If your church's only response to the orphan crises is sending groups to an orphanage, there is a problem.

I'll explain the strange title of this post eventually, but first I want to tell you about something we had the privilege to witness.

Last night our church family rallied together to help bring a beautiful 11 year old girl home. She is currently in an orphanage in China and has cerebral palsy. The family leaves next week! This is a complete miracle and amazing story in itself. From their first home study visit to their travel time was 3 months. That's crazy fast enough to leave their heads spinning and funds drained. 

All we did was organize the fund raiser...it was everyone else that showed up with big hearts and open hands. We had 72 people show up for the steak night dinner. I'm not sure of the exact total amount collected was since there were some donations in envelopes and some that came later but over $5500 was raised. That's not bad for one small church family and a handful of other family friends.  We had dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, we could come away from the evening with $2000 to give this family.  
God is so good. 
I know I belong to a very generous church family that lives out the gospel they preach but sometimes I'm still just blown away. The room was packed with young families living pay check to pay check, college students, immigrants, other adoptive and foster families, limited income retired folks, some who have more, some who have less..... all came to joyfully give, knowing all they have comes from and belongs to the Lord.
This is Jesus' people.
I'm brought to tears over it still.
Not everyone can adopt or foster but everyone who takes the name of Christ has a role in caring for our worlds most vulnerable.
Now we are all excited to welcome this newest child home, and welcome her into our church family. 
My heart is swollen from last nights display of love and generosity.  My heart still constantly aches for all the children still waiting to be loved.  Two very conflicting emotions that leave me inspired and driven to keep beating this same drum that all children deserve to be safe, protected and loved.

I will be living out that mantra, and waving that flag, until the day Jesus takes me home.

I've written about orphan care in the past and how I think that the Church needs to do better than we have.  That's not to say that churches around the globe aren't mobilized and filled with people who are bringing children into their homes, speaking on behalf of the voiceless, and working tirelessly to affirm the value of each child's life but there is still a long way to go, a lot of Christians sitting on the sidelines, and one specific paradigm that needs to shift.  
Please take some time to watch this documentary on orphan care methods and how we can address the crises of so many vulnerable children wasting away in institutions, bouncing around foster care, or at risk of abandonment due to poverty.  Please listen as experts in orphan care from around the world discuss their dream of a complete paradigm shift in how we, as the Church living out the gospel within local church communities, care for vulnerable children. 
The dream is that orphanages would become a relic of history and that every child would have a family of their own.... Preserving their own biological family unit, placement with a close relative, or a permanent loving adoptive family or guardianship.

The practice of putting kids into orphanages stopped a long time ago in North America. How can we justify exporting, or even just supporting, that outdated and harmful method of childcare to other nations?
Warehousing kids just needs to stop.  Although I don't want to focus as much on the mantra that orphanages need to close as much as we need to challenge our brothers and sisters around the globe to step up to the plate and care for vulnerable children.  Children need a family.  Period.  That's the way God designed children to be raised.  
I couldn't agree more passionately with this video regarding orphan prevention and permanency.
The Church needs to be on the front lines of "best practice" when it comes to caring for at risk children.... not a century behind clinging to detrimental residential orphan care practices.  

Residential, institutionalized child care is fraught with so many problems. Even the "good""reputable""Christian" ones.  Whether we call it a group home, a children's home, or an orphanage it's all still various shades of the same spectrum.  This documentary discusses many of the problems that come with residential orphan care.  They're right.  As an adoptive parent, a mother who has been fostering for 8 years, and former orphanage staff I whole heartedly agree. 

 I've seen these issues played out before me while I lived and worked at an orphanage.  Every problem addressed in this video, and all the problems I addressed in my blog post here were a major problems there. My own observations, and experiences, are not at all isolated but normative with institutionalized care. The more I inquire, talk to people, observe "aged out" children, and study orphan care methods the more I'm utterly convinced of this.  

As Christians we need to do better.   We need to do better with our money and the ministry/orphan care models we choose to support.  I would even dare to suggest that in many cases our well intentioned donations to "orphan care" ministries actually make the orphan crises worse.  

We must not do nothing....but doing something wrong isn't acceptable. 

This is a discussion those who care about vulnerable children need to be having.  These are changes that must be made in the way we think about caring for children.  

In Canada we have a dark stain in our history.  It's called "residential schools".  I think there was some shred of good intention that created them but they are a tragic example of why institutions raising children is a horribly devastating idea.  Of course there are some differences between Canadian First Nations children being taken from their families and placed into residential boarding schools and current orphanages around the world but many of the motives, methods, and harmful consequences overlap.  In Canada, the effects of that breaking up of family units still lingers. When a system decides that children who are perhaps living in poverty or who may be lacking educational opportunities with their families of origin, would be better off living in an orphanage, group home, or other institution....something vital has been missed in the equation.  Children must have love, nurture, stability and a family to call their own.  Without that any food, clothing and education means nothing.

   Taking (or luring) children from vulnerable families to fill up orphanages or residential schools is reprehensible.   Of course there are occasions when a child is being abused, severely neglected, or is totally abandoned.  Not every biological parent is able to parent. As a foster parent, I know the painful reality of this well.  When dealing with real world brokenness and vulnerable children there are no real cut and dry answers but rather a lot of nuanced partial remedies to complicated and tragic individual circumstances. 

What we do know needs to remain constant as we weave our way through the mess of this sin wrecked world, proclaiming life and redemption into the darkest corners.   

Children need families.  They need to belong and they need to be loved.  That's foundational to every aspect of child development.  That's how God designed children.  That's why he instituted family.  

There is something new happening within the church, and in many countries that are beginning to realize that something must change.  Fledgling foster programs are beginning in places like Mexico and Belize as well as around the globe.  The Church needs to be on the front lines of those changes.  Local national churches must be taught, equipped and challenged to view children differently.  They are not someone else's problem...they are ours.  

The North American Church, where so many resources exist, needs to consider how we can care for "orphans" in our own cities as well as how we can help globally.

We must evaluate where our North American resources are going and pursue ethical movements to keep children in families of origin, or to have them placed within a healthy, loving family units.  Let's choose to support families that are on the front lines of new in-home, family based initiatives in developing nations.

If your church's only response to the orphan crises is sending groups on mission trips to an orphanage there is a problem. 

It's not malicious, just short sighted and narrowly focused.  You may be missing out on so many opportunities to create a culture within your church that proclaims that every child deserves a family.  The Church must affirm a self sacrificing, gospel centered, willingness to open our own homes as well as support adoptive and fostering families.

Children are worth it.  They are worth getting out of our comfort zone for.  It's important enough to ask the hard questions and dig for answers.  

Also watch this because it will give you the happy cries.

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