Written by Kevin Squires, Senior Director of Church Partnerships for World Orphans Every night around 10 o’clock the sky lights up around my house as explosions go off left and right. But before you jump to any… ahem… rational conclusions, you should realize that I don’t live in the war-torn areas of the Middle East. Matter of fact, I live in an area that, in many ways, is just the opposite, a place that is widely considered the most magical place on earth – an enchanted place where castles stand tall and a talking mouse started it all. I live a short hop, skip, and jump from Disney World. The explosions you ask… just the nightly fireworks.
Like most children, I grew up fascinated by the Wonderful World of Disney. As I’ve grown up (well, loosely speaking… according to my wife, perhaps “aged” is a more appropriate word), I’ve begun to notice things in these Disney stories that never stuck out to me as a child. Maybe it’s because I work for an international orphan ministry, which obviously raises my antenna to things like this, but over the past few years, I can’t help but notice a common theme running in Disney stories, comic books, and other fictional genres… the story of the orphan overcoming tragedy.
A quick search finds heroic orphans along every spectrum of entertainment. Scouring through Disney movies, there’s Cinderella, Snow White, Anna & Elsa, Peter Pan, Tarzan, Mowgli, Aladdin, Simba, Bambi, Dumbo, and a cast of others. Flipping through comic books, we find Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Robin, Wolverine, Catwoman, Daredevil, Storm, Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, and many more. Pick up a book and read about orphans such as Harry Potter, Frodo, Prince Caspian, Jane Eyre, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Hansel and Gretel, and the pages go on and on. Head to the theater and watch James Bond, Dorothy (Wizard of Oz), Cosette (Les Miserables), little orphan Annie, and just about the entire cast of Star Wars (Luke, Leia, and Han).
Anyway, you get the picture. Our hearts are captivated by stories of orphans overcoming tragedy and finding success in life. But as we step away from the heroic faces of the fictional orphans mentioned above, it can be difficult to face the reality of the world that we live in. UNICEF reports that there are 17.8 million children throughout the world who have lost both parents. The same report shows that there are 153 million children who have lost at least one supportive parent, if not both. Now, it’s no secret that statistics often paint blurry pictures, so it should be noted that UNICEF’s report omitted children who live on the streets or in orphanages. Needless to say, the reality of our world suggests we have a growing orphan crisis on our hands, and in turn, a growing need for heroes.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our fictional orphans, it’s that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Whereas some fictional orphans were able to escape tragedy on their own, most realized the only way out was through the discovery and support of some sense of family… family structures that helped transform orphans into the heroic forces they became.
Cinderella found a fairy godmother. Snow White found some dwarfs. Peter Pan found a fairy. Mowgli found a bear. Aladdin found a genie. And if you haven’t heard yet, Anna and Elsa built a snowman.
Superman was raised by farmers. Spiderman had Aunt May. Batman had a butler. And Wolverine found an entire team.
Frodo found a tall wizard. James Bond found Q. Dorothy found a happy witch. Cosette found an ex-convict. Annie found a bald billionaire. And Luke, Leia, and Han found each other.
In summary, they either found family or family found them. Family is what made our childhood heroes heroic. Family is what gave them a chance. So in today’s world of reality, where can real life orphans turn to to find family?
First, let’s look into adoption. In the September 2014 issue of Time magazine, we see a disturbing trend in orphans finding families through international adoptions. In 1999, American families adopted 15,720 children from around the globe. In 2013, that number dropped to 7,021, largely due to restrictions from countries such as China, Russia, South Korea, and Guatemala to name a few. Some of those restrictions were bad (Russia reportedly banned American adoptions due to political retribution), while other restrictions were done to allegedly halt corruption within the system (Guatemala halted international adoptions after allegations of baby buying, resulting in overflowing orphanages). Despite the decreasing numbers of adoptions, it still remains a strong force in helping orphans find family. And although many adoptive parents (domestic and international) might disagree out of humility, their love and sacrifice are nothing short of heroic and are paving the way for future heroic and “happily ever after’s” for children all throughout the world.
Unfortunately, having to deal with the increased restrictions, length of process, and the high costs often associated with many adoptions, the numbers reported by Time are reflecting a trend that is going to be difficult to reverse. Do more people need to adopt? Absolutely. We should never stop promoting adoption! But are there other effective ways that can place or keep vulnerable children in families and bring hope to the hopeless?
Thankfully, a growing focus in the global church over the past decade has been in the area of family. As the orphan crisis grows, the global church is stepping up to counter the swing by promoting the needs to preserve, reunite, and expand the sense of family all throughout the world.
With encouragement from alliances such as the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) and smaller ministries like World Orphans, global churches are feeling more empowered to care for orphans in their own communities. More and more at-risk families are being preserved and empowered by the care of their local churches. Families are being reunited as some temporary institutional homes are beginning to reunite children with their families. And churches are casting large enough visions within their own congregations where we are seeing a rise in expanded families where extended family members or even non-relatives are opening their homes to children in need.
World Orphans desires to empower the church to care for orphans – until they all homes! The best way we know to do that is by partnering with churches on the front lines of the orphan crisis. And the beautiful thing is, we’re not the heroes in all of this! We are constantly looking for American churches to join us in the pursuit to empower international churches through partnership. The tragic darkness of the orphan crisis is providing an opportunity for the global church to become what it was created to be… the driving force of the Kingdom of God. When the church, the very Bride of Christ, symbolically walked down the aisle, it became the hero for generations to come!
So, will you join us in our pursuit to find heroic churches willing to care for orphaned and vulnerable children through family based care? For more information, go to www.worldorphans.org.