By Jeremy Resmer, Sr. Director-Projects James 1:27 reveals God’s heart and desire for his people to look after orphans and widows. Throughout scripture, the church is called to respond with compassion to all sorts of needs. These include and are not limited to the needs of orphans, vulnerable children, and families. But how do we find ways to help without unintentionally hurting, while remembering that how we give and what we do matters? In addition to prayer and discernment, our strategies should include both good practice and biblical principles.
In his book, The Poor Will Be Glad, Peter Greer states, “The church is the best distribution system in the world.” In many countries, local churches are often best positioned to identify and minister to those in their communities who are in greatest need. Pastors, church members, and community members can work together to motivate and lead by establishing relationships, offering care and support, and mobilizing local resources.
In our home based care model of orphan ministry, we partner with the local church to support vulnerable families. The church has ownership of the program and provides leadership and guidance. Volunteer committees are recruited and trained to visit the most vulnerable families in the community, share scripture verses, build relationships by talking about life, and praying for one another. The interaction is two-way and encourages both the family and the visitor. Through relationship, cultural context, and leadership of local pastors, we ensure that our responses will appropriate and contribute to real and lasting change.
Efforts to support orphans and vulnerable children should incorporate the importance of family and a wholistic approach that addresses each aspect of the children’s well-being: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. Here are a few key principles and ideas to keep in mind when launching or supporting an orphan care ministry:
- Focus on the most vulnerable children – those in greatest need.
- Preserve, stabilize, and strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for children – is it possible to help inspire and equip the local church with biblical teaching and practical training?
- Reduce stigma and discrimination of the orphaned children – focus instead on the whole family and all the biological and “adopted” children equally. Pastors and community leaders can downplay these social attitudes, bring dignity, and elevate self-worth to those in need.
- Increase the ability of caregivers and youth to generate income and support the family – it is estimated that 88% of the children in orphanages are not “true” orphans. Poverty is the leading cause of family separation and reason for placement of children in orphanages. Our church partners understand that families need basic financial resources to provide adequate food, housing, clothing, medical care, and to send children to school. Savings programs, microloans, and business, vocational, and stewardship training can help caregivers and youth provide for their families.
- Ensure access to health care, medicine, and home based care – adequate health care reduces the risk of family separation. Churches can initiate home based care programs to visit vulnerable families and offer emotional and spiritual support, encouragement, and monitor the wellbeing of the caregivers and children.
- Support schools and provide daycare and other services that ease the burden on caregivers – women, in particular, are often limited in their ability to generate income to support families if they do not have access to daycare. These services allow children the opportunity to learn and grow while allowing caregivers to work. This strengthens the family and protects children.
- Become a mentor – get involved in the lives of vulnerable children to model paternal care, teach them about good decision-making and build confidence
- Support the emotional needs of children – orphaned and vulnerable children need help coping with trauma: loss of a parent, separation from siblings, violence and sexual abuse. By demonstrating God’s love and care, the church supports the healing process. Counseling, support groups, and art programs also provide children with encouragement and support.
- Engage children in decisions that affect their lives – invite children to participate and allow them to bring valuable ideas, information, and viewpoints to decisions that will affect their lives. They will feel less fearful and a greater sense of ownership.
- Protect children from abuse and exploitation – the church can help caregivers better understand the needs of children. Pastors can promote the protection of children as a shared responsibility of the community. Children can be taught how to recognize and report abuse when it occurs.
This post was inspired by From Faith to Action: Strengthening Family and Community Care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children