Are they orphans if they have a living birth parent?
Foster children aren't orphans - their parents are alive.
What does the term "orphan care" mean, anyway??
You've probably heard the term, and maybe you've wondered yourself just what "orphan care" means or what it includes. The most common assumption is that orphan care means adopting children internationally. We associate the word orphan with poor children in a third world country whose parents are deceased and it seems the only option we can think of.
I'm going to suggest that we've confused people by using the term orphan care and even limited what it is that we even mean. Possibly a better term might be caring for the vulnerable child. Isn't that what we usually mean anyway?
First off, most of the children who need advocating and caring for are not what most of us would consider orphans. Most have at least one living birth parent, and maybe two.
Merriam Webster defines orphan as : a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents
So, you can see where the confusion begins. This leaves out the boy next door who is home often by himself and needs help with homework after school, the child in public school who has a parent in prison who would benefit from a mentoring relationship, the child overseas who may not receive an education without sponsorship, or the foster child in our own community. These are the vulnerable children who need our care, in addition to the millions of true (by definition) orphans who are in need of a permanent family through adoption.
The term can be a stumbling block for many who (I think) might get involved in caring for the vulnerable child. There have been times that I know others have looked at our family (size and number of adoptions) and assumed that THAT is what I meant by orphan care. And, let's be honest, not everyone is ready to sign up for 8 kids.
Orphan ministry and caring for the vulnerable child isn't an option for those who call themselves Christians. The Bible is clear and the scriptures that address caring for the orphan are many. So, the debate is not should we care for these children, but how.
- Get involved in projects that provide for needs and show tangible love to hurting children. Our church ministry has filled backpacks of essentials and comforting items for foster children, collected shoes to be sent overseas, donated toiletries and other necessary items to local organizations working with the vulnerable, and made pillowcase dresses that were sent to many different countries. We are partnering with our church to host a food-packing event with Feed My Starving Children. The ideas to get involved in this way are many - and all of them show the love of Christ. Raise money to dig a well, collect donations for an orphanage, or financially support a ministry reaching out to the overlooked.
- Sponsor a child, a mom, or even a family. This is a great way to provide for a child who does have a family, but whose family is struggling with poverty. Sponsorship lets the family know they are loved, they are not forgotten, and provides for the child in a way that the family cannot do alone. In some cases, it is also orphan prevention (SO important) which helps keep the child with the family where they may have otherwise been relinquished because of poverty. Compassion International, Children's Hopechest, World Vision, and Because Every Mother Matters are just a handful of organizations that do this kind of work.
- Mentor a local child. So many, many children right in our own communities need a positive adult influence in their lives. Someone to show up consistently, invest in them, and show them that they matter. This can take as little as an hour a week. Contact your local school district to see what organizations they work with. Big Brothers Big Sisters, CU One-to-One, and TALKS Mentoring are all organizations that are in our local area.
- Become a foster parent. This is such an important ministry to hurting and vulnerable children right here in our own community. Yes, it's a messy system. It's not perfect, it's bound to be difficult, and you are going to hurt along with these children you minister to. Jesus never told us that loving the least would be an easy painless process, just that he would be in the midst of it. I have such admiration for foster parents who open their homes up to these messy situations and say yes - over and over again - to loving these children. There is also an excellent organization that provides loving homes to children whose families are in crisis (think church-based foster care) called Safe Families. Also an excellent way to provide temporarily for families and children in need.
- Adopt. So many children in need of a permanent, loving home both domestically and internationally. The statistics are staggering, and the number of children in need of adoption overwhelming. It is true that most of the world's orphans and vulnerable children are not available for adoption...that takes a unique set of circumstances and a complete set of paperwork. Not all are that lucky, but for those who are, the gift of a family is the ultimate gift. Scary? Yes. Costly? You better believe it. Worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
Having said all of that, I must also say that adoption is an amazing thing. While we cannot turn our heads and pretend that there is zero corruption in adoption, I do not think that Christians should not adopt because of it. Like it said - do your homework and prayerfully consider what you should do.
The last thing these children need is for us to all run away from adoption because we only want to be a part of a perfect system.
I'm not oversimplifying it, but we have 5 children in our home who were brought to us through international adoption. Without adoption, they would be stuck in orphanages waiting to age out with a less than ideal future ahead of them. If this is the way you feel God calling you to care for the orphan, then you should.
- The last suggestion I have is to support adoptive and foster families. This can be an exhausting gig, and while totally worth it, support is invaluable. Bring them a meal, give gift certificates, send an encouraging note, offer to help with the kids or transportation to activities. Let them know they are not forgotten and you are praying for them. I'm telling you - invaluable.
Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”