Doug Devore didn’t grow up in a Christian home.
“I never knew my father, and I had three stepfathers,” Devore told the Illinois Baptist. Maybe that’s why family is so important to the long-time executive director of Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services. Devore will retire January 15 after nearly 44 years at the agency, including 21 years as executive director.
BCHFS has four residential cottages for children and teens in Carmi, and also operates Angels’ Cove Maternity Center in Mt. Vernon for expectant and new moms and their children. The agency has 11 counseling centers around central and southern Illinois, assists with adoptions, and partners with an orphanage in Uganda, among other initiatives.
The IB recently sat down with Devore to talk about his extensive ministry, the challenges of ministering to families in a shifting culture, and the success stories of children who have benefited from the care they received through BCHFS.
Illinois Baptist: Tell us how you got your start at BCHFS.
Doug Devore: I was working at Campbell Funeral Home here in Carmi. Gordon Lanthrup, who was the director of residential care at the Children’s Home, was there at the funeral home one day, and he just started to talk to me. He asked me if I would do some volunteer work at Baptist Children’s Home. I didn’t know it even existed.
I came out here and I met the kids and staff and I just fell in love with the place. God began to say, This is what I want for you. It makes me very emotional now to talk about something that happened 44 years ago, but it just began to click with me that there was a place for me to minister here and to be involved.
Illinois Baptist: When you retire January 15, your tenure at BCHFS will be just shy of 44 years. Wow.
Devore: I owe a lot to Gordon Lanthrup and (former BCHFS Executive Director) Leon Tally. To Gordon who saw something in me as a 21- or 22-year-old that I didn’t know was there. Why he ever asked me to do that is a mystery.
IB: It was a God thing.
Devore: I can’t explain it any other way. I always question, Why me?
IB: When you consider all that you have done and seen in your four decades at BCFHS, what touches your heart or brings a tear to your eye?
Devore: Well, you can see that I cry a lot, and the older I get, the more I cry.
(Devore shared an e-mail he received the day before from a young man who lived at the Children’s Home in 1982. He wrote, “I just wanted to say thank you again for being part of my life and helping me grow physically and mentally and emotionally and most of all SPIRITUALLY.” )
He now sings in a gospel quartet and travels the country; married and a faithful Christian, and sends me a little note like that. You can’t beat that.
IB: You can’t.
Devore: There was another man who is now 57 or maybe older. He has been in and out of prison all his life. But he calls me at least every six months to check in. Sometimes he is calling from prison or he’s out on parole. He calls me just to check in and let me know that he loves me and how he is doing. I try to give him my best advice while we are on the phone, but we are his connection, his touchstone. We are his family and I have been here long enough that I’m the only one around that was here when he was.
IB: Even with so many wonderful stories from your years at BCHFS, there have been challenges. What are some of the biggest?
Devore: The kids I saw in the 70s were coming out of situations when mom and dad couldn’t take care of them, so they ended up with us. They couldn’t take care of them because one parent died, or maybe they were orphans. Not so much behavior issues.
The kids today are coming to us because they are out of control and mom and dad can’t take care of them. Schools have thrown up their hands. We see kids today that have a lot more trauma in their lives.
IB: What about shifts in our culture? How have those affected BCHFS?
Devore: Most of the children we serve are growing up in single-parent families because the concept of marriage and staying together has changed over the years. Or, they’re growing up in blended families. With that comes lots of stress. There’s nothing wrong with a blended family, but it brings additional stress to kids than if mom and dad had stayed married and had a happy relationship.
A lot of our kids have been exposed to violence, abused and traumatized, and have post-traumatic stress disorder issues. We see kids coming out of inner cities that have gang involvement. They have seen people killed in front of them. They have had family members killed. It’s a bad situation for them. They are exposed to things that even I wasn’t exposed to in my wild upbringing.
IB: The concept of “residential care” has changed too.
Devore: Very few kids come here and grow up. Our average length of stay is eight months, something like that. When I came, there were kids who had been here for years. This was home for them. It happens a few times today, but generally, if that happens, we move those kids into foster care. If they don’t have a home to go back to, we are looking for them a more permanent situation.
IB: The need for residential facilities has changed in recent years because of expansion of the foster care system.
Devore: Residential care for kids is not a preferred placement today. There is federal legislation preferring foster care over residential care because some think being in residential care is a bad thing. I don’t think so. I think this is a great place for every kid that’s here. When it becomes not the most appropriate, then we will either move them back home or into foster care or some less restrictive care.
That’s always one of our issues: How do we stay relevant to the needs of society? How do we stay relevant now with the changing values? I guess on top of that, how do we stay relevant and still operate within our own values, without sacrificing what we believe in?
IB: What do you think about the movement urging Christians to
become foster parents through the state system?
Devore: I think that is excellent. If kids are going to live in foster care, my goodness, let them live in a Christian foster home. I think that is a tremendous idea and I would love to see more Christian families get involved in that.
IB: You became executive director at BCHFS in 1995. Did you set any goals for yourself?
Devore: The first thing I did when I became the executive director is that we did strategic planning for the agency. In that first strategic plan, one of the biggest things was to get our own board of trustees. The other big part was to hire a development person.
We worked through those goals and in 1999 we did another strategic plan. Every three years since that time, we have done another strategic plan. We have looked ahead to the future: Where do we want to be? How do we want to get there? How do we better minister to children and families? All that has happened—whether it be the international ministry or the Pathways Counseling ministry or the expansion of Angels’ Cove—has come out of those strategic plans.
IB: Are there things you planned to do that haven’t happened?
Devore: Yes. We didn’t become an international placing agency for adoption. It was very frustrating for me for quite a long time until it finally just sunk in that this just wasn’t what God wanted us to do. I think it was what Doug Devore wanted to do.
We talked about trying to have an on-ground school for some of our kids that have a difficult time making it in the public school, but there has always been something that prevented that from happening.
IB: As a leader, what has been your most difficult task?
Devore: How we find the resources to do what we need to do. I don’t want to say it’s about the money, but that’s been a challenge. When I became the director, our budget was $1 million and we were serving 160 children and adults. Today, our budget is approximately $2 million and we are serving over 1,300. The ministry has grown and developed, and the challenge has been how to find the resources to serve more people and how to develop programs to serve more people.
IB: You and your staff experience a lot of things most people don’t. What do you think to yourself when you see a young mom holding a baby she chose not to abort?
Devore: What a joy to see that baby born. To know that baby could have been aborted and not be here. To see that young mother hold that child and be happy they have made this decision to choose life. What a great thing that is, and now it is our responsibility to enable that mother to be the best mother that she can. Whether she is 12 or 40, she may not be prepared for that child. We have the responsibility to help get her prepared and to help her be the very best mother that she can be.
IB: What about those who choose adoption?
Devore: It’s hard to see any mother give up her child for adoption. Often it is the very best decision they can make and I admire their courage to make that decision. But it breaks your heart to see the pain they go through. Then you see the family who is taking that child, and you see the delight in their eyes that their dream has now come true. What a blessing.
IB: Does a specific story come to mind, something you’ve seen God do recently through BCHFS?
Devore: We had a 15-year-old girl come to our maternity center who had been adopted from Guatemala. She was pregnant and had decided to keep her baby. Her parents placed her at Angels’ Cove and said she and the baby couldn’t come back to live with them.
We just began to pray for her and Carla (Donoho, Angels’ Cove director) shared in a WMU meeting over at Woodlawn about this girl and that we were praying for a family for her. Carla finishes speaking, and a woman comes up and says, “I think my husband and I can take her.”
Really?! God does so many amazing things. The woman, who’s one of our board members, goes home and tells her husband. He says, “I don’t know why we couldn’t.” They had already adopted two kids. So they took the mother and her baby, and since then, they have officially adopted the mom.
IB: That’s an amazing story.
Devore: It was just miraculous. How does God find a family? It’s amazing. There have been hundreds and hundreds of those types of stories where God has worked in the lives of people, kids, and families, and made a difference. It has been very rewarding.
IB: What does the future of Baptist ministry to kids and their families look like, especially in Chicago where the need is so great but Southern Baptist presence is relatively small?
Devore: Baptist Children’s Home needs a presence in northern Illinois. We’ve just not had the resources to be able to do it and to make it work. We tried in 1999 when we opened a Pathways Counseling office but had to close it because it wasn’t financially feasible. I think the future for us would be that we would get a Pathways Counseling office open again in northern Illinois and to be able to provide Christian counseling.
We serve a lot of kids from that area and a lot of young mothers, but still we are out of sight, out of mind. We need a greater presence, a greater awareness of the ministry of the Children’s Home in northern Illinois.
IB: What advice would you give to Denny Hydrick as he takes over the executive director role at BCHFS?
Devore: The ministry faces many challenges in the coming years: competition for philanthropic dollars, managed care uncertainties, staff shortages, changing values regarding marriage, family and group care, and more complex behavior and mental health issues.
Denny Hydrick comes with great experience from working in child care agencies in both Mississippi and Florida. He understands the issues we are facing and I’m confident that he will provide the needed leadership for the days ahead. My advice to him is to trust God, who has maintained this ministry for 98 years, and to trust the people who work here. They have proven their faithfulness to children and families over and over.
Many people in this country make a “Pro-life” campaign to be a religious endeavor when it really should be a legal one…murder is still a crime in the secular world. Women do have a choice whether to have sex or not, whether to keep a child or permit it to be adopted, but at no time is killing an unborn child a “choice” (in this context). Good luck to this organization and like-ones across the world…and good luck/wishes Denny