Why You Should Care About Orphans

8:09 AMHeather

It's funny how you can be so close to something for so long that you actually miss the heart of it.  Day in, day out, year after year, you are so close to something that you become desensitized.  Numb to it.  The profound and sacred nature of what you are knee deep in has lost all significance.  

It's shameful.  Hard to admit.  But, I must be honest.  This is me.  And the cause of orphans.  You see, I've worked in adoption for twenty years as a social worker.  I chose this particular field during my junior year at Baylor University.  In 1992.  Yes.  I know.  It was a while ago.  The point is that I deliberately chose, those many years ago, to be part of the miracle of adoption.   But, I must be honest.  Despite my years of experience, countless hours of continuing education annually, and hundreds of cases with which I've played a tiny part--I've missed the boat.  Completely.  

Because my perspective on orphans was greatly shaped by my misconceptions of Jesus.  By my dedication to a religion and tradition more than a dedication to the person of Jesus.  And what He was all about.  Why He actually came to walk on the earth.  The things for which God's heart beats.  

But, the blinders are coming off and the fog is clearing.  

Which leaves me asking myself.  What have I been doing here?  

I'll tell you what.  Being part of a sterile pretty little package of caring for families who long for a child.  So, they endure reams of paper to fill out and to get notarized and the home study which I conduct.  And they wait.  And wait.  And wait. 

And eventually an adorable picture with obscure medical history finds its way into their eager hands and boom!  A family is born.  

Oh, listen.  I'm not totally obtuse.  It's messy.  My job involves after visits.  Seeing and hearing the messy that is these children who grieve the only care givers and life they've known and the adoptive parents who mourn their own losses and want to be the answer to their child's every hurt.  These hurts come to children who have endured traumas and separations that we may never know.  Not to mention the birth families somewhere, if they are still living.  It's the meat of international adoption.  And I'm afraid I've created a rather clinical perspective of it all.

I have to be completely honest.  Over the last few months, I have realized how I have dusted off the ugly of the orphan crisis by picturing orphans as the Americanized version of them.  Sporting their new American flag shirt and living in their beautiful new American families and settling into the American dream.  I hear stories of their life before--yes.  

But, I've allowed myself to remove the sting from it all.  Using the anesthesia of distance and remoteness from my own day-to-day to pretend it's not really that bad.  To stuff my fingers in my ears and sing "la la la" about the nitty gritty dirty truth of the orphan crisis.  

When I began to pray the dangerous prayer of asking God to break my heart for what breaks His, my perspective on orphans began to shift.  Here I am digging, headlong, into the words and life of the Jesus I'm afraid I've never gotten to know because I was too busy playing church.  I'm realizing a truth that cannot be ignored.

As Jen Hatmaker says, turns out God has a lot to say about orphans and the poor and the oppressed and the needy.  In fact, turns out that being in their company and entering into the messy broken lives that they live is the very reason that Jesus left heaven to walk the earth.  Jesus came, not to judge, but to save.  Salvation comes from God alone.  Yes, He wants to save us from our poverty and He came to right every injustice, ultimately.  In fact, the Bible promises some pretty awesome eternal things to those who endured poverty on earth.  And God wants us to crave the unseen eternal salvation of being perfected in His presence more than we crave our own comfortable lives--for those of us who don't live in poverty.  He wants us to be like Him by offering what we have to those we don't know but who need us. He wants us to do this simply because He asked it of us.

He came to show us how to live.  And how He lived was by loving extravagantly and turning the religious on their ear as He called them out for ignoring the lame and the blind and the crippled.  He even scolded his closest companions for not welcoming the gathered children.

So how can we ignore the clear words of James 1:27 that says pure religion is caring for the orphans and the widows?

How can we gloss over the beautiful picture of John 13 where Jesus says that the appointed time had come.  And He was in the process of showing the extent of His love. As He was about to become our life boat from our sinking ship of sin when He offered Himself on the cross.

Showing the full extent of His love started by washing the nasty dirty feet of His disciples.  

The full extend of His love is not shying away from the mess and the filth and the dirty broken lives around us.  But diving headlong to help clean them up.  Removing the dust with the precious sacrifice of drawing near and pouring out our affections and care and concern.

My eyes are being open.  As I'm slowly allowing myself to be exposed to the photos and stories and details of the lives of orphans around the world.  I'm realizing that the very least I can do is face the harsh reality that they have to endure day after day.

The bitter truth is that the orphan crisis is growing and changing.  And from my vantage point, in the field of adoption, I see the injustices of the situation expanding exponentially.  As things like the Hague Treaty (look it up.  Good idea.  Good motive.  Bad results on international adoption) and the horror of some bad adoption cases and the complicated legalities and shifts in poor and developing countries translate to even more problems for orphans.  

Because even the portion of the 127 million orphans worldwide who have waiting and loving adoptive families, these children are still waiting for their answer.  They are stuck.  For many complicated reasons.  (Sidenote:  check out the documentary called Stuck for more information about this epidemic.)

Countries are closing to adoption.  Closing it down. Period.  Children cannot be adopted.  So they sit.  In orphanages.  New legalities are taking place in some countries, leaving children sitting in foster care or orphanages for longer and longer periods before they can be adopted.  Yes, these transitional locations can be loving places.  But the longer these children sit in limbo, the more complicated it becomes for them to adjust and flourish and thrive within the context of a loving family when they are adopted.  

And some countries have even issued edicts due to concern about adoption corruption.  Listen, corruption is never a good thing.  But these knee-jerk edicts imprison children who are already legally adopted by their families.  Already issued visas.  And yet, are basically being held hostage.  Sometimes in orphanages that lack regular meals.  Or medical care.  Or toys.  Or caregivers, as the younger ones are cared for by the elementary age ones.  Meanwhile, their legal parents have no way to bring them home. And up to now, our State Department has done little to storm the issue with its resources and do something about it.

It's an injustice that is beginning to burn within me.  When I look into the eyes of a beautiful boy from a photo.  And I hear his story.  How he lives in a government orphanage.  He's my son's age.  He has the clothes on his back.  Only.  If he's lucky, he has a pillow.  He gets one meal a day.  No cups or utensils.  A new blanket every 3 years.  One non-working bathroom to share with more than 200 other boys.  No one to tuck him in.  No one to tell his stories and his hurts to who is committed to walking him through it all for the rest of his life.   He still finds dreams and a smile and a hope.  But he endures dismal circumstances.

Or the little girl who my heart grew connected to because I know her mother.  She is one of the children who is legally adopted.  Granted a Visa to enter the United States.  But, sitting in an orphanage around the world because her government decided to shut down the last step of releasing the adopted children.  She now sits in an orphanage that lacks adequate food.  Meaning children have gone without.  Losing pounds.  Going to bed hungry.  While their food actually sits miles away and is not brought to them.  Because delivery has not been arranged or paid for.  

These are not some distant mirage.  These are not actors playing a part.  I'm opening myself up to learn more and I'm realizing that I have wasted time.  I'm an adoption social worker and I've contributed little of what I'm capable of to the global orphan crisis.  I've allowed the situation to be numbers and statistics.  Ignoring the fact that at this very moment, this actual child is facing these very real and very difficult circumstances.  

And while international adoptions face bigger and bigger obstacles, more and more children are going to need an answer.  If they cannot be adopted into forever families, they need someone to care enough to enter their dirty difficult world.

And be their voice.

Raise awareness of their plight.  Fight against their injustices.  Be part of the humanitarian aid that will be required in lieu of adoption.  So that they can be fed and educated and clothed and dare to dream of a future that looks brighter and better than their today.  

So what can you do?  I mean--127 million.  That's a ridiculously large number.  What on earth can we do from our pretty little suburban SAHM lives?  

That's what I've asked myself.  Who am I?  I'm no Katie Davis, chunking it all to move to Africa and build incredible schools and adopt 13 girls.  No, I have a husband and children.  And bills to pay. And responsibilities, right here.  Right now.

Here's the answer.  Quietly taking root deep within me.  Growing and blooming with excitement and hope.  

Do whatever you can.  We don't have to reinvent the wheel.  That's where I got stuck for a while.  Until I had the light bulb moment to simply get behind someone I knew who was doing something about it.  And adding whatever I could offer to the cause.  Putting my full weight behind their full weight.  And realizing that changing the life of ONE CHILD is impacting the global orphan crisis.  With ripple effects.  If I can bring one more friend to the table to impact ONE CHILD, then the effect multiplies.  

And so on and so forth.  

So, I'm making it super duper easy on you.  I'll tell you what I'm doing.  I've had this idea living in my head and I've jumped outta my safety zone to go for it.  

If you live in the DFW area, join me April 25 and 26th at Kidztown at Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas, for Swap and Shop.

Swap and Shop is a community clothes swap.  Talk about a win/win/win.  You purge gently used women's or juniors size clothes and accessories from your closet.  Bring them on April 25 from 9am - 3pm.  Pay your $20 registration fee.  Come back on April 26 from 9am - 3 pm.  Shop for as many items as you brought.  

Oh--and you can sign up for monthly sponsorship of an identified child or family.  Or you can buy some items for sale to benefit the cause.  OR--you can buy a rainbow loom bracelet made by some local girls.  For $1.  This bracelet will then be sent to an orphan.  Around the globe.  To remind him or her that they are NOT forgotten.  That someone cares.

Voile.  Shopping.  Bargains.  Orphan care.  

ALL proceeds go to One Together, Inc.  That's the bandwagon I've decided to jump on when it comes to throwing my weight behind the needs of orphans.  First of all, because it was founded by my friend, Cynthia Hoch.  Whom I've known for 20 years.  Secondly, because I trust her integrity and I'm inspired by her work.  She identifies needs within various countries and also identifies other organizations already doing good work.  She then works tirelessy to cry out for the orphans and be their voice and raise the funds needed to help.

Listen, lest you think you must sacrifice greatly to impact orphan care, you really don't.  Here's what I'm learning.  One Together, Inc. and other organizations are able to feed, clothe and educate an orphan for as little as $15-50 a month.  

Y'all.  Listen.  Instead of bemoaning the injustice of waiting in line at Starbucks, how about funneling that money to fight the injustice of orphans living without while we are blessed with so very much?

How about talking to your kids and skipping one meal out a month?  So that a child around the world can eat for an entire month.

The bad news is that millions of actual, crying, starving children around the world are orphans.  The good news is that there are organizations already working on the cause and all we have to do is contribute our little share.  

THIS is how we can be world changers from the comfort of our own rich American lives.

We can open our eyes.  Get educated.  Dare to care.  Then reach into the dirty hard mess of the orphan crisis and wash their feet.  Wash their feet by sending money.  Or shoes.  Or any other need you discover.  By taking on the sponsorship of a child monthly.  BY COMING TO MY SWAP AND SHOP.  Maybe--just maybe--being open to the idea of the rigorous process of international adoption or fostering here stateside.  Or joining a humanitarian aid trip to actually interact and fall in love with these children.  

The Bible says that to whom much is given much is expected. 

If we have food daily, a warm bed, a roof over our heads, cups from which to drink, utensil with which to eat, baths or showers or working toilets, family and friends, and an education...THEN WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN MUCH.

Let's live out pure religion.  It's not church attendance or opening your Bible once a week or completing some ritual in church.  It's bending down to the dirty feet of those in need and washing them with our love and our resources.


It's caring for the orphans and the widows.  It's placing ourselves in the vulnerable position of allowing our hearts to be broken for what breaks the heart of God.   

Author's Note: The above photo pictures the feet of a child that Cynthia met while on a recent trip to Ethiopia.    

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