Giving kids a Lifeline
Just about a year ago, the local board of Bethany Christian Services cut ties with the organization and came under the umbrella of Lifeline Children’s Services, an adoption agency based in Birmingham that equips churches to minister to vulnerable children and families. MCL spoke with Lifeline’s new state director in Mississippi, John Noblin, about Lifeline’s work.
How and why did the transition from Bethany to Lifeline come about?
Bethany wanted to start pursuing more public and government financing. And the board here in Mississippi was concerned that it was going to run counter to the gospel focus that Bethany had. So they dissolved their ties with Bethany … and pursued another organization. The entire board that was Bethany is now the local board of Lifeline.
So (in Mississippi) we have the same employees, same offices, the same phone number (as before). I’m the only new element.
We’ve got employees in Jackson, Meridian and Hattiesburg. Bethany had an office in Columbus, and right now we have a board in Columbus but we don’t have any permanent staff there, so we’re pursuing how we’ll reactivate that area.
What is Lifeline’s mission?
The mission is to equip the body of Christ to serve vulnerable children and families. It’s the church’s job to come alongside these populations … rather than Lifeline saying, “Give us your money and we’ll go do it.” We want to take our resources and train the church.
We are an accredited adoption agency. We’re not trying to get churches to become adoption agencies. But we’re trying to train churches on how to support adopted children, adoptive parents, foster parents and foster children.
A big piece is the ministry to birth moms. Lifeline requires that both adoptive parents sign off on a statement of faith, (but) in most cases these (birth moms) are not believers. And it’s an opportunity to show them Christ in the way that we treat them.
I say “we” — as a guy, I’m certainly not in that position. But our pregnancy counselors, who are all women, can love on them and show them Christ. Between just the scariness of suddenly you’re pregnant, and then also a lot of them have a strong urge to parent, and they wonder whether they’re doing the right thing (in giving up their baby for adoption). But the counselors are great at helping them look at what’s in the child’s best interest.
How is Lifeline funded?
Families pay adoption fees, but that’s the only part of Lifeline that generates any revenue internally. Everything else is supported through private (donations). There’s no public funding, so we can maintain an uncompromised gospel message.
Most of the adoptions that y’all handle are domestic, right?
Yes. I expect the international to grow. We just haven’t been at it long enough to educate people in Mississippi about how (international adoption) works. There’s a lot of misinformation that adopting internationally is real expensive or real long … You can get some expense on the travel. But the fees are lower, and the wait times are shorter with international. The difference is, the children are older. You may get a 2-, 3-, or 12-year-old.
The wait, domestically, for a newborn is somewhere between two and three years … Also, abortion has decimated the number of adoptable babies.
Women are willing to parent (alone) and feel OK about it more now than they used to. And that’s fine. We have parenting training for girls that choose to parent. The main thing is, we want to reach them with the gospel.
And we have ladies who go nine months working with our pregnancy counselors and making an adoption plan and choosing a family, and then they see that baby and just can’t do it.
At the other extreme, three times we’ve gotten a call since June from the hospital: There’s a baby, the mother doesn’t want it, and we have no prior relationship with the mother. But the hospital knows Lifeline will step in and handle it in a loving way with the mom, and get the baby placed immediately.
And then we’ve had some moms (who choose to keep their baby) call six months or a year later and say, “I can’t do this,” and want to make an adoption plan at that point —which is really admirable, because that is really putting the child’s interests first and saying, “I tried this and I can’t do it for them.”
Tell me about Lifeline’s Families Count program.
When parents either have lost or are in danger of losing their children (to the state), the court will mandate that they take a parenting class as one of the conditions to either get the children back or avoid having them taken. And the county or DHS can offer those classes … But they charge for them, and recidivism is high.
Families Count meets the court’s requirements for this parenting class, but the church hosts the class, teaches the class, provides meals, provides transportation if the couple or the family needs it, and provides childcare for the ones that still have their children. Lifeline trains people in the church to teach the class.
It gives these parents a tangible reason to go to church. It’s delivering something that the court has required. And it’s delivering something else that they need too — the programs with the county are not going to be gospel-based.
At First Baptist Columbus, they’ve had success with the class, but they’ve also had two couples be converted through the class and join the church, and one of those couples is now helping run the class.
Tell me also about Lifeline’s Unadopted program.
There are a lot of children internationally who for age or various other reasons are not going to get adopted. And when the kids age out, they just sort of lead them out to the curb and make the bed for the next one.
In Uganda, Haiti, India, Hungary, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and other countries, we teach (kids) life skills and vocational-related things so that when they age out, they can make their way.
We help churches set up and fund these operations. We’ve got one that teaches computer coding. We’ve got one that teaches masonry, and carpentry and sewing. And one of them in Uganda, there’s a blind and deaf school.