Gospel messengers who brave hostile places don’t go to seek martyrdom, writes Tim Keesee. Rather they go to fully live for the glory of Christ and the sake of others, knowing they are in God’s hands.
While the Christian marriage is likely full of benefits for both parties, it is not primarily designed to benefit both parties. It is meant, first and foremost, to put Christ on display.
How many friends do we have with whom we’ve failed to share the gospel? How many times have we put it off? How many opportunities have we justified away?
We want more—bigger crowds, larger ministries, more dollars. But before we get more, we need to ask, "How will I respond to the few?"
Along with crisp air and beautiful leaves, November also brings an awareness of broken families. It’s this month, more than any other, where our gaze is directed, perhaps uncomfortably, to the fatherless. That’s because November is National Adoption Month and November 11 is Orphan Sunday. Many people live their whole lives without giving any thought to the fatherless. Orphans remain comfortably out of sight and out of mind. The idea of neglected image-bearers stays beyond the boundaries of our carefully crafted bubbles.
Despite whatever unwillingness on our part to engage the global orphan crisis, our heavenly Father aggressively pursues these vulnerable people—and he clearly instructs us to do the same.
God identifies himself as the “father of the fatherless” (Ps. 68:5). He teaches us that pure religion is to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (Jas. 1:27). He commands us to “seek justice, correct oppression, and bring justice to the fatherless” (Is. 1:17).
Despite our seeming reluctance, we are informed. We can’t say that we are unaware of the broken state of families. We’re aware that children in our zip codes and across all time zones are growing up abandoned due to death, poverty, illness, and sin.
We are not ignorant, we are merely indifferent. Brothers and sisters, this cannot be. Followers of Christ must not be known by our indifference but by our love.
Engaging orphans and vulnerable children can seem daunting, which is why many believers are reluctant to jump in. But if we want to side with the Father, we will act to bring justice to orphans.
Eleven Practical Steps Toward Caring for Orphans
So how do we begin to take steps of obedience towards caring for orphans? Consider the following steps.
Be informed. There are an estimated 140 million orphans worldwide. Only about ten percent of all orphans are “true” orphans, meaning they have lost both parents. About 125 million children considered to be orphans have at least one, if not two, living parents. In the United States, about 110,000 children are waiting to be adopted into families. Some 420,000 children are in foster care. Educate yourself on this growing number of fatherless children. Here are some resources to get you started:
- Follow Jason Johnson’s blog about foster care and adoption.
- Read Adopted for Life by Russell Moore.
- Learn more about the global orphan crisis from CAFO (Christian Alliance for Orphans).
- Read Orphanology by Tony Merida and Rick Morton.
- Subscribe to the Think Orphan podcast hosted by Phil Darke.
Use your voice for the voiceless. The voiceless aren’t voiceless because they have nothing to say; they’re voiceless because no one listens when they speak. But you have a voice. Scripture commands God’s people to speak up for the voiceless (Prov. 31:8). Use your voice to raise awareness of the plight of orphans within your relational networks. Tell people how they can join God in his work of caring for orphans. Be a voice for the voiceless.
Pray. We are not the savior of the fatherless but we can confidently approach the One who is. Cast yourself before God’s throne to plead for the salvation and care of the vulnerable. Our Father hears the cries of his children (1 Pet. 3:12). We can fight for orphans on our knees. We know their needs, both spiritual and physical, and we can go to our good Father and petition his help.
Become a foster or adoptive parent. This may be the first idea that comes to mind when you think of how to care for orphans, and rightly so! Adoption and foster care require sacrifice and a huge investment into the lives of orphans, but the church should be leading this movement as we are a people who have benefited from adoption into our heavenly father’s family. Take advantage of some of the resources mentioned under “Be informed” above to learn more.
Partner with parachurch organizations that care for orphans. Adoption is great but with over ninety percent of the world’s orphans ineligible for adoption, it’s not enough. We must find other ways to help. Partnering with organizations like 127 Worldwide who work with local leaders around the world caring for orphans is a wise solution. Invest in organizations that are committed to meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the fatherless.
Leverage your skills and networks for orphans. When orphans “age out” of group homes and institutions, they become vulnerable to gangs, criminal activities, prostitution, and trafficking. Invest in job training both locally and globally for these young adults to give them the means to provide for themselves and their families. Connect your networks with the vulnerable as they transition into adulthood. Invite them to your church. Help them find jobs.
Serve adoptive families. Adoption is very expensive. One way you can help adoptive families is to sacrificially give towards their adoptive costs and encourage others to do the same. Get creative: host fundraisers; have yard sales; make and sell t-shirts; donate services to be auctioned off to raise money; get certified to provide respite care for foster families; or bring meals to families as they welcome the fatherless into their homes. Serve families who are on the front lines of caring for orphans.
Extend your pro-life ethic beyond the womb. Support life from the womb to the tomb. When we encourage parents to choose life for the unborn, we must walk alongside and help them care for their children. We must welcome these children into our families if the birth parents are unwilling to raise them. Being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion. It means being pro-children and pro-adoption.
Meet orphans. Take time to invest in the lives of vulnerable children in your community. Go on short-term mission projects to visit orphans around the world and share the gospel with them while encouraging their caretakers. Befriend families with foster kids. Hear their stories and tell them the story of the heavenly Father who never abandons his children. Invite them into God’s redemptive story.
Support church planting in vulnerable communities. Invest in pastor training and church planting efforts around the world. Loving the fatherless means more than providing food, water, and education. It means giving them access to the gospel. It means investing in the eternal good of their cities and villages by planting gospel-proclaiming churches. Consider partnering with great organizations like Acts 29 to advance the church around the world.
Raise up future generations to embrace caring for orphans. Parents, if you want orphan care to be normal in your family, then expose your children to the global orphan crisis. Work together as a family to love the fatherless. Teach them God’s Word and pray for their obedience. Set the example of obedience and lead them to reflect God’s heart for the orphan.
Change Your Culture
God’s Word is clear on our role in caring for orphans. Our access to Scripture is unprecedented and unlimited. We have printed Bibles, podcasts, commentaries, Bible apps, teachers, pastors, and books. What we do not have is room for excuses. We know what the Bible says, but knowing is not enough. Doers of the Word step into obedience.
In his book, Radical, David Platt writes, “We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.”
Change starts with you. It starts in your home, your church, your neighborhood, and your workplace. Change your culture by reflecting the Father’s heart for the fatherless in your speech, attitude, and actions. Inspire others to be obedient to God’s command to care for orphans.
It starts with one step. Then one step turns into two, and two steps become three. Before you know it, you’re walking in obedience.
Take that first step and follow Christ into the world for the good of the fatherless and for the sake of his glory. You don’t have to single-handedly solve the global orphan crisis. You can’t. But you can step out in faith. Christian, get your feet moving.
Christy Britton is a wife and mom of four boys. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide and writes curriculum for Docent Research. Her family worships at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. She writes for several blogs, including her own, http://www.beneedywell.com/. You can follow her on Twitter.
One evening when reading our dinner devotional book, I read about the Feast of Trumpets, a once-a-year event when the Israelites were called (literally) to repentance. The trumpet would sound and they’d remember that their time was God’s gift and whether they’d spent it well or not. Nancy Guthrie writes, “God set up a yearly holiday called the Festival of Trumpets to blast the people out of their spiritual laziness.”
Sometimes I wish we’d get a trumpet blast to arouse us out of our spiritual stupors, so we’d be forced to see how we use busyness to block our ears.
We need trumpet calls and wake-up calls. We need to say no to the things that lead us away from the story of God and lead us to follow a story of the suburbs. The suburbs keep us busy because we think the more we move, the more we work, the more valuable we will be. If we hope to nurture a life of faith, we’ve got to stop moving long enough to hear God’s voice.
The gospel says: come to the desolate space. Tantrum, scream, cry, face your fears of insignificance and irrelevancy there. Then find rest in a rest that is not of your own making. Find Jesus. And having found Jesus, we will be sent out, and he will ask us impossible things—not to test us but to show us (even in the food we eat) that he provides not only for our hungers but also for the hunger pains of our communities.
God will be found by us in the desolate spaces. Going to desolate places might look like recalibrating our time to fit what we say we value. It might be removing our phones from our nightstands and choosing to not document our lives on social media. It may be committing to read our Bibles even when we’re not sure if God will show up.
Our time is not our own to fill like an empty shopping cart—with whatever strikes our fancy and fits our budget. Our time (like our money) is a means to love God and serve others. Paradoxically, only as we give of our resources will we be filled. This isn’t American bootstrapperism where we muscle it out to be generous; instead it’s slowing down and acknowledging that we have a Father God who sees our needs and kindly answers them for our good and his good pleasure.
But if our schedules are packed too tight—like our closets—there will never be room to let in anything new, including God. Our daily habits, our weekly schedules, and our purchases all add up to how we spend our lives. Anything we turn to that dictates our daily habits also shapes our hearts. We hunger for good work and restorative rest, and yet we stay busy because we fear we won’t find anything in the desolate places. But what if instead of circling the suburbs or distracting ourselves, we simply stopped? What if we said no more often? What would happen if we slowed down?
We could begin to live ordinary time well.
Living Ordinary Time Well
When we live ordinary time well, we practice disciplines that increase our hunger for the right things—not the quick-fix chicken nuggets of the soul, but the nutritious meal. We pray. We read our Bibles. We give. We serve. We partake in the sacraments and dig our hands into the life of the church.
When we live ordinary time well, we choose to spend our time for God’s kingdom instead of building up the kingdom of self. When we do, we don’t have to force our days, plans, or even our memories to provide total satisfaction. In her book Simply Tuesday, Emily P. Freeman writes, “Part of living well in ordinary time is letting this day be good. Letting this day be a gift. Letting this day be filled with plenty. And if it all goes wrong and my work turns to dust? This is my kind reminder that outcomes are beyond the scope of my job description.”
When we stop moving, we realize time was never our own. Then, our days can be received as gifts.
If we slowed down and pruned our schedules, we’d begin to decenter ourselves. We’d practice sustained attention and even be bored. We could begin to imagine what finding holy in the suburbs would look like in our hearts, families, and neighborhoods. We’d give our children the tools to know how to be comfortable in their own skin without having to perform to feel loved. We’d give them (and us) a better way to live in a culture that says you have to stay busy to be seen. We’d show them a better way to belong than through joining a frenzied, success- and image-driven culture.
You Don't Have to Be Busy to Belong
The upside-down kingdom of God in the suburbs stakes this claim: you don’t have to be busy to belong. When we stop striving, we don’t have to hoard our time or treasure. God’s kingdom testifies that rest is possible, not just checking out from the rat race in your favorite version of suburban leisure, but more than that, we can experience a deep, restorative rest.
The gospel says that in Jesus we’re held, protected, loved, and valued simply because we are God’s children. But to imagine a vision larger than what our suburbs sell as success and productivity, we have to have the courage to slow down.
There we have the space to wrestle with all that our busyness hides and there, we pray, we will find God.
Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Ashley Hales is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother to four. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and after years away, she's back in the southern California suburbs helping her husband plant a church, Resurrection Orange County. She's the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and a contributor to Everbloom. Connect with Ashley at aahales.com.