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A Comprehensive Approach to the Orphan Crisis by Johnny Carr

143 million is old news.

163 million is the new number.

That’s the new number of orphaned and vulnerable children in the world today according to The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). A number that large is difficult, if not impossible, for most of us to wrap our heads around. To put it into perspective, if you wanted to see all 163 million fatherless faces for just one second, it would take you over five years without a break. It’s a pretty sobering thought.

I’ve been an orphan advocate for many years now, and not just because I do it for a living. I am the father of four children—two born to me and two adopted—and I am in the process of adopting another child. I preach sermons on adoption and talk to friends and family about the importance, blessings, and theology of adoption. I’ve given my life to adoption because I believe that it is deeply rooted in the Christian scriptures and the most practical answer to the orphan crisis.

Fortunately, many other Christians are also capturing a vision for orphans and adoption. Just this week numbers were released that showed three of the largest Christian based adoption agencies are seeing record numbers of adoptions. Many well-known Christian leaders like Rick Warren are taking up the issue. Christianity Today devoted the July 2010 cover story to adoption, and reported that it was one of the top ten theology stories of 2009. The Church is embracing the call to adopt!

[For resources to begin engaging the orphan crisis in your church, check out the Q Fatherless Initiative.]

Unfortunately, we don’t always get it right. The immediate reaction by many churches to the rapid growth of orphaned children has been to build more orphanages. Many well intentioned (and well doing) churches have taken collections and sent teams to other countries to build orphanages. But this is not an acceptable long-term environment for children in their formative years. They need a family. As I often say, “Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.” While an orphanage is preferable to living on the streets, we cannot and should not be satisfied with children living the majority of their childhood in an orphanage.

At the same time, inter-country adoption is not always the answer either. As a matter of fact, only a very small percentage of the 163 million orphaned children are even legally adoptable. Among those children who are eligible, a domestic adoption program might be a better option. That’s why the Church’s strategy for orphan care cannot stop with inter-country adoption. We must consider a wide array of solutions for children, keeping their needs as the priority determinant as we develop comprehensive solutions for the orphan crisis.

Local churches in Ethiopia, Russia, and even the underground church in some countries are rising up. We (the American church) can and should be partnering with them to care for the orphans in their communities by promoting foster care, kinship care, and domestic and inter-country adoption.

With God’s help and wise counsel, I’m convinced that the church can make a huge dent in the huge number of orphans worldwide. We have the resources, and most importantly, we have the Gospel. A good friend and director for Together for Adoption, Dan Cruver, made this statement the other day, “The Gospel is the answer to the orphan crisis, NOT the church. The church is the people through whom the answer is applied.” As we ground ourselves in the Gospel, the church is empowered to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those who have no one to call “father” or “mother.”

Organizations like the one I work for (Bethany Christian Services) and other child welfare agencies help bring professionalism and best practices to the table, but the Body of Christ is an indispensable ingredient. They can rise up as a biblically-grounded, Gospel-infused force with the power to change everything. May the Body of Christ unloose His hands and feet to meet the most personal of needs: love, acceptance, belonging . . .

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Is your church involved in orphan care or adoption? Where do you think the church could do better / more / differently when it comes to orphans?

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Editor’s Note: The artwork featured above is a mixed media piece by Justin Clark entitled, “Orphan Friend 2”