Tomorrow is Orphan Sunday. It is great opportunity to pray for orphans and widows throughout their world and again highlight their plight and ask God what our responsibility is to them. Even here in Addis Ababa we will be praying for them tomorrow. We will pray for them and then within seconds be confronted by the reality of their situation as we exit our church compound.
Orphan Sunday brings up a number of reflections for me. I am an adoptive dad – now having welcomed 3 Ethiopian children into our family. I am an advocate for family preservation – having seen a program birthed that now keeps 122 children in their families who otherwise had great likelihood of being orphaned. I am a pastor whose heart breaks for the poor, and long to see more Jesus followers engaged in serving their needs in Jesus’ name. And I am a skeptic who has seen a lot of good and a lot of harm done in the name of working to meet orphans and widows in their distress.
Christy and I first started talking about adoption before we were even married. I believe that God planted a seed in both of us that we someday would adopt a child. It took over 10 years of being married before I was even willing to journey down that road. We started the process in 2007 and I started researching. It got into my blood that we were going to invest a lot of money and travel the whole way around the world and rescue a child out of their despair and return them to live the good life in America. On top of that I became judgmental in wondering why everyone else was not rescuing children too. I have since repented of those attitudes. Adoption was God’s instrument not mine. God was going to add to our family through adoption and make it so much richer. In essence He was going to rescue my family from our own self-centeredness in the process. It was costing our daughter to come into our family. She was leaving her family roots, people who look like her, her homeland, her culture, and her language. This was no rescue. Rather this was a gift that God was inviting us into that needed to be stewarded well.
One year after adopting we felt compelled to move to Ethiopia where we started Embracing Hope Ethiopia. Within a short time of arriving in Ethiopia we saw the plight of the “widow.” We watched as mothers who had been abandoned or widowed were faced with trying to beg enough for their child to eat so that the child could stay in their family of origin. It was harsh and tragic. We chose to do something. We wanted to see families preserved. God placed those children into a family, so didn’t it make sense that we do everything within our power to see those families preserved. We wanted to see Kids raised with their moms, not with a different mom. It got deep inside of me.
Like imagining that adoption was a quick fix to the orphan problem, I also thought that providing childcare would be a quick fix for orphan prevention. Before even opening I was confronted with the multiple layers of poverty, injustice, need, corruption and needs for dignity restoration. We had started to peel back a layer of the onion, but it was going to be an incredibly long process for us to get to the center. In the long run we knew that Moms and children would need to come to know Jesus in order to see their poverty broken. We also knew that it was going to be a long process before they would ever be ready to come to know Him.
Now this past summer we have adopted 2 more children. Children for whom family preservation was not an option. Children who add so much to our family and make us so much richer as a result.
What a ride it has been over these past 4 years. Here are some things that I have learned…
1. Adoption is an answer. There are many children for whom the only way they will ever have a family is through adoption. We are grateful for the way our family grew by 3 through adoption.
2. Local Adoption is often a better answer than International. If we can keep children in their home culture with loving families, I believe it to be an amazing solution. Even here in Ethiopia the potential is here. Interest is growing and in time our prayer is that it becomes easier.
3. Family Preservation is the Future. We have to stop children from being orphaned in the first place. There is no excuse for moms to have to give up their children for economic or health reasons. It is possible for us to walk alongside Moms and see them able to keep their children while also becoming sustainable.
4. The numbers are skewed. Consider the statistics for the number of orphans in Ethiopia. While there are various estimates, some would claim that there are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia. The problem is definition. Many of those 5 million have either a mom or a dad surviving or a relative who is able to care for them. In reality there are approximately 700,000 children in Ethiopia who have neither mom nor dad. This is where Family Preservation comes in. Sure, lets focus on the 700,000 who are double orphans and find an adoptive home for them either inside Ethiopia or internationally. But for the other 4.3 million, we have to find other solutions to keep the family intact and to find champions for them inside Ethiopia.
5. We cannot serve the orphan without serving the widow. It is interesting to me how often we hear James 1:27 quoted and all we talk about is the orphan. I believe James intention was for us to utter the orphan and the widow in the same breath. We have to serve both. It is difficult and ugly and messy. Yet, it is the Kingdom life to serve both the orphan and the widow in their distress. We don’t get to choose one over the other, in my opinion.
6. Even the poorest of the poor Moms deeply and desperately love their children. They would do most anything to make sure their children were being provided what they need. If we couple that deep love with a partnership that can help them keep their children, I believe we have a powerful opportunity.
7. There is a way forward and it takes all of us. We need ministries and NGOs and churches and adoption agencies and government organizations and orphanages all working together. Orphan and widow care is so multifaceted. It needs multiple interventions. Please pray that all can work as one and together we can meet the orphan and the widow in their distress and see them ministered to in holistic ways that point the way to Jesus.
Thank you for remembering the Orphan and the Widow on Orphan Sunday.