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".
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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.
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 . . .
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:
Well, we're about two weeks into those resolutions. The holiday festivities have ceased. It's back to work and back to reality. The decorations have been stashed until next year (hopefully). As we dive into 2016, though, we'd be amiss to not rejoice in the challenges we faced, lessons we learned, and victories we celebrated over the course of the last year. Without further adieu, we invite you to reminisce with us as we look back on ten of our favorite blog posts from the last year:
- Jeremy gave us the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia, where we saw women empowered and children being given the gift of hope.
- We stepped back in time with David, as we learned about the heart of the early church for children who have been orphaned.
- Kathy ushered us through the doors of secondary schools in Kenya, where we met children who are not merely surviving, but thriving!
- We discovered what's different about a trip with World Orphans.
- Kevin taught us practical ways to deal with conflict.
- We considered the beauty in the brokenness as we reflected on the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and the hope that springs anew there.
- Why a home rather than an orphanage? We looked at that question.
- With loud shouts of joy, songs of praise, and tears of happiness, we took a closer look into Iraq and saw God moving in powerful ways.
- As Matthew guided us through the process, we considered what it means to love each other well, to abide in Christ, and to be the kind of father that magnifies our Heavenly Father.
- We learned more about the orphan crisis and we considered what the church's role should be in caring for those that have been orphaned.
God is working in powerful ways across the globe, and we are thankful for the privilege to be his hands and feet as we equip, inspire, and mobilize the church to care for orphaned and vulnerable children. Let's press on...
...until they all have homes.
By David Martin | Communications Specialist “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:17).
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
We know these verses well, and often invoke them when discussing the church’s role in caring for the fatherless. From the brief records we have, it certainly seems that the early church truly took these commands to heart, gaining for themselves a reputation as those who cared for the least of these.
Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another; and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother (Apology of Aristides the Philosopher 15, c. A.D. 125).
And those who are well off and are willing to do so give as much as each desires, and the money thus collected is deposited with the bishop, who takes care of the orphans and widows, and those who are in straits through sickness or any other cause, and those in prison, and our visitors from other parts—in short, he looks after all who are in need (Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67, A.D. 100-165).
The Writings and Practices of Early Church Fathers
Early church fathers had much to say about caring for orphans and widows as a regular part of the church’s praxis. David Nowell describes well the culture we find in the earliest centuries of the church.
In the growing Christian movement, the Church fathers consistently and conspicuously called upon followers of Christ to be faithful to Scripture’s demand that we care for the orphan. Virtually every early writing on Christian conduct stressed the importance of caring for children without parents. Eusebius, the Apostolic Constitutions, Lactantius, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr…the list goes on and on, but every one of them called on the early church to care for orphans. One writer goes so far as to say that the orphan had only three possibilities in life: death, slavery, or Christian adoption (David Z. Nowell, Dirty Faith: Bringing the Love of Christ to the Least of These).
Below are a few passages that illustrate the sentiment carried by these founders of the church:
Now note well those who hold heretical opinions about the grace of Jesus Christ that came to us; note how contrary they are to the mind of God. They have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the oppressed, none for the prisoner or the one released, none for the hungry or thirsty (Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 6.2, A.D. 110).
The presbyters, for their part, must be compassionate, merciful to all, turning back those who have gone astray, visiting all the sick, not neglecting a widow, orphan, or poor person, but always aiming at what is honorable in the sight of God and of people (Polycarp, Philippians 6.1, c. A.D. 110).
It is the way of persecutors of the good, of those who hate truth, love a lie, do not know the reward of righteousness, do not adhere to what is good or to righteous judgment, who ignore the widow and the orphan…have no mercy for the poor, do not work on behalf of the oppressed, are reckless with slander, do not know the one who made them, are murderers of children…who turn away from someone in need…utterly sinful (Epistle of Barnabas 20.2, c. A.D. 100–130).
Other descriptive passages from early texts describe some of what this looked like in practice:
Perhaps the earliest textual evidence we have of an organized system specifically dedicated to the care of orphans comes form a passage of Hermas, in which their religious education is explicitly stressed… Many Biblical scholars believe that [James 1:27] assigns the task of caring for orphans to the deacons of the early Church. However, in light of other passages in Hermas it is obvious that caring for orphans was seen by the author as work generally pleasing to God and an ethical duty for all Christians (Hübner and Ratzan, Growing Up Fatherless in Antiquity).
A third century document known as the Didascalia Apostolorum lays out the criteria for selecting a presbyter. One of the requirements in this list is that the candidate has been known as ‘a father to the orphans’ (3.2). This document then goes on to describe a suitable candidate for the bishopric as one who has been ‘a lover of toil, a lover of widows, a lover of orphans’ (3.2) (Aloisi, Orphan Care, Adoption, and the Church).
When we first meet the mention of the adoption and bringing up of foundlings, this work appears not as a novelty, but as one long practiced. It is true that the heathen also used to take care of exposed children, but for the purposes of bringing them up as gladiators or prostitutes, or to use them in their own service…. Christians brought up the children whom they took charge of for the Lord, and for a respectable and industrious life (G. Uhlhorn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church, p. 186).
All of this illustrates the reality of care for the orphan and the marginalized has been a central part of the church’s fundamental makeup from the very beginning, as it continues to be. Once again, David Nowell summarizes beautifully: “Orphan care is our (the church’s) identity — and has been for two thousand years.”
And we at World Orphans say a hearty “amen.”
- David Z Nowell, Dirty Faith: Bringing the Love of Christ to the Least of These
- Hübner and Ratzan, Growing Up Fatherless in Antiquity
- John Aloisi, Orphan Care, Adoption, and the Church: Historical Reflections and Contemporary Challenges
- Uhlhorn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church
Every now and again, a person comes along whose life truly exudes the compassion and love of Christ. One such woman was Carrie Steele. An orphaned child herself, and born into slavery, Steele knew what it was like to feel the pain of abandonment, and gave her life to being a mother to unwanted children. In addition to this, she has left a legacy as a key figure in the fight toward race equality.
Steele’s work of caring for the defenseless began while working as a maid for Atlanta’s Union railroad station. She would often find abandoned children left at the train station, and proceed to take these children to her small home and care for them. Over time, her own capacity to care for the number of children she had taken in became stretched, and she began laboring toward the building of an establishment for the children.
She worked tirelessly and used various means to raise funds in order to build an orphan home, including the writing and promotion of her own autobiography, fundraising in the community, and finally, the selling of her own home. At last, the woman who made $100 per month working for the railroad station managed to gather the $5,000 needed to construct her orphan home, and it was dedicated in 1892.
The passion for these children ran beyond simply pulling them off the street, but bled into what we call Wholistic Care. She recognized that without the proper care, these orphans would end up no better off than at the first. As someone who had served as a volunteer probation officer, she understood that orphans were prone to fall into lives of crime, and in the effort to prevent this, she structured the home in such a way as to care for all of a child’s needs and prepare them for a successful life ahead.
Steele made the spiritual formation of the children a top priority. E. B. Carter makes note in his book The Black Side that orphans in Carrie’s home were “taught, first of all, to pray.” Bible study was also a part of the regular lives of the children. She would also ensure that the children would be taught practical skills and be instilled with a strong work ethic. As Tevi Henson put it in an article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “The orphanage was created to serve as a place for homeless African American children to be educated, study religion, and learn skills in order to gain employment.”
Steele was not only a notable figure in orphan history, but in the civil rights movement as well. She was fighting for young boys and girls of color when racial tensions were still extremely prevalent. This home would become a significant help for those underprivileged children who would fall prey to the highest level of discrimination and marginalization. Steele was truly helping the most helpless & outcast ones, and thus served in the ultimate sense to advance the cause of racial equality as well.
Carrie Steele Logan (her married name) developed a high acclaim and appreciation within the society of Atlanta, Georgia. Many in the community, including the local police force affectionately named her “aunt Carrie.” Her gravestone is inscribed with the phrase: “The Mother of Orphans. She has done what she could.” The labor of this woman who poured her life out for the defenseless has not been forgotten by those affected by her life, and, chiefly, by our heavenly “Father to the fatherless”.
- Notable Black American Women, Book II - by Jessie Carney Smith
- The Carrie Steele-Pitts Home And The Church Partners In Mission – by Albert J. H. Sloan, II
By David Martin | Communications Specialist Every other month, staff member David Martin will share his research about men and women who have cared for orphans in various ways. We are inspired by the lives of believers from the past, and seek to learn from both their models and mistakes. Lean into this blog as David shares about preacher George Whitefield and his orphan-care model.
If scripture’s multitude of passages on the subject didn’t seem sufficient to convince that our God carries a deep, rich, and passionate love for the orphan, then a glimpse into the history of the church ought to win you over. Men and women, carrying in themselves a fervent love for our Lord, for the gospel, for the kingdom - find in themselves a compelling drive to provide for the orphan and widow.
We see something of this heart in the life of the early church when we see in Paul’s letter to the Galatians that Peter’s only request to him was to “remember the poor” - “the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). We can see this as well in the lives of many throughout church history. One of the preeminent examples from recent centuries would be that of the old preacher George Whitefield.
Most remember Whitefield for his contribution to the American Great Awakening, which swept across the American Colonies during the 1930s and 40s. Some call to mind his association and friendship with other prominent preachers and religious figures of the day, including Jonathan Edwards and the Wesley brothers. Some have heard stories of his oratory skill and open air preaching ministry, of which Benjamin Franklin calculated over thirty thousand people could hear him at once. Some, however, remember that less-often talked about, but massively important labor, of Whitefield’s life: the Bethesda Orphanage.
Whitefield, who lived from 1714 to 1770, first visited the colony of Georgia on May 7, 1738. His stay was short, and he left the US in August of 1738, just a few months later. By that time he was fully convinced of the need to construct the orphanage and lost no time in beginning to fundraise in England for the purpose of establishing an orphanage.
His determination allowed for the swift construction of the orphan home, and by 1740, just a couple of years later, he was beginning to gather orphans from the colony into his new home. It was Whitefield who decided upon the name Bethesda, stating that it would be “a house of mercy to the souls and bodies of many people, both young and old.”
Whitefield cared deeply about the children’s need for spiritual care, as well as practical skills and education. The description of the children’s daily life portrays Whitefield’s aim:
“The children rose at five every morning, spent a quarter of an hour in prayer and then assembled for chapel at six where a psalm was sung and an extemporary prayer offered. After a breakfast served amid the singing of hymns, the orphans were employed until ten at such tasks as carding, spinning, picking cotton and wool, and sewing and knitting. Some of the older boys were apprenticed to nearby tailors, carpenters and shoemakers. There followed four hours of formal schooling, interrupted at twelve by lunch and a ‘free period.’ At four they returned to work for two hours, took supper at six and then attended an evening chapel service. From eight to nine Whitefield or Barber catechized the children, and after fifteen minutes of private prayer the children went to bed.”
In 1740, he said:
“Though the children are taught to labor for the meat that perisheth, yet they are continually reminded to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then to depend upon God’s blessing on their honest endeavors for having food and raiment added unto them. … As my design in founding the Orphan House was to build up souls for God, I endeavor to preach most of all to the children’s hearts… that they may be able to give a reason of the hope that is in them…"
His desire was to first and foremost care for the children’s spiritual needs, that that they would be grounded in the gospel; but he also ensured that they learned vocational skills so as to prepare them for a seamless transition into a successful life after leaving the orphan home. This was, indeed, a vision for “wholistic care”. He desired to not simply keep the children off the street, but to invest in their future for the sake of the children themselves, and also recognizing they were the future of society.
Whitefield had as part of the grand plan the establishment of a college to run alongside the orphanage. In his petition to start the college, he stated that his desire was “to make the Orphan House not only a receptacle for the fatherless children, but also a place of literature and academical studies.” The College never successfully came to fruition during his lifetime, but it nonetheless gives us a further glimpse into his long-term desire and heart for the orphanage.
Whitefield was not a perfect man by any means, nor was this orphan home a perfect demonstration of care for the fatherless, but it was beneficial and inspirational to many. Orphan care has changed drastically throughout the years, but thanks to individuals like Whitefield, we are given examples from which to learn. This preacher, who cared more than anything for the preaching of the gospel, could not separate from his faith the responsibility to care for the orphan. It would seem that James 1:27 was truly beating in this man’s heart, and thus flowed out of his life. Oh that the Lord would give us more of these kinds of men and women in our day - those with a passion for the gospel, that includes being eager to “remember the poor”.
Interact with us: what do you learn from Mr. Whitefield’s model? What would you do differently?
George Whitefield’s Bethesda – Robert V. Williams
The Life of George Whitefield - Luke Tyerman
The Works of the Rev. George Whitefield - Volume II
The Works of the Rev. George Whitefield - Volume III
By Sheri Mellema | Director of Church Partnerships
Lean in today as Director of Church Partnerships, Sheri Mellema, takes us back in history to understanding the heartbeat of Amy Carmichael and her love for orphans.
Every summer for as long as I can remember my daughter has challenged me to a tanning contest. Granted, I love being in the sun and I can tan with the best of them, but this particular competition is skewed from the get go. Although my dear girl sincerely pretends that I have a shot at winning, she knows in her heart that the proverbial prize is already hers. You see she is partially Hispanic and her skin is this rich, creamy, mocha brown that soaks up the sunshine. I, on the other hand, come from Eastern European descent and well…you get the picture!
My daughter is a teenager now and typical of all teenage girls, she wants certain features of herself to be different. She happens to have curly hair so of course she straightens it. At the same time, her friends with straight hair spend hours trying to loop their hair with curls upon curls. Similarly, there was a very young girl in Ireland who in 1870 prayed and asked God for blue eyes rather than brown. Her exact words were, “But what I can never tell you properly is the bewilderment that even now I can remember as if it were yesterday…Without a shadow of doubt that my eyes would be blue in the morning I had gone to sleep, and the minute I woke I pushed a chair to the chest of drawers on which there was a looking-glass and climbed up full of eager expectation and saw-mere brown eyes.” Thank goodness the clear and decided answer from God was, “no”. For this tiny Irish girl was Amy Carmichael and untold doors would be opened to her because of those determined brown eyes!
Amy Beatrice Carmichael was born on December 16th, 1867 in Millisle, Ireland. She was the eldest of seven children and was well loved by her devoted parents, David and Catherine. Flourmills had supported the Carmichael families and many other families in the community for over a hundred years. Everything in Amy’s life would have been considered commonplace with the exception of her deep and abiding sensitivity to the spirit of God. She recalls that her first memory of childhood included a nightly ritual: “After the nursery light had been turned low and I was quite alone, I used to smooth a little place on the sheet and say aloud, but softly, to our Father, ‘Please come and sit with me.’ And that baby custom left something which recurs and is with me still”. Amy also wrote of an early memory in a teashop with her mother. She remembered seeing a small girl outside the window standing in the cold with bare feet and a threadbare dress. It was raining and the girl looked forlorn. Later that day Amy wrote these words on a small scrap of paper:
“When I grow up and money have,
I know what I will do,
I’ll build a great big lovely place
For little girls like you.”
Undoubtedly Amy had no idea just how prophetic these words would become.
While going to school and pursuing artistic endeavors, Amy noticed the poverty and embarrassment that surrounded many of the mill-girls that were known to those in the community as “shawlies”. They were called this because they had no means to buy proper hats and were forced to pull their shawls around their heads. It was Amy who felt that they should be welcomed into the Presbyterian Church that her family had always attended and she relentlessly pursued the minister until he agreed to allow her to invite the “shawlies” into the Church Hall every Sunday morning. The work with the mill-girls grew into a congregation of 500 and soon Amy would request and secure funding for a hall of their own.
At the age of eighteen, Amy’s father contracted double pneumonia and was unable to recover. After his passing, everything changed as Amy and her mother struggled to make ends meet for themselves and the six other fatherless children in the family. Since Amy had already begun her ministry with the mill-girls, she now had many needs to be concerned with. And yet, her heart remained open to God’s still small voice. Amy and her family were introduced to Robert Wilson who was the cofounder of the Keswick Convention. He himself had suffered also as he had lost both his wife and a daughter. It was Wilson who introduced Amy to Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission and a well-known preacher named F. B. Meyer. Mr. Wilson was well liked by the Carmichael family and their visits continued. In fact, at some point they began to refer to him as “D.O.M.” which was their kind hearted acronym for “dear old man”. Eventually, Mr. Wilson became a significant mentor to Amy and requested that she come and live with him as a daughter since he now had only sons. After much consultation with her mother, Amy agreed and even after leaving Mr. Wilson for full time ministry, he was her ardent supporter until his death.
As I reflected on Amy’s incredible willingness and bravery to leave her family and everything she knew to come alongside an elderly man who wanted the presence of a daughter in his life again, I was markedly impressed. My thoughts drifted back to one of the poems that Amy wrote. Her single-mindedness of purpose is striking.
From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified,
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.
Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire,
Let me not sink to be a clod:
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.
These words take my breath away! How is it possible that a girl at such a young age could have been so dedicated, so enraptured with loving God and loving others? What kind of a girl asks for the lack of fear to follow God into hard choices, lack of comfort, suffering and undeterred faith, hope, and passion? Further yet, what kind of a girl leaves her home not long after her own father has died, to comfort a different father? An extraordinary girl I would have to say! And I would venture a guess that she was seldom concerned with curly versus straight hair or tanning. Coming from a beauty clamoring society like ours, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
As a matter of fact, the only time that she was concerned with the color of her skin was when she finally arrived in the country that was to be her home for the rest of her life. After being rejected by the China Inland Mission for a form of neuralgia and then being sent home from a stint in Japan because of health issues, Amy came to reside in India. This became her true home, the place that bestowed upon her the name of “Amma” which is the Indian word for “mother”. This was where she loved and served beloved Indian children!
Initially, Amy was consumed with rescuing young girls who were destined to become temple prostitutes. It was not uncommon for Hindu parents to take their beautiful young girls or even infant girls to be offered as “gifts” to the Indian gods. The tragic truth is that they were then groomed to become dancers, singers, and prostitutes for the temple priests. Eventually after several years passed, Amy also provided a haven for the many boys who were born as a result of the temple practices. And this is exactly when Amy Carmichael’s brown eyes became a bright gift from Heaven. Amy’s biographer Frank Houghton writes, “But in India it is a distinct advantage to have brown eyes, for blue eyes are foreign, and therefore to be remarked upon. ‘I know why God gave Amma brown eyes,’ said one of her boys. When she was discovering the facts about the temple children, she used to stain her hands and arms with coffee, and visit places to which foreign women would never be admitted. Of course she wore Indian dress, but if her eyes had been blue someone might easily have penetrated the disguise.” So not only did her brown eyes become an asset but she also found a clever way to darken her skin so as to more closely resemble those around her. If only our current day efforts to change our looks were for such noble reasons.
It was said that Amy would travel for miles through dust and heat just to save one child. She worked tirelessly for years rescuing children who had essentially become orphans once removed from the temples. She gave them refuge in what she eventually called the Dohnavur Fellowship. The children loved her and she persistently taught them about the One who could love them better than even she could. Of training the children she remarked, “In our mountain ravine, just above our swimming pool, a small tree grows on the rock in mid-stream. When the river is in flood and a roaring torrent pours over the little tree, whipping off its every leaf, it stands unmoved. Its roots grip the rock. We wanted the children to be like that. ‘Give them time to root,’ we used to say to our advisers. ‘We are training them for storms and floods.’”
Ironically, it was Amy who was about to experience the storms and floods of life crashing into her yet again. On October 24, 1931 when she was sixty-four years old she prayed these words: “Do with me as Thou wilt. Do Anything, Lord, that will fit me to serve Thee and help my beloveds.” Later that day while inspecting a piece of property, Amy fell into an unmarked hole and suffered a broken leg, a dislocated ankle, and a twisted spine. These injuries would leave her mostly bedridden for the next twenty years of her life. In true “Amma” fashion she wisely used those years praying, writing letters and books, and training those who would serve after her.
The attraction to be near her never waned. Both children and adults were drawn to her great love. Elizabeth Skoglund wrote the book “Amma” in which she says, “In truth it was God Himself in her Who was the attraction. But as Amma, she who was never married and had no biological children became mother to hundreds of children throughout the years and thus formed one of the greatest works in the history of the Christian Church.” Amy Carmichael truly left a legacy in caring for vulnerable children.
We'd love your comments!
What it is that stops us from such radical, devoted love?
How does fear prevent us from making the “hard choices” rather than taking the easy way out?
All quotes taken from:
“Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur” by Frank Houghton
Published in 1953 by S.P.C.K. in London, England
“Amma” by Elizabeth R. Skoglund
Published in 1994 by Baker Books in Grand Rapids, MI
By Sheri Mellema | Church Partnership Director
Do you ever have those days when you listen to the news and wonder how things can get any worse? At every turn there is barbarism, cruelty, injustice, and inhumane treatment. Here we are, these “enlightened” creatures living in the twenty-first century and you would think we would have progressed to standards of decency which procure respect and a certain level of compassion for every human on the planet. But clearly that is not the case. I think of the Syrian conflict and the thousands of refugees who are tortured by starvation and abuse, the nearly three hundred Nigerian girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram with virtually no hope of being found and rescued, the brutal tensions between the Ukrainian and Russian people, and over 153 million children who have no one to call mother and father.
In a world of scientific advancement and technological wizardry how is it that we forge ahead at lightening speed in those pursuits and yet cannot manage the ability to protect life and those who are vulnerable? Perhaps Solomon was on to something when he wrote, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Both Solomon and the lesser-known writer Ambrose Bierce peaked my curiosity. Bierce suggests, “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.”
Hence my search began! I started with one question that of course led to a second question, which we will unpack in a little bit. Question number one is, “What happened in ancient Roman society when a child was born that was unwanted?” The answer I learned was horrific and unexpected. William Stearns Davis, former professor of Ancient History at the University of Minnesota explains it like this:
“Public opinion, as well as the law, allows a father (at least if he has one or two children already) to exercise a privilege, which later ages will pronounce one of the foulest blots on Greek civilization. After the birth of a child there is an anxious day or two for the poor young mother and the faithful nurses—Will he ‘nourish’ it? Are there boys enough already? Is the disappointment over the birth of a daughter too keen? Does he dread the curtailment in family luxuries necessary to save up for an allowance or dowry for the little stranger? Or does the child promise to be puny, sickly, or even deformed? If any of these arguments carry adverse weight, there is no appeal against the father’s decision. He has until the fifth day after the birth to decide. In the interval he can utter the fatal words, “Expose it!” The helpless creature is then put in a rude cradle, or more often merely in a shallow pot and placed near some public place; near a gymnasium or the entrance to a temple. Here it will soon die of mere hunger and neglect unless rescued. If the reasons for exposure are evident physical defects, no one will touch it. Death is certain. If, however, it seems healthy and well formed, it is likely to be taken up and cared for not out of pure compassion, however. The harpies who raise slaves and especially slave girls, for no honest purposes, are prompt to pounce upon any promising looking infant. They will rear it as a speculation; if it is a girl, they will teach it to sing, dance, play. Aristophanes, the comic poet, speaks of this exposure of children as a common feature of Athenian life. There is little or nothing for men of a later day to say of this custom save condemnation.”
As I read I found myself gasping in disbelief! How could this possibly have been accepted as common practice? How could a human infant be discarded so easily and in such cruel fashion? But in fact, it was indeed common. So much so that the public places where infants were abandoned became known as “exposure walls.” It was routine and not at all alarming to walk by these walls and find unwanted babies. The selling of children was illegal during these years and without any communal support or options, parents and especially single parents, most likely became desperate. By the time the first Christian emperor Constantine came into power, he authorized the sale of infants. This change occurred in A.D. 313 about the time Christianity was gaining influence.
Yes, I know, you are wondering how this proclamation is any more merciful! I had the same reaction. Well apparently, it was a tiny step in a more positive direction. “While selling one’s children seems horrible to us, the alternative had been death or slavery: in the one case, worse, and in the other, the same, so sale of infants offered some hope, especially since in Roman society some slaves could hope to buy their freedom. Even with legal permission to sell one’s offspring, exposure didn’t end overnight, but by about 374 it had been legally forbidden” (N. S. Gill, “Roman Exposure of Infants”).
With the advent of the church I am glad to say that conditions for unwanted children slowly became better. There were courageous people like Callistus of Rome who developed a passion for abandoned children. At great risk to himself he organized “Life Watches” at exposure walls where babies could be rescued and placed with Christian families. Callistus had himself been a slave in the late 2nd century, which probably explains his perseverance in sparing children from a similar fate. Similarly, Saint George Diospolis also known as the “dragon slayer” performed daring rescues of children in distress. His commitment to the vulnerable cost him his life. He fell victim to Diocletian in the Persecution of 304. By the Medieval Age there was an incredibly brave young girl who advocated especially for the unwanted mentally ill. She felt that there was no such thing as an unwanted child and that life must be protected. Sadly this young girl was murdered at the tender age of fifteen by her own father who despised her faith in God. She later became known as Saint Dymphna of Belgium and she is credited with the inspiration for a hospital and orphanage in Gheel, Belgium that is aiding children and adults to this very day.
During the Middle Ages and in the 18th and 19th centuries, a new practice developed. Churches and eventually Christian missions and foundling homes provided a safe, anonymous way to care for abandoned children. The “foundling wheel,” as it was called, was an opening or flap in the outside wall of a building that opened to a soft warm bed inside where an infant could be placed and a bell could be rung to alert the caregivers that a baby had arrived. Near the end of the 19th century foundling wheels were no longer used and an updated version called a baby hatch took its place. Baby hatches have become more prevalent since 1952 and are currently used in many countries outside of the United States. They provide the opportunity for a mother or father to reclaim their child within a certain time period, they offer the prospect of adoption, and they give the option of life in countries where female infanticide is practiced.
It is truly astonishing to reflect on our heritage and see that countless Christ followers before us created a path that literally changed the plight of the orphan. Author and historian Dr. George Grant concludes, “The whole of church history is really the story of Christians caring for their neighbors in ways that are simply unfathomable by the rest of the world. There has never been a time when the church has not been the primary champion for those who have been all together set aside.”
So after exploring “some old things” that perhaps we didn’t know, (many thanks to Solomon and Mr. Bierce) it seems wise to ask the second question. What happens today in our modern society when a child is born that is unwanted? As you know there are a myriad of answers and many of them depend on the location of where the question is being asked. There are still answers that reflect “nothing new under the sun” like abortion, slavery, infanticide, abandonment, and the selling of children. But thanks be to a miraculous God, there are also answers like adoption, supportive church communities, foster care being provided by faith-filled families, and birth parents being given the support and structure needed to raise their children. There is still courage and bravery where parents will dare to keep and raise their children in spite of political pressure and penalty. There are mercy-laden families within the global church who will take in a cousin, niece or nephew after catastrophe has struck. There are international churches that partner with western churches to provide home-based care for children without families. And best of all, there are no longer exposure walls.
Certainly there is a lot of suffering in this world. And yes, it can be depressing to listen to the news on many days and unfortunately that will be the case until Eden is restored. But we are called to hope, courage, and love! We can say with confidence through the redeeming work of the cross that there is more opportunity for the restoration of orphans than ever before. Christ followers have always led the fight and we need to continue leading the fight today.
One of my favorite quotes from John F. Kennedy is, “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” I think humanity regresses when we mindlessly slide into inaction because of our affinity for ease. Please pray with me that we will bravely press forward for what we know to be true and right; that we will have courage like our Christian ancestors to protect and care for the orphaned and vulnerable children of this world.
How has learning more about our history changed your perspective? In what ways are you taking action and maybe more importantly, in what ways have you become comfortable with inaction? Comment below!
By Sheri Mellema | Church Partnership Director
Recently I was reading an article that introduced me to the words gemilut chasidim. I have no idea how to pronounce these words and if you are like me, you are thinking that they look like a character’s name from the “Lord of the Rings” series. Hazarding a guess as to whether this character is good or evil, I think I would lean toward the dark side. Gemilut just sounds like a bad guy!
In actuality these two words have quite a wonderful meaning and stem from an embedded Jewish tradition. They mean, “the bestowal of loving kindness” or “acts of compassion” according to the Jewish dictionary. The term was already in use by New Testament times, but the concept was drawn from the Israelites’ understanding of verses like Deut. 10:17-18: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing”.
These words settled deep into Jewish belief and practice. In fact, this approach to good deeds finds its roots in Jewish religious views, summarized by Shimon Hatzaddik's “three pillars”: “On three things the world stands. On Torah, On service [of God], And on acts of human kindness” (excerpt from Pirkei Avot 1). Being Jewish meant taking this responsibility seriously and yet it was also considered a privilege. Dennis Bratcher who writes for the Christian Resource Institute states (and Jews firmly believed that), “The needy have a God-given right to aid and the giver has an obligation to God to help. So acts of compassion were not a burden for the Jew. They were simply part of being God’s people in God’s world and therefore should be done with joy.”
Bratcher goes on to emphasize that, “The attitude behind charity for the needy was that all possessions, lands, and goods ultimately belonged to God.” I wonder during the course of each day how many times I forget that truth? My stuff has never ever really been my stuff! Every resource I have is actually on loan from a gracious God whose heart aches for those in this world who do not have adequate resources, care, and a sense of inclusion. I have a wise friend who has mentioned that money can serve as an insulator and an analgesic, in that wealth often removes the vulnerability that is necessary to reveal our utter dependence on God and it can numb us from the realities of suffering.
Certainly money is not the only culprit when it comes to numbing ourselves to the needs around us. Work, entertainment, busy schedules, social media, and numerous other possibilities are also effective distractions. So what was it that captivated the hearts of the early Jewish people as they lived out acts of compassion? In our defense, they didn’t have the overwhelming distractions that we face in our day and age. Nonetheless, they stayed the course and remained devoted to the marginalized people within their society. They were faithful throughout many generations.
If we fast forward to the thirteenth century through the eighteenth century in Eastern Europe we find the concept of gemilut chasidim still alive and well. Five million Jews were relegated to a sequestered area called the Pale of Settlement and yet they were determined to persevere and care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. The Pale of Settlement was home to this Yiddish speaking group of people who lived in villages called shtetls. In spite of the fact that poverty and death were pervasive, the practice of bestowing human kindness did not wane. Historian Simon Schama wrote and narrated a documentary called “The Story of the Jews” and he notes that, “Everything the villagers of the shtetls did, they did together. They worked together, they sang together, they ate together, they lived together, they died together. The word ‘individualism’ I think, doesn’t have a translation in Yiddish. They were never individuals, they were a kahal, they were a community.”
Perhaps this sense of community is where some of the secret hides. When engaging the orphan crisis, we are faced with tragedy and pain and at times it can seem too heavy a burden. The numbers are staggering and the resources few. But when reflecting back on the words of Deut. 10, we can see that God didn’t share his heart for the least of these with just one or two Israelites. No, he asked that this care and concern be shared by the entire nation of Israel. Even after years and years had passed, the Jews shared both the burden and blessing amongst the entire community. It is evident that the early Jesus followers and what we often call the first church also adhered to the same practices. Acts 4:32 reads, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”
Again we can see that God did not place this calling on only a few specific people. We are all asked as the body of Christ to become engaged. It should be a natural part of our lives when we grow towards becoming “God’s people, in God’s world.” God’s intent for the body of Christ as the church is best positioned to meet these needs. That is why World Orphans is so convinced that caring for orphans through the local church is an effective strategy. We need to be in this together, as a community whose focus and determination does not waver. And please be encouraged that the church is stepping up to the plate more and more each day. The Barna Group recently did a research project that shows that churches are becoming more passionate about the orphan crisis. In fact, Christians are adopting twice as often as the average person and it is Christians who are more likely to take action within the foster care system and in aiding vulnerable children all over the world. This is very encouraging!
I think that there is something innately satisfying about communal effort. God created us to need each other and to enjoy the relief of carrying our burdens together. Acts of compassion have the most profound impact when all of us are committed to the struggle. Jedd Medefind, the president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, puts it best when he says, “Loving a wounded soul to wholeness is a journey no one family should walk alone. The encouragement and aid of a supportive church community is essential. Care for orphans is a mirror of God’s heart. When a church embraces orphans, we’re offering the world a small yet potent reflection of how God first loved us. The challenges and joys of loving this child bind us to each other, build community and deepen faith.”
Now come the hard questions we must discuss: How are we participating within our communities of believers to address orphan care? Do you see local churches in your area moving toward a direction of action? Specifically, how is your church engaged?
1- Pirkei Avot is usually translated as "Ethics of our Fathers.” It is a compilation of the Torah's ethical teachings and maxims as interpreted by the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period. It is included in the Mishnah.