even someone to teach me how to care for the kids’ hair – the love and support was there from our church. We were very open about the challenges. And we had to face our fears. To give our heart to kids and then send them back to their parents – this is hard! I’ve learned that fostering is a selfless act. I may not immediately see the fruit from fostering. But we are deciding to create a place for these kids, to be a refuge, so that their parents can work on whatever they need to work on, change, and be reunited with their children. We want to give these children hope, no matter what kind of environment they go back to.”
Ralph said, “They might forget our faces and names, but we want them to remember what they felt and what they experienced when they were in our home, under our care and with our church. We hold onto that hope.”
Fostering is changing the culture in the Palm Beach Church. “Loving like Jesus means that you enjoy giving your best and you keep planting seeds, even when you don’t see the fruit it produces,” smiles Aileen. And God is faithful, promising a harvest of righteousness .
“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” – 2 Corinthians 9: 10-11.