January-February 2019 – Second only to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, family is everything to Sean Milner. (photo, below right) Perhaps that’s because he grew up without one – at least a normal one.
In 1965, Sean and his four siblings – ages 5 days to 6 years – sat on a park bench in Sacramento, California. His alcoholic mother had no money, no shelter, and nowhere to go. After local churches provided train tickets back to their hometown of Port Gibson, Mississippi, the Milner children eventually came to live at The Baptist Children’s Village – Mississippi.
Forty-seven years later, after a successful career in law, Milner returned to BCV, this time as the home’s 11th executive director.
Today, rather than resenting his childhood, Milner trusts that God was preparing him to help troubled families like his survive and thrive through their own heartbreaking circumstances.
“This ministry works to reunite families because the family was the first God-ordained institution,” Milner explained. “But my family was not able to be reunited. And the truth is, because of my mother's addiction, I did not want to live with her. However, I had a very close relationship with her, and I knew that I was safe at Baptist Children’s Village. So, BCV was my home until I graduated from Mississippi College 18 years after I first appeared at age 5.”
From its beginning in the 1890s as the Baptist Orphanage to its current network of seven campuses and a multitude of family services throughout the state, Baptist Children’s Village has been a sanctuary for thousands of families in dire straits. The ministry is headquartered in Ridgeland in central Mississippi.
The children come through friends, neighbors, relatives, or churches who reach out to help a family wounded by drug addiction, criminal activity, alcoholism, divorce, family breakdown, poverty, or any number of overwhelming circumstances. In addition, state agencies often place children who have been removed from their home and need care until a more permanent plan can
“You know where that family in your town lives, and you want to help. You just don’t know what to do,” Milner said. “The problem is too big for you, or for any one church, but it's not too big for this ministry.”
Baptist Children’s Village is also part of Baptist Coalition for Children and Families, a network of 21 Baptist children’s organizations in 19 states. (See below.)
BCV can care for almost 100 children at one time and typically cares for about 200 children each year, from infancy through 20 years old. Funding comes from individuals (37%), churches (47%), and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board Cooperative Program (16%). No state or federal money is taken.
More than food and shelter
While the work of child care ministries like Baptist Children’s Village are often thought of as rescuing children, Milner says the deeper call is to rehabilitate and reunite families. In that process, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is top priority.
Milner said, “The number one thing we do is share the gospel. Period. Yes, we will lift your children out of bad situations. Yes, we feed them, we clothe them, and we provide a safe, loving home and an education. But we do all of that so that we can present the gospel in a meaningful way.”
“I often tell people that going to law school and becoming a successful lawyer didn’t change my life. What changed my life was Christ,” he said. “If we are not presenting the gospel and living it out, then I’m just wasting our donors’ money and delaying the inevitable. This ministry would have failed these children.”
At risk to intact
Most often, it is sibling groups rather than individual children who come to live at BCV of Mississippi. They live with their brothers and sisters in a cottage segregated by gender and overseen by houseparents. Although all their needs are provided for, their parents are still a big part of their lives.
“We work with mom and/or dad to get them job skills training, or addiction recovery therapy, or whatever issues they need to work out so we can reunite the family,” Milner said.
That rehabilitation is generally successful for families who want to be reunited, Milner said. On average the process takes about 18 to 24 months. During that time, parents and children are encouraged to stay in close contact. Weekend visits are encouraged as long as the parents’ living environment is safe. Even after being rejoined, families receive follow-up visits, counsel, and help in a variety of ways.
“While their children are at BCV, we want mom and dad to see that they are safe,” Milner said. “We want them to like the cottage, the houseparents, and the fact that their children are getting a good education. That peace of mind enables them to deal with their own issues and put the family back together stronger than it was when they came.”
That emphasis on reuniting families is an essential quality of good residential care, according to Milner. Although agencies that rescue children from bad home situations may be well-intentioned, when they keep children and parents apart, they can send the wrong message about marriage and family. Therefore, Milner said, the BCV staff not only strives to model healthy marriages, but strongly encourages children to maintain love and respect for their parents. A story from his own life demonstrates:
“I didn’t learn about this until I was in my 40s,” Milner said. “My mother was a beautiful person when she was sober. But when she was drinking, she could become a problem. When she would get very, very drunk, she would come onto campus at night and cause a scene. BCV staff would help get her home and back in bed. But we would never hear about it. I learned about it by mistake. Many years later when I spoke to a staff member that had helped my mom, he teared up and said, ‘I won’t lie to you about what happened, but your mother was a
The real heroes
While the call of reconciling families and sharing the gospel guides the overall ministry, the real ministry of Baptist Children’s Village is fulfilled most often in the private moments between a child and his or her houseparent.
“The houseparents are, in fact, the real heroes of this whole ministry,” Milner said. “That’s why our houseparents are currently being officially commissioned as Mississippi Baptist Home Missionaries.”
Like all missionaries, Milner says the best qualifier for someone aspiring to be a houseparent is simply to be called by God. They must also have a loving spirit and be willing to learn that the way they raised their own children may not work in a residential home for children. Milner admits that’s a lesson that can be difficult to learn. In addition to those essential qualifications, formal and informal background checks are conducted.
There are also costs to be counted for would-be houseparents.
“They leave their homes; they leave their churches; and they leave their communities,” Milner said. “Then they step off into something that takes even the most prepared by surprise. You know, we need houseparents, but we are very picky.”
However, the fruit of faithful ministry can be great in the lives of children.
“When it came time for me to leave BCV and decide what kind of person I was going to be, it wasn’t the words of the executive director that I remembered,” Milner concluded. “It wasn’t the words of the counselor or the case workers or any of those people. The words I remember and fall back on all came from the houseparents.”
All references to Baptist Children’s Village and BCV refer to the legal name of the ministry: The Baptist Children’s Village – Mississippi.
How to find residential children’s homes in your state
▶ Baptist Coalition for Children and Families
▶ Use an internet search engine such as Google. Enter the words “residential children’s home <Your state>”
▶ The Baptist Children’s Village – Mississippi
114 Marketridge Dr.
Ridgeland, MS 39157