PE Conversations: Orphan Care
The Church is playing an increasing part in meeting the needs of orphans and foster children. Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, and AG Adult & Family Ministry Senior Director Roger Gibson this week responded to questions posed by PE News Editor John W. Kennedy.
The conversation is particularly appropriate in light of the limited release of the Focus on the Family documentary The Drop Box inselect U.S. theaters March 3-5. The film tells the efforts of South Korean Pastor Lee Jong-rak to provide refuge for orphans who otherwise would be abandoned.
PE NEWS: Why is caring for orphans an important social justice mandate for Christians?
GEORGE O. WOOD: For Christians, caring for orphans is more than a social justice mandate; it serves as a rich theological manifestation of God's heart, which is reflected both in our words and deeds. The Bible directly addresses the issue of caring for orphans in passages such as Isaiah 1:17, exhorting believers to live out true religion, not merely talk about it. Our call to care for these vulnerable young people becomes even more imperative.
Just as we are called to love others based on God's initial love for us, we must care for those in need because God cares and provides for us first. If we truly love God, then we will also love those that He loves, including orphans.
JIM DALY: Throughout Scripture it is clear: God has a heart for the orphan and the widow. He is a defender of the defenseless. We find this theme throughout the Bible, but it might be summed up most succinctly in James 1:27 - "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." In a very real sense, all of God's people are "orphans" who have been adopted by their Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. That's why the apostle John writes, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3:1)
ROGER GIBSON: One of the constant themes throughout Scripture is God's protection of the helpless and hopeless. For the followers of Jesus, living out the expression of caring for orphans is the highest form of demonstrating the heart of God and the gospel.
Family is God's solution for the orphan crisis. The Christian social justice mandate is not to build more orphanages, but to help orphans stay or be reunited with their families or to find a new family through adoption. For Christ-followers, orphan care and adoption is a privilege. It's the perfect reflection of our Father in heaven who, through the blood of His Son, gave us the gift of becoming His sons and daughters. Regrettably, there are over 150 million orphans worldwide who are still dreaming of becoming a son or a daughter in a healthy, loving family. Until there are no more orphans, we need to continue in the quest for fewer orphans and more families.
PE NEWS: What in particular can local churches and individuals in those congregations do in practical ways to help with children who need a home?
GIBSON: At the church level, it starts with having a ministry that provides a biblical education on orphan care and services to help engage individuals and families with foster care, adoption, and international orphan care. Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but there are many ways an individual can contribute to orphan care:
- Give financially to help a family adopt or foster.
- Help an adopting or foster family with a home makeover to make the newly arriving child feel safe and welcomed.
- Support the adopting or foster parent by offering to babysit or watch their children so they can go on a date night to keep their marriage strong and refresh.
- Go on an international mission trip to visit orphans. Smiling faces and loving, appropriate touches minister greatly to orphans, especially the babies.
- Help watch the children of parents who are thinking of adoption or foster care so they can attend classes to learn more.
DALY: Focus on the Family has developed a mechanism for this. We call it "wrapping" around adoptive families. Not everyone is called to adopt, either domestically or internationally. But the families that do answer the call to adopt face unique challenges and obstacles. In many cases, they are welcoming kids into their homes who came from the most difficult and desperate of circumstances. They need all the help and support they can get from their church communities.
The acronym W.R.A.P. includes the following acts of love and support that the larger church can provide for these families: Wrestling in prayer, Respite care, Acts of service, and embracing the Promises of God. Obviously, the process must begin with earnest prayer on behalf of adoptive parents and the precious children they are welcoming into their families.
Respite care involves offering child care for adoptive parents on occasion so that they can recharge. This could mean anything from watching the kids for an afternoon while mom does the grocery shopping to staying with them for an entire weekend so that mom and dad can attend a marriage retreat.
Acts of service are practical things, like taking a meal to the family, helping with laundry, and cleaning the house. When new children are welcomed into a home, it's critical that the entire family spend quality time bonding and connecting. That's tough to do amidst the daily grind. Caring members of the congregation need to come alongside adoptive families to help with the day-to-day responsibilities.
Finally, embracing the Promises of God brings it back to the spiritual element. Adoptive families need continual reminders from God's Word in order to hang on to hope when the going gets rough. They benefit tremendously when friends and church members gently remind them what God has promised to do in and through them.
In practical and significant ways, the W.R.A.P. model gets the entire church body involved in the mission of advocating on behalf of orphans.
WOOD: Regardless of our job titles, every believer has a role to play in the body of Christ to help meet the needs of orphans.
According to Barna Group's research, the Christian community across America is more likely to adopt: 5 percent have done so already compared to 2 percent of all Americans. Believers can financially support orphan care/adoption agencies or seek justice by defending orphans through various compassion ministries. The biggest gift that Christians can provide for orphans is becoming a godly home to them in order to offer a safe and nurturing environment or sponsoring them in other tangible ways. Regardless of methods, proactive engagement in the lives of orphans is a key.
PE NEWS: How can Christians investing in the lives of orphans and foster children impact our society in the years to come?
WOOD: Loving and caring for orphans has the power to transform. The statistics, based on Barna Group research, show that many adopted teens have a renewed trajectory of life, excel in school, and thrive socially, physically, and emotionally while decreasing poor behaviors and the use of alcohol.
Transformation of adopted children also positively affects the lives of adoptive families. As they go through unique challenges that come with adoption, they find themselves maturing and intentionally investing in their parenting skills. But most importantly, they experience empowerment to be less self-centered, build stronger faith, and ultimately to meet Jesus through their encounter with an adopted child.
Transformed individuals transform their world around them. As more Christians invest in the lives of orphans, these young people will grow up to be instrumental members of the society. Thus, our contagious love for orphans reaches far beyond our circle of influence. It will transform our world.
However, while 77 percent of practicing Christians say they believe Christians have a responsibility to adopt, only 5 percent of them actually have adopted a child and 3 percent have been a foster parent. Our call to embrace and care for the fatherless is a timeless biblical mandate.
DALY: Let's just consider the situation in the U.S. for a moment. Today, there are roughly 100,000 children in the foster care system. But there are more than 300,000 churches in the United States! The math here is simple: if just one family in every three churches were to adopt a child, we could literally wipe out the foster care rolls in every state. That's an achievable goal. And it would transform society.
Globally the situation is more complex, but the principles are the same. Whether we're talking about domestic or international orphans, social science and common sense confirm that kids do better in a stable, loving home environment. In many cases, the Church is uniquely equipped to provide that.
Again, the key is making sure adoptive families are not alone in the journey. The Church as a whole can be a part of the process by coming alongside them and supporting them.
GIBSON: As an adoptive dad, I look at my adopted daughter's future with joy, peace, and hope - not because of anything my wife and I have done, but because the impact of adoption on her eternity. One of the happiest days of my life was when my daughter accepted Jesus into her heart at 5 years old.
Having served in orphan care ministry in Ethiopia, Haiti, and Nicaragua, I noticed a strong yearning for family with orphans, whether they are 3 years old or 16 years old. Surprisingly, such longing for intimate family connection still resides in the hearts of men who aged out of the orphanage. I had the opportunity to lead a small group Bible study with about 60 of these men, and at the end of our six months together I felt prompted to do a special blessing ceremony. Making ourselves available to connect with orphans can impact our society today and tomorrow.
PE NEWS: Why isn't taking care of orphans the government's job?
WOOD: While government can play a vital role for orphans through healthy justice systems that protect children from abuse and exploitation, it cannot provide the deepest needs of a vulnerable child: love and a sense of belonging. Such nurturing environments can only be provided through individuals and/or families who would step up to care for each orphan. Going back to the Scripture, caring for orphans mirrors God's heart for the broken, the neglected, the abused, and the lost. When each believer truly lives out such passion of God, we do not need to rely on the government to do the job we are called to do. At the same time, as each individual owns his or her calling to care for orphans, then together we can build healthy families, healthy church, healthy society, and ultimately, healthy government.
DALY: I believe the government can play a role in this process. I was in the foster care system for a short time when I was growing up in California, and it was not a positive experience. Thankfully, the system has improved dramatically over the past 40 years, with better safeguards and screening processes in place for foster families. I only wish some of those regulations had been in place when I was in foster care.
The government can be an intermediary when children are in desperate situations. But of course, no government program is a substitute for a loving, stable family. The Church is best positioned to provide that, both in terms of individual, loving families, and in the larger context of a supportive community.
GIBSON: The biblical mandate to care for the fatherless was addressed directly to Christians, not the government, because believers are uniquely equipped to love and care for orphans based on our adoption into the family of God through salvation. Certainly, government can and does offer tangible orphan care services. However, Christians are to spearhead this movement because we have personally experienced the divine adoption in order that we may share the greatest story of salvation with the fatherless.
PE NEWS: What specifically is the Assemblies of God doing to address the needs of orphans?
WOOD: The orphan care work in the Assemblies of God spans 70 years of children's group homes, maternity homes, adoption placement services, foster care, independent living programs, and a growing future of programming in its goal to offer a full continuum of child welfare services on behalf of fatherless and families in need. Today, the Assemblies of God Family Services Agency, doing business as COMPACT Family Services, is the national child welfare agency of the Fellowship.
Our mission is to redeem the fatherless and family through compassionate action by offering a full continuum of services for the church and families to take action and live out James 1:27. That is a long-term vision, likely taking decades of work. As a worldwide Movement, we have the spiritual responsibility to demonstrate the gospel by protecting, nurturing, and loving the fatherless domestically and internationally.