Yesterday was Orphan Sunday. I am grateful that we set aside a day to reflect on our responsibility to care for the fatherless and the orphan. Personally I am a big proponent of adoption. Both of my brothers are adopted from foster care and I grew up with many foster children coming and going from my house. I knew the joy of having new “brothers and sisters” and I knew the sadness of loss when they would leave, often without saying goodbye. My wife and I have also worked in a group home setting, caring for at risk children and youth. Adoption and foster care are beautiful things that the body of Christ should be involved in.
That being said, I also struggle with the way we perceive orphan care. Maybe its just my little corner of the world, but it seems like our discussions of orphan care are too often exclusively framed from the perspective of western adoption. We talk as if we can solve the global orphan problem by adopting all of them. The reality is there are only 115,000 orphans in the USA and we cannot even eradicate this problem with adoption so how on earth will we ever care for the 153 million orphans globally? Do we stop to realize that the number of orphans globally is almost 50% of the entire population of the United States?Adoption can and must be part of the solution, but lets not kid ourselves it will only be a very small part.
Another way we advocate caring for orphans is to build orphanages. While I am a big supporter of adoption I am not a huge proponent of orphanages. Why not? We stopped operating orphanages in the United States a long time ago. We did so because we realized that children are much better off in a family environment not an institutional one. When we stopped putting kids in orphanages we switched to foster care. Even with foster care we prioritize returning children to their biological families, if possible, because we believe that this is best. If we believe this is what is best for North American children why do we not advocate for the same treatment of orphans globally?
Personally, I believe the best approach to orphan care begins with the manifest presence of Christ in a given community, the local church. What if our approach centered around empowering local churches among the poor and disenfranchised to care for those around them? (This is the approach we take at Living Bread Ministries.) What if the first thing we did was to partner with local churches in helping poor families (mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles) care for their own children. Rather than giving the poor incentives to abandon their children, what if we helped them care for their own? When this is not possible what if we invested in equipping local believers to care for the orphans among them and even gave some resources to help make this possible? It’s my experience that poor indigenous churches and individual believers are more than willing to care for the orphans in their midst, but they lack basic resources to do so. Once these two avenues are exhausted or in cases where they are not an option then western adoption becomes the final piece to the puzzle.
I realize there are many hurdles to overcome with this approach. However, its worth the hard work to make a real impact on the orphan crisis. We cannot continue to function as if western adoption is the answer. In 2012 US parents adopted 8,668 children through international adoption (8,668 of 153 million). These numbers have dropped consistently because of tightening regulations globally. Clearly, we need a multifaceted approach and I believe the one I have shared is worthy of consideration. What do you think?