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 We know orphanages have largely been replaced by foster care in the United States.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.

 Ten ways to do orphan care without orphanages 

 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!


Sara Brinton


SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

  • Mary Hoyt

    November 21, 2012 at 6:50 pm Reply

    Thanks for this, Sara – looking forward to learning more – and let me know if you know of any like minded people doing anything in the Kinshasa, DRC area!

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  • Del @ Blogger Gateway

    April 9, 2013 at 10:36 am Reply

    Seeking faith-based blog reviewers with specific interest in Orphan Care for the MOTHER INDIA DVD, NEW Christian film

    Recently discovering your website/blog that had content to Orphan Care, I wanted to quickly touch base and invite you to join the Mother India blog review team and work alongside Word Films to increase awareness of the MOTHER INDIA DVD, a new faith-based, family-friendly film releasing in April.

    Please review the following information and let me know by Tuesday, (4/9/13) if you are interested.

    ‘Mother India: Life Through the Eyes of the Orphan’ DVD
    Releases April 23, 2013

    The Documentary Narrated by Rebecca St. James Captures the Lives of 25 Abandoned and Orphaned Children Living on the Streets in India

    MOTHER INDIA synopsis:

    Winner of “Best Short Documentary” at the 2012 San Diego Christian Film Festival, ‘Mother India’ is a compelling documentary that chronicles the adventure of 25 courageous orphans living as a family along the railway in Tenali, India. “Mother India” brings to light the struggles faced daily by over 31 million orphans in India and the challenge of rescuing them from a life of begging and addiction.

    ‘Mother India,’ is the work of first-time filmmakers David Trotter and Shawn Scheinoha. “India is growing in both population and industry, but few people know that there are over 31 million orphans in this nation,” commented Trotter (Executive Producer, Director). “Each of these young lives is much more than a statistic. Every one of them has a name, a face and a story.” Scheinoha (Executive Producer) added, “We’re not out to just tell a tragic story. We’re focused on raising awareness and changing lives.”

    Watch the trailer, and learn more about the film:
    Mother India YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa2GPfhd5wg
    Word Films YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/wordfilmsonline
    Word Films Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wordfilms
    Word Films Twitter: https://twitter.com/WordFilmsOnline
    Word Films Website: http://www.wordfilms.com
    Mother India Website: http://motherindiafilm.com/

    When you confirm your interest (by Tuesday, 4/9/13) in reviewing Mother India, Word Films will send you a complimentary copy of the DVD to review. If you are interested in hosting an online giveaway of a FREE DVD to one of your readers, Word Films will include a second complimentary DVD for your winner as well!

    To confirm your interest in reviewing this film, please email me with the physical mailing address we should send the DVD to. Be sure to indicate if you are also interested in hosting a giveaway.

    Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your reply.

    Blogger Gateway

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