by Davy Mast
According to Show Hope, an organization founded to care for orphans, over eighty-one million Americans have considered adoption. If just one in five hundred of these adults actually adopted, every waiting child in America would have a permanent family. Every year more than 23,000 children age out of foster care, leaving them without families of their own.
Why is this subject not given more attention in our churches and why does it seem that non Christians are more enthusiastic about adoption than professing Christians? Why are there so many cautions given when parents start considering adoption? Are there things we believe about adoption that are not accurate? What is God's heart in connection with adoption? I believe that God is wanting us as a church and as individuals to become actively involved in providing homes for His children.
Recently, I spent a day with Strong's Concordance and read every verse in the Bible that refers to the fatherless. According to Strong's the word fatherless appears in the Old Testament forty-two times. The law teaches that His people were to take care of the fatherless, the widows, and the stranger or aliens. Based on Old Testament Scripture, God has a special place in His heart for the less fortunate. On the other hand, the only place the term fatherless appears in the New Testament is in James 1:27.
Here are three of my favorite Old Testament references regarding the fatherless:
Psalm 10:16-18 “The Lord is king forever......Lord, thou has heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: to judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
Psalm 68:4-6 “Sing unto the Lord, sing praises to his name, extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH(Lord) and rejoice before him. A father of the fatherless and a judge of widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”
The Hebrew word for solitary as it is used in this passage is yachiyd, which means “united, sole by implication, beloved, also lonely”.
Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Then we have the New Testament Scripture reference in James 1:27. "Pure religion before God and and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world".
The Greek word for visit as used in this passage is episkeptomai which means “to inspect, (by implication) to select; by extension to go to see, relieve”.
Is James just encouraging us to visit orphanages, nursing homes, and widows, or should we be doing more? Based on the Old Testament law and examples in Scriptures, I believe that orphan care should be done by the church and by families. It is easy to say and even believe that we should take care of the fatherless and widows, but it is much harder to take action.
We would rather keep orphan care at a distance. It is too messy and disrupts our schedules and life style. Instead of having this nice little Christian family, we are afraid we will be seen as dysfunctional and out of control. It is easier to support and send money to orphanages or other organizations and let them take care of the orphans.
While it would be easy to say all Christians should be involved in orphan care in order to live out “pure religion”, there are other Scriptures that tell us additional things we should be doing. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and others, not just orphans and widows. However, in Matthew 25, Jesus says he will judge us based on how we gave food, water, and clothes to the needy and how we visited those in prison. There is no question that God asks His children to be actively involved in caring for the vulnerable.
In his book, Orphan Justice, Johnny Carr makes the following statement: "Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children." I agree. Orphanages fill an important role in caring for the fatherless, but they should only be providing temporary care. The goal should be to get these children into homes. Not just any homes, but Christian homes. Both orphanages and the foster care program are designed to help and protect vulnerable children. What they do is necessary to orphan and foster care. I believe we, as Christ followers, should then step up and be willing to provide homes for these children.
The only orphanage I have had direct contact with has been the Light of Hope Orphanage in Choix, Sinaloa, Mexico. This orphanage is under DestiNations International and directed by Lenn Miller. Lenn says the following on their website, and I think he says it well:
"Here's an analogy that I believe puts it in perspective. What we are doing as an orphanage is like trying to care for fish out of water. Over the years we have tried to improve our care of the fish. Maybe before, they were flopping around on the cement, so we improved our care by moving them onto grass so they wouldn't damage themselves as bad. Then we figured out that they do even better by pouring water on them and keeping the grass moist. But we've still found that they aren't thriving.
"We're still trying to improve our care, and we should. But I'm convinced that they won't truly thrive until we find them little ponds. The ponds are homes. Not just any pond will do. They need ponds with the elements that will enable them to thrive. Those would be Godly homes. Christian homes. Many of these children are broken. They don't need broken homes. They need wholesome homes."
Our foster care system is trying to take care of the orphans and other abandoned or at-risk children. While it is easy to criticize Social Services and what they are doing wrong, they are doing a lot of good in protecting children and providing homes for them. However, Social Services is a government organization and they have a different belief system and point of reference than we have as Christians. This is why we need more Christian families to be involved in foster care.
I believe it is time for us as a church, as followers of Christ, to be willing to risk and open our homes to these children. Imagine how many children could be reached if there would be a waiting list of Christian families ready to adopt as soon as a child is placed into an orphanage or foster care! Adoption and foster care is hard work and the adoption process can be painfully slow and tedious, but if we delay or do nothing, these children continue living without a family.
Here are some questions we hear when we discuss or pursue adoption. These are only a few, but I would like to give some input on how I believe these questions have influenced and kept us from action.
1) Do you have any idea of what you are getting into? Maybe we don't know what we are getting into. This is not a decision we should make lightly, but we do this out of obedience and a love for God and His children. We need to count the cost and be prepared to work with hurting children, but if God calls us to adopt or foster, He will also supply our needs.
2) Why would you adopt when you have your own children? It is easy for us to see adoption as a second choice. Many couples adopt when they can't have biological children. We applaud them for adopting, and rightly so, but we start believing that adoption is the last resort or a secondary option. I personally believe that existing families with children are excellent candidates for adoption. What better environment for the abandoned child than an existing family with an established routine, culture, and identity?
3) I don't think I could handle adopting a child and then watching them rebel and not making a decision for Christ. I think this idea has paralyzed many of us from seriously considering adoption. The truth is if we don't adopt these children most of them will never have the opportunity to even know of Christ and therefore choose Him as their Savior. God is not asking us to make Christians out of anyone, including our biological children. When you adopt and foster, you are opening your life and heart to pain and possible rejection. But you are also opening your heart and life to so much more. Most adoptive parents I speak to today will verify this.
4) What if one of our biological children loses out spiritually because of adopting, especially if we adopt an older child? I believe that is the wrong question. The question should be, “Is God calling us to adopt, and if He is, can we trust Him with our children?” The same thing can be said for those who are called by God to live in the inner city or on the mission field.
5) Why are so many adoptions not successful? Let's re-define success. A friend of mine who works with troubled boys defined success this way: “Our job is to show Christ to these boys and if we do that, that is success. Their outcome doesn't determine our success.” My prayer for all of our children is that they all become Christians and embrace our beliefs. But their decision alone does not determine success. When fostering and adopting children, we love them as Christ loved us and trust God to help us do it well. We all know this, but it is sometimes hard to separate the outcome from success.
Early in our adoption process we attended an adoption seminar. One of speakers at the seminar was adopted as an older child and is now married with sixteen children, two by birth and fourteen by adoption. One of her teenage daughters was sitting in front of us. She was from Ethiopia and I couldn't help but notice the dyed streaks in her hair. I immediately wanted to put her in the "definitely rebellious and not successful" category.
After the talk, I spoke with the daughter and was blessed by her positive attitude and the way she related to both me and her mom. Here was a child who didn't have much chance of a successful and productive life, but someone invested and took the risk of adopting. This girl has now grown into a respectful and productive individual who belonged. I could not label this as “not successful”. This is an example of where I initially allowed my preconceived ideas to judge unfairly.
The Psalmist creates a beautiful picture of family in Psalm 127, when he writes:
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
God is the one who designed children to be in families. He designed the father to be the mighty warrior who protects and guides the arrows.
God is still in the business of building homes. Some children are in orphanages or the foster program because their parents died or were killed. Others have been abused or abandoned by those who were supposed to protect them. Some are handicapped and need extra care. Some are HIV positive or have mental handicaps.
These children are the arrows and are waiting for someone to pick them up. If we as Christians don't pick them up and take them into our homes, someone else will. Satan has people watching for these vulnerable arrows. He will use child traffickers, prostitution, gangs, drugs, alcohol, and many other tactics to further damage these arrows. God wants us Christians to pick up these arrows and give them homes.
God has called all Christians to be a part of building His kingdom. One of those ways is caring for the fatherless and widows. Is God calling you to be involved in adoption and foster care as a way of building His kingdom? Building His kingdom requires obedience. Obedience requires faith. Faith begs us to risk and step into the unknown and trust God. As Christians, God has adopted us into His family. God doesn't ask us to do this perfectly and He allows us to make mistakes. And while we wait and do nothing, the homeless are still homeless, and the orphans are still orphans. Is God asking you to step out in faith and risk for “one of these”?
All Scriptures quoted from KJV
Show Hope statistics from www.showhope.org
Carr, Johnny, Orphan Justice, p. 63
Miller, Lenn, “'Fish' out of Water”, http://www.dnimexicoteam.com/adoption.html