Do you have a heart for orphans? Are you a family who has adopted – or who feels called to adopt? Are you a Christian pastor or leader who wants to start an orphan care ministry?
In recent years, Christians have awoken to God’s heart for the Fatherless. We have been told there is an orphan crisis – that there are 163 million orphans in the world today. Our hearts are broken, imaginging millions of children growing up with no mother, no father, no one to say I love you, you are mine.
When Christians hear about the orphan crisis, we want to do something to help. Some families adopt. Others go on a mission trip to visit orphans. But most Christians who want to get involved in orphan care focus on building or supporting an orphanage – or sponsoring an orphan. On one hand, we know orphanages are not good for kids. We know orphanages have largely been replaced by foster care in the United States.
But we assume that communities in the developing world are unwilling or unable – as a result of poverty we cannot imagine – to care for the growing number of orphans. We think there are no alternatives to orphanages. And so we pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into buildings. We send missionaries. We hire staff. We think this is the only way to care for orphans in places like Haiti or Uganda.
But is it possible to care for orphans without orphanages?
The first thing we need to understand – and the way Christians talk about the orphan crisis typically misses this truth – is that most of the world’s orphans are already living in families. I’ve written about the global orphan crisis before. Remember most of the world’s orphans have families – and that these families are often vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. So whatever we do for the sake of James 1:27, remember widows and orphans. Not just orphans.
If you are a Christian pastor, leader, church planter or missionary who is interested in starting an orphan care ministry, this is especially important for you. There are alternatives to building orphanages that are less expensive, more sustainable and better for the children, families, churches and communities we’re called to serve.
- Give women access to medical care during pregnancy and birth to prevent children being orphaned when their mothers die in childbirth. A safe birth kit from Mercy for Mamas costs just $7. Caring for a child in an orphanage costs upwards of $1000 a year.
- Set up a savings circle to give a community of vulnerable families access to capitol. Want to learn more about savings circles? Check out the work of Hope International.
- Empower a woman to start a business by giving her a microenterprise loan. In many countries, if you can empower a woman to make about $100 a month, she can provide safe housing, food, medical care and an education to her family. Check out Kiva.
- Sponsor a child in a family, not in an orphanage. Make sure the ministry you sponsor through is committed to sustainable development and works through local churches or communities. I think Compassion has a solid approach.
- Chickens, pigs, ducks, oh my! In many rural communities in the developing world, one of the most effective ways to help families earn a sustainable income is by helping them farm and raise animals. Read about the work of Food for the Hungry.
- Buy beautiful, handmade goods from artisans around the world. Many of the artisan groups Noonday Collection works with in Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and around the world give families a path out of poverty. This prevents children from being abandoned.
- Encourage Christians all around the world to get involved in foster care and adoption. The Orphan Sunday movement led by Christian Alliance for Orphans is challenging belivers everywhere to care for orphans in families instead of institutions. It has already had an incredible impact in countries like Ukraine, bringing together churches and challenging thousands of families to get involved in orphan care and adoption.
- Plant or partner with a church intead of building an orphanage. Come alongside this church to encourage the local Christians to protect and provide for the orphans and widows in their community. Churches can play an important role in developing networks of foster care. Read about Casa Viva. Churches can also provide financial support to families who are called to care for orphans.
- Challenge men to step up to be husbands and fathers who protect and provide for women and children. This is seldom talked about as a part of orphan care, but much of the brokeness at the root of the orphan crisis is caused by men abdicating their Biblical responsibility. Only Jesus can change the hearts of the fathers. Watch this video from Sojourn, a church plant in Uganda.
- Protect orphans and widows from exploitation. Child trafficking, slavery, forced prostitution, illegal property seizure…Christians are called to defend orphans and widows. One of the ministries that does this with excellence is International Justice Mission.
If you are thinking about starting an orphan care ministry, would you consider these alternatives?
What do you think can make a lasting difference in the lives of orphans and vulnerable families in the developing world?
I am writing in much greater depth about orphanages and orphan care in my book, In Defense of the Fatherless, which will hopefully be published in early 2013. If you want to learn more about these issues, please subscribe to follow Family Hope Love!
Ok. I looked at my blog stats this morning. A lot of you have been reading my blog while I’ve been traveling. Except I haven’t been writing anything new. I feel like a bad blogger. At least I have a few good excuses…
The last few weeks have been amazing. Hard. Inspiring. Maybe even life changing.
Flying so far away from my family for so long is painful. I miss my kids and my husband more than I can begin to explain. But I know without a doubt that God is at work. He called me to go. He’s opened doors along the way. He’s planting seeds in my heart and building relationships I never expected. I have done nothing here. I just showed up. God is doing the rest.
Over the last six months I have been praying to grow in humility. I struggle with pride. Writers are inherently arrogant. We think we have something to say to the world. But somehow the more I write, the less I think I know. This book not about what I know, who I am or how much I have accomplished.
The discipline of writing is teaching me humility. Word by word, page by page, chapter by chapter I am learning that it’s not about me. At all. I just showed up. Because who am I? I am just a mom who is crazy enough to say yes.
Where do I even start in explaining the last few weeks?
On Friday, April 30 I flew to London through San Francisco. I arrived in London after a sleepless red eye, grabbed a cup of coffee and the world’s best breakfast if you need non-stop energy (half an avocado with soft boiled egg on toast) and began the process of looking for a house for our family to rent in London. After a few days of looking for houses and exploring the neighborhoods in Southwest London, I was pretty confident we’d found our new home. Unfortunately, our plans may have changed a bit, but we’re still trusting that God knows where we’ll live even if we don’t.
On Wednesday, May 2 I flew from London to Los Angeles. This flight was on Air New Zealand. Can I tell you how amazing this plane ride was? When it was time to get off the plane in LA, I wanted to stay on board. I’ve never been to New Zealand, but the people on the Air New Zealand flight made me want to go. Seriously. Great wine, lots of movies, funny people…I could even push a button and they would bring me a snack. If you need to fly internationally, people, fly Air New Zealand.
The purpose of my trip to LA was to go to the Orphan Summit at Saddleback Church. The Orphan Summit was interesting. I really enjoyed getting to visit old friends and to meet new friends. I love being with a crowd of people who get my heart. I will write a more about the Summit soon. After the Summit was done, I had one day to visit with friends. I met my friend Loryn for coffee at one of my favorite places in the world. I had a Noonday Collection Trunk Show with my friend Bonnie. I went out for Cinco de Mayo drinks with my friend Courtney.
On Sunday, May 6 I took a red eye from LA to Amsterdam. Somewhere near Toronto, someone on the airplane had a medical emergency. We had to land the plane in Toronto. This meant a delay of at least 3 hours – and that I would miss my flight to Rwanda. When I finally made it to Amsterdam, I found out I would have to spend about 12 hours in the airport before taking another red eye flight to Nairobi and then a flight to Kigali. Did I mention I cannot sleep on airplanes? So basically I did not sleep Sunday night or Monday night, but when I arrived in Rwanda on Tuesday, I had to jump right into work.
Can we take a minute to count? So far in this trip, I’ve flown from Seattle to San Francisco to London to Los Angeles to Toronto to Amsterdam to Nairobi to Kigali. That is six countries and seven flights. And 48 hours on an airplane. And I am not done yet. Tomorrow I fly to Uganda.
I don’t even know where to start in writing about this week. This week has been amazing. In being here, I have this deep sense of purpose or calling. I feel like I am at the intersection of what God created me to do, what fills me with joy – and these huge needs where I have a chance to make a difference. Tim Keller describes calling is something we have the ability, opportunity and desire to do. And I feel like I am getting a glimpse into what that will look like over the next decade.
The highlight of this week has been working with the artisans who are sewing the line for Noonday Collection and Matilda Jane. Again, I have so much more to write about these ladies, and I will write more soon. But for now, can I just say this? Something amazing happens when you give women the opportunity to do what they were created to do.
When you give a woman the ability to own a business, to work in community, to be creative and to take pride in her work – and through this the ability to provide for her children, you change the world for her family. Most likely none of her kids will be orphaned or abandoned. Her family has hope and a future.
This week I’ve also had the chance to talk with many different people who are involved with orphan care and adoption. Again, I am just blown away at how gracious God has been to me in setting up every detail of this trip. I’ve been able to sit down with people who are truly inspiring, to hear their stories and learn from their experience.
So there’s an update. I’ll try to write a bit more this week. But no promises….
She was wrapped in a bundle of white cloths. She had dark brown eyes and delicately curled eyelashes that were so long she seemed to blink in slow motion. She kept three fingers of her right hand in her mouth. Her toes looked like little erasers on the end of miniature pencils. She seemed to weigh nothing at all. I tickled her chin. Nothing. “Hey, pretty girl,” I whispered. She blinked. I playfully bumped the end of her nose with mine. She blinked again. Then she reached out her left and, in a wobbling gesture, wrapped it around my little finger.
It is difficult to say what happened to me then. I had reported in a lot of places a lot worse than this one.I had once spent the better part of a day in a slum hospital in Baghdad, a desperate place where the temperature soared above 120 degrees, the infants subsisted on less than fifty calories a day, there was no medicine, and a fifty-two-day-old infant named Maram Hassan lay on a feed sack that passed for a bed sheet. She was starving to death, even as her mother waved flies away from her mouth and eyes. I held the child and talked to her mother, and wrote a story about the child’s doomed fate. I didn’t lose sleep over it…
Developing a detachment from the suffering you witness and write about is a professional necessity, of course, but it can also become a job hazard. You can just keep going for so many years, not allowing yourself to feel anything…
But when the child’s fingers closed over mine, some long forgotten part of me seemed to stir. I didn’t know what it was. I just felt something.
(From Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker)
In August, our family spent a weekend in Portland. My husband and I competed in the Portland Triathlon together. Our first stop in Portland is always the same: The Pearl Bakery for the most incredible pastries and coffee, and then Powells. I could get lost in Powells for a week. It is one of my favorite places on earth. With our three boys excited to explore, Mark went straight for the children’s books.
I took a detour for the parenting section. I found books on what to expect, eat, wear and buy while expecting. Books about baby names. Books about infertility (do they really have to put this by pregnancy?). And then books about adoption.
I am obsessed. I am almost constantly reading something about Africa or adoption. I was looking through the picture books designed to little ones understand the adoption of a sibling, or perhaps their own adoption. There was a young woman standing next to me. I explained I was looking for books about adopting from Africa – it seemed like all the picture books were about children adopted from China.
She said she was looking for books about being a birth parent. How do you ask a girl no older than sixteen with a little bit of a postpartum tummy if she placed her child for adoption? It seemed like she wanted to talk, so I just asked. She had placed her son for adoption just six weeks earlier. She said he was beautiful and she loved him. She and the adoptive parents had an open adoption plan and she would be able to see him soon. She asked me about my sons and our plans to adopt.
She missed her son. It was obvious. Even as she had made the brave and most likely wise decision to place him for adoption, she loved him. I cannot imagine how empty she felt: the longing and pain and sadness of walking around and having no one know that she was a mama.
We looked together for books about birth parenting and adopting from Africa. I found Love in the Driest Season: A Family Memoir by Neely Tucker.
I started reading the book on Saturday afternoon, as I was resting in preparation for my triathlon. I finished it on Monday night, reading by headlamp in the car on the way home from Portland. Like I said: obsessed.
Love the the Driest Season takes place in Zimbabwe beginning in 1997. Writer Neely Tucker is a weathered foreign correspondent who moves to Zimbabwe with his wife Vita. In 1997, over 25% of the population of Zimbabwe has HIV or AIDS. The epidemic is having devastating consequences for the children of the country, many of whom are left orphans. Neely and Vita begin volunteering at an orphanage and decide to foster a baby girl, Chipo, who is near death when they first take her into their home.
The book is a story of adoption from a father’s perspective. Neely struggles to balance his desires to provide for and protect his family. He wrestles with giving up his job or his daughter. His battle is honest. As most books about adoption are written by women, I think this is an especially good book for men considering adoption.
I love the passage above because it explains what happens in Neely’s heart when the children he has seen through the lens of journalism become real. The book is about his unwinding as a journalist. No longer can he witness devastation and remain detached from suffering. The tiny hands of this baby girl wrap around his heart and awaken his humanity.
What does it take for a statistic to become a story?
I will keep answering this question over the next few weeks.
Check out Love in the Driest Season.