American Christianity in many ways mimics the culture at large by always going after the latest thing, following the latest celebrity, reading the latest book, and, yes, latching on to the cause of the moment. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in adoption and global orphan care. I’ll leave it to the statisticians to track the trend lines, but it seems clear that more and more Christians are talking about orphan care, increased numbers of Christians are becoming foster and adoptive parents, and the world is taking notice. Time will tell whether this renewed focus on orphan care is a trend that will fade when a new and more exciting cause comes along, or whether it will be a sustained movement of God’s people as they return to God’s heart to care for the “least of these” among us.
Here are five reasons why I hope and believe that this renewed concern for Orphan Care is a movement that will last:
1. Orphan Care is not a celebrity-driven movement. Every movement has its celebrities and, in recent years, some well-known Christian leaders have advocated for and modeled orphan care. Recent books and conferences on adoption have sprung up and more and more Christians are thinking about adoption. Still, the movement seems to be a grass-roots one. The cause has resonated with believers not because of its celebrity promotion, but because of its gospel-centered flavor. Advocates of the movement are not drumming up support through feel good, “make-a-difference” appeals. Rather, they are providing a thoroughly theological foundation for living out the gospel practically. Thus, the orphan care movement is a gospel-driven one. I believe that the renewed emphasis on orphan care is a practical outworking of a larger movement of God in which the gospel is returning to its central place.
2. Orphan Care requires more than a casual commitment. Many of the trends in evangelical Christianity are low-commitment enterprises. Read a book. Go to a Conference. Give an offering. Call your Congressman. Complete a few day projects. Attend a small group. Go on a mission-trip…. But orphan care is different. There are few short-term, low-commitment options when it comes to global orphan care. Those who are most committed to the movement end up making huge, life-changing decisions. For those who choose adoption, the commitment is for life. Further, orphan care very often involves large investments and sacrifices in time, finances, and relationships. By its very nature, orphan care involves high commitment and sacrifice and yet Christians in increasing number heeding the call to orphan care. That means a greater endurance factor. Things that cost much, tend to have a more lasting impact.
3. Orphan Care is not a temporary need. While some argue that there is a global orphan “crisis” and others argue that some statistics on the global orphan need are inflated, the fact remains that orphan care is a perpetual need. In every generation, there are real children who are indeed orphans and in real need of care. In every generation, some children lose, are abandoned by, or are taken away from their parents. While the numbers may fluctuate and at certain times may reach crisis level, there will always be a need to care for those who have no family of their own. While certain issues rise and fall based on the times, orphan care is one of those issues that is relevant for all times and is worthy of a sustained movement of God’s people.
4. Orphan Care is a direct command of Scripture. While many Christian movements are based on biblical principles and a general concern to meet needs where they exist, the orphan care movement is a response to the direct command of Scripture to care for orphans. For those who desire to live by the Bible, God’s heart for the fatherless and his command to “look after orphans in their distress” cannot be overlooked. As each new generation heeds the call to gospel obedience, orphan care will be among the good works God calls us to do.
5. Orphan Care models the gospel. When it comes down to it, orphan care is a movement that not only cares for those in need, but does so in a way that specifically models God’s redemptive purpose. Others have written extensively on the theology of adoption[i], but the bottom line is this: Adoption is a picture of the Gospel. God, through Christ, has adopted us into his family and given all who believe on Jesus the right to be called his children. The ministry of orphan care, especially adoption, is a picture of this work of God on our behalf. “Orphan Care is Gospel Reenactment.”[ii]
These are just a few aspects of orphan care that suggest to me that the orphan care movement will be more than yet another passing evangelical trend. My hope is that our renewed concern for the orphan would be a lasting one and that orphan care would continue to be seen as part of what normal Christianity looks like. My hope is that many believers will take the step of adopting or fostering a waiting child. My prayer is that the church as a whole will see it as a necessary Christian duty to care for the orphan – not that every person should become an adoptive parent, but that every Christian participate in the church’s ministry to care for the orphan and those families who foster and adopt.
[i] See, for example, Cruver, Dan, and John Piper. Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father. [Escondido]: CruciformPress, 2011.; Moore, Russell. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2009.