This week I would like to take the opportunity to share with you something near and dear to my heart. I’ll be upfront with you, though: it’s extremely sentimental and challenging. The Lord has been working on our family in this area for quite a while.
It’s regarding orphans.
There are thousands of orphans surrounding us here in the states. We don’t call them orphans, so it makes us feel better about ourselves and we don’t carry quite so much guilt. Much of this is due to the U.S. trying to force a better system, abolishing orphanages in the seventies. Because of that decision we don’t drive past shelters or children sleeping on the streets as often. It has made us, especially as a church, blind.
I want to remind you that orphans are all over in our country and there is a great chance that you know at least one of them. Likely, though, you know them by a different name: foster kids. They’re the rowdy or disobedient ones. The troubles ones, the kids with whom we try to avoid contact with our children. In many ways, along with the homeless community or druggies, they are the untouchables of the American church.
We usually have honest reasons for avoiding interaction, such as not wanting poor habits, language, or behavior to rub off on our own children, as we are trying very hard to raise kids who are obedient and love the Lord. I think we need to question our philosophy, though. This takes a very hard look at our own individual lives, our intentions, and our willingness to TRULY follow the heart of Christ. It is not easy in the least, and I will not try to sugarcoat that to love on people who have been repeatedly disregarded and passed-on is simple in any way. But easy is not what we are called to anyway, right?
While I have a few moments of your undivided (or maybe not-so-much) attention I think we need to deeply consider this together. This is not intended to place guilt or coerce, but to honestly examine what God has to say about orphan care, what the need is nationally and locally, who these orphans are, and what we are called to do/can do practically to help.
The Word is extremely clear regarding orphan care. As I have done some research I am impressed that rarely does the Bible refer to children as orphans, but as the “fatherless.” He speaks to the heart of the issue – they have no parents, no father. All children have a deep need to be loved and cared for, which is intended to be fulfilled by their given parents. But what happens when this “alignment” of things doesn’t happen for one reason or another? Well, as early as Deuteronomy and as late as James the Lord gives clear indication:
- “He (God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:1
- Isaiah speaks on behalf of the Lord, “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
- “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.” James 1:27
These are just a sampling of the dozens of verses that reference the Lord’s heart for orphans. Amazingly, God even references the adoption process to us when He talks about our salvation. We were fatherless, having no hope. We were completely untouchable, drenched in sin from birth. But God, in his grace and mercy, adopted us and has welcomed us as His sons and daughters. In Ephesians 1:4-6 we are told, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.”
As I read these verses I am humbled. I am also challenged because I honestly don’t see a choice or loophole. God doesn’t say that we are to do this if the circumstances are right or if we have an excess of money, space, or time. We are simply to take care of them. And Church, we are failing. Miserably. We happily reside in our comfort bubble of Christianity while there are thousands of little souls desperate for love and a family. When will we follow the example of Christ and go outside our place of luxury and laziness. Trust me, I am speaking to myself right now. We proclaim a Lord of love and live a life of complacency when it comes to the ones the Lord loves. The ones He is passionate about.
So let’s take a look at who these children are and the need that is present in our local area. I recognize that there is a huge need globally, however I would like to open our eyes to the dramatic opportunity that is currently available to us in our own communities.
Currently (these are statistics based off of the 2011 government review), there are approximately 405,000 children in the national foster care system (252,300 entered the system within one year). Of these children, 104,000 are waiting to be adopted! Of the children waiting to be adopted, only 12% are in a pre-adoptive home. This means that the rest of them have no idea where they will live or if they will ever have a true forever family. The median age of a child in foster care is 8 years old, while the median age of a child entering foster care is 4 years old. Over 30,000 children “age out” of the system every year in the United States – this means that every one of these young adults turns 18 and is pretty much handed a bag and told to go on with their lives, without a family.
Let me bring this a little closer to home. Here are some stats for Washington:
- 10,000 kids in the system
- 2,000 legally free children (meaning their parent’s rights have been terminated) waiting on adoption
- 400 “age out” every year
- 900 children in foster care in Spokane alone
Sadly, many of these kids will be in and out of the system throughout their lives due to their parents’ inability to care for them. The reasons for the children being removed from their homes are vast, varying from parental abuse, drug or alcohol use, neglect, abandonment, and so on. These children desperately desire someone to love them, to discipline them with care, to tell them that they are valued. Yes, many of them have one issue or another, but I myself cannot imagine avoiding issues with trust or misbehavior following such home life or after being taken from my family. What is worse, most of them are traded from one family to another while in the system because the families they are placed with expect to receive perfect children and don’t know what to do when these little ones cry for days or act out because they were taken from their mommies or daddies. Because so many kids are never given a true family home, of the young adults who exit foster care due to their age, the large majority end up on the streets or incarcerated by their 24th birthday.
And so I ask, what are we doing? Where is the church in all of this? What should we be doing?
Here is the crux. Most often we want to help, but we are afraid of the cost. We’re afraid it may disrupt our own families or that it may be painful. Well, it will be painful, because it is painful to look at the reality of pain that so many young ones endure. Of course, our families are a legitimate concern. But I would like to ponder for a moment, what if we took the chance to throw off our fear, embrace the heart of Christ, and show our bio kids what it really looks like to love the least of these? To take them in our homes and truly dig deep in their lives. I can tell you as a bio kid of a foster adoptive family, it is life changing. It is life changing for the orphan, but it is also absolutely life changing for the entire family.
I would like to propose that you and I each take the opportunity that is afforded us as an adopted child of God to follow His example and care for the orphans. There are many, many, many ways we can do this. Primarily, there is a desperate need for foster and adoptive homes. Moreover, we need loving, believers of Christ to step up and care for these children. We have so much to offer that the world cannot. As each of us know, it is most often in times of distress that we are drawn to God – so why not take the opportunity to be the light of the Lord to a child in the most desperate situation possible. If you feel any conviction or tug on your heart from the Spirit, please do not quench it. God has great plans for you.
Also, for those of you desiring to adopt, but are deterred because of the financial obligation: adoption through the state is absolutely FREE.
Perhaps you either know that you are definitively not called to bring an orphan into your home or are certain that at this time you need to wait. There are a plethora of other opportunities to show love. First, please remember to support those who do foster or adopt. It is a difficult road and they need as much support as they can possibly garner. You can do this through watching children for a few hours of respite, making a meal for a growing family, and praying for them. You can also donate time and belongings to local foster agencies. So many children don’t have any belongings to their names when they transition to a new home. Toys, clothes, blankets, books, and so on may be left behind, leaving them with nothing. These are only a couple ideas. The need is vast and I am certain the Lord can use you in mighty ways to impact the life of a child. If you ask a local placement agency or foster parent I’m sure they have lots of wonderful ideas for your family.
Over the next couple days I would like to share a bit more with you regarding my family’s experience with foster care and adoption, including a biographical transcription of my younger sister Tyne’s experience through the foster system and into adoption. Also, I would like to give you information regarding a fabulous national program called Safe Families, which provide proactive, preventative help for families who are heading toward a foster situation.
We have such a wonderful opportunity to love these sweet children and be the hands and feet of Christ. I am excited to see the impact on the orphans of our day as more believers step forward to care for and adopt them.
With Much Love,
Please also see the following links for more information and encouragement on foster/adoption:
- “The Plight of the Modern-Day Orphan” Recorded by Focus on the Family – http://www.focusonthefamily.com/popups/media_player.aspx?&FAMILYTYPE=null&Tab=Shows&subcategory=FocusOnTheFamilyDailyBroadcast
- Government statistics regarding current foster placement – http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/adoption-data-2011
- “Acting by Adopting” Recorded by Family Life Today – http://www.familylife.com/audio/topics/parenting/foundations/adoption-and-orphans/fltw-20121103-acting-by-adopting
- Olive Crest’s website (a California and Washington placement agency), including the upcoming benefit auction in Spokane – http://www.olivecrest.org/site/Calendar?view=Detail&id=116485
- Safe Families website – http://www.safe-families.org/