One way Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas, is serving its neighbors is by enrolling in CarePortal, a ministry of The Global Orphan Project in Kansas City that makes known the needs of hurting children and families and provides opportunities for churches to respond.
According to CarePortal executive director Adrien Lewis in an online video: “We are so excited to see the church in action. God has a wonderful plan for his people, and you are part of that plan. The CarePortal connects the child welfare system with the local church to meet needs.”
Ebenfeld’s involvement in CarePortal was the brainchild of Megan Hein and Becky Suderman, two members of a four-person CarePortal team at the church that also includes Jana Dalke and Melissa Enns.
The Ebenfeld church council approved the congregation’s enrollment in the program, and the CarePortal team visited with a CarePortal representative. Then the Ebenfeld team began receiving emails about local needs that they could then pass on to the congregation.
“I know that God has a heart for widows and orphans and people who are marginalized,” Suderman says. “I want our church to be a church that loves our neighbors well and does that through a heart of serving God. When I found out about (CarePortal), I thought, ‘This is so amazing how we can be the church the way we were asked to be the church, the way we were asked to stand in the gap for those who are struggling or hurting.’”
How CarePortal works
The CarePortal website explains the four main goals of care in child welfare. Prevention aims to keep at-risk families together. Foster care seeks to provide stability in foster or kinship homes. Adoption provides support and resources for children needing a permanency plan. Transition helps prepare youth ages 18-24 for independent living.
The CarePortal system includes three tiers of support: physical—cash, goods or services given to stabilize the child or caregivers’ environment; relational—mentoring, programs, tutoring, babysitting or transportation; and family—churches open their homes, partner with preventative initiatives like Safe Families or work together with agencies that license foster families and adoptive homes.
Through CarePortal’s platform, child welfare professionals from participating agencies input a need, which CarePortal’s technology then generates as requests to participating churches in close proximity to that need’s zip code. Once a church or individual decides to meet a need, the church’s contact person responds to the initial email and more specific information is given.
According to the CarePortal website, 1,307 churches have served more than 15,000 children in 13 states, including 10 states with USMB churches across all five districts, with an economic impact of more than $5.7 million.
Meeting local needs
In the months since Ebenfeld enrolled in May 2017, Hein says the church has met a handful of needs for local families, including providing a washer and dryer, gift cards for groceries and clothing, fresh fruits and vegetables and beds.
With a family’s permission, people from the church deliver the gifts face to face, Hein says, adding that sometimes the church has met needs in collaboration with other local churches.
For example, another church enrolled in CarePortal met a need of a gift card for groceries but was unable to deliver it. Hein and Suderman delivered the gift to the family, allowing them to build relationships and be made aware of additional needs.
“We were able to go in and sit down with the family and pray with (them),” Hein says. “We reached back out to them and invited them to church. One Sunday they came and visited church, and we were able to pray with them as a congregation.”
For Suderman, the most rewarding part of meeting needs through CarePortal has been the conversations sparked with her children.
“They’ve come along with me to help meet some needs, and we talk about how Jesus loves us,” she says. “We talk with them about how God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s neat to see that in action.”
Ebenfeld has set up a benevolent account for future needs, raising money with a fundraiser meal at Hillsboro’s annual Arts & Crafts Fair, a nationally-recognized craft show held in September.
An opportunity for everyone
A third member of the CarePortal team, Dalke says she appreciates the partnership between churches and social workers to identify and meet needs, as well as the opportunity for churches to work together across denominational lines. It is a ministry that can use all skill sets.
“This is a ministry that can use the outgoing person for deliveries and personal contact with families,” Dalke says. “It can use the behind-the-scenes, introverted person for communication and coordinating skills. It doesn’t matter what your skill set, you can be used in this ministry.”
Hein says the Ebenfeld congregation has been supportive of the ministry.
“The congregation has been very supportive of the idea,” she says. “Especially when we send out requests, we’ve always had people respond.”
Integral to maintaining church enthusiasm for the ministry is keeping the congregation informed about what’s happening with the ministry and stories of personal impact, Hein says.
“If (we’re) able to meet a need, the following Sunday we’re able to stand up and say, ‘Praise the Lord, we were able to meet this need. We were able to pray with this family, and we’re continuing to reach outside of our walls and help others,’” she says.
Helping someone who has no expectation of receiving anything in return and knowing you’re being the hands and feet of Jesus is very satisfying, Hein says.
“Personally, the most rewarding thing about participating in CarePortal is actually being able to sit down with (a) family and pray,” Hein says. “It is the most humbling experience to walk into somebody else’s personal life and be able to meet a need and experience what they’re experiencing. It puts a different perspective on life and on your own personal blessings.”