Monday, February 20, 2012

orphan care is a trend

Our ministry, Embrace, works with churches all over Texas and various parts of the country to reclaim the care of orphans and waiting children.  In my role, I get to do a lot of initial contacts with church staff members and then training of leadership groups that consist of passionate individuals ready to live out the vision God places on their hearts.  But recently, I contacted a missions pastor briefly sharing the vision for what we do and the response went something like, "I've had a lot of people ask me about orphan care ministry lately, it must be the trendy thing to do nowadays."

It must be the trendy thing to do nowadays?  I wasn't offended at the time and I'm still not because I lived that same perspective.  I was a foster parent for five years before a mom of a couple of our students at our church approached my wife and I about starting an orphan care ministry at our church.  We knew we were called to be foster parents and saw that as a ministry of our family, but we had no idea the church should have any formal emphasis.  My favorite passage of the Bible had long been James 1:22, "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves, but do what it says."  Only, I had failed to read five more verses down and apply to the Church that, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  Orphan care as a mission of the Church is 2000 years old.  God wrote it into the Law in Deuteronomy 24 just to name one location.  Psalm 68:5-6 reads, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling.  He sets the lonely in families and leads out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land."

Trends usually end after a few months.  Poodle skirts were a trend.  Fedoras were a trend.  Boy bands were a trend.  Mullets were a trend.  Auto-tuning is a trend I hope ends sooner rather than later.   If orphan care is a trend, it has a better rate of revitalization than skinny jeans ever will.

So why would the Church see orphan care as a trend and not a fundamental aspect of its mission efforts?

In the 1960's and 70's, the United States government formally instituted foster care mandating each state to develop its own system.  Prior to that, there had been no comprehensive oversight to how families parented and provided for children on the part of the government.  Local communities and churches however had long since organized orphan care efforts.  Many of these efforts were aligned through a church's specific denomination which is why today we have agencies like the Texas Baptist Home for ChildrenPresbyterian Children's Home, and Methodist Children's Home.

But when foster care was federally mandated, many churches relegated orphan care to the state and assumed a trickle down economic philosophy by forwarding a percentage of their tithe to their denomination's convention which in turn funded these orphanages.  Whether that was intentional or circumstantial can probably only be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Needless to say, we now look at the orphan care crisis across the world and the needs of children in foster care here in our own backyards to realize the state cannot do this alone.  And, it probably wasn't their intention to exclude what efforts were going on indefinitely anyhow.

In short, the Church outsourced or abandoned a fundamental tenant of its mission, but we are reclaiming it.  That's not to say that we aren't making mistakes along the way, taking steps back at times in the short-sightedness of American Savior complexes, and improving our partnerships as we go.  It is to say...join us.  You may not be led to foster or adopt, but you are equipped with the time, ability and resources to do something that will speak the Good News of Christ's restoration into the life of a child that needs faith, hope and love.

If the jury is still out for you regarding orphan care as a foundational area of ministry in your church and reading the Bible has not swayed you, try reading Generous Justice by Timothy Keller or When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.  This isn't to say there aren't other areas of ministry that are foundational to the church's mission just that caring for the vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed is a way we tangibly live out the Gospel in restoring creation back to the Creator.

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