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Is the Orphan My Neighbor?
Why justice for the fatherless is worth the risk
I will never forget seeing her pull the measuring tape out of her purse as she talked about the skull of her child.
The woman, standing in an airport in Russia with my wife and me, was, like us, an American. She, like us, was in the former Soviet Union to pursue adoption. But she was worried. She had heard “horror stories” about fetal alcohol syndrome and various other nightmares. She said that the measuring tape was for gauging the size of the craniums of her potential children, to “make sure there’s nothing wrong with them.”
The reason I think about this conversation so much these days is because I am finding—more and more often—that one of the primary obstacles for Christians in advocating for the fatherless can be summed up right there in that measuring tape: the issue of fear. As much as we might not want to admit it, many of us don’t think much about orphans because, frankly, we’re scared of them.
Orphans are unpredictable. Often we don’t know where they’ve come from, what kind of genetic maladies and urges lie dormant somewhere in those genes. Moreover, in virtually ever situation of fatherless, there is some kind of tragedy: a divorce, a suicide, a rape, a drug overdose, a disease, a drought, a civil war, and on and on. We’d rather not think about such things, and we’re afraid often of what kind of lasting mark they leave on their victims.
[For church resources on orphans, check out the
Q Fatherless Initiative
Those of us who know Christ ought to recognize that fear is often a deterrent to justice, a deterrent that has been indicted, crucified, and buried in the triumph of Jesus. In Jesus’ story of the so-called “good Samaritan,” after all, Jesus presents us with a man who “fell among robbers” and was beaten, nearly to death (Lk. 10:30). With little commentary on why, Jesus tells us, simply, that two passers-by, both religious officials, moved on to the other side, to avoid the wounded man (Lk. 10:31-32).
While many have speculated that there might have been theological reasons behind their neglect (the fear of becoming ceremonially unclean from touching a corpse), the most compelling reason I’ve ever heard was from Martin Luther King, Jr., who wondered whether the passers-by were simply afraid.
After all, there were no streetlights on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho—the setting of this story. There was no police force. A man beaten by terrorists is a good signal that the evildoers are still about, perhaps hiding in the caves along the roadside, lying in wait for their next victim. Moving on along, quickly and quietly, probably just seemed like prudence.
But Jesus never was one for justification by prudence alone. He praised a Samaritan—a reviled outcast from the official religious structures—for the compassion he demonstrated toward this man. And the compassion Jesus commended—and commanded from us in imitation—wasn’t mere charity. The Samaritan didn’t simply help the beaten man; he gave him his own animal, set him up in an inn, and paid for all his expenses for his ongoing care (Lk. 10:34-35). Any Israelite hearing this account would have seen immediately what was going on. The Samaritan was treating the beaten man like family.
Right now, there is a crisis of fatherlessness all around the world. Chances are, in your community, the foster care system is bulging with children, moving from home to home to home, with no rootedness or permanence in sight. Right now, as you read this, children are “aging out” of orphanages around the world. Many of them will spiral downward into the hopelessness of drug addiction, prostitution, or suicide. Children in the Third World are languishing in group-homes, because both parents have died from disease or have been slaughtered in war. The curse is afoot, and it leaves orphans in its wake.
[See Roland Warren's Q talk on
"Responding to Our Fatherhood Crisis."
Not every Christian is called to adopt or to foster children. And not every family is equipped to serve every possible scenario of special needs that come along with particular children. Orphan care isn’t easy. Families who care for the least of these must count the cost, and be willing to offer up whatever sacrifice is needed to carry through with their commitments to the children who enter into their lives.
But, while not all of us are called to adopt, the Christian Scriptures tell us that all of us are called to care “widows and orphans in their distress” (Jas. 1:27). All of us are to be conformed to the mission of our Father God, a mission that includes justice for the fatherless (Exod. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; Ps. 10:18; Prov. 23:10-11; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6; Zech. 7:10). As we are conformed to the image of Christ, we share with him his welcoming of the oppressed, the abandoned, the marginalized; we recognize his face in the “least of these,” his little brother and sisters (Matt. 25:40).
The followers of Jesus should fill in the gap left by a contemporary Western consumer culture that extends even to the conception and adoption of children. Who better than those who have been welcomed by Christ to care for the most feared and least sought after of the world’s orphans? After all, who are we, as those who are the invited to Jesus’ wedding feast? We are “the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame” (Lk. 14:21). Since that is the case, Jesus tells us, we are to model the same kind of risk-taking, unconditional love (Lk. 14:12), the kind that casts out fear.
Yes, orphan care can be risky. Justice for the fatherless will sap far more from us than just the time it takes to advocate. These kids need to be reared, to be taught, to be hugged, to be heard. Children who have been traumatized often need more than we ever expect to give. It is easier to ignore those cries. But love of any kind is risky.
The Gospel means it’s worth it to love, even to the point of shedding your own blood. After all, that’s what made a family for ex-orphans like us.
What risks would make you fearful about engaging orphans through your church, family, or finances? In your opinion, is caring for orphans "a Gospel issue?"
Editor's Note: The artwork featured above is a mixed media piece by Justin Clark entitled,
Orphan Friend I
Amen Dr. Moore
The obvious 'take away' from the good samaritan story is that our neaighbor is anyone in our path who has a need. Certainly, orphans are well qualified to be neighbors.
I spent a short time in Romania several years ago ministering to children in government orphanages. Many of the children we encountered were in their late teens and terrified of leaving the protection of the orphanage. Some of these girls had "sponsors" who could take the girls for a weekend and then return them. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what was really going on.
The need is overwhelming if measured only by the huge numbers of abandoned children. When we consider the vast emotional and physical needs presented by these children the task is beyond epic in proportion.
In the face of this over whelming crisis we may be tempted to harden our hearts, throw up our hands and opt out of being part of the solution. After all, what can one person or family be expected to do about all this?
I think we must be reminded, we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful. The poor, the imprisoned, the orphaned, and widowed, all are our neighbors. Are we willing to live sacrificially to bring glory to our Father who is in heaven and in so doing benefit the least of these?
How do you answer your rhetorical question? Do you think the average American Christian is willing to devote their lives to this? Do you see signs of hope in particular pockets of Christian communities?
Orphans and orphan care are absolutely Gospel issues.
We are parents to a Vietnamese daughter, who we brought home at the age of five months fourteen years ago. I was not yet a Christ follower, and my husband still is not, yet we were not gripped by fear, and felt that we were the ones who were more blessed in the equation.
There are unknowns, but I find the thought of carrying a measuring tape for the stated purpose as horrifying. There are no guarantees when we carry or birth children...our daughter's head circumference was actually quite large, visibly, and worrisome because we knew her birth mother had had a difficult delivery and oxygen deprivation during the delivery was a real possibility.
But we already loved this child who was our daughter. And I would do it again.
Thanks for raising this thought provoking (although it shouldn't be) question.
Great article. So amen and amen!
Jonathan, in answer to your question of Skilker, "Do you think the average American Christian is willing to devote their lives to this? Do you see signs of hope in particular pockets of Christian communities?"
Yes. We are seeing many families get involved in helping orphans in Haiti. That's our particular focus. I also am seeing an increased involvement her in the US as more families are fostering orphans. I do see signs of hope.
The task is indeed overwhelming and one could easily "throw up our hands and opt out of being part of the solution." But though the task is daunting, we must be obedient to God's call and almost put some blinders, so to speak, to be effective in our particular ministry. True we need to stay aware of the world around us and the need, but we can't let the enormity of the need derail us.
Thanks for this post. I was adopted at the age of 16 after having been placed in seven foster and group homes. I put my adoptive mother through the fire to be sure. In the end, however, she laid a foundation of stability for me that I was able to build upon later in my marriage and other relationships. The more we scream and the more we act out, we just want to see if you are willing to stand with us or if you will abanadon us again. It's just as much for us to risk living with you as it is a risk for you with adopting us.
I've never known how to express my thoughts without offending everyone alive but figured this might be the place. We went to our first Foster care class we heard the same story "i want a kid with no problems who can I guarentee that". You can't if you foster, adopt, have birth children you can never be positive of the outcome. Will birth children have a better chance, probably. But despite the chance and despite if you feel "called" Christ never said following him would be easy or pain free. He said pick up you cross and follow me. Where that leads is up to him. I do have a little trouble thinking that people are called to care for the widows and orphans. I find that more of a responsibility we all have. My wife and have made our life to do that since so many people think that it's an option. We currently have six foster children our in the process of adopting two and maybe one other if it goes to adoption. Any child that comes into our home is family and if they go to adoption were willing to take them cause like you said these kids have to jump from family to family so much that it's no wonder they have the problems. Which like i said it angers me when people want a "no problem child" because they're half the reason some of these kids have problems. So many people thought they'd "help" but really just wanted get their brownie badge for doing good and took kids in only to find out that yea these kids have issues and when they couldn't handle it the sent the kids back as if it was a video game at Walmart. Imagine being put in the system, only to thrown around some more cause you didn't have a warning label on you. It's frustrating that of all the people in the world the Christ followers you would think should have more vested interest in this, especially if were always protest not to abort kids. Well they didn't have an abortion but now whose going to take them in. And we wonder why people see no fruit in us, we can talk a lot but move little.
Why Russia? There are plenty of orphans and children in need here in our own country. Why take on the burden of the rest of the world when we haven't solved our own problems (Matthew 7:5)? Why meet others' needs when we haven't met those needs here (1 Timothy 5:8)?
I'd like more information on how to help orphans here in Atlanta. Haven't had much luck finding information. And I am in no position to adopt or give foster care, being a single working woman.
Just would like to know how to serve.
You should contact Bethany Christian Services. They have a large office in Atlanta and lots of options for getting involved. Also, think about engaging your local church.
TO JENNIFER VAUGHN:
This is a legitimate question, and one which we encountered quite a few times when we decided to adopt from Africa.
My first response is, an orphan is an orphan no matter what country they live in. Simply put, John 3:16 states that "God so loved the WORLD" not just the U.S. God does not love the children in the U.S. any more than the child in Africa or Russia, and His heart does not break any more for the orphan in the U.S. than for those across the world. I believe God burdens different families for different areas for His own purposes and glory. God calls us to care for the orphan, He doesn't say where. While I understand the logic of the question, it seems to imply that the children in the U.S. are somehow more worthy of care.
I can't speak to the stats of Russia, but I know that in Ethiopia, we did research and found that it was one of the poorest countries (open to adoption) with the highest number of orphans. And, while orphan care in the U.S. is certainly lacking, it is worlds above the care (if any) that orphans around the world are getting (especially in 3rd world/developing nations).
We are called to care for orphans, period. I don't care what their nationality, color, ability or disability. If you feel burdened for U.S. children, then PRAISE THE LORD, get out there and start taking an active role in caring for U.S. orphans!! If God has placed the burden on your heart of orphans around the world, then get out there and do that!! Instead of questioning the where's and why's of those who are advocating and caring for orphans, let's quit talking and simply "trust and obey".
You nailed it, Russel!
I’ll add, to go in tandem with what you’ve already said, that the Good Samaritan is not just about how we should treat others whom we find in need. Indeed, given the context from which the parable emerged (a conversation about the path to eternal life), we can conclude that the Good Samaritan we should be emulating is Christ himself. We, too, were on the side of that road, bloodied and beaten, on the brink of death because we had been robbed by the one who comes to “steal, kill, and destroy.”
If we understand that, then we also understand that the job of the Christian – in every situation – is to act as a mirror. Having received the mercy of God, we reflect that back into the world. At that point, it not only originates as a means of grace, but remains so throughout the whole mirroring process, for in extending that love to others, we are encountering Christ and his extravagant grace.
I agree that fear can be the underlying reason why some people do not choose to consider adoption. It is safer to sponsor a child from a world a way for $30 a month. I'm not sure it is THE reason though.
THE reason, in my opinion, is that some people just dont want to. We've begun to live as Christians in our want. I don't want to do this. I want to do that. I want a new youth center for our church. I want to go on a mission trip. I don't want to sacrifice a trip to Hawaii. I don't want to give up my cable. I want a close relationship with the Living God but I don't want to sacrifice anything, give any time, or be burdened or pained in any way. We live in a country of opportunity and choices and frankly, I think a lot of people have not adopted because they do not choose that path. They don't see it as mandated. They don't even consider it. They aren't even interested in it.
Perhaps it is lack of education. Perhaps they don't know the risk outweighs the benefit. But I feel like, all around me, I have a ginormous Christian community who would rather chip in their sponsorship dues each month than take on the enormous task of parenting another child.
There are negative stories, negative publicity, or simply the work of the Enemy to make people think the risk outweighs the delight. As an adoptive mother, I know that is, of course, not true. BUT for arguments sake, say the investment emotionally, financially, spiritually does not pan out ... say the risk of obeying God and adopting a child in need turns out to be challenging and rocky and painful ... then what? Does it mean God wasn't in it? Does it mean we shouldn't have done it?
Parenting, like marriage, is used by God to make us more holy. God uses it to bring us to our knees in petition, submission, desperation, joy. God is seeking always to draw us closer to Himself, and He uses people, situations, trials, doubt, revelations, to do exactly that. If we are serious about wanting to grow deeper and closer to God, we put ourselves in positions where we are chisled and changed.
Whether the orphan is our neighbor doesn't seem to be the difficult part of the conversation, at least in my circles. They all seem to think that's true. But when it comes to other competing needs/challenges/dreams, the orphan is not so important--the orphan isn't their 'calling'--it belongs to someone else. And they sign up to sponsor a child they can display on their fridge instead.
I praise God for well-thought-out Biblical articles like this one! As my husband and I embark on our 4th special needs international adoption, we are often faced with questions regarding our motives (or how many children are enough or why we look overseas rather than in the US) and this article touches on so many of those answers with gentleness and truth. We continue to adopt because there are still orphans. For some Believers, donating finances, sending material items and praying for orphans fulfill their calling. For us, it's adoption. I praise the Lord for every part of the "orphan care" puzzle and I long for the day when so many pieces are in place that the orphan "crisis" is
obliterated. Until then, I am grateful for voices like Russell Moore that speak for the fatherless.
In Christ's Love,
Greetings to you my brethren in Christ Jesus, the family and the church there.Iam from Kenya in Africa blessed to be in the service through ministering to many thirsty people here of the word of God.I have gone through your web and felt moved And touched to write to you as to request for assistance and affiliation . i am a spiritual leader of a group of 30 members fellow-shipping under the shade out in the open humbly requesting for your prayers, spiritual encouragement and assistance to enable us grow and enable others to grow in the kingdom of God.I am also blessed with caring of 27 orphans under my care whom i have rescued out of great anguish and agony of neglect by the community. i am blessed to be the caregiver of the orphaned children and 5 widows and have adopted a management committee to help me manage the orphanage..
I operate out of good will of well-wishers,to enable give the children and women widows a hope for the future in supplying the basic needs to them.we are registered by the Kenyan Government.
Having been touched and moved by your mission and your focus to make the love of God be felt in all corners of the world,i have taken a step of faith to partner with you to enable us be assisted with basic needs to assist the increasing number of orphans who are constantly crying for my help while the resources hear are uncertain and few while we learn more from you so as God`s love may be felt in all corners of the world including Kenya.
Thank you in advance as i look forward to reading from you as you may be directed by God through the Holy Spirit.Thank you and be blessed. Kindly i remain,
Yours brother Dougla
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