By Matthew Hanks | Projects Manager Africa
This challenging reality became obvious to me when I began the ‘support raising’ process to work for World Orphans. No matter how clearly I thought I was casting the vision of this amazing ministry - a ministry which strives to keep children in families in their own countries - at the end of my presentation, most people still referred to World Orphans as that "adoption ministry”. In defense of these precious people, we had just returned from Ethiopia with a baby boy that was (and still is) transforming our family in so many wonderful ways through the gift of adoption. And I'm sure that we couldn't stop talking about it. Still can't.
In fact, it was through Kaleb's adoption that The Lord led us to World Orphans. It was seeing World Orphans Home Based Care model in Ethiopia, which in part encourages the church to find families for the orphans in their midst, that confirmed in me that this was a ministry with whom I wanted to partner. The pull to work with this dynamic grass roots ministry only grew when I started meeting the families of our fairly small staff and began to recognize that many others had also been drawn into occupational orphan care ministry as a result of adopting internationally. However, these dozen or so kids that have been grafted into the families in our ranks only confuses the matter worse of whether or not World Orphans is an international adoption ministry. Though we aren’t, the reality is adoption and orphan care go hand-in-hand and should be hard to separate. One adopted child in this world means one less orphan. Adoption = family, to the lonely heart of the orphan (Ps. 68:6, paraphrased). Ok, here’s where I’m going with this. You ready? Our Father in heaven desires us to share in the blessing of caring for orphaned children so that we can know Him better by identifying with how He cares for us as spiritual orphans. Make sense? No, not clear enough?? Well, ok, I guess it’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I'm pretty clear to myself, but apparently maybe not as clear as I’d like to think. You know what I'm talking about, right? I say what I mean and I mean what I say and still... You already have no idea what I'm talking about do you? NOT COMMUNICATING CLEARLY! …Did you hear that?
I wonder if God ever feels like I do about communicating. Not that He’s disillusioned with it actually taking place or not, but if He feels like He couldn’t have been more clear, and yet confusion remains. With the Scriptures mentioning caring for “orphans” and the “fatherless” forty-one times, how is it that there are over 150 million orphans in the world? Is He not being clear when He says, “Do not deny justice to a foreigner or fatherless child” (Deut. 24:17)? Or, simplified further, “…Defend the cause of the orphans” (Is. 1:17). His heart is unmistakably for orphans. He is even given the name in the Psalms as the “Father to the Fatherless” (Ps. 68:5 and 27:10). The entirety of the gospel is built on this reality, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). He uses the adoption stories of Moses, Esther, Samuel, even Jesus himself, to communicate his “father-heart” for not only the physical orphans in this world, but also the spiritual orphans that we all are without the knowledge of His saving grace. God, the Father, wants us to participate in caring for orphans so that we can more completely receive His care for us as spiritual orphans. We get insight into the Father’s heart for us as we fellowship with Him through the shared experience of embracing orphaned children as our own. This reality has transformed my life and has fueled a passion in me to share this blessing of orphan care.
As I write this I'm returning from a trip to Ethiopia where I had the privilege of hanging out with our World Orphans Ethiopia Country Directors, the LaBranches, who have been in various parts of Africa for going on 9 years. They adopted their youngest from Ethiopia back in 1999 when the in-country fee, their only fee as they were living there, was $99 (insert personal commentary over exuberant costs of international adoption here). While there, they invited us to attend their small group. We showed up early to help grill some burgers as we were told the children in the group out number the adults about 3-to-1 and that we would need to start early to be prepared for the onslaught of children that were soon to commence upon the compound. We’d just put the last few patties on the grill when we heard a van pull up to the solid gate at the top of the steep driveway. We were prepared with the food but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next. At 5pm sharp in strolled the families through the gate. Each one a similar make up: a couple kids clearly born on US soil, a couple kids clearly born in Ethiopia, and a couple of parents. One, after another, after another. Adoption had not only transformed these families, but God had used it to work in their hearts to lead them to the mission field. I don't know why I was shocked to see this, as in many ways this is the same story as mine. Through adoption we not only discovered how incomplete our family was before Kaleb, but we also discovered a much deeper understanding of our role in the Kingdom as a response to more completely receiving what Jesus paid for - our adoption into the eternal family of God.
Though World Orphans does not do international adoption, we do strongly support it as an option in fighting the orphan crisis. Though we believe that orphaned children will thrive the most in families in their own communities and cultures -- and as a ministry we strive to that end -- we recognize that for many children the alternative to international adoption is life in institutional care. And though the issues and controversies surrounding international adoption are many and are extremely complex we believe that at the end of the day, to that one, or those two, or that sibling group, all they care about is that they are in a loving home.
Until They All Have Homes is our tag line at World Orphans. In my opinion, this is the clearest, least complicated answer to the global orphan crisis; finding homes (i.e. families) for these kids. There are many great ways to that end, but that end is fundamental in caring for orphaned children in a way that’s in line with the Lord’s heart. So whether it’s through international adoption or helping us find families in the communities in the developing countries in which we work, God’s plan for orphan care is pretty simple: “Father to the fatherless, defender of the widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5-6a).