‘The child comes first’ for newly elected Connie Maxwell president

The president-elect of Connie Maxwell Children’s Home says he will do everything in his power to be “an advocate for the fatherless.”

Randy Harling, pastor of Simpsonville First Baptist Church, will become the next president of Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in September. He told his congregation May 18. He will succeed Ben Davis, who will retire Sept. 1 after serving at the Greenwood-based ministry to children for 21 years. Davis has been president since 2002.

Harling said participating in international mission trips over the years has made him “sensitive to the vulnerability of children in every culture.” Then, after he and his wife, Sherri, began serving as foster parents to boys, his “eyes were opened to the tremendous needs here in our own state.” The Harlings are also the parents of two adult sons.

Harling has served as lead pastor of Simpsonville First Baptist since 1997. He led his church to begin a ministry called “A Home for Me,” through which the church partnered with the South Carolina Department of Social Services to enhance foster care opportunities for church members. He was presented the Order of the Palmetto April 27 by Gov. Nikki Haley in recognition of his work in promoting foster care.

“I believe our most urgent mission field in South Carolina is abused and neglected children and their parents,” Harling said. “James 1:27 is a mandate for the Body of Christ to get involved.”

Harling has consulted with other churches to help start foster and adoption ministries, and he has served on the board of “Children Come First” in Columbia.

He said a “rapidly changing environment” that is altering both the South Carolina Baptist Convention and state-sponsored care for children will not impact Connie Maxwell’s core purpose. “Connie Maxwell’s mission will not change,” he said. “The child comes first.”

“We will continue to work hard to produce young people fully equipped to be missionaries wherever God sends them once they leave,” he said. “Connie Maxwell has done this with excellence for 121 years, and God will … provide for [the future].”

He said he has been “amazed” at how many churches of different denominations support the SCBC-affiliated children’s home. “It is a testimony to the integrity of the organization and staff, especially Ben and Polly Davis,” he said. “They have been ambassadors for 21 years.”

Harling is asking South Carolina Baptists to pray for approximately 3,400 children in South Carolina living without their parents. “First, pray about involving your church locally to help, as James 1:27 states that we should. Fosters, adoptions, ad litems or supporters of families in need are great places to jump in,” he said. “God uses people willing to move, not just pray.”

“Christ-followers are organized and primed to speak out against abortion, and rightly so,” he said. “But what about all the children who are born but desperately need to know true love and a chance for a successful life? Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ‘The test of morality of any nation is what it does for its children.’ ”

Harling also asked for prayer for the 200 children living in five Connie Maxwell facilities across the state. “Churches make great missionaries to these children, so pray about personal involvement,” he said. “The fatherless children are certainly a fertile mission field, as well as the families they come from.”

Ronald L. Carroll, a vice president with Palmetto Health and chairman of Connie Maxwell’s board of trustees, said Harling’s election as president will ensure that “a legacy of capable and committed individuals who have given their lives to the provision of homes for children who have none … will live on.”

Current Connie Maxwell president Ben Davis said Harling “has a sincere heart for children in need” and said he will work with Harling to ensure a smooth transition.

Harling is a graduate of Furman University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During his tenure at Simpsonville First Baptist, average weekly attendance has grown from 600 to 2,200. The church contributed $500,000 to the Cooperative Program in 2012. Harling previously served as pastor of Cedar Shoals Baptist Church in Belton.