If you’re the church-going type, you’ve probably heard hundreds – maybe thousands – of sermons throughout your life. You probably don’t remember most of them. But one recently caught my attention.
Now, months after it was first preached, that same message is being shared in hundreds of churches across Texas. But this isn’t a story about religion. It’s a story about how this message is changing how Texas does foster care.
I did not catch the original sermon – it was first preached in 2014. But last month, I did hear Pastor Curt Davis of South West Family Fellowship in Austin start his version of the sermon this way: "Religion often gets a bad name, doesn't it?"
My ears perked up.
"Now, James talks about a kind of religion that God accepts, and he calls it 'pure' or 'acceptable' religion – to look after orphans and widows in their distress," Davis said.
Pastor Davis went on to say that modern-day widows are not only the surviving spouse in a relationship – but also single parents from other circumstances. He also extended the definition of orphans to include children in the foster care system. Therefore, Davis said, part of living a "pure religion" would be to tend to the needs of these people.
"See? Putting faith into practice is like putting a super fertilizer into a plant," Davis said.
Davis then announced his church would be joining dozens of other communities of faith across Texas in a partnership with foster care through a group called The Care Portal.
Here’s an explanation from the group’s promotional video: "The process starts with a child welfare worker logging into the care portal and entering the child's needs right into the system. And if a church member steps up to help, the church contact responds back using the original email. The case worker then connects the church with the child or family."
After watching the video, Stacey Hays signed up to receive emails from the care portal. She says she's always felt like she wanted to help children in foster care – but didn’t know how. A few days after signing up, she got her first email.
"So, the first need was for $200 for a grandparent who had to take in ... two children," Hays says. "I actually had asked a friend at work if she would be interested in contributing as well. And so together we both contributed. We didn't meet the whole need, but it felt good to know that we could help."
Within minutes, others responded too. That same day the $200 in the form of an H-E-B card was delivered by a foster care worker to the family in need.
Val Jackson has worked for the foster care system in Texas – also known as Child Protective Services – for almost 25 years. She calls the care portal an "amazing tool."
"It's different from any – any – transformation within CPS," Jackson says. "It's amazing to see and long overdue, in reference to connecting families and children to the community."
When Jackson was a CPS investigator, there were times she would have to remove an infant from a home while the investigation took place. Jackson's first choice was to place the baby with a relative but sometimes family members did not have a crib. Today Jackson would shoot out an email through the care portal and pray that someone in the same zip code responded with an available crib.
"I can't even begin to tell you what it's like for the state to say 'We can't do it all by ourselves,'" Jackson says. "We've always needed the community, but to put the faith community at the table and say 'We need your help' is amazing."
More than 150 churches in Texas are actively involved with the care portal. Over 200 more have committed to spreading the word. Now, if your thing is not "pure religion" or religion at all, CPS is cool with that too. Jackson will happily show you other ways to help.