“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans … (James 1:27).
The number of orphaned children in the world in which we live is staggering. It is estimated that HIV/AIDS and Ebola alone have orphaned well over 18 million children (enough children to fill a Super Bowl stadium, not just once, but 180 times). According to UNICEF, an estimated 153 million children – ranging from infants to teenagers – have lost one or both parents and are now partially or completely orphaned worldwide. These UNICEF orphan numbers do not include abandoned and sold or trafficked children, so the total number of functional orphans may be closer to 200 million – equivalent to 2/3 the current population of the United States.
We must also realize that because individuals are only classified as orphans through their teen years, each day thousands of orphaned boys and girls age out of the statistics but continue as individuals without families to help support and protect them. What becomes of these children? Apart from the psychological pain and damage suffered by most orphans through loneliness, loss and rejection, studies have shown that in sampled areas 10% – 15% of orphaned children commit suicide before they reach age eighteen, and these studies also show that in some areas of the world 60% of orphaned girls become prostitutes while 70% of orphaned boys become criminals.
Christianity provides one of the few glimmers of hope in this tragic situation. Recent Barna Group research shows that in the United States, for example, practicing Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt than the general population, and also serve as foster parents more frequently (31% of Christians consider fostering versus 11% of the general population), but the need for more adoptive and foster parents is still tremendously pressing. What can we do as Christians?
What Can Be Done?
Obviously, where appropriate, we can consider adopting or offering to foster parent. This is not an easy decision, and many cannot afford to take on extra family members. There are inherent difficulties in adopting and fostering that must be clearly understood by everyone attempting to help in this way, but cost is, in fact, the main factor holding many back who would otherwise consider adoption or fostering. There are, however, increasing numbers of grants, loans and other aid programs available (see the ABBA Fund pages in the resources below).
The excellent Barna study quoted above showed that while one–quarter of all adults in the United States say they have seriously considered adoption, only 2% have actually adopted. This probably holds true in many countries, but the problem is not insurmountable. Other sources show, for example, that if just one family in every three churches in the United States adopted an orphaned child, there would be no orphans in the U.S.
For those who because of age, financial ability or other factors cannot consider adoption, but would like to help, there are other avenues of service. We can consider giving financially or giving of our time in volunteering, fund raising, spreading the word or otherwise supporting adoption programs. Many groups hold fundraising runs and walks or other funding drives in which we can participate. Although not an adoption service per se, volunteering and helping with Big Brothers Big Sisters or similar groups can often help children who are functionally orphaned, if not literally so.
Many churches conduct programs to help orphans – check with your own denomination or check the list of churches with orphan programs, by state, on the website of the Christian Alliance for Orphans(CAFO). Also consider the work of the various non-denominational groups working in the adoption area around the world (also listed on the CAFO pages), and do not forget to pray for the work being done by all the individuals and groups working to help orphaned children.
There is also much that can be done to help foster children. The CAFO site already mentioned has a page dedicated to foster care, as does the ABBA Fund (see Resources below). You can check with local agencies for ways you can help their programs, some of which may surprise you. For example, almost anyone can become a court appointed advocate for foster children (see the CASA website), and this is a wonderful way to help ensure foster children are properly treated and protected from abuse and neglect. CASA statistics show every day, in the United States alone, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect and four of them will die. CASA service can help prevent that.
Those who have adopted or foster-parented – and even those who have seriously considered it and have learned a good deal about the options and procedures – can help further by serving as a resource for others. Share your experiences, tips, sites and books you have found helpful via social media. Whether you do or don’t already use twitter, for example, consider building up a following and helping raise awareness of the needs of orphans. We know of several people who have become powerful helpers in this area by actively tweeting adoption and foster parenting information.
Whether or not we can personally adopt or foster, we can pray for these children and perhaps find one or more other ways in which we can help.