A little over a month ago I was visiting an overseas orphanage with a friend when I was given a reminder as to why we chose to adopt.
I’ll never forget walking into that first room. It was about 20 feet wide by 25 feet deep. It was packed with 27 cribs, each crib holding two infants. Among the 50+ crying infants were three caretakers feeding, changing, then switching to the next child. I was as overwhelmed experiencing it as they were trying to maintain the rotation.
We were told the orphanage averages having at least one infant dropped into their custody a day. The week prior to our arrival, 5 babies were received in just one day. On the day we visited, there was a pair of twins they were nursing who couldn’t have weighed more than 3 lbs each.
In the next room I counted 39 toddlers with shaved heads. Not a single adult in sight. They had obviously just received benefit from an overstocked supply of neon colored sunglasses from the 80’s. At the time, they were their prized possession all pining for me with outstretched glasses to help them put them on. The moment I put them on, they would turn around and take them off, then come back for me to help them again. For a moment I was stumped why they would do this. Then it became obvious they just wanted my attention.
One stood in the corner crying. His glasses were broken. I’d have paid $100 to magically have another pair appear. Heartbreaking.
Last week, in seven days, seven babies died in that orphanage. It wasn’t the fault of the caretakers. The babies that come into this place are often overwhelming malnourished, sick, or both. They do what they can. However, “what they can” is often not enough.
It was a reminder that in a world with more than 150 million orphans, there are only thousands adopted each year. It was a reminder to me that I cannot sit idly by. While none of us can single-handedly solve the orphan crisis of our world, we must do something.
Scripture makes it clear that the orphan is close to the heart of God:
“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” – Psalm 10:14
And Scripture is clear what we are to do:
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:17
What I love about this passage in Isaiah is not only our call to defend, take up the cause, and plead the case. But we are given the permission to LEARN how. This assumes one really big thing: That we don’t already know how. This is good news, because that’s what usually paralyzes us… the fact that we don’t know what to do or where to start.
Here are a handful of things I’m LEARNING about caring for the orphan. I believe all are necessary and appropriate as we consider the orphan crisis today:
- Adopt and/or pray for or provide for adoptive parents: This is the obvious one. But there are thousands of families right now considering adopting. Maybe you’re one of them. Keep praying. There are thousands more in the middle of the long and laborious process of adoption. Maybe you’re one of them. Keep praying. One thing I know about the long process: We needed prayer during this season like we needed air. There are many who are willing and want to adopt, but cannot imagine finding the resources to do so. Helping provide the resources for a family to adopt is a bigger deal than you know. For us, it was critical. If you don’t know an adoptive family to help, check out the ABBA Fund. We’ve partnered with ABBA at ANC and have a fund set up to specifically help adoptive families financially. It’s great organization doing great things providing resources for adoptive families: www.abbafund.org
- Provide care for birth parents: While many children are orphaned because of the death of their parents, there are many parents who would choose to keep their children if they could. I have friends in Ethiopia who have literally intercepted a young mother (and many others) attempting to abandon her child at the orphanage. If anything, just to find out if their situation is indeed redeemable. Not only did they step in to help this young mom, they provided a home for her to live in, and a job to move forward in life. Both mother and child are now like a part of their own family. Obviously, not everyone can invite a family into their home, but there are ministries and missionaries out there working to help single moms and poor families so that they don’t have to give up their children. We should find these people and orgs and seek to help them. Here’s the website of my friends in Ethiopia: www.noordinarylove.org
- Sponsor a child: Sponsoring a child has been around for as long as I can remember. In the last few years the process has evolved from partnering with organizations only seen on national TV (leaving us wondering what’s really happening) to some very personal opportunities with ministries on the ground that you can not only know their leadership, but also be a part of their ministry on many levels, and even see first hand where your resources are going. These sponsorships are literally changing the paths of orphans. They provide better living conditions, clothes, food, care, and education. One of my favorite orgs is called “Help End Local Poverty” and is directed by my good friend Chris Marlow. For more info on orphan sponsorship through H.E.L.P check out www.helpendpoverty.org
- Fight to improve the process: I’m a rookie at this, but I know it needs some reform. It’s a crazy balance between due process (and we DO need due process) and unnecessary red tape and politics. We don’t want to lower the bar, but we do want a more effective process. What I do know is that EVERY CHILD DESERVES A LOVING FAMILY. One of the leading orgs in not only educating but also fighting for the orphan through seeking to improve the process is called Both Ends Burning. Find out more at www.bothendsburning.org
- Educate the Church: This one is on us as pastors. I’m amazed at how often scripture is clear that we are to fight for the fatherless, yet we do so little. And this isn’t just for the American church. My hope is to somehow add to our global pastor training a heart for the orphan. The answer for adoption in third world countries is not international adoption alone. America cannot save the world, but we can lead. We need a culture shifting movement of Christians willing to see the issue in their own land. And to see it as apart of the Gospel lived out. We need to use our influence and leadership to equip the church to be the church. (Anyone know an org already doing this? Please let me know.)
- Improve orphanage conditions: The adoption process takes years at times. I’m not sure of the numbers, but with millions of orphans in some countries and only thousands adopted, that leaves thousands if not millions spending their entire childhood institutionalized. Recent studies show in America that 1 in 4 orphans who age out commit suicide. This statistic is staggering to me. What this means is that we must care for the un-adopted orphan. My friend Caroline Beaudreaux at the Miracle foundation is doing just that in India, a place where adoption is difficult yet the orphan crisis is massive. Their focus; making the conditions the best they can. Improving nutrition, healthcare, education, etc… To find out more check out www.miraclefoundation.org
- Orphan Prevention: There are many ways to get involved in a holistic way towards orphan prevention. Almost all of them have to with poverty reduction. One of the most creative and effective ways I’ve seen is through an organization called The Eden Reforestation Projects in Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Haiti. Through environmental stewardship, Eden is creating jobs, restoring communities, educating children, and planting churches all through the seed of planting trees and addressing the issue and impact of deforestation. It’s amazing. And it works. To find out more check out www.edenprojects.org.
This is just the beginning for me. As I said, I’m a rookie. And I’m taking seriously the call to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless.”