LAKELAND, Fla. – Barry and Melissa Miller are busy preparing breakfast and getting the eight kids in their care off to school. It may appear to be rather chaotic with kids and book bags all around, but everything always seems to come together on time.
The Millers currently serve as primary house parents in Jones cottage on the Tallahassee campus of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes. They live in a two bedroom apartment that is attached to the cottage.
As primary house parents, they work 16 days on and 7 days off. This schedule is designed to provide greater consistency for the children in care and allows for them to attend the same church as the kids. The Millers attend Celebration Baptist Church in Tallahassee where they take their kids every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening.
This young couple, with a six year old daughter of their own, never imagined they would be caring for more than eight children while still in their twenties. They came to the Children’s Homes as house parents about two years ago after working in the corporate business field for several years. “God was definitely moving in our lives. We just knew in our heart that this is what God was calling us to do,” Barry said.
“It can be overwhelming at times, but you just have to remember that God is in control and that He is the one that called us to care for these special kids, and He will equip us for every situation.”
Barry also points out that they have a very good support system. “We receive great training, but we also have other house parents that have been with the Children’s Homes for a number of years that provide help and suggestions,” Barry said.
Barry’s wife Melissa echoes his sentiments that house parenting is a calling from God. “It’s definitely not like a regular job. It’s an incredible opportunity to minister to kids who come from some very difficult and unpleasant home environments.”
Steve Johnston, acting president of the Children’s Homes, said that all of the kids in care at the Children’s Homes have been removed from their parents or other family caregivers because of tragic circumstances ranging from abuse, neglect, or their parent’s inability to properly care for them due to death, illness, or incarceration.
“Each child has a unique story, but all of the stories are heartbreaking,” Johnston said. “That’s why our house parents need to be such special people. They not only provide for the physical needs of the children, but they also disciple them every day and influence them to lead a life devoted to Christ.”
“House parents are truly on the front lines of breaking the cycle of poor decisions that have plagued the families of the children that they care for. We have an opportunity to break that cycle and help the child not only become a good citizen, but to also lead a life dedicated to Christ.”
“When you think about it, our house parents are ministering to a segment of society that our churches have a great difficulty in reaching. In addition, we have seen countless times how a child in our care has been reunited with their family and then has the opportunity to win their entire family to Christ,” Johnston said.
Bobby Ankenbauer and his wife Cathey consider house parenting to be a life calling, having worked in childcare for nearly 20 years. They got started as house parents with a Children’s Home in Tennessee and then came to the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes eight years ago.
The Ankenbauers currently serve as one of two couples that work as statewide lead house parents. These couples have the responsibility of filling in wherever they are needed throughout the state. They also serve as mentors and provide training to other house parents.
“This is a very important mission field. We are ministering to kids that often come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who have never been to church or shown the love of Jesus. Most of them have suffered from some kind of significant deprivation. Some have not had regular meals or even slept on a bed with sheets. Some have even suffered from physical abuse.
“We minister to their physical needs and provide counseling to help them make the necessary emotional adjustments. However, it’s only the love of Christ that can provide healing to these kids and their families,” Cathy said.
Jones cottage is now lively and active with the kids back home from school. The kids do homework and help with dinner. Afterwards, the kids relax by watching TV, playing video games, or learning to catch a fish with Barry in the campus pond.
As the day comes to a close, Barry and Melissa lead the kids in devotions where a child will sometimes make the life-changing decision to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
“It’s a great joy when you see kids who come from tragic circumstances have the opportunity to be in a positive environment and get introduced to God. It’s absolutely amazing when you see these children accept Christ into their hearts right in your home,” Melissa said.
The Children’s Homes has house parents serving at their six campus locations across the state, which include Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Miami, Pensacola, and Tallahassee.
In order to be considered for a house parent position, the Children’s Homes requires that applicants be an active member of a local Christian church whose beliefs are consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message and have been married for at least two years. For more information on the house parent ministry, contact the Children’s Homes at (863) 687-8811.