James is clear right in the twenty seventh verse of the first chapter, and I think for the most part the church has risen to heed that call, but when it comes to how we should be caring for widows and orphans, there are many trains of thought.

Today, I am tackling this very complicated issue of what our physical response should be, I already know I am going to make some people mad with my opinions, and promise to do my best to back up everything I say here.

Think of this as a ‘proper care and feeding for orphans manual’, a sort of dissection of the churches responses both good and bad, and some solid direction for how we should be moving forward.

Are you ready?  Are you willing to read this with an open heart and mind? The future of the world’s orphans is at stake, and how we respond here and now could just make all the difference in the world.

For todays purposes we are discussing children who have already been abandoned or who’s birth family has died, those who are still in their families are assumed to be in the best place possible (99 times out of 100), and we need to redouble our efforts to keep those children where they are.

 

 

Imagine yourself alive in the year 1860, Abraham Lincoln leads the United States, and has declared his intent to abolish slavery for good, discussion around the candlelit dinner table is heated, all through town division lines are being drawn, a war is under way and it is now time for you to choose what side you are on.

I would like to think that I would have been one of the organizers of the underground railroad, that I would have been a revolutionary who saw straight to the heart of the injustice of slavery and that I would be both standing tall in the political arena, and doing everything I could to ensure that everyone had equal rights at home.

I would like to assume that I would not have owned slaves myself, and that I would have worked to free those who have been enslaved.

Seems reasonable when we look back right?  Something so wrong as slavery, something so terrible as owning another living soul. I can look at something like that and say; “I would fight to the bitter-end against that kind of injustice”

The statistics however, say otherwise. For many decades nearly every American was not only for slavery but owned slaves, generations of families lived and died all while being labeled some else’s ‘property’.  And 99% of America just stood by and said “This is how it is”.

What about today?  Couldn’t we place the orphan care crisis in the same category? A terrible, yet preventable tragedy unfolding before our eyes.

In the city we live here in Ethiopia, there are thousands of children being raised in institutional orphanages, fed but not loved, they have a bed and a small blanket, but they must share it with two other children. It is not just sad, it is a disgrace to all humans that we are allowing this to continue, that we are not stopping our lives to help.

Where are the revolutionaries?  Where are the people who are standing up for these kids?  One day in the future people are going to look back and say “I would fight to the bitter-end against that kind of injustice”

If you are reading this post you are most likely one of those ‘revolutionaries’, you are maybe either a parent to and adopted child, or have helped support someone you know to become one.

You are on the right side, and many of you are doing a great job at fighting this injustice.

Why then with so many warriors who are calling out the battle cry do we still have so many orphans?  Aren’t their enough of us here fighting to beat this problem?

You have heard the statistics; ‘147 Million orphans in this world today’, you maybe even bought the t-shirt, but did you know that the number 147 million includes all children who have lost even one parent….

The true ‘orphan’ number is closer to 13 million.

Did you also know that the number of born again Christians in the world today is over 2.1 billion?

What does this tell you?

We can do this.  Right?!  We have the resources to knock this problem out in our generation, we have what it takes to solve this now.

Why are we not done yet?!

I think the answer lies in our methodology, we are putting the right resources, and the right heart, behind the wrong solutions.

I can already hear you shifting in your seat… You think I am going to go after International Adoption, and you already opened up Facebook in another window so that you can start yelling about the crazy guy who has lost his mind…

Let me start by saying this, I have adopted twice, and I would not have any problem adopting again if we were ready to grow our family. There are millions of reasons why adoption is a great answer, and why it should be part of the solution for orphans all over the world.

But, when it comes to international adoption, we must consider that it maybe is not the first line of defense that we should be using in our battle against this injustice, maybe there are other options that need to be given priority towards.

And so I offer Plans, A and B in the war to help there be no more orphans in this world of ours.  What is important here is the order, we need to get this part right if we are going to win.

 

Plan A

Local Adoptions.

I once met a man who is a missionary in a remote village in Ethiopia, he and I talked in length about the orphan crisis in this country, and the ways that we should be working to solve it.  He looked at me at one point in our conversation and said

“Do you know what Levi? I have lived here for ten years, moved my family right in the middle of one of the poorest communities in one of the poorest countries in the world, and I have never once met an orphan”

“Why is that?” I asked, puzzled by his statement.

“Because in our community when a neighbor dies and leaves a child behind, that child has just become yours.”

This plan of ‘community orphan care’ should always be the first option, and everything we do should be with the intent of supporting this in local cultures, not breaking it by offering ‘better’ solutions.

When a neighbor or relative can take a child in, they are not disrupting that child’s sense of home and community, and I believe it is time start promoting this as Plan A, if we are ever going to get on top of the orphan crisis.

Yes I know that in many countries that this is not culturally an option, some cultures are not ready to parent children who are not their own, however we should be putting more resources towards backing and supporting this plan. We should be helping churches to educate their members about the need to care for the orphans in their community.  We at the church should be mobilizing support teams and hosting conferences on the biblical call of orphan care in communities all around the world, and furthermore we need to be lobbying for all governments to support this option first and foremost.  Are there difficulties with this plan? Yes, however we should never stop innovating in this area.

 

Plan B

Local Widows as mothers to lead new families.

This is where we come in, this is what we do as a ministry ourselves, and this is what I believe to be one of the largest overlooked ministry opportunities of our time.  There are millions of churches all over the world who have pews lined with tens of millions of strong capable women who are ready to lead a generation of orphans by becoming their mothers.  I can’t speak enough to you about how beautiful it is to see our mothers come together with their children and create a new family, these women are more than capable of handling this job, and at the same time they are now able to avoid the terrible life of begging on the streets that they were headed for (or even came from).

Just last week I sat down with one of our mothers and had her tell me her life story, she sobbed and cried as she tried to explain to me some of the terrible things she had been through, she was raped, she was forced to live on the streets to support the son who came from that rape, and she spent years working on a constructions site making less than $.50 Cents per day.

“But do you know what” She said to me as she looked up at me through tear soaked eyes. “I always told God that I wanted to be a mother, and now I get to do just that, I get to be a mother to six beautiful children who I am raising up to become strong Christians. Children who will one day lead in our community”

You see this woman and the millions of others just like her who are out there are the most overlooked resource that we have, they are passionate women of God, who are ready to stand up and do something, and all they need is your support so that they can raise the orphans who are all around them.

Church, I feel that this is our moment to shine, this should be the plan that we are getting behind because we are best suited to help with this in a big way.  We have local churches on the ground in millions of communities all over the world, we even have networks in place through those churches to support these women, we just need to move the resources around to make this grow.

For us we hope to continue to build on the foundation that we have in place, not only in this community but in others as well, we would love to see churches in communities all over the world start to embrace the resource that they have in their widows, and we would love to be the catalyst to make this happen.  We are starting to see that we are not just a project, but we are also called to be the impetuous for a movement towards giving widows all over the world a mission to raise the orphans in their communities.

Yes, it is complicated, but when you look at the impact that we have made in the past year and a half since we got started it is enormous!

Not to mention the cost value, we have helped 45 children come out of a government orphanage and into families, while spending only about as much as it would cost to internationally adopt a handful of those children.  And we are just getting started!  The cost per helping one child is going down exponentially as we keep putting the network we have created to use.

 

Plan C 

International Adoption

I know this is an emotional topic, and my intent is not to tell anyone who has adopted or is adopting that they are wrong, I have seen God move time and time again through adoptions, however given the potential for fraud in this kind of transaction, the high cost of an adoption across borders, and the loss of culture for children who are adopted into another country, I believe we need to prioritize this last in our tools for helping orphans. We need to be putting the bulk of our efforts towards plans A and B, before we decide that Plan C is the only option.

Should we even be adopting across borders? Yes, at times this can be a good option, but I urge everyone who is considering it to choose the agency they are working with wisely, and to understand the potential for fraud is far larger than it appears on the outside.

Lastly I want to leave you with a staggering statistic, one that had me sold the moment I heard it.

In 2011 American’s spent over 50 Million dollars adopting 1729 children from Ethiopia, if we were to take those same funds and apply them to couple widows and orphans to create new families in Ethiopia we could have provided families for more than 50,000 children.

International adoption is not wrong, there is nothing morally that I have against it (when it is done with integrity), but at the same time I urge the church to start looking at other options as our first defense, to start investing heavily in plans A and B before we jump all the way down to C.

You would not choose to cut a tree down with a hammer when you had a chainsaw in your toolbox, in the same way we need to choose the best solution for the problem.

This is a call for us to seek wisdom and understanding, and to use it towards solving a problem that we are big enough to beat.

What if you were alive when slavery was around?  Would you have fought against it?

You are alive today, and the orphan crisis is not a war we are winning, yet we have the resources to knock this out, we just need the right warriors using the right tools and we can take this thing.

Can we do this?

Levi

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