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KC-area church turning neglected kids into disciples

TOBIN PERRY/North American Mission Board

LENEXA, Kan. – Westside Family Church feeds 3,000 kids daily in four countries. Families from the church have adopted more than 100 children in the United States and internationally. The Southern Baptist church helps fill backpacks with food for hungry children and teenagers. It is a regional support and training center for foster care and adoption in the Kansas City area.

Yet, according to the Lenexa, Kan., church’s executive pastor Dan Chaverin, there’s a bigger picture to the church’s ministry to neglected children.

“We’re very focused on making disciples,” Chaverin said. “Our mission is loving Jesus, becoming like Jesus and sharing Jesus. That’s the best definition of a Christ-follower that we can muster. The service we’re doing [for neglected children] is very integrated into that discipleship process.”

Westside’s involvement in this ministry has been a gradual process, initiated in large part by many in the church’s leadership being personally involved in adoption. Chaverin, whose family adopted a daughter from China, says many of the church’s pastors were heavily impacted by encountering orphans on mission trips to India, Thailand and South Africa. Several have adopted children of their own. One of the church’s pastors was involved in the foster care system as a youth.

But the most important trigger for Westside’s plunge into the ministry came from observing where God was moving in the church’s ministry efforts – particularly internationally.

“It seems a little obvious, but for us, we started noticing that where we were seeing fruit had to do with orphan care,” Chaverin said. “That really focused us on the fact we were going to help these kids – not just short-term with relief, but long-term with their education, with their health and with their spiritual walk with Christ – and even in community development. So that theme emerged, and it was all God’s working.”

As church leaders and church members returned from mission trips to help orphans internationally, they began to notice neglected children not far from home. The church had already been partnering with an inner-city ministry in nearby Kansas City, Kan., and could discern a growing passion among volunteers and leaders to help disenfranchised inner-city children and youth in need of help. The church began filling up backpacks with food to help the kids through the weekends without school-provided meals.

“We began to realize that if we’re going to make a difference, we’re going to have to move beyond our ministry outreach,” Chaverin said. “We’re going to need to take some of these kids into our homes.

Westside has also become a training hub for the region – a place where their own members and other congregations can come for help through the fostering and adoption process. The church offers classes designed to help those considering adoption learn more about the process and parenting classes to help with children coming from tough backgrounds.

In the past year the church has hired an adoption and foster care director, Jen Decker, to help coordinate many of these local initiatives. Chaverin said Decker has played a key role in connecting the church with a variety of national resources to help prospective foster and adoptive parents.

“Orphans are so close to the Father’s heart, so close to His character and love for the underdog,” Chaverin said. “Anything you attempt to do here, He will be behind it. He will fill your sails. We’ve found that anything you do with this will be fruitful simply because it’s so close to the heart of God.”

With so many opportunities available to those who want to help neglected children, Chaverin suggests churches look for their unique ministry expression – depending upon their resources, gifting and context as a church.

Despite the church’s all-out commitment to helping to meet the physical needs of children (and adults), Chaverin says spiritual needs remain paramount. The church’s efforts to help neglected children are all part of the church’s two-year “All In” goal to reach 1,000 families for Christ.

“In this day and age you often have to show people you love them before you tell them the good news,” Chaverin said. “It’s very much about loving people authentically because that’s who we are as Christ-followers. In that loving journey with others we’re going to be a witness to the greatness of Christ.”