Orphan care without orphanages | Ten ways to make a lasting difference
Do you have a heart for orphans? Are you a family who has adopted – or who feels called to adopt? Are you a Christian pastor or leader who wants to start an orphan care ministry?
In recent years, Christians have awoken to God’s heart for the Fatherless. We have been told there is an orphan crisis – that there are 163 million orphans in the world today. Our hearts are broken, imaginging millions of children growing up with no mother, no father, no one to say I love you, you are mine.
When Christians hear about the orphan crisis, we want to do something to help. Some families adopt. Others go on a mission trip to visit orphans. But most Christians who want to get involved in orphan care focus on building or supporting an orphanage – or sponsoring an orphan. On one hand, we know orphanages are not good for kids. We know orphanages have largely been replaced by foster care in the United States.
But we assume that communities in the developing world are unwilling or unable – as a result of poverty we cannot imagine – to care for the growing number of orphans. We think there are no alternatives to orphanages. And so we pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into buildings. We send missionaries. We hire staff. We think this is the only way to care for orphans in places like Haiti or Uganda.
But is it possible to care for orphans without orphanages?
The first thing we need to understand – and the way Christians talk about the orphan crisis typically misses this truth – is that most of the world’s orphans are already living in families. I’ve written about the global orphan crisis before. Remember most of the world’s orphans have families – and that these families are often vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. So whatever we do for the sake of James 1:27, remember widows and orphans. Not just orphans.
If you are a Christian pastor, leader, church planter or missionary who is interested in starting an orphan care ministry, this is especially important for you. There are alternatives to building orphanages that are less expensive, more sustainable and better for the children, families, churches and communities we’re called to serve.
- Give women access to medical care during pregnancy and birth to prevent children being orphaned when their mothers die in childbirth. A safe birth kit from Mercy for Mamas costs just $7. Caring for a child in an orphanage costs upwards of $1000 a year.
- Set up a savings circle to give a community of vulnerable families access to capitol. Want to learn more about savings circles? Check out the work of Hope International.
- Empower a woman to start a business by giving her a microenterprise loan. In many countries, if you can empower a woman to make about $100 a month, she can provide safe housing, food, medical care and an education to her family. Check out Kiva.
- Sponsor a child in a family, not in an orphanage. Make sure the ministry you sponsor through is committed to sustainable development and works through local churches or communities. I think Compassion has a solid approach.
- Chickens, pigs, ducks, oh my! In many rural communities in the developing world, one of the most effective ways to help families earn a sustainable income is by helping them farm and raise animals. Read about the work of Food for the Hungry.
- Buy beautiful, handmade goods from artisans around the world. Many of the artisan groups Noonday Collection works with in Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and around the world give families a path out of poverty. This prevents children from being abandoned.
- Encourage Christians all around the world to get involved in foster care and adoption. The Orphan Sunday movement led by Christian Alliance for Orphans is challenging belivers everywhere to care for orphans in families instead of institutions. It has already had an incredible impact in countries like Ukraine, bringing together churches and challenging thousands of families to get involved in orphan care and adoption.
- Plant or partner with a church intead of building an orphanage. Come alongside this church to encourage the local Christians to protect and provide for the orphans and widows in their community. Churches can play an important role in developing networks of foster care. Read about Casa Viva. Churches can also provide financial support to families who are called to care for orphans.
- Challenge men to step up to be husbands and fathers who protect and provide for women and children. This is seldom talked about as a part of orphan care, but much of the brokeness at the root of the orphan crisis is caused by men abdicating their Biblical responsibility. Only Jesus can change the hearts of the fathers. Watch this video from Sojourn, a church plant in Uganda.
- Protect orphans and widows from exploitation. Child trafficking, slavery, forced prostitution, illegal property seizure…Christians are called to defend orphans and widows. One of the ministries that does this with excellence is International Justice Mission.
If you are thinking about starting an orphan care ministry, would you consider these alternatives?
What do you think can make a lasting difference in the lives of orphans and vulnerable families in the developing world?
I am writing in much greater depth about orphanages and orphan care in my book, In Defense of the Fatherless, which will hopefully be published in early 2013. If you want to learn more about these issues, please subscribe to follow Family Hope Love!