There are many programs that address the needs of others in Baptist organizations across the country, including mission efforts to building churches, starting new churches, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and many more. All are considered actions to follow Jesus’s call to reach others worldwide.
While all are missionary programs to expand God’s desire to reach people worldwide, here is a priority that is equal to all of the above — Baptist children’s homes.
I come to this conclusion because I am a product of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes where I lived until the age of 15. This was a life-changing experience that gave me so many lessons of life, including courage to face a world that considers such children as outcasts.
When I was 6 years old, my father divorced my mother and married another woman, leaving her with three kids to raise. When I was 9 years old, I was placed in the children’s home. It was there I received discipline, responsibilities and priorities that guided my life to successful careers.
Today in Tennessee, there are three residential campuses: The Ranch @ Millington, Brentwood and Chattanooga. While programs here have changed over the years, the overall goal is the same: family.
Again, I can only speak of my experiences in Alabama. There were 232 school-aged children and a special home for infants. However, my problem is there are so many worldwide mission efforts, I feel our children’s homes have been somewhat ignored.
As I said earlier, I am not here to criticize, or compare this program to others. I do feel our first priority should be to take care of our own first, then reach out to other worldwide programs.
Baptists have no idea where funding comes from to carry out the role of giving hope to the hopeless. In Alabama in the 1940s and 50s around 15 percent of needed funds came from the state Baptist organization. Some 75 percent came from donations received from Baptist churches each year around Mother’s Day. In Tennessee, 30 percent of funding comes directly from our churches and 19 percent from the Cooperative Program.
I was the second former resident of the Children’s Home to be named to the board of trustees for the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes 30 years later. I was shocked to find that small churches provided most of the funding and our larger churches gave the least, percentage wise.
It reminds me about something my preacher at Third Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, said one Sunday. “Folks, your priorities are messed up. You have no problem traveling 400 miles (round trip) to Knoxville to watch the Vols play. You will sit in the rain and scream your support for the team, but stay home if it sprinkles rain on Sunday.”
Not what they wanted to hear, but oh so true. Not something I would do. So, let me tell you of lessons learned as a resident of a Baptist children’s home. Everyone had a job, regardless of age — mopping a porch, sweeping various rooms, working in the kitchen, etc. Boys 12 and older worked at the barn. There were 40 cows to milk and chickens and hogs to feed.
Two hours after milking, fresh milk was delivered to nine buildings. We smoked our own hams, made sausage and cut bacon. Every Sunday was chicken dinner day. I can’t remember how many chickens we caught and delivered to the kitchens across our campus.
I learned these three priorities: One must work for the good of the whole. The church was where we praised God and learned lessons He gave on how to live. We were a family, even though others had forgotten us.
My most important lesson happened in Sunday School when a teacher stopped the lesson and made a statement that changed my life. She said: “Boys, I know you wonder what life holds for you. Sometimes you get lonely and scared because you fear the future. Regardless, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren’t loved.
“God loves you and Jesus was sacrificed because of His love for you. The Holy Spirit will walk with and guide you through life. You are loved.”
Her message was so uplifting that I came to the conclusion that if that was all the love I would receive in life, it was enough. I left the children’s home knowing I could achieve and carry out God’s plan for me.
Please remember your Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes. They give hope, courage and the determination to face whatever life throws at you. Each year more than 250 children and families depend on you. B&R — Ridenhour is a retired journalist and member of Third Baptist Church, Murfreesboro.