• • • Paradigm Shifts • • •
I Want to Start a Ministry for Orphans
Not an Orphanage. Like a Home... for Orphans.
Written by Britt Edwards
Is the “children’s home” really any different from the orphanage? Are such group venues really the only solution for kids without parents.
Naming is powerful. The ability to name things is a gift from God that can order and enrich our reality. The terms “orphanage” and “children’s home” carry different connotations and thus many organizations chose one term or the other to communicate their specific values and approach. However, though the terms may differ, can we really say that the two approaches are any different? Examining the two terms honestly, we would probably agree that the two names both signify the same approach to orphan care, an approach that has been typical for a long time -- to house several children (sometimes hundreds) in a facility where a loving and hopeful staff attempts to care for all their needs.
Often this simplistic approach is in response to a perceived orphan crisis in a certain regions of the world. But much research has been done over the last couple of decades that would challenge the notion of an “orphan crisis.” It’s relatively common knowledge that many of the orphanages in developing countries aren’t actually housing orphans at all, but rather children from impoverished families. The overwhelming majority of “orphanages” today are filled with children who have at least one living parent, not to mention nearby relatives. Even a quick google search will yield plenty of results showing the exploitation of such children and families in an attempt to embellish numbers and elicit financial funding for different “orphan care” organizations. Surely this is one of the reasons for the nominal distinctions between “orphanages” and “children’s homes”. Perhaps “children’s homes” are presenting themselves more honestly to supporters and watchdog groups by not claiming to care for orphans.
It’s no surprise that as awareness of these realities keep trending, so does the rise in “children’s homes” as opposed to “orphanages.” But a distinction in name alone doesn’t give way to a new approach for caring for children in need. In fact, there is no singular way to address all the needs of vulnerable children, whether they are from struggling families or truly orphans. In light of this, the difficult question becomes this: How do we address the vast needs of children whose parents may not be capable of caring for them? Are we really bound to the orphanage paradigm or are there other ways to conceptualize caring for needy children?
It’s interesting that Jesus didn't perform miracles that ended such broad issues such as kids not having parents. We don’t read in the scriptures, "and immediately all the children were taken care of and there were no more orphans!" So what makes us think we can be so simplistic and broad in our approach? Besides, we would have to possess the power over death to keep children from becoming orphans. In reality these crises are unending and cannot be addressed with overbroad approaches. Therefore, the social services that we offer to children cannot be focused on quick, widespread fixes to perennial problems. Long-term solutions require life-long service and duplicability that consistently addresses the day-to-day needs among vulnerable children and families. Although we could potentially end poverty on local levels, demographics such as widows and orphans are continual in their need for ministry.
We believe that one of the most basic needs for any person is to be incorporated into a family. When children go without family, whether in an orphanage or children’s home, there is a loss of familial identity and feeling of abandonment and isolation. This is why we believe that children should be cared for by families rather than institutions. It’s heart breaking that a parent would be offered a ‘better life’ only if he/she would surrender their child(ren) to an orphanage or children’s home. Instead of funding an orphanage, why couldn’t resources be extended to help parents care for their own children?
Resources are the issue. Who would monitor and see that the family is being cared for? It’s quite easy to raise financial resources for an orphanage, but no amount of money can create a stronger family. This only comes through education and empowerment. Therefore, the human resource is the most valuable component to invest into social services, but, unfortunately, it’s also the most difficult to come by. “Who will go for us? Who shall we send?” was the Lord’s question to Isaiah long ago. Jesus called for laborers to enter the field, and yet the fields of need still remain today, ready to be gathered. There are so many ways a family can be helped and supported by people who possess the power of God and the knowledge of His word. How many “orphans” could be returned home if someone were there to help them and their families order their chaotic environment and thrive? The Bible shows us that God consistently chooses family over institutions in his care for people’s well-being. Why then should our approach reflect the opposite?
Despite the fact that most children in need have families, we cannot escape the reality that there are many who don’t. We certainly have to take special care and consideration for these most vulnerable children in our midst. Again, the most basic need for any child is to be incorporated into a family. Therefore, adoption must be a component for caring for these orphaned children, prioritized by their vulnerability. And while a type of children’s home may be necessary, the transitional state of the children should be emphasized. Their “transitional homes” would not be a final resting place, but instead be a safe place where the children could live prior to being incorporated/adopted into a family. In efforts to customize the care for each child in transition, we must use that power of terminology to create categories of care-giving. For example, the needs of an infant differs from that of a sixteen-year-old. Why should they be subject to the same approach? The infant needs to be nursed and closely cared for during transition while the sixteen-year-old needs to be taught skills necessary for the transition into adulthood. In either case, the transition should be emphasized.
Because the issues surrounding this sphere of ministry are complex, any philosophy presented in a simple article isn’t capable (in itself) of having any sustainable impact. We cannot simply raise awareness. God demonstrates to us that awareness is simply not enough. He not only heard the cries of the Israelites (awareness), but came down to rescue them (enacting). Our approach to caring for vulnerable children must continually be subjected to the Word that inspires and empowers us. God has been caring for children and families for a long time and we still have much to learn. We believe that if we trust and gain our understanding from Him, He will direct our path in helping children and families all around the world.