This article was originally published in the World Orphans Spring Insight Magazine 2019.

“I can’t imagine” is a phrase commonly expressed by team members on our short-term mission trips. “I can’t imagine putting my child in an orphanage. I can’t imagine refusing to care for my nieces and nephews if they needed me.”

Can you imagine?

Yet, all around the world, mothers and fathers make these choices. They place their children in orphanages or residential care homes. They make the heart-wrenching choice to miss raising their own children. And when other children in their families or communities need them, there is no choice to be made. They cannot take on additional mouths to feed.

What happened to cause these parents to make these difficult decisions? Do they lack love? Do they lack motivation?

In most cases, it is neither. They lack freedom.

Families living in extreme poverty lack the freedom that many of us often take for granted: the freedom to choose. In the US, most of us are blessed with a plethora of opportunities. Even those living in poverty typically have options for assistance at their fingertips. This is not the case for the families we work with around the globe. These families live in desperation and turn to extreme measures, including relinquishing their children, with the hope that someone else will provide better lives for them.

In one Indian city, our church partner, Bethel Gospel Church, is that “someone else.” For many years, the church has run several residential care homes for children whose parents are unable to care for them. They have received these children with love and have not only provided for their basic needs, but have nurtured their spiritual growth and encouraged their personal ambitions. Through the church, these children know they are loved, and they are overcoming past hardships.

Amar* is one of these children. When he was young, his father left his mother, remarried, and abandoned Amar and his brother, Deepak*. Feeling the weight of her situation and the rejection of her husband, Amar’s mother began drinking excessively when Amar was just two years old. Her addiction took her life. Following their mother’s death, the boys moved in with their grandmother, a kind woman who loved them deeply, but struggled to provide for them. Amar remembers eating one meal a day and only drinking water. He would sleep as long as possible to stave off the hunger pangs. When he slept, nightmares plagued him. After living with his grandmother for a brief period of time, he became sick with both typhoid and malaria. When Amar’s uncle learned of the family’s struggles, he recommended that the boys be placed in a residential care home. Knowing she had no other options, Amar’s grandmother placed both boys with Bethel Gospel Church.

Amar and Deepak’s lives have transformed miraculously during their years at Bethel Gospel Church. They are healthy and strong. They have graduated from secondary school and are pursuing further education. Eighteen-year-old Deepak wants to be a teacher and seventeen-year-old Amar dreams of becoming a pilot. Both boys love and serve the Lord.

Though the church praises the Lord for all he has done in the lives of the children, they are not fully satisfied because they know the model is imperfect. Their vision for residential care homes modeled after families has been marred by strict government restrictions. At first, each home consisted of a pastor and his wife raising a few orphaned children alongside their biological children. Now, boys and girls must be separated, and the girls’ homes cannot include any male caregivers. These well-intentioned regulations have led to brothers and sisters being separated from both each other and their new parental figures. Once again, families are damaged due to a lack of freedom.

Bethel Gospel Church believes God designed children to be raised within families. They recognize the limitations of residential care, and they are shifting to a new model: Home Based Care.

Now, when a parent visits the church and needs help, the church no longer takes the child into a residential home immediately, but rather, the church will begin providing financial and relational support to the family. The only new children received into residential care homes will be children who would otherwise be on the streets or living in abusive homes. Furthermore, Bethel Gospel Church is formulating a plan to reunite children from residential homes with their biological families when possible.

In partnership with World Orphans and US church partners, Bethel Gospel Church will continue to provide for these children physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Instead of feeling alone, the parents and caregivers will have the support of the local church. The burden of poverty will be eased, giving parents and relatives the freedom to care for their own children.

This transition to Home Based Care will take time and effort. The safety of each child will be the highest priority. Parents will need training. The church will need support. World Orphans will walk with Bethel Gospel Church through it all. Together, we believe family preservation and restoration is worth the effort both for the sake of the children and for the Gospel—the ultimate example of family restoration.

Imagine how different Amar and Deepak’s story would have been if their mother and grandmother had received support from the local church. Imagine if Amar had never gotten sick because he had clean water, enough food, and routine medical care. Imagine the proud smiles both mother and grandmother would have worn as they watched the boys grow into intelligent, godly young men.

Can you imagine?

*Identity changed for protection