Many will recognize this Sunday as Orphan Care Sunday. In many churches across our nation, congregations will be discussing how ordinary people can be used by an extraordinary God to meet the needs of at-risk and orphaned children in our cities and world. Discussing this issue during National Adoption Awareness Month is a great way to shed light on the conversation, but my prayer is that our churches will be involved in orphan care throughout the calendar year.
In order to keep the conversation going, here are a few practical steps that will help your church participate in orphan care and prevention year-round.
1. Create a culture of orphan care and prevention in your church.
The first step in making sure that your church is involved in orphan care year-round is to create a culture where caring for the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, the single mother isn’t a once-a-year thing.
There are a few ways you can do this, but if you do not already have a culture that is actively pursuing these things, consider partnering with an organization to help train and educate your staff and ministry leaders. CAFO, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, partners with churches to train and equip your people, and they have a multitude of resources and initiatives to help develop a culture of orphan care and prevention in your church body.
If you do have a group already interested in orphan care and prevention in your community, start meeting regularly and praying. Become experts on the nonprofits and government agencies in your community that are already working with at-risk children and families. Another great way to grow this culture is to identify the families in your church or community that are already actively engaged in adoption and foster care, and ask them how your church can come alongside them.
Taking time to pray, identifying and supporting organizations, and walking beside adoptive/foster families is a wonderful place to start developing a year-round culture of orphan care and prevention.
2. Use adoption and foster-care-friendly language.
Another way you can help create this kind of culture within your church is to use correct terminology and tone when discussing orphan care and prevention. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The way we discuss the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, the outsider, the birth mom, and the social worker matters. Our words matter because they truly have the power of life and death.
There is a lot of stigma in the way the world discusses orphan care, but it is my hope that the church can lead the way in speaking about it ethically and with respect. Using positive and correct language to discuss adoption and foster care is critical in order to respect the dignity of all parties involved. I have written more about positive adoption language here, but this is another list that includes positive language about foster care as well. And I would encourage churches to learn and use correct terminology in order to bless the adoptive, foster, and birth families in their congregations.
A church that talks about orphan care and prevention must not only be invested in word, but in deed.
Although using correct terminology is important, using a healthy and redemptive tone is just as vital. It’s necessary that every word and tone honors the dignity of each person involved when discussing orphan care and prevention. Because of Jesus, all parties involved in the orphan crisis are equal at the foot of the cross. The child being adopted or placed into foster care isn’t a “poor and helpless” child. The biological family in crisis who has their children placed into foster care are not “horrible people.” The birth mom who places her child with an adoptive family isn’t heartless. And adoptive and foster parents are not the saviors of any child or situation. The good news of Jesus Christ proclaims that every image-bearer involved in orphan care and prevention is in great need of a Savior. This is good news for us all!
For many years, our culture has elevated and praised families involved in orphan care and prevention while shaming birth parents or families with children in foster care. This isn’t helpful, nor is it true. We should never lift ourselves up on the backs of families in crisis. Our words matter, but our tone and posture are just as important.
3. Put your money where your mouth is.
When I look back at the season when we were trying to raise the funds to adopt our son, I get teary eyed. Faces and names come to my mind as I recount God’s faithfulness seen in the generosity of others. The truth of the matter is, we could not have adopted Jude without the financial support of our families and friends. Our faith family rallied around us, and I remember the day we got a text from close friends telling us that they were donating the final amount that we were praying for.
A church that talks about orphan care and prevention must not only be invested in word, but in deed. And the church can support those ministries, families, and individuals who are on the frontline of this battle by creating a budget line to help fund the work that is already being done.
In many communities, there are pregnancy support centers that are ministering to single moms and birth moms who find themselves with unexpected pregnancies. There are adoption agencies that not only care about the children being placed into families through adoption, but they also care about the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the birth families. There are nonprofits who come alongside at-risk families in our communities, hoping that their work will prevent children from being separated from their biological families. There are organizations in every town that could use not only volunteers, but generous financial backing. A church that budgets money to invest into adoptive families, foster care families, and these nonprofits is a church that is putting their money where their pro-life words are.
So this Sunday, as our churches gather to pray and discuss how we can be the hands and feet of Jesus by caring for the orphans and at-risk children, I am asking you to consider being a part of an ongoing conversation—a conversation and ministry that is close to the Father’s heart. Will you pray about taking action on one of the above-mentioned ways to participate in orphan care and prevention throughout the year?
“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).