A Trump administration official visiting a Bakersfield church Sunday challenged faith communities to find permanent homes for young people struggling in the foster care system.
The request by Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, came as she and local politicians called for increasing the role churches play in helping repair societal disconnections she said have given rise to abuse, neglect and homelessness.
She warned it's not easy to take in a teenager who has been in the foster care system. But the United States can reduce the size of its welfare system, she said, if more church families are able to help find "forever homes" for a population of young people she estimated at 125,000.
"We need your help," she said. "Step up, wrap around them and pray hard."
Johnson was part of a panel that convened at Canyon Hills' 11 a.m. worship service to discuss ways churches can work with government, corporations and nonprofits to address societal problems. Panelists included Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh and state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.
In a separate room after the service, Johnson spoke to reporters briefly, complimenting the church's various ministries and saying the congregation is walking its talk and "making things happen."
If more churches follow Canyon Hills' example, she said, and if members of the faith community engage with corporations, nonprofits and government, people seeking help will be able to find it. The country as a whole, she said, will make progress fighting hunger, homelessness and aging-related difficulties.
She repeated her call for greater involvement in finding permanent homes for foster youth and then left without taking questions.
The event was organized by CityServe, a network of churches collaborating to overcome what it terms brokenness in the community.
CityServe officials joined Johnson, Goh and Grove after the church service and outlined opportunities for churches to partner with government agencies to help tackle mental health, homelessness and other problems that have become increasingly visible in Bakersfield and other urban places across the country.
Grove took the relationship between churches and government a step further by encouraging members of Canyon Hills to become more personally involved in government and politics.
She said churches have a "natural ground game" and networking system that makes them effective players in politics.
"The body of Christ has an obligation to participate in the civic arena," she said.