The city streets of Guatemala—with few green spaces and most of those infested with negative influences—are not a welcoming place for childhood play. Growing up in Guatemala can be a dangerous and lonely experience . . .
Viewing entries in
Earlier this year, a group of people from Morey Community Church of Michigan visited their church partner, Iglesia Nueva Vida Alfa y Omega, in Guatemala for the first time. Congregants from each church tripped over one another's languages and laughed through the initial awkward interactions.
What does it mean to care for the "whole" child? What does that look like? It seems counterintuitive in some ways. If we're caring for a child, we're caring for the whole child, right? Roof over her head. Shoes on his feet. Books for school. At World Orphans, we see a distinction between caring for a child and caring for the whole child. We use the term "wholistic" a lot, but what does that even mean?
In a perfect world—a world we dream about frequently—these words would never have to be uttered. Children would have homes, healthy families, and environments within which to thrive.
At World Orphans, we talk a lot about orphan care, but you may have noticed that we don't talk about orphanages. Instead, you may frequently hear the words "church partnership" or "family-based care".
The numbers are daunting. Even more daunting is the realization that every single number represents a child whose life has been drastically altered by pain, loss, and heartache.
Sometimes it's the roaring expanse of the ocean or the limitless heights of the mountains; however, sometimes it's the rhythmic cracking of a few logs in the fire and the laughter of a stranger-turned-friend.
Those that are fierce are sometimes thought to be unloving. Those that are strong are often believed to not be gentle. Those that are brave are sometimes thought to be unkind. But this–of course–is not always true.
Yeshiwork's story is the stuff of sensationalized media, yet it's all true. As a child solider, she barely survived a battle along the border of Somalia–a battle which killed 75 people. She became a child bride at ten years old and stood by his side for 55 years . . . until he left her. To this day, she doesn't know if her husband is alive or not, as he could not be located after a flood.
Yeshiwork has suffered much, yet has overcome.
She is a tall, fierce woman. She is strong. She is brave. Yet, she is also loving, gentle, and kind, as evidenced by the little boy who has so clearly stolen her heart.
Moses walks into the room, weighed down by the heavy backpack on his tiny shoulders. He looks shyly at the guests in the room, yet marches over to Yeshiwork, and climbs onto her lap to plant a kiss on her cheek. A sparkle can be seen in her otherwise serious eyes.
She prays for him, believing he will be a leader. Though she loves him, she is not given to nonsense. Yeshiwork expects him to be disciplined in his studies and to attend the after-school programs at school in addition to his regular schooling. Without her, Moses' life could have looked so different . . . if his life had come to be at all.
Yeshiwork is Moses' grandmother, and without her desperate plea for his life to be spared, Moses would have been aborted. Conceived through rape, Moses was a sign of shame. Tradition dictated that, once he was born, he would be an outcast and he would forever be reminded of the pain that brought him into the world. One week after he his birth, Moses' mother left him in Yeshiwork's care. Out of humiliation, his grandfather left.
Yeshiwork had nothing but a tiny, defenseless infant. She was a warrior for him before he was even born, and yet that was only the beginning.
Believing it was important to "give him a life," Yeshiwork has loved him like her own son. Through the World Orphans Home Based Care program, a local church has partnered with Yeshiwork, enabling her to care for him well. The church's partnership helps to ensure that Moses is being provided for physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Home Based Care enables Moses to grow up under the loving care of the woman who fought for him. Without the local church, Yeshiwork would most likely have been forced to surrender Moses at an orphanage, unable to provide for his needs as a single elderly woman.
Orphan care, at its roots, should always be about strengthening families, both the families that have welcome orphaned children into their homes and those families whose children are vulnerable to abandonment. Through Home Based Care, families are strengthened through the local church with support, educational resources, and provisions for the child's education, food, and medical needs as is necessary. We know that children thrive when they are in families, and we seek to see those families stay together rather than be torn apart by poverty.
Yeshiwork has fiercely and selflessly loved Moses, a boy previously destined to be an outcast. It is a privilege, as the global church, to stand in her corner and celebrate Moses' precious life.
And thus, Frimose began the hard work of parenting a grief-stricken 8-year-old girl.
Sometimes a flight doesn't go quite as expected . . .
"I never loved you and everything is your fault. Don't expect anyone to love you if your own mother can't."
Those were the last words out of his mother's mouth before David was launched into the foster care system. It was a couple days after his 10th birthday and, to say the least, he'd had a difficult first decade.
When new mother, Dayna Mager, poured out the broken pieces of her heart on social media, the masses responded. Her story quickly went viral. Dayna attended a worship conference, where a missionary spoke about visiting an orphanage while in Uganda. The orphanage, filled to the brim with 100 babies, was eerily silent. She was crushed when she learned that the babies are conditioned to stop crying. A small staff against 100 babies that become hungry, tired, and dirty at varying times throughout the day is a tough scenario.
Dayna relays the missionary's story, "They stop crying when they realize no one is coming for them."
Dayna continues by sharing about the change in her maternal perspective, no longer frustrated or inconvenienced by the sound of her newborn baby's cry, but thankful for that cry. That cry means her child is learning that Mama will come when she's hungry, tired, dirty, or discomforted in any way.
Babies need to cry. We need them to cry. Crying means proper development is taking place.
Stories like these offer a glimpse into why we approach orphan care in the way that we do.
Our Home Based Care Program (HBC) is a family-based program that both addresses and prevents the rise of the orphan population by caring for children in a home environment. Administered through our Church Partnership model, World Orphans partners US churches with international churches that wholistically care for orphaned and vulnerable children. These children are being raised by single mothers, extended family, neighbors, friends, or church members.
The goal of the program is to equip, inspire, and mobilize the local church to build relationships with at-risk families in their communities. Relationships grow through frequently visiting these families in their homes to offer prayer, Gospel training, counseling, and overall encouragement. To empower this wholistic approach to orphan care, World Orphans and US churches connect relationally with international churches to provide Gospel-focused training and funding. The funding for the HBC Program ensures that these children are being cared for wholistically.
Wholistic Care meets:
- Physical Needs – Protection, shelter, food, nutrition, access to clean drinking water, and medical care.
- Mental Needs – Access to, and support of, education and vocational training.
- Emotional Needs – Ongoing care through counseling and home visits.
- Spiritual Needs – Discipleship towards a relationship with Christ, transformation, and a restored image of dignity and true identity in Jesus Christ.
A child who has faced tremendous loss needs to know that his cries will be heard. A baby who has experienced tragedies untold needs to know she will be answered.
Orphan care will never be an ideal, flawless, beautiful operation because the very word "orphan" speaks to the loss, neglect, or abandonment that a child has faced. Though it will never be perfect, we should be pursuing excellence.
Let's create and support environments where a baby's cry is answered by loving arms. While we do this, let's continue hoping, praying, and dreaming of the day they all have homes.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR
World Orphans is not an adoption agency; however, we love the foster and adoptive families represented through our staff, donors, and communities. We rally behind your efforts to champion the cause of vulnerable and orphaned children. Sometimes it's hard though, isn't it? Sometimes it looks like this:
"I hate you. You're not even my real mom. You can't tell me what to do."
She wanted to pick up the explosive words that had seemingly shattered the fragile air into splintering shards of glass, but she couldn't. She'd welcomed him into their home over a year ago, with high hopes that they would be laughing, playing, and enjoying one another's company by now. But, they weren't.
When Jonathan wasn't throwing words like jujitsu knives at Elaine, he was lost in a meltdown with the crocodile tears, kicking, screaming – the whole deal. This had become the new "normal" for the Smith family and it was taking a toll on everyone.
Elaine and her husband, Jim, were not new to parenting. They had three older children that were – until Jonathan came into the house – doing relatively well. When Jim and Elaine announced their decision to adopt, their biological children were ecstatic about the prospect of having a younger brother or sister.
Jonathan, the six-year-old little boy with the messy mop of brown curls and the deep blue eyes, seemed to capture their hearts immediately. When the Smiths looked at the pictures from the adoption agency, they didn't see the brokenness in that sweet little face. He was a smart, handsome, and jovial little man and the Smiths looked forward to calling him "son".
Adoption wasn't what the Smiths thought it would be, though. The pictures didn't tell them about the lingering effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), or the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Maybe the agency rattled off those things at one point in the process, but how difficult could those things be? The Smiths had friends whose children were diagnosed with ADD and assumed it would all work out just fine. After all, Jonathan would be their fourth child.
The Smiths had no idea how difficult it would be to parent Jonathan. Adoption is beautiful, but it's also messy.
What happens next? What happens when all the things your parents did with you don't work? What happens when the way you parented your other children only leads to more tantrums, crying, and shouting? What happens when you find yourself at the end of your rope?
The Smiths' story is not uncommon. It's the story of many adoptive and foster families. It's the story of parents that truly care, but cannot seem to communicate with their new family member. It's the story that's being written over and over and over again, not only by adoptive families, but by foster and temporary placement families as well. What if the story could be different?
Mothers and fathers, allow us to introduce you to Empowered to Connect and the late Dr. Karyn Purvis. As Director of the TCU Institute of Child Development, Dr. Purvis focused the last decade of her life on researching and developing interventions for at-risk children. She co-authored The Connected Child with Dr. David Cross, and her wisdom has been ground-breaking for adoptive and foster families, social workers, and a variety of people working in childcare.
Empowered to Connect uses the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)® model developed by Dr. Purvis. "TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection."
Connection. We all crave it and were created for it.
As relational beings we [...] have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human connections is undoubtedly between a parent and a child. -Dr. Karyn Purvis
Connecting isn't always easy, though, and we've found the TBRI and Empowered to Connect principles helpful in the Wholistic Care training we offer to our church partners across the globe. Families like the Smiths have found hope in these principles as well. Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) President Jedd Medefind says Empowered to Connect "brings together some of the nation’s very best experts on what adopted children and their families experience, and how parents can forge deep and lasting bonds with their children, even in the face of great difficulty."
Education is important. Medical care is important. A bed. A family. A house. But, a home – a place for love, redemption and healing – that's really the goal.
It looks so simple on paper or on a screen, but in those difficult moments when the tears are flowing and the screaming is only getting louder, it's hard, isn't it? If you're fostering or you've adopted, we know the struggle you've felt, and we'd love to remind you that God's grace is abundant, his mercies are new every morning, and his love is endless.
Let's tackle one day at a time . . . until they all have HOMES.
The Race That Eats Its Young. It's a daunting tagline, isn't it? Doesn't it make you want to sign up for the race tomorrow? The Barkley Marathons is a gruesome, agony-filled race whose distance exceeds 100 miles and whose memories could scar you for a lifetime. Nestled in the hills of Tennessee, the race challenges runners not only with the distance, but the hills, trees, briars, and early-spring possibilities of rain, snow, sleet, or hail. The course time limit is 60 hours. 60 hours of crying, bleeding, hallucinating, hungering, thirsting . . . fun?
In the first 25 years of the race's existence, only ten people completed the course. Despite its grimacing tagline and its infamous reputation (or because of it), hundreds of runners apply for the race each year. Only 40 of those that apply are given formal invitations (which are written in the form of condolence letters). The race follows a looped course. Three laps, approximately 78 miles, is considered a "fun run", and the full five-lap course finishes out at 130 miles.
If you aren't yet sick to your stomach, each loop of the race has a 12,000 foot ascent and 12,000 foot descent, making the full course equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest twice.
Lazarus Lake, cofounder of the Barkley Marathons, says runners "just had a fallback mentality [in the race's early history] that the race was just the fun run and the hundred [full race] was impossible." Nobody completed the full race course until nearly ten years after the race was established. Lake went on to say, "Once someone finished, you knew it really could be done."
Did you catch that? Runners assumed the race was impossible until someone completed it.
Until They All Have Homes.
It's a daunting tagline isn't it? When you place the desire to see every orphaned child in a home up against the reality that there are 150 million orphaned children in the world, this tagline doesn't seem to pay homage to the situation at hand.
- If we multiplied the Texas population by five, that number would still fall short of the amount of orphaned children in the world.
- The worldwide orphan population is larger than the entire population of Russia.
- If all the orphans in the world were placed in a country of their own, they would have the ninth largest country in the world.
Seeking to house and nurture every orphaned child in the world might as well be the world's most difficult 130-mile race, right? We know the challenge to "defend the weak and the fatherless" (Psalm 82:3), yet we feel like we don't know where to begin sometimes.
Here's the thing. It's going to be impossible until we do it.
When runners run the first four laps of the Barkley Marathons, they typically run together. They partner up – the seasoned Barkley runners with the newbies – and they tackle the course together because they know they stand a better chance against the terrain and their own weaknesses when they choose to not go alone.
I cannot do this alone. You cannot do this alone. World Orphans cannot do this alone. We're holding on to the grace of God, asking you to join hands with us, and tackling the orphan crisis one mile at a time. We aren't taking the "fun run" option. We aren't assuming this is impossible. We're in this for the long haul.
We're going to ride out the briar-covered hills, the snow-packed trails, the rainy miles, the blistered feet, and the relentless exhaustion. Far more than bragging rights and race medals are at stake here.
150 million children deserve hope. It's not impossible for every orphaned child to have a home. It's just that nobody has done it . . .
We like the notion of doing it all on our own, don't we? In a nation that celebrates self-starters, independence, and the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality, we've glorified individualized efforts and often missed out on the vast opportunities afforded by working together with one another. To be clear, individual work ethic is important and there is–of course–work that only you can do. However, are we missing the bigger picture when we do it all on our own and forget about the incredible network of people that God has made available to us? When we tackle it alone, are we accomplishing less instead of more?
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8
We often look at verses like these, smile, think, "what a nice thought," and then go on with our day. The idea of fully embracing our community of believers and engaging with them in authentic ways is a beautiful concept, but we often fail to pursue it.
What would it look like to embrace our role as the Body of Christ? What would it look like if we brought our different personalities, gifts, talents, strengths, and backgrounds together and used them for good? The global church has an extravagant amount of talent, wisdom, and resources when we work together.
153 million orphaned children need us to work together to find solutions to the orphan crisis, and the solution is rooted in relationship, partnership, and the firm belief that the Body of Christ is a beautiful, powerful force. We need to hold hands on this one. The future of orphaned and vulnerable children is dependent on the global church working together . . .
Until they all have homes.
Watch our newest video to learn how we can work together for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Find out how your church can get involved in Church Partnership.
"An architect." Her boldness and creativity caught me off guard. It was the sixth classroom of the day in which we'd asked the students, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Her response surprised me because it was one I hadn't heard yet.
The teenage students were packed into a tiny classroom, and though their language was unfamiliar, the stares, giggles, and whispering felt very similar to the way a US classroom would feel brimming with teenagers.
The heat, the language barrier, and the mental exhaustion of the day was making us run close to empty, but we mustered up more energy for this new group. We began, as we had with other classes, by asking the expectant faces about their plans for the future. We heard dreams and plans bounce off the walls: teacher, doctor, nurse.
Esther* claimed she wanted to be an architect.
We began to talk to the students about the importance of not only choosing a career to pursue, but the importance of choosing their words carefully. We discussed how they talk to their friends, to their parents, to God, and to themselves. Recognizing the lies imbedded in the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," we told them how hurtful words can be. But, of course, they already knew this.
When we finished talking to the class, we offered to take questions. Esther's hand immediately shot up and she whispered for what felt like 30 minutes to our translator, Davidson. In reality, it was probably less than two minutes, but have you ever stood in front of a classroom full of teenagers? They stare at you.
Davidson turned to face our group—me, Mike, DeAhna, and Shydonna—and he relayed the story of a broken-hearted girl who so confidently announced her desire to be an architect, yet deep down was considering being a criminologist. She'd confided in someone she loved about her dreams, but that person told her she couldn't be a criminologist, and Esther wanted to know what to do and where to go from here.
Shydonna in Haiti
What Esther didn't know is that our team was blessed to have the brilliance and heart of Shydonna Tossie, director and owner of Ampersand School in Longwood, Florida. Shydonna is an educator, motivator, and big dreamer, but most importantly, Shydonna's love for children cannot be exaggerated.
Shydonna communicated many things to Esther that day, as she encouraged her to continue pursuing her desire to be a criminologist, but the most important things she conveyed to this heavy-hearted young woman were hope, love, and confidence. The conversation ended in tearful prayers and the kind of hug that must have made the angels sing.
Esther's school was attached to the local church, and following that final conversation in the classroom, we went into the church auditorium with our group. It wasn't long before a backpack-bearing girl with an orange gingham top and navy skirt made her way into the auditorium. Her eyes raced around the room before she quickly located Shydonna. Esther, seemingly forgetting the language barrier, sat down next to Shydonna to rest her head on Shydonna's shoulder. Words weren't important anymore. Esther needed hope, love, and the knowledge that someone had confidence in her. She'd found that in Shydonna, and that was enough.
This is the kind of impact Shydonna makes every single day at Ampersand School, where she frequently whispers in the ears of young learners, "Somebody is waiting for you to be great." Isn't it fascinating how some messages need to be communicated regardless of the culture? Isn't it amazing to think that children everywhere are dreaming big and waiting for us to encourage them to fly? What Shydonna knows and what you and I may fail to remember is that education isn't just about education. When children learn and dream, they're setting a pathway for their future.
If you were to ask her, Shydonna would tell you she wasn't always this inspiring to those around her. As a college student feeling the weight of the world, she stood at a Christian youth conference in a sea of depression. Tears were staining Shydonna's face when a strange woman approached her and said:
"What you're going through right now isn't even about you. Somebody is going to come behind you who needs to know that you survived. That person needs you to get through this because they need to know they can survive, too."
15 years later, Shydonna holds those words tightly in her hand, carrying them with her every day, knowing that this woman—whose name she'll never know—changed her life.
Arguably Shydonna may have done the same thing for Esther. Words of wisdom. A prayer. A hug at the perfect time. Children around the world need to know that we're waiting for them to be great. Orphaned and vulnerable children especially need to know that the world is waiting for them to be great. Though their circumstances understandably may seem insurmountable, we need 153 million orphaned children to know that we're waiting for them.
Shydonna and Esther
At World Orphans, we talk a lot about wholistically caring for orphaned and vulnerable children, ensuring their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs are all being addressed, but orphan care at the end of the day isn't really about orphan care at all.
We aren't caring for orphans. We're pouring into future doctors, teachers, and nurses. We're empowering architects, engineers, and mothers. We're investing in fathers, mechanics, and entrepreneurs. When you look into the eyes of a child, you are looking into the future of that community, town, and country. The child's circumstances may have rendered him or her orphaned, but that is not the child's permanent identity.
The second we start believing that orphan care is merely about orphan care, we've forgotten the potential that lies in those beautiful brains, the passion that burns in those big hearts, and the dreams that soar higher than the clouds. These boys and girls . . . they're going to be great.
*Name changed to protect identity.
One of the first times I can recall fighting with God was a real Jacob-wrestling-God kind of moment in a tiny village in Malawi, Africa, where views are spectacular and resort-like, but poverty is brutal and debilitating. Poverty shoves itself in your face and demands that you respond. Having grown up in a stable, comfortable home in the US, I had a lot to process. I had to wrestle through the confusion – Am I even on the same planet? – the anger –Why are children dying as a direct result of poverty? – the guilt –Why isn't this my story? Why have I been given so much?
I was shocked by the world I was suddenly facing.
Maybe that’s it. Poverty, orphans, widows and refugees–are we even shocked anymore? I catch myself frequently turning the TV off or scrolling quickly on Facebook or hiding the post or changing the station because . . . I don’t want my heart to break. I tell myself that it’s because I get it–I know what’s going on in the world and I know I’m supposed to do something about it. Don’t tell me the story. Don’t make me feel sad. I get it. Do I really, though?
Do you? Do we–in a society that promotes comfort above all–allow ourselves to feel heartbreak?
In some ways, I feel immuned. I’ve been on the mission trips. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen the pictures, but then, sometimes there’s that story or that picture or that moment I didn’t expect, and I feel real pain, and I’m surprised. Have we forgotten what it's like to empathetically hurt for one another? Are we afraid to hurt? Are we afraid to feel convicted?
What would it look like if we started letting ourselves feel heartbroken? What would change if we, as Matt Maher so famously sings, let God “break our hearts for what breaks [His]”? What breaks God's heart?
God "defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing." Deuteronomy 10:18
"Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." Isaiah 1:17
"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Psalm 68:5
"This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hands of their oppressors those who have been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place." Jeremiah 22:3
"The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked." Psalm 146:9
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
So, as we look at those who face poverty, orphaning, and every kind of human injustice, let us "weep with those who weep", but let us not merely sit in the heartbreak and the weeping. Let us use that heartbreak to spur us on to something more, something crazy . . .
. . . something we hadn’t previously considered. Adoption. Foster care. A mission trip. Creating that nonprofit. Pursuing that job. Taking that risk.
Love isn't a word. Love is a verb. It often begins with empathetic heartbreak; however, it certainly doesn't end there.
Where can we start?
- Get educated. Learn about global injustices, how the church is addressing those injustices, and how we should be addressing those injustices in the future. Looking for some reading materials? Check these out:
- Revolution in World Missionsby K. P. Yohannan
- Generous Justice by Timothy Keller
- Love Doesby Bob Goff
- When Helping Hurtsby Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert
- The Poor Will Be Gladby Peter Greer and Phil Smith
- Get involved locally. Find out what ministries your church or community organizations offer for the marginalized in your area, and get plugged in somewhere. If you choose to serve with a local nonprofit organization, be sure to do your research, verifying that money is being stewarded well. Consider helping with:
- After-school programs and programs catered towards underprivileged youth. (Your local schools should know what programs are currently available.)
- Tutoring and literacy training. (Find out if Literacy Volunteers of America works in your area.)
- Assist with job skills training and preparation in your area. (Learn more through Jobs for Life.)
- Minister to those in prison.
- Can't find a ministry that makes use of your gifts and abilities? Start your own.
- Get involved globally. You can get plugged in with a variety of international ministries. Remember, though, to always do your research on how donations are being used. World Orphans is dedicated to using resources well, as we grow projects in 12 different countries. Opportunities for involvement through World Orphans are abundant:
Weep for a season. Allow your heart to break. Cry out to God. Then, . . .
Tacy Layne | Writer/Editor Some of my favorite childhood memories smell like salt water and sound like the wind. Most summers included one week at the beach, and I began dreaming about the next beach trip before the tan faded from the previous trip.
"Next year I'll swim further or build a bigger sand castle or get up earlier to see the sunrise," I'd think. I had 1,000 plans by the time my toes felt the scorching heat of the sun-baked sand once again, but each year would be the same. Breathlessly, I'd run onto the beach after the obligatory 30 minutes of unpacking everything, and despite my well-mapped plans for the week, I'd find myself overwhelmed.
I'd stand and stare in awe at the vast expanse of blues and greens unfolding before my eyes, as the seagulls echoed the waves, while the wind chimed in with its harmonies. Suddenly faced with the reality of my own smallness that so starkly contrasted the vast ocean before me, I found myself immovable. All I could do was stand there feeling small.
That child who stood cemented into the sandy beaches of a North Carolina shore has much in common with us as adults. We often consider how we'll tackle a dream or a problem, and perhaps even create a plan, but when we arrive at our destination, we're suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of the circumstance and we freeze. We stand immovable. Our plans are gone and we've lost the ability to think.
The church has been commanded to care for orphans. It's pretty straight-forward. Care for orphans. But, here we are with 153 million pairs of eyes staring us - the church - in the face. Are we frozen? Are we afraid to make a move? Have we forgotten that we are to care for the orphaned? So, now what?
If the command to care for orphans wasn't specifically for those families that are brave enough to adopt, then does that really mean God is asking every single one of us to get our hands dirty on this? If God meant what he said when he told us to care for the orphaned, where can we begin? What can we do if we don't want to adopt?
Drawing from the creative wisdom outlined in Johnny Carr's Orphan Justice, here are five ways to begin addressing the orphan crisis:
- Either collectively with a group or individually, begin an adoption fund to support adoptive families. Perhaps adoption isn't something you are ready or able to pursue, but I'd be willing to bet you know an adoptive family. A variety of factors will affect the cost of adoption, particularly geographic location. My friend and her husband have committed to financially supporting every adoptive family they meet. It’s a familial commitment they’ve made. Would you consider doing the same? Wouldn't it be beautiful if the families burdened to take in orphaned children knew that finances would not be a barrier? Wouldn't it be incredible if they could look at the list of costs in front of them and be confident in the fact that their family, friends, and community would help make this adoption a reality?
- Foster a child. In 2014, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 264,746 children entered into the foster care system in the US. Read that statistic carefully. Those are just the children that entered into the system during 2014. This number does not include those already in the system. Fostering is difficult. Foster care has been designed to ultimately reunite the family when possible, thus providing opportunities for grace to abound and for reconciliation to become tangible; however, for the families that take on the commitment to foster a child and temporarily step into the role of a caregiver, this is hard. As hard as it may be for a fostering family, though, please consider how invaluable fostering is for the children involved. Foster families have the opportunity to pour into the life of a vulnerable child in a way that can eternally impact the life of that child. C.S. Lewis said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and you will be wrung and possibly broken."
- Become a respite worker for fostering families. Carr explains that "respite workers are retained and screened to help care for [children] with physical and emotional special needs." These workers will provide anywhere from an hour to a few weeks of care for children whose foster families must be away from the child. This can be an extraordinary blessing to foster families and another opportunity to impact a vulnerable child with God's grace.
- Support a pregnancy resource center either financially or through volunteer hours. This kind of community involvement may not be the first thing on your radar when you consider orphaned or vulnerable children; however, one is closely linked to the other. The women who may walk into a pregnancy resource center are - no surprise - seeking out resources. These women may be facing unplanned pregnancies or may simply feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood, and, instead of going to an abortion clinic, they turned to a resource center. Many (though certainly not all) are single mothers. Carr notes that we, the church, "are called to support, encourage, and equip her as she learns how to parent." A well-equipped, well-resourced, and connected mother is far less likely to have a child that ends up in the foster care system. By empowering and equipping mothers, we ensure that there are fewer orphaned and vulnerable children in the world.
- Begin an outreach program within your church or community that ministers to the needs of fostering and adoptive families. While the financial needs are often first to come to mind, not enough can be said about engaging with fostering and adoptive families to provide educational and emotional support. These families are facing questions, trials, and fears that no other family is combating. We were designed for community, and these families need community in a tangible way that recognizes their efforts, celebrates their victories, and grieves alongside them when they face defeat.
This list of opportunities for involvement merely skims the surface. For more ways to get involved and for a better understanding of the global orphan crisis we are facing, please consider reading Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr.
by David Martin | Communications Specialist
The difficulty that characterized life in Europe during the Middle Ages is rarely lost on anyone, but how often do we reflect the ways in which this played out for the marginalized of society? How, for instance, did mass poverty and a very high mortality rate affect the youngest and most vulnerable members of civilization?
Many children born during this period of history were, for varying reasons, either unwanted or unable to be cared for by their parent(s), and these newborns were often abandoned. Reasons leading to abandonment included (though certainly were not limited to):
- Poverty/lack of ability to care
- Illnesses or deformities in the child
- Undesired gender of child
- Extramarital affairs
- Wars and famines
No class of society was exempt from this propensity to abandon children. A poor family may have felt the pressure of provision and abandoned a child whose needs could not be met. An aristocratic child born out of an extramarital affair would not only have brought shame upon the families involved, but would have complicated inheritance issues. The prevalence of casting off children spread to every corner of the culture. Reasons for child abandonment in the Middle Ages did not differ altogether from leading causes today, though. The same human issues transcend periods of time.
In the early Middle Ages, in Europe, unwanted children were often sold into slavery; however, this lessened with the growth of the church, as Christians did not characteristically buy and sell one another as slaves. In addition, because of the reach and influence of Christianity, infanticide came to be gravely looked down upon in the culture, to the point that abandonment became the preferred alternative, so long as the child was abandoned in such a way as to likely receive needed care.
The first group to offer this needed care was, in fact, the church. Both handicapped and healthy children were often left at the doors of monasteries and churches. The church was considered the only institution that would legitimately take care of these vulnerable children. It was not, however, equipped with the means to provide long-term care for children, and this deficiency led to the cropping up of homes for foundlings. These homes were often religiously-based, but not directly tied institutionally to the church. These homes were able to help in several arenas where other solutions were falling short, but many children still did not live, and being placed in a home was not a guarantee of survival for an infant.
Still, a much greater chance of survival was allotted to those children who remained in families. Recognizing this, there was a strong advocacy on the part of clergy to place unwanted children in families. Much of the legal red tape of modern society was not present in those times, and a family would often simply take an abandoned child into their home and raise the child as part of the family.
Records of inheritances show that a significant bond would often develop between these adopted children and their caregivers. Contrary to what some historical fiction suggests, these children were not seen as sub-par. Adoption was the best hope for a child to have a happy and healthy future, and it was most notably the church which did the bulk of the labor in promoting this.
Also, if not for the church, infanticide would have been much more prevalent. Clergy knew that they had to go farther than simply condemning the killing of unwanted children and walking away. The church knew that its duty was to provide the systems and means to care for these children.
Acts clearly communicates the early church's belief that caring for orphans was one of its central mandates, and hundreds of years later, though still struggling with the severe dynamics of a fallen world, the church is persistently hearing and heeding that call to care for the helpless, and moving forward to do all in its power to remember the least of these. May we do the same today.
Much insight for this article taken from the book:
Orphaned children haven't always been orphans. What happened?