I absolutely love the work I get to do with the Arkansas Baptist Children's Homes and Family Ministries, and I can hardly call it work. It's a privilege - a joy - and so many other wonderful things to get to serve on the board of directors. One of the things I love most is the Connected Ministry.
There can be no question that we have a foster care crisis in Arkansas. There are thousands of kids that have to fit in hundreds of homes. Recognizing the need, the Arkansas Baptist Children's Homes and Family Ministries stepped up to the plate and is knocking it out of the park - a home run every time to use the baseball analogy about as far as one could take it. No strike outs...ever.
Connected is the foster care ministry of the Arkansas Baptist Children's Homes and Family Ministries. It works to provide or mobilize resources to make foster care more successful in Arkansas. It helps churches take an active role in meeting this problem for the cause of Christ. It develops multi-church partnerships in regions across the state that are especially hard hit by large numbers of foster kids and too few homes to take them in. It involves the local church to improve the child welfare system, strengthen family bonds, increase rates of reunification, and decrease rates of kids returning to foster care. It connects partner churches with family social workers to offer support, encouragement, and other ministry opportunities. It brings structure to the foster care community. It helps recruit, facilitate, and train foster parents. It provides hands on support for foster families through the local church, including meals, baby sitting, tutoring, respite care, transportation, food and clothing closets, school supplies, and more. It helps churches provide help to biological parents trying to get back on their feet for the sake of their families. And as Connected comes along side the church to train, equip, recruit, and support all involved in the process, it frees the church up to do some amazing, gospel centered ministry to a hurting portion of our society.
I love being involved. I think you will to. I want you to get involved. Here's how:
1. If you want to learn how you can work in fostering or supporting those who foster, or if you want to get your church involved, contact Lynn Szczepanik at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (479) 646-2100, ext. 103. You can also reach out to me and I'd be happy to make some introductions.
2. If you aren't in a place to do that right now, that's ok. Make a tax deductible donation to those who can. You can do so by clicking the button below. Remember, the standard deduction is going up so if you want to itemize and take advantage of the deductions for interest on your house, student loan debt, charitable giving, and more, you'll need to give more away to charity this year. I appreciate your help!
I have the privilege of serving as chairman of the board of directors for an organization called Shared Beginnings. Shared Beginnings is a not-for profit organization designed to aid biological parents in Arkansas who are facing the difficult decision of placing their child up for adoption, especially when the adoption is taking place through an attorney that represents the adoptive parents. In these situations, the biological parents are at a distinct disadvantage, especially those from a vulnerable community.
Attorneys should not be representing both the adoptive and biological parents, but in practice many attorneys recruit biological parents while representing adoptive parents. This carries at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Shared Beginnings provides legal counsel to biological parents in these cases to level the playing field.
Shared Beginnings also works to ensure that biological parents, especially mothers, are supported through and after the process of adoption. Our staff makes sure that mothers make it to prenatal doctor's appointments and provides them with other medical aid. They make sure that biological parents are making an informed decision, not only by ensuring that they have separate legal counsel to explain the adoption process and result, but also by educating them on the services available to them if they choose to raise their own child.
Philanthropy is a word transliterated from a compound Greek word. Phil - meaning brotherly love (like Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love") and Anthropos (meaning humanity). Literally, it is a love of mankind. To be completely transparent, the love of others does not come easily to me. It is something that I must be intentional about.
Some say there is a difference between charity and philanthropy - charity focusing on pain relief and philanthropy focusing on eliminating the root cause of the pain. Hogwash. There's nothing in the etymology of the word that would necessitate such distinctions. Others say that philanthropy deals primarily in money while charity deals in goods or service. Balderdash. You can't just throw money or goods at an issue, and service alone breeds dependence. Charity, philanthropy, or whatever you want to call it requires not only alleviating pain but also the root cause of the pain. You do that by whatever means are available - money, goods, and service.
In my view, there is one underlying cause of pain in the world: sin. As such, my lodestar in philanthropy is the one person who can alleviate that cause of pain: Jesus Christ. The boards I serve on and the charities to which I give money must point people to Christ. While a relationship with Christ does not automatically guarantee prosperity or an easy life, Jesus promised all who came to Him with their heavy burdens would find rest. My local church receives a good deal of my philanthropic efforts for this very reason, as do mission and other gospel advancing ministries.
There are other causes I'm passionate about, but all deal with the same root problem. Sin has torn apart families and resulted in traumatized, orphaned, and abused children. As such, I care deeply for these children and those who would sacrifice to take care of them, especially in the context of bringing them the message of hope found in the gospel. As such, I chair the Board of Directors of a new non-profit in Northwest Arkansas called Shared Beginnings. I serve on the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Baptist Children's Homes and Family Ministries, where I've served on the long range planning and development, personnel, and executive director search committees. Organizations such as these are worthy of whatever philanthropy we can pour on them.
I'm passionate about raising the quality of life for the Marshallese people - a South Pacific Islander ethnic group which the United States exposed to 67 nuclear bombs in the 1950s and 60s. My family has adopted two Marshallese children. We live just a few miles from the largest concentration of Marshallese people in the world outside of the Marshall Islands. They deserve reparations, not philanthropy. They don't get the former, so I work to give them the latter.
One of the Marshallese children I've adopted suffers from a yet unknown ailment. He eats primarily through a gastrostomy tub in his stomach. When he crashes, he crashes hard and spends weeks in the hospital. We got to experience Christmas of 2017 in the PICU with him on a ventilator. For no known reason, his lungs just stopped working. As my family has navigated the world of pediatric medicine in search of a diagnosis, treatment, cure, or miracle, we've developed a heart for the hurting children and parents in similar situations. Charities that fund research into rare pediatric disorders or provide services to the hurting families of these hurting children deserve support.
Music has been a part of me since before I was born. I love the musical arts and have since grown to love musical theater, plays, and other visual arts. Bach said, "the aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul." Mozart added, "music, in even the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but always remain a source of pleasure." And lest we forget, Elton John said, "music has healing power." As a source of pleasure and relief from the stress of the world, I am a patron of the arts, especially musical ones.
Through each of these runs one demand on my philanthropy - accountability. Organizations with demonstrable salvations and evangelism equipping get the most from me. Musical arts with an end in and of themselves with no thought or desire to lift spirits aren't philanthropic - they're selfish and often commercial. Such organizations aren't for me. Other organizations that produce verifiable salvations and train new believers to be evangelists locally and globally should let me know they exist. I want to be involved.
Josh Bryant is an ever aspiring philanthropist. He serves on several non-profit boards and is learning the ins and outs of private foundations and other giving schemes. His passions include Christian missions, foster children, orphans, pediatric disorder research, musical arts, and the Marshallese people.