“Go run an orphanage in Africa” :: Revisited

I live inside a paradox.

Earlier this week, Melissa and I met with a lady that is visiting from California. In a nutshell, her job is to help organizations focus their mission, deliver their message and be an organization that is, well, organized. I went into the meeting fairly confident in where Kingdom Families stood and I was prepared to blow her away with our vision and current operations. Nine o’clock came and I walked into the meeting with sheer confidence.

Six hours later, as the meeting concluded, I had anything but confidence. Not by anyone’s doing other than my own. Among the proceedings, our foremost exercise was writing down our operations on a big white board. In blue, our current operations and in green, future operations. As I took in the white board, I realized that the blue was the overwhelming minority and apparently I moved here nearly seven years ago and have yet to accomplish anything meaningful from a vocational standpoint.

This was all supposed to be different somehow.

On Father’s Day 2007, I was 21 and felt a very clear message from God during worship at my church in Orange County. That Sunday was a culmination of three consecutive Sundays where I felt God say “Go run an orphanage in Africa.” That word became my guiding light for the next five years as I entered adulthood. I eventually did a short trip to an orphanage in 2008, revisited it as an intern in 2009 and was hired and began work there in January 2010. All was moving forward on the path God gave me to “go run an orphanage in Africa.”

As I write this, I confess, that I don’t understand the mind of God or how all of this works when we feel God say something and give us direction. Without that word of God, I would not be sitting in my office in Moshi right now writing this. Nonetheless, the whole “go run an orphanage in Africa” calling got a bit derailed on it’s way to the station. In May 2012, with my newlywed wife pregnant with Promise we left the orphanage.

During that time in the states, something began to change in me. I had wrapped my identity around this call that I felt from God and all of a sudden I was out of work and trying to make a living for my family in California. Not Africa. Not an orphanage.

The biggest change came on September 21st, not even five months after having left the orphanage in Moshi. On that day, I became a father. As I held my daughter in my arms, I realized that life would never be the same and that no one could take away from me my role as a father. I had romanticized about being a father to the kids at the orphanage, but now I actually understood the difference.

When we returned to Moshi in 2014, thereafter got Kingdom Families going, I had evolved a different mindset towards orphan care. The tone and content of my message changed, and I often wonder if it’s for better or worse. I could no longer pretend that running an orphanage, even with the heart of a father, is the same as actually being a father. I’ve since remembered that the confirming word that the preacher spoke on Father’s Day 2007 was “the AIDS epidemic in Africa is huge, but it’s led to an even worse epidemic and that’s children growing up without fathers.”

Fathers.

What’s the best solution for the fatherless? Fathers.
What’s the best solution for the motherless? Mothers.
What’s the best solution for orphans? Families.

I caught up with a friend last night that had been on a team working to get the railroad back up and running in Tanzania. Their venture had recently disbanded and she is looking for new work. She shared a little about her boss who had invested years, finances and heart into this venture. He had received prophetic words concerning the railroad and was working on what I assume to be the crown jewel of his vocation. When they were essentially stonewalled by the new Tanzanian administration, they were forced to disband and she said it’s been pretty tough on him. Then she shared something that I’m claiming in my own life.

“It’s never about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

My marching orders at age 21 may not be something that I ever fulfill. Is that disobedience? Perhaps. I have come to grips with my shortcomings. Without those words though, I would not be where I am right now. Devoting myself to a work that is slower than molasses and leads to seven years in and not much to show for it in a lot of ways. Yet, I believe in family-based care.

It’s about the journey. Yes, I trust even still that that was God’s Spirit beckoning in 2007. I did what I could to pursue that in my journey and Tanzania got threaded into my life and family in the process. Pursuing that calling led me to marrying Melissa, having Promise and Shepherd join through birth and Moses through adoption. That journey even led to me not pursuing orphanage work even when it was available, because I believe there’s a lot of work to be done to help kids get into families. The only destination I’m assured of is Heaven and the journey could take me anywhere in the meantime.

Let us not get so caught up with where we think we’re going or where we think God is taking us, that we forget who God is. God didn’t not leave us as orphans, God is a Father.

Father.

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“If you build it, they will come.”

My director Ryan and I were meeting at a local restaurant recently just talking and catching up on life. As we sat there, a guy that Ryan knows approached us. He asked if we would be there for a little while as he wanted to go get his boss to come speak with Ryan. The boss was visiting Moshi and was staying in one of the rooms in the adjoining hotel. We weren’t going anywhere just yet, so ten minutes later the man came up with his American boss. He was eager to speak with Ryan about a plot of land Global-Effect owns in a village about a hour away. He asked Ryan about title deeds, working with government offices and the like. He asked what Global-Effect is going to use the land for and so on. He’s interested because he has also bought land in the same village. Ryan, in turn, asked them what they plan to do with their land.

“We’re going to build an orphanage.”

My heart sank. Ryan swallowed deep and smiled at him then gave me a concerning look. In an area where Global-Effect has begun empowering the community and an orphanage-less village can quickly capture a biblical model for orphan care, another American wants to establish another orphanage in another African village.

You want to hear something offensive? Kids shouldn’t grow up in orphanages. >>tweet this<<

Does that offend you? One of the hardest things for me to bear in my ministry is living out that statement alongside SO MANY people, friends of mine, that have started or run orphanages in Kilimanjaro. It can be very uncomfortable at times. I am not writing this to put anyone on blast, because these are great people, people that I look up to. As I followed up and emailed that American gentleman, I made sure he knew that I appreciate his heart in wanting to help. I really do.

The difficult thing is that we’ve run out of imagination. We’ve been establishing orphanages for so long, we don’t know what else to do. I’ve spoken with government officials in Tanzania that have told me placing children in families instead of orphanages is a new approach. Granted, it’s not actually new, kids have been raised in families since the dawn of time. But as a response to the modern poverty and AIDS-induced orphan crisis, this is a new approach.

I’d be lying if I said that paternalism doesn’t plays a role in all of this. Tanzania was previously a German, then a British colony. Over the last 55 years since independence, Tanzanians have been sovereign, but many of the perspectives between Tanzanians and westerners have changed very little. We have westerners that say, “oh, I should take care of that child” and Tanzanians that say “oh, they should take care of my child.” That happens. That happens often.

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Remember that movie, Field of Dreams? It has that classic line “If you build it, he will come.”Kevin Costner gets this divine calling and knows that he must begin the irrational task of building a baseball field in a cornfield. In so doing, ‘he’ will come. Thereafter Shoeless Joe Jackson, a bunch of Hall of Famers and ultimately his dad show up as ghosts and play on the field. I think of that line, when it comes to orphanages.

If you build an orphanage, you will be able to fill it up with children. You can get that institution up to capacity in no time. I’m not saying the kids should be there, I’m just saying they would come. The welfare office might send some, the community will send some, relatives of a child will send some. You’ll fill it up in no time.

Let me share a story that’s close to home for me. It’s about Moses.

My son was fatherless at birth. Whoever his biological father was, he never stood up. Tragically, Moses’ biological mother passed away from meningitis when he was only a month old. His family of origin, three days after his mother’s passing, brought Moses to the social welfare department. The social welfare department signed off and boom, he was in an orphanage. The relatives signed that they would come and take Moses on his third birthday to return to his family. But eight years after he was dropped off, Moses remained at the orphanage and experienced all the heartbreak of being an orphan left in an institution.

All of a sudden, God puts it on Melissa’s heart and subsequently mine that Moses is to be our son. He should no longer be an orphan. We got the process started with the orphanage directors who had faithfully prayed that Moses would get into a family. We’re so thankful for them. After that, we contacted a lawyer and we were on our way. One of the important pieces we needed was the consent of the family of origin. I thank God that we have a good relationship with the majority of Moses’ biological family, but that part of the process was the most maddening.

In the process of adopting Moses, we visited with various family members in four different homes in the area. Of those homes and the people that resided in each, I would say that three of those homes would have been more than suitable for an elementary boy to be raised. In fact, there were already kids there, relatives of Moses.

It was Moses’ destiny to be a part of our family and I would never have it any other way. But on a systemic level, this is very upsetting. Moses is not the only one either. I know other children that live in orphanages that have biological family that are able to care for them. And yet it doesn’t happen. That sin, unless confessed and repented of, is on those families. But it comes back to us as well, if we are feeding into a system that exacerbates fatherlessness.

From an American standpoint, this orphanage building is rather mind-blowing. Don’t you find it ironic that we go overseas and build and run orphanages, when in our own country we don’t allow them anymore? There was a time in our country’s history when there were American orphanages, but people realized it wasn’t a good system and did away with it. Wouldn’t it, then, make more sense to promote fostering and adoption in the majority world?

In wrapping up a blog like this, I feel as though I’m obligated to give some sort of disclaimer or caveat about all this, but it’s my unapologetic view that no child should grow up in an orphanage. There is foster care, adoption, kinship care and other alternatives that are not only more natural, but they are better in every way. Instead, of celebrating every time an orphanage is built, we should celebrate when an orphanage is shut down because all the kids got into families.*

Keep building.

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*Further reading: I highly, highly recommend Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr, specifically his chapter on orphanages. I definitely pulled from his work in this post, specifically the last line and the final two paragraphs. It is my favorite book on orphan care and will alter unbiblical and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors we have concerning orphans.

The Orphan Spirit: Insecurity

My son has nightmares just about every night. On a normal night, I get out of my bed, walk across the hallway and into his bedroom 1-3 times. On Monday night because the power was out and he’s also afraid of the dark, I went into his room nearly a dozen times. Ever since the adoption, my nights of good rest have been few and far between.

In our dreams, our subconscious works out the emotions, thoughts and fears that we aren’t aware of in our waking hours. With that in mind, it concerns me that every time I ask Moses what his bad dream was about, he tells me the same thing over and over. “I had a dream where I was running and crocodiles were chasing me and one bit my arm off.” Translation: “I don’t feel safe. I’m insecure. I’ve been trying to avoid serious danger my entire life.”

I know that this is residue in his spirit from spending the majority of his life as an orphan.

Photo by Georgie Pauwels
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When a child grows up fatherless, the most immediate and constant issue is the lack of a felt-safety. The most natural instinct between a father and his child is the innate understanding that he will protect them at all costs. I see this with my own children, when they feel scared or unsure about a situation, they cling to me. It’s natural. I, for most intents and purposes, am a pacifist. I’ve never been in a fight and I am morally opposed to it it. But when I feel that someone is a threat to my family, all my philosophies go out the window and I’m ready to throw down. It’s also natural and in many ways is one of the key traits and responsibilities of a father. I protect my children.

But what about an orphan?

They become afraid and turn to a parent that isn’t there. It pains me to think of my son sleeping in a bedroom at the orphanage, having a bad dream and calling out to thin air, because I wasn’t there and Melissa wasn’t there to go in and comfort him, secure him and help him go back to sleep.

Children, by God’s design, are smaller and more vulnerable. In an ideal family situation, this is a good thing. It’s a good thing that my one year old son, Shepherd, isn’t as big as me. If he were, I wouldn’t be able to carry him away from dangerous situations or pick him up after he hurt himself learning to walk. It’s also a good thing that my daughter, Promise, is vulnerable to me and my wife. It’s with that soft heart that we’re able to mold her, guide her and disciple her into the wonderful, loving and kind woman that she’ll be.

However, given these truths about children, when they are detached from family and don’t have a parent looking out for them, fear and insecurity are the natural inclination. It’s a survival mechanism. Orphans are always in survival mode. What a stressful state to live in. I wish that I could say it were just a feeling too, the feeling of insecurity. I wish that I could say that they aren’t actually susceptible to such dangers, but they are.

Orphans are most likely to be abused sexually, physically, verbally and socially because there’s no one to protect them. Are we okay with this?  >tweet this<

I know that there’s no shortage of reasons that people give to not adopt, to not foster, to not become a protector of orphans. “We haven’t been called to that.” “We don’t have enough money.” “My heart wouldn’t be in it.” “I’m not ready, I’ll do it when I (fill in the blank) first.” Meanwhile, orphans remain at-risk of serious danger on every front. Meanwhile, orphans are dying. Dying physically, dying emotionally, dying spiritually. This is real life, people.

At what point do we allow their drastic needs to outweigh our own? When do we decide that we are the ones that can make them secure?

 

Keep building.

An Orphan Care Perspective on Psalm 127

Over the last few months, Psalm 127 has been on my mind and is deepening my theology on orphan care. At the end of July, I was blessed to teach out of this passage at our Kingdom Families Conference and frame the orphan care conversation in a new lens.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
Behold, children are an inheritance from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

You have the power to build something. Everyday I see people striving to build some sort of legacy. It’s really a part of our nature as beings created in the likeness of God. He is the Creator so we inherently want to create as well. This desire to build has led to the entirety of human progress.  What the psalmist is saying here is that it is actually possible to build something apart from God’s design. We are able to build things and not have God involved in it whatsoever. He states such labor is vain. It’s useless.

As I was studying this text I couldn’t help but think about all the houses that have been built for orphans throughout the world. Houses that don’t have God’s design and don’t have the child’s best interest in mind. Even those with good intentions that build an orphanage or run a group home fall short. That’s not even to getting into the houses that exploit these vulnerable children for sinister purposes like sex slavery and child armies.

Throughout every society, orphans are the most susceptible and disadvantaged populace. As Christians, we must determine what kind of house it is that God’s building for them. Is an orphanage, even a Christian orphanage, the end-all design that God’s given? Is it foster homes or group homes where children often last short periods of time only to be passed on to the next house and then the next after that? Or is the house that God’s building something else?

I’m reminded of a quote by Johnny Carr speaking specifically about orphanages: “Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.” (Orphan Justice, pg. 65)

I’m overwhelmed with this understanding that we can pour ourselves into orphan care ministries and make sure that kids get fed and get a bed and we can smile at them and say “Jesus loves you” and yet, they remain an orphan. They remain disconnected because they received our best material resources, but never had the couple that went to bat for them and said “you are our child.”

When I see children that have been adopted, I see how they transform and meld into the family and I see the family evolve as God adds to their number. The child not only knows that they’re loved, but they are finally free to be the fullest expression of who they are in Christ. I can’t help but realize that this is the house that God is building. God is building families.

Adoptive Family that has two children through adoption, one from Kazakhstan one from Azerbaijan Source
Adoptive Family that has two children through adoption, one from Kazakhstan one from Azerbaijan Source

As God allows us to build our families through both procreation and adoption, we are saying yes to receiving our inheritance. Inheritance is normally associated with what children receive when their parents pass away, but that isn’t the meaning of this verse.

My children don’t receive my inheritance, they are my inheritance. >tweet this<

The legacy that we leave behind is our children. For the twenty years they’re in our home and all the years after that, we are investing in our own inheritance. We get to delight in our inheritance when we see our children succeed in their vocation, raise our grandkids or even when they mess up and we are privileged to be the ones to pick them up.

In Tanzania, adoption is not common. One of the reasons for this is because people understand that if they adopt, especially a boy, then they will have to split up their inheritance. This often involves family-owned land. For this reason, many people are hesitant to make an orphan their son. They view this is as reducing their inheritance, but this scripture says just the opposite. When we adopt, our inheritance actually increases and we have another arrow with which to advance God’s Kingdom.

What are you building? Are you satisfied with a house that is less than or totally other than what God is building?

I’ve come to this realization that at almost thirty years old, my life is going by and my kids aren’t getting any smaller. Next thing I know, another thirty years will go by and I’ll be sixty and still another and I’ll likely be dead. If this is the one life that I get and it’s over like a vapor in the wind, I don’t want to waste it building something apart from God’s design. Lord, let not my life be in vain. God has a special inheritance and a house in mind for me and for you, will you receive it?

Keep building.

When It’s Your Child

A few months ago, Melissa and I were watching a documentary on Netflix called “Stuck.” The documentary was all about the various journeys of international adoption that people go through. It followed the lives of adoptive parents and the fight that they have to put up to bring their children home. It was heart rending. As you see these children living in orphanages in Europe, Asia and Africa, you start to realize just how devastating such an upbringing is. At one point in the movie, they rolled footage from a Romanian orphanage of a person pushing a two level medical tray with about 15 babies literally piled on it. After the movie, Melissa remarked “that could be Shepherd.”

That is Shepherd.

One of the biggest issues when trying to get a grasp on the global orphan crisis is that kids that are living in orphanages or on the streets don’t have names, just blank faces. That isn’t how God sees them, but it certainly is how people tend to see them. If we want to see how God sees, we must place our own children in that situation. That’s my baby piled on a tray, that’s my daughter being violated every night by a caretaker, that’s my son sniffing chemicals everyday on the streets.

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Unfortunately, the majority of Christian communities have done a disservice to these children by only going up to their ankles in the ocean of these children’s needs. Long-term residential orphanages, a revolving door of missionaries and staff and short term mission band-aids have all failed to address the children’s biggest needs. These children need godly parents that are going to get their skin in the game, that are going to lay down their lives for them, that are going to live out the gospel.

My son, Moses, grew up for the first eight years of his life in an orphanage. It’s a well-known children’s home in the area with a decent following in the states. It is certainly a good orphanage relative to what orphanages typically are. I worked at the children’s home for two years and still visit the precious children there from time to time. The orphanage is run by some of the best people I know. But it’s still an orphanage—and that’s where my son has spent most of his life.

Full disclosure here as a father, something a tad uncomfortable from when we announced the adoption was the amount of good-intentioned people, most of whom I don’t know personally, that said they “know” my son. They have pictures of him, they’re locals that volunteered a time here and there, or people that have a memory of playing with him on their short term trip or something to that effect. Now, I understand that at the time such things seemed innocuous, even seemed sweet. But consider that all along, he was waiting to be adopted, waiting for someone to go to bat for him. All along, he was destined to be our son. To those visiting he was just a cute orphan, among many others, acting silly so as to get the attention that he desperately needed. Yet, he was and is and always will be my child. Now consider the other kids that are still there.

Perhaps, if we knew the fight that parents have to go through to adopt children in need, we’d tread more reverently when meeting their children and then truly seek to help these children receive their most important need. No more passing out candy, no more pictures, just supporting families.

At one point, Moses developed a very strong bond with someone that used to work at the orphanage. As time went on, this individual was led elsewhere, just as I was and many others that have worked at the orphanage. When they left, Moses was crushed. It wasn’t their fault at all, they poured into him and showed him love that he desperately needed. But he was, nonetheless, crushed. To me, this only highlights the fact that the system we’ve set up is broken and falls tragically short of meeting the child’s full needs. Unfortunately for Moses, these modes of care, while completely done with the best intentions, fell short of meeting his deepest needs. He, like millions and millions of other orphans, continued a broken life experience. I, for one, am not satisfied with that brokenness.

What’s my point in all this?

The needs of an orphan are larger than the infrastructure that we (the church) have created for them. >tweet this<

The fact that we’ve even created an infrastructure only underscores the issue. At the risk of sounding harsh, I say this. An orphan doesn’t need your institutional long-term orphanage, your short term missions trip, your ‘Like’ on Facebook or any of the other trivial things that we offer as support.

An orphan needs you.

When Jesus ministered to people, He only gave them one thing: Himself. There’s our model, friends. The way an orphan experiences full restoration in Christ is if we give ourselves to them and in so doing, they become someone’s child. Anything else falls short.

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Take this post and do something with it. Adopt. Foster. Support a family in your church that is adopting or fostering. Support financially, babysit their kids for free, ask them how you can be a positive influence in their children’s lives and the life of their family.

 

Disclaimer: This may come across as too strong, but that is intentional because the church needs a strong wake-up call. In talking about orphanages, specifically the one which I used to work at, I want to be clear. Orphanages have a role in orphan care. An orphanage should be a short term solution for a child in an urgent situation. An orphanage’s goal should not be residency, but rather to place the child in a loving family as soon as possible. We must find places where we evolve the current orphan care landscape into God’s heart for the orphan, which is that each child would have a mom and a dad. Not all orphans will be adopted tomorrow and many, sadly, will never be adopted, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

Designs for Orphan Care (Part 1)

752038128_78eae2f64d_zI was reading in the book of Ezra the other day and though I’ve read the book several times, I came across a story in chapter 3 that really struck me like never before. The Persian king Cyrus had commissioned a large group of Israelites to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians a few generations prior. As the captives that returned to Israel established the foundation of the new temple, a time of worship broke out in the community.

“And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: ‘For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout and the sound was heard afar off.”

I had to get out my commentary to confirm why I thought the old men were weeping over the foundation. Mr. Halley agreed, the old men in remembering God’s design for Solomon’s temple, wept that the temple they were now building would not match the grandeur of God’s design for the house of worship. Many people shouted for joy as formal worship of the LORD was being restored and there was all kinds of hoopla, yet still there were those that remembered the superiority of God’s design and in some ways were disappointed that the community was no longer at that level.

As I’ve journeyed with caring for orphans in Tanzania, I feel as though I’ve aged. It’s been five years now since I accepted the job at Treasures of Africa. When I first started I exuberantly told everyone, “this is my dream job.” I was one of those worshipers that when the foundation was laid, I rejoiced and shouted and worshiped. I was in love with working there and knew that it was where God had called me. It absolutely was where God had called me for the three years I was committed there. I grew in faith and I grew in love. I’m so grateful for the leaders that gave me such an opportunity. I was given an insightful look into these kids’ lives, their backgrounds and their specific needs as they came out of traumatic experiences. By welcoming them to the children’s home they were shown love, they were provided for and were able to rest and recover from the blows that orphan life had left them.

Beyond learning about the needs of the kids, I also had an insiders view of how the best orphanage in Moshi was run. I say it’s the best not only because the physical needs of the children are met and they have a clean, safe environment in which to grow up, but because the leaders of the orphanage were very godly people. The kids heard and received the gospel, which to me is most important.

From that insiders view, I have also learned the downsides to the orphanage system. It would be easy for me to look at government orphanages in Eastern Europe or the poorly funded, poorly supervised orphanages here in East Africa, but I’ve actually seen the downsides to the very best orphanages around. I’ve aged. I’ve become one of those old men that weeps as the foundation is laid and remember that God’s design was and is far superior.

As I’ve been working through all these things in my head over the last year since we’ve returned, I find myself needing to temper what I say. I personally invested so much in the orphanage system and even more so because I have close friends that are currently ministering in orphanages and most importantly I have a group of twenty-six kids that I love a whole lot that live at a children’s home. The difficulty in navigating what I write and hence other people read is that in critiquing the orphanage system of orphan care, I am critiquing the most common form of orphan care in the world. In many contexts, it’s the only form of care for these kids. Because of all this, it tends to be the type of ministry that you, me and everyone else has supported if you’ve been involved in the biblical mandate to care for orphaned children.

There are two designs here that I’m looking at and I in no way want to come across as heavy-handed, pugnacious or cold. I feel the exact opposite towards the orphanage system. I think that it can have it’s role in caring for orphans, but we often see it as the end all in millions of instances and I don’t think that’s good. So the two designs, I humbly submit, is God’s design (Solomon’s temple) and man’s design (the temple in Ezra 3).

So, in a nutshell, what are those two designs? As Johnny Carr says “man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.” Now that is a pretty strong opinion, I confess. What I’d like to do today is just look at a few themes that we see in the Bible concerning this conversation.

The first thing that we must understand is the fact that the Bible, both testaments, speak a lot to caring for orphans. In the giving of the Law to God’s people in the Old Testament, caring for orphans was something that was expected of each and every individual. In Deuteronomy, God hammers a group of people into the minds of the Israelite community: the widow, the stranger and the fatherless. It was God’s chosen people that were expected to care for the needs of these people. If you read chapter 24 in particular, you’ll see God commanding Israel to preserve justice for the fatherless and also provide them with food from the people’s own crops. It was a commandment, not an option.

God demanded that of His people, because they are to be His reflection and hence maintain His own character. They were to administer justice for the fatherless, because He administers justice for the fatherless (Deut. 10:18). They were to help the orphan, because He is the helper of the orphan (Psalm 10:14). And in keeping in step with who He is, God’s people are to father the fatherless, because that’s who He is (Psalm 68:5).

In the New Testament, we see a core spiritual truth about who we are in Christ applied in these same terms. Jesus teaches us to pray to God as ‘our Father’ and in Romans 8, Paul teaches us that we have been adopted as children of God. If we were adopted by God, that means that there was a point when we ourselves were orphans too. God was gracious and brought us into His family.

In Christian practice, just as I spoke to a moment ago, what we see God do, we ought to do ourselves. We love because He first loved us. We are commanded to be holy just as the Lord is holy. We give, because He gave it all for us. So if God in his generosity, compassion and righteousness, adopted us orphans into His family, what does that mean for us when we consider these kids that also need a family?

In the beginning, God established the family. He put Adam and Eve in the garden and told them to be fruitful and multiply (read, have lots of kids). This was God’s first design, He had a family in mind as the ones that would take care of the earth and expand the garden.

This is just a really quick overview of what the Bible says in regards to orphan care and God’s design for adoption and family. Nonetheless, we can gather a few things from just understanding this text. If you were to read the Bible, then be presented with the plight of millions of orphaned children, would you gather that all you need to do is establish an orphanage? The Jews of the Old Testament didn’t do that and it wasn’t until the legalization of Christianity a few centuries after Christ, that Christians started to do it.

I propose that there is a better way. God’s original design was for children to be in families. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can get back to that design and see orphans receive what they need most of all, the love of a godly father and mother.

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Click here to read Part 2 where we’ll talk about some of the practicalities and difficulties that are presented through both the orphanage system and the families model. If you found this post interesting and something to be considered, then I’d appreciate you sharing it. These are conversations within the church that need to take place and every single one of us has a role to play. Not all are called to adopt, but all are called to do something.