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Life after Foster Care

Life after Foster Care

FALL/WINTER 2021    |    3.5 MINUTE READ
JON BIRKEY, MISSIONARY WITH USA: SOUTHWEST MINISTRIES


When WGM retiree Nancy Butler handed Samantha* some potatoes, the eighteen-year-old just stared at them. “What am I supposed to do with these?” she asked.

If someone handed you a potato, would you know how to cook it? Chances are, you would. But Samantha, along with many other people who have aged out of the foster care system, never had the opportunity to learn what seems like a basic life skill to many.

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, “More than 23,000 children will age out of the US foster care system every year. After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless. Seven out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21. Nearly 60% of young men who age out of the foster care system and are legally emancipated have been convicted of a crime.” Without opportunities to learn valuable life skills, young adults who age out of the foster care system face significant challenges.

A group of smiling people standing behind a table displaying six homemade pies of differing types.

Retired missionary Nancy Butler (far right) leads a life skills class on making pies.

But something new has been happening in Peoria, Arizona, where Samantha lives. A community is banding together at the Christian Community Center (C3), an eighteen-acre site for WGM ministry, to support former foster kids like Samantha. And God brought the idea for this community seemingly out of the blue.

Fred Faul grew up at C3 (though at the time it was called Southwest Indian School, or SIS), because his parents were on staff there. In 2019, many years after leaving the school, Fred’s job as a handyman led him to drive past the SIS campus, which had changed its name to Southwest Indian Ministries Center (SIMC). He felt the Lord telling him, “You need to go in there and see what’s going on.”

The new sign for the Christian Community Center (C3)

God is using C3 to provide aged-out foster kids love, hope, and community.

Fred prayed about it, and over the next several days, as he drove past the campus, his burden for the ministry there got heavier and heavier. A week and a half went by, and he finally got the ministry’s phone number. But he wasn’t quite ready to call and continued praying.

Meanwhile, I was praying for a mentor. My wife, Lindsay, and I had long been involved in the camps at SIMC, and I had recently taken over a new role overseeing the property. I knew I needed guidance and help if I was going to maintain the property, much less increase its impact. When I heard from Nancy Butler that someone had been asking about SIMC, I picked up my phone to make a call.

Lindsay Birkey using an electric hand mixer to blend chocolate pie filling while three small children watch

Lindsay Birkey helps kids make pies.

When Fred’s phone rang, I was on the other end. “I hear you want to learn more about our ministry,” I said.

Fred responded, “Yeah. I’m not sure why, but God is telling me I need to reach out to you.” As we talked, I shared my heart to see the campus revitalized so that it could make a bigger kingdom impact. From Fred’s thirty years of business experience, he recognized that God was calling him to use his skills to help me transform the ministry center.

23,000
children will age out of the U.S. foster care system every year

20%
of children in foster care will become instantly homeless when they turn 18

7/10
girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21

60%
of young men who age out of the foster care system have been convicted of a crime

 

We started thinking about how to use the different buildings on the property. Fred thought back to when God put a burden on his heart for foster kids. He and his wife had adopted and raised three boys through the foster care system, and they had witnessed the heartbreaking statistics about aged-out foster children firsthand. We recognized that an old school campus would be a perfect place for these young adults to live, learn life skills, and hear the Gospel.

We renamed our campus to Christian Community Center, or C3, to reflect a broader outreach to the community. We decided that being a ministry to ministries would be a central focus at C3. Then God began bringing more partners to put this plan into motion. We now host multiple organizations that provide the resources needed to help these young adults transition into independent living all while sharing the love of Jesus. In addition to housing, these partnerships provide job and life skills training, counseling, and spiritual care.

Seven men with shovels and wheelbarrows moving gravel and large rocks as they work on a landscaping project.

Volunteers from the sheriff’s department help upgrade the landscape near the office building.

It’s evident that God has been working behind the scenes at C3. He put the campus on Fred’s heart. He moved me to call Fred. He connected us with organizations that have the same heart to serve and share the love of Christ. He’s working in the hearts of these young adults. Several of them have participated in Bible studies on campus, and four of them were recently baptized! God is using C3 to provide aged-out foster kids love, hope, and community.

*name changed for privacy

151 Useful Aging Out of Foster Care Statistics,” National Foster Youth Institute online. May 26, 2017.

ACTION STEPS

PRAY: Ask God to continue blessing the ministry of C3. Whatever His plans for the future of this location, pray that He will guide the right people to join His mission here. Pray that our love for aged-out foster kids will lead to the transformation of hearts and lives.

GIVE: Do you want to partner with C3 and provide a community of support for former foster kids? See how you can make a difference in Arizona.

GO: C3 is still undergoing renovation. You can travel to Peoria to help us make this a space where aged-out foster kids can find love, hope, and community. Start the conversation today.


Missionary Bio: Jon and Lindsay Birkey have served with USA: Southwest Ministries for nine years. They are passionate about providing a safe and loving community for young adults, and they share Christ’s love through their work at C3.


The Call (Fall/Winter 2021)

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