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.