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He was the kind of guy that asked pointed questions. He already ‘knew’ the answer before he asked you your opinion. We were having dinner with him and his wife a few years ago and knowing that we worked at an orphanage, I imagine he was thinking we were quite enamored with that form of orphan care. Global-Effect had just started a program called Kimbilio Families which was seeking to put orphaned kids into families and he pointedly asked me what I thought. I told him, “I think it’s great, I think if you get it to work, it’s the best situation.” He was taken aback and disarmed.
For me, this has been a process and I think that some of the people that know the downsides to the orphanages, are the ones that have worked at the orphanages. We had our former director over for coffee a few months ago and when we told her that we had taken over Kimbilio Families (and since renamed it Kingdom Families), she said “I’ll be praying for you, that’s the best situation if you can find good parents.” Another American friend that runs a local orphanage was talking to me about how one of their younger boys really would be better suited in a home with a Tanzanian couple that are mutual friends of ours. One of the pastors that we partner with currently was the assistant director at the orphanage with me, and he, as a Tanzanian, has come to believe in this model as well.
Though the families model isn’t really utilized on a large scale in Kilimanjaro, those that are involved in orphanages are the ones that know more than most that it is the best situation for an orphan.
The recurring question in all of this isn’t should Tanzanian orphans be raised in Tanzanian families. The question is, how do you implement it and find parents that will do it for love and not for the support money?
Admittedly implementing such a model comes with it’s own set of challenges. We, in fact, are currently working through many of those ourselves. While our program has been active for a few years, it’s still entirely in it’s infancy. Now that we’ve stepped into the director role, we’re starting to wrestle with things that have yet to be resolved. So as we go through these items and compare the families model to the orphanage system, I confess that I don’t have all the answers and am writing this as a way to add to the larger conversation within Christian orphan care.
One of the difficulties that Melissa and I are coming to grips with is the lessened amount of control that we have over our ministry. For an American missionary, an orphanage is the supreme amount of control. There are of course elements such as government regulations that are out of one’s control. But nonetheless, you have say over where money is spent, who is employed at the orphanage, how the kids eat, sleep, study and all those things. The American director gets the final say on everything. Whereas with our ministry, we only get final say on some large picture things and the normal day to day, week to week decisions fall to the Tanzanian parent that we’ve entrusted the kids to. This is a burden for us to bear, because we like having control. We love having control.
But this is a necessary part to the process. We do this by faith and trust. We believe that the outcome for the child is better. I am not adopting these children. They are born in Tanzania, they live their entire lives in Tanzania, they will die in Tanzania. They ought to learn life directly from a Tanzanian in a truly Tanzanian environment. It’s our responsibility to choose parents that have a heart for orphan care, a father’s heart, a mother’s heart and that they’ll do this for love and for the sake of the gospel. My title says director, but I’m more of a facilitator. My team and I facilitate these relationships so that the parents become the heroes to these children.
Because there is a lessened amount of control by facilitating these families, we really rely on our national partners to help with oversight. For Kingdom Families, all families come through churches/pastors that have chosen to partner with us. Therefore we have national leaders set up to help us with oversight. These men and their wives are in the lives of these families on a normal basis and can communicate with us how they’re doing and what they might be in need of. We of course have relationship with them ourselves and do visits to the homes and see how things are going. Even with that though we rely on our Tanzanian liaison and assistant, Meshak. These partnerships are key. Remember that we want these kids to have a quintessential Tanzanian upbringing. It’s normal for your pastor to visit or your “honorary uncle” Meshak, but it’s not typical to have a couple white people swing in all the time and take pictures of your kids (which we nonetheless have to do periodically).
This is all about empowerment. To the best of our ability, we want the nationals within our ministries to become empowered, not dependent. This is their calling, not their vocation. We do offer financial aid to our families. We will not do this with each and every family going forward but for those we have now, they receive it. It’s a road that we are walking and trying to find the balance. Our hope and plan is to increase the income of the families as much as possible and enter into agreements where they understand within 3-5 years, the support will either be gone as they’ve become entirely self-dependent, or be diminished as they’ve become more self-dependent. I say that because that’s our plan, not because we’ve yet to achieve this. We have to have a plan for making these families self-sustained because that will be the most secure thing for the children.
American support is important with starting out these families and it’s a role that our overseas partners can play. While our hope is to over time transition families out of support, even for the time that they do receive support, it’s a fraction of what it costs to run an orphanage. American run orphanages require a lot of money just for normal expenditures, several thousand a month for a medium sized orphanage. They need that money to run a good operation. If an orphanage doesn’t have that kind of money, then the children and the facility languish. By partnering with families, we have a set amount that is agreed upon (two sponsors of $50 per kid per month) which provides the family with money for food and normal day to day and we have the money to cover the school fees which can vary depending on what level and what school the child attends. Imagine 20 kids in such a program. $2,000 divided between 40 donors gets 20 kids all that they need and most importantly they’re in a loving Christian home. All parties would be happy as the family has the means to love and care for the orphans, the child knows what it means to be a son or daughter and the ministry is consistently in the black.
The thing in all of this is that we don’t want the kid to know that they’ve been orphaned. I’m not saying that the kids will forget their past, but rather when they play with the kids next door they aren’t going to feel, act or be seen any different at all. Most importantly, they’ll have parents that love them and teach them about God. As a Christian, this is very important to me.
Some of my non-Christian friends reading this will not agree and I totally understand your disagreement. I’m not asking you to agree with me, but I want to be clear in communicating that I love Jesus and I want the children that we care for to know who He is, what He’s done for them and what His plans are for them. That’s why we partner specifically with churches.
Last week, I took a tour of a 75-kid orphanage here in Moshi. They strive for excellence in what they do and I appreciate the good they’re doing in the area. It was nice talking with their communications director as she showed us around. The property was astounding. Huge dormitories, mess hall, playground and field, classrooms and other facilities that showed they had all their bases covered. They have kids that hear about their orphanage and hitch rides clear across the country to come knock on their gates. Astounding. This is the orphanage of orphanages.
While I oohed and awed over their facility, I asked lots of questions, hopefully not the pointed questions of my friend, but I was certainly curious. Because I’d rather see kids in homes as opposed to an orphanage, there were several things that I didn’t see eye-to-eye with them on, but the thing that bummed me out most was the children’s spiritual lives. The original founder received support from her church and others so that they can start this orphanage, but now they don’t help the kids know Christ. If a kid wants to go to church, they can. If they want to go to Mosque or go nowhere at all, they can. It bummed me out as I would see that as an opportunity for gospel exposure. You can’t force the gospel, when you do , it doesn’t work. Every human being has the choice of what they believe, but as an evangelical Christian, which I am in the basic meaning of the term, my hope is that children would know the Lord and hence have to be told about Him. I wonder if this is what the original founder had in mind.
Discipleship makes the wheels go round in Christianity and orphan care is a critical form of discipleship. This is how my family makes disciples of the nations. With any form of discipleships and ministry, we have to have times where we take a good long look at what we’re doing. Is it effective? Is it God’s ideal? Is it biblical? I hope that this blog series has challenged some of your thoughts on orphan care and spurred you on to take a step forward as you strive to care for the least of these.
I have been blessed to serve orphans in Tanzania, both in the orphanage and now within Kingdom Families. My heart in all of this is that kids would know love. They’d know the love of a family and the love of God. Join what God’s doing in orphan care, wherever you are and in whatever ways the Lord calls you.
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If this conversation has intrigued you, I encourage you to keep learning and most importantly, start acting. If you live on the central coast, I highly recommend the Welcoming Children Home Conference on November 8. I’ll be teaching a workshop on this exact topic and the keynote speaker for the day is Johnny Carr who wrote Orphan Justice which I also highly recommend. Comments, shares, likes and emails are always welcome. Blessings.