For the last few weeks we have been learning all about loving people who can sometimes be challenging to love. With the devastation that comes from drug/alcohol abuse, incarceration, unemployment, divorce, and a myriad of other challenges that can be associated with poverty there is also collateral damage. And the ones that tend to get the brunt of the bad decisions adults can make are their children.
However, as cute as those kids can be, there are many in our communities that are often shunned, cast aside or forgotten. Shocking I know, but unfortunately true. There are children who go unfed, under educated, unloved, and uncared for and the reasons can vary from one situation to another. The cycle of despair in these stories is heart breaking.
I cannot tell you the number of times I heard a woman in jail talk about her own foster care experience and in the same breath talk about the number of her own children that were now in the same care. So what does God say about this? Is He distant from it all? Does He not see the pain of the children? Haven’t they already been through enough?
Believe me, all those questions are true and valid. When it comes to children, it’s almost sacred ground, a no fly zone, right? You can talk about this topic or that one, but when it comes to the children, just no…you can’t go there. There cannot be a God in heaven who loves us if even He cannot take care of the children.
But here is the deal. God, is our “Abba,” meaning Father, which puts into perspective not only His heart for children but His perspective on seeing us, as humanity, as his children.
We see a perspective on this in Mark 10:12-16:
“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
From this verse you can see Jesus views the children in high regard, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
But notice the disciples reaction to the children, they rebuked “the people” bringing them to Jesus. The disciples who had been with Jesus more than any other group of people, should have known Him better. And what does Jesus do? He rebukes them.
Now what I find to be particularly interesting about this verse is it does not say in any version I looked up “parents” were bringing the children to Jesus. It says “people.” So we can imply that they could have been other family members, friends, or just an adult who had taken them in. It reveals to us that there was a community that was invested in these children and knew something that the disciples did not.
Children need Jesus. Especially those who have been orphaned or separated for a time from their parents, they need the kingdom of God just as much as you and I do.
And just as much as they need Him personally, they also need to experience Him through us.
So why are there so many children who are falling through the cracks of our systems? Lacking mentors, guidance, fostering options, adoptions, and parental examples. Numerous people I have met in the jail and out have shared with me how they moved from one foster home to the next, their parents weren’t equipped to parent them, their parents taught them negative behaviors that now has them in a world of hurt. The number is larger than we’d ever want to admit and because of that I want to challenge us all, myself included, to consider thinking of the children, those falling into those cracks differently.
Now, hear me out on this. I believe emphatically that children in crisis, who have been taken from their birth parent(s) need to be placed into safe, healthy, loving environments so they can be fostered back to wholeness. I also believe that those who are unable to be returned to their parents (for various reasons) need adoptive families that will offer the same. My family has not walked down that road, yet. But, what I would like to attempt to do is open up all of our minds to consider, since it is a biblical mandate for us to care for orphans that there are a variety of types of orphans and a variety of ways for us to help. We may not all either feel called to or able to open our homes as foster/adoptive families, however I do believe we ALL have a role to play in bringing up the children in our community
Let’s begin this process by defining what an orphan is, as I believe there are can be a variety of different types of orphans.
First and foremost are those children who have been left without their parents. Whether their parents are deceased, physically and/or emotionally incapable of caring for them, incarcerated, or abusive these are the children who most often fall into the category of orphan, as we know it. They are also those who can fall into the foster care system, unless they have loving stable family members that are willing and able to take them in. These children have been physically left with no parents to support them.
A spiritual orphan is one who cannot fully understand the Father’s love for them because of the wounds they have from past trauma they have experienced. It’s the idea that though someone may believe in God, Jesus and Holy Spirit and have a relationship with them, they still struggle with understanding God as Father because of how their own father may have treated them or the wounds they have from negative past experiences in their life. Spiritual Orphans struggle constantly with believing they are saved and knowing that their Father in Heaven truly loves them.
An academic orphan is one who is left on their own to navigate their education. This can look like a latch-key kid who has no one at home to help him/her with homework and no resources to have a tutor assist in their learning. This could also be a child who has struggled in school so much that the teacher or teachers have given up on their success letting them either fail year after year or pushing them through, and because of it teachers have been forced to give up on their success.
An emotional orphan has been left on their own to deal with the trauma they have experienced in their life. Though similar in experience to the Spiritual Orphan, these individuals have never been shown how to process through any of the challenges they have dealt with and therefore can be left with no ability at all to cope with life. The manifestations of this type of orphan can lead to emotional outbursts, cutting, bitterness, anger, temper tantrums, sexual promiscuity, theft, drugs, assault and worse.
So what can we do as believers or those who have a heart for children to respond to these issues?
We can go back to the Scriptures to see what they say about how to respond:
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Exodus 22:22 Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.
Deuteronomy 24:17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.
Psalm 82:3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
I could go on and list many more verses on how we are to support, love, encourage, defend, and look after those who are fatherless or orphaned. These are only a few but in reviewing these we can ask ourselves these questions…
- How can we look after orphans? (James 1:27)
- How can we not take advantage of orphans? (Exodus 22:22)
- How can we not deprive the orphan of justice? (Deut 24:7)
- How can we defend the fatherless? (Psalm 82:3)
To answer these questions we must first recognize that we DO have a role to play in this. The only way we can do that is through aligning ourselves with the heart of our Father in Heaven who adopted us all into His family. So to begin this process, we must REPENT.
Second, we need to PRAY. We need to ask our Father whose perspective is so much larger than our own to change our hearts so that we can see these children as He sees them and in turn we can offer the same kind of pure, unconditional love that we received from our Father. We also need to pray to receive direction as some of you may be lead to foster a child, some to adopt, some to mentor, some to teach, some to open up your homes to latch-key kids, and some to sponsor a child’s education abroad. There are many, many ways God could lay on your heart to support the needs of the orphans in your community and beyond.
Third, we need to be willing to SACRIFICE our time, our financial resources, and space in our our homes in order to come along side these children so that we can be in alignment with our Father’s heart. For God did not just love us, He sent His son to save us from our sin. His emotion was not just a feeling; it was backed by an action. We must act. We can do that by getting involved in the foster care process, becoming a CASA volunteer, mentoring a child at school, getting involved in a local boys and girls club, providing the financial means for a child to get the counseling they need, teaching a class to help children work through their struggles, getting involved with a feeding program that provides meals for children, tutoring students after school or becoming an adoptive family. These are just a few of many ways that you could sacrifice what you have to help another.
Yes, there are children in our community that have been the collateral damage of what their parents have chosen, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not. Either way we, as the community around them, have a biblical responsibility to love them as our neighbor, to look after them, not take advantage of them, or deprive them of justice. We need to defend them in a world that could easily swallow them up.
Featured in this blog is Jillian Knight and one of the children that she came alongside and loved into wholeness. His response to her investment in his life, was to nominate her as his Super Citizen hero. All because she chose to invest her time in the kingdom of God.
So what will you do for the orphans in your community?