Equipping Your Reimagine Journey
This is the second part of the discussion on adopting and the theological basis for it:
In your book, you talk about the call to care for orphans going hand in hand with the Great Commission. Tell us a bit about how orphan care is part of God’s call to reach the world.
Paul says that as Christians we are adopted into the family of God. We were once orphans who were estranged and without hope, but God redeemed us and provided for us. When we care for orphans, we are giving a living illustration of the gospel to the world. Very few of the world’s 200 million + fatherless children live in America. Many of them live in places where they are marginalized and forgotten and where a gospel presence is rare. By caring for orphans in these places in particular, we are able to show how Christ transforms.
In your book, you mention some practical ways that church leaders can lead their churches to be more involved in orphan ministry. What are some of those?
I think when we talk about the scope of the orphan crisis in the world; many people are frightened away from action. In reality, some of the simplest ideas for ministry can be the best. We have seen people become involved in our local foster care system by becoming respite care providers. Essentially, they get training so they can babysit for a foster family. Others volunteered to hold a Christmas party for local foster kids and their families. We have a preschool choir who take up shoes and send them with every mission team that travels from our church to be given to an orphanage or local ministry to fatherless kids. We have seen everything from that to the founding of Promise 139, an international orphan hosting ministry. It really runs the gambit.
If someone wanted to preach a sermon or series of sermons on the subject, where would they start? What resources are available?
As I said in my portion of the introduction to Orphanology, when I finally began to study the subject of adoption and ministry to the fatherless in the Scriptures, I was amazed about how much was there. There is a thread throughout the Old Testament of God’s concern for the fatherless that extends from Exodus through Deuteronomy into the Psalms and Proverbs and into the Prophets. God undoubtedly wanted His character as a compassionate redeemer to be put on display in His people to the praise of His glorious grace. In the New Testament, James carries that theme forward with his instruction to care for orphans and widows in their distress. That care is literally to be “pastoral” in nature. We are to shepherd orphans as a pastor would care for his church. In Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, Paul draws on the theme of adoption as a way of communicating how believers are brought into the family of God. When Christians show compassion in earthly adoption, we give a living illustration of the love that God has for us. Our picture is imperfect but illustrative. All of these would be good places to start for sermon ideas.
As for resources, other than chapters 1 & 3 of Orphanology, which give great places to start with a short practical theology of orphan ministry, I would recommend two books in particular: Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis and Adopted for Life by Russell Moore. Both of these book do a great job of dealing with the relevant Old and New Testament passages regarding both care for the fatherless and adoption.
How do you begin an orphan ministry in the local church? Where do you start?
I think our message in Orphanology is most of all just start somewhere. What we have attempted to do is give a host of ideas and examples of ways that ordinary Christians and churches are ministering to orphans. In most cases, churches with well-organized, well-functioning orphan ministries did not start that way all at once. Instead, they began with one ministry and grew from there. At last year’s Christian Alliance for Orphan’s Summit, I had a conversation with Matt Donovan from The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. They have quite an impressive Foster and Adoption Ministry (FAM). As we were comparing notes, it became obvious that their church and ours began our ministries in two totally separate ways. They began with a strong local connection to domestic adoptions and local foster care. Ours began with a strong tie to international missions and international adoption. They are growing in international ministry, and we are growing connections in our own community. In any case, the main ingredients are God called, passionate people to begin the ministry and a pastor who will champion it. If you have a pastor who buys into the biblical and theological rationale for caring for the fatherless and is willing to make this ministry a part of the core identity of the church’s mission, then it will succeed. If you have a team of people who are willing to take on a project and passionately pursue it for God’s glory, then it will flourish. As more people come to the work with their gifts, talents, and resources, the opportunities to expand your focus will increase.
Your book talks about the concept of an orphan-hosting ministry. Can you tell us about that, and some of the logistics of bringing that about?
That is a difficult question to answer in a short space. Orphanology contains the story of the founding of Promise 139, our orphan-hosting ministry, and I would invite you to look there for a more detailed answer. In short, to host orphans from another country, you must:
1. Create an organization that will manage the hosting effort. (A board or committee that will be responsible for finances, schedule, child safety, government interaction, legal work, etc.)
2. Find a country that allows orphans to travel internationally for hosting opportunities that has a reciprocal visa regime with the US that will permit such a visit.
3. Find an orphanage that will agree to engage in such an exchange program with your organization.
4. Prepare and submit all of the proper documentation to secure travel permissions and visas.
5. Secure a host home or other venue for the hosting
6. Secure funding for the program (travel, food, etc…)
7. Establish a plan for the hosting program. (Most foreign governments allow children to travel based upon evidence of some cultural exchange and/or health benefit for the children. You must demonstrate in advance how those objectives will be fulfilled.)
8. Recruit volunteers to interact with the orphan guests. (In our first year, over 200 volunteers participated in our hosting effort.)
This is really just the beginning. Our orphan-hosting program has become a year-round effort that requires the attention of many people. It is a fantastic ministry that has borne much fruit, but it is not easy. I would advocate others replicating this model of ministry, but it is not something to be rushed into unadvisedly. Orphan-hosting takes a team of diverse and committed people who are willing to stay at the task for the long haul.
How can we get this discussion going in our churches?