In the summer of 2016, Lizzie Richmond and her family began hosting orphans from Latvia and Ukraine. The Richmonds also run a non-profit that serves at-risk youth in the United States, Eastern Europe and Africa.
November is National Orphan Awareness month, and if your social media feed is anything like mine, you have at least one friend who is vocal about how difficult orphan care is. And it is difficult – but it’s also something that we are all called to participate in.
Orphan care is difficult because broken people are difficult. I do a lot of work with teenage orphans, and I repeatedly hear them say, “I’m broken. Something happened when I lost my parents and I’m broken now, and I don’t know what to do. It’s never going to get better.” I understand this – the grief of a devastated world does break you, as nothing else quite can. There is a sense that in the grand scheme of things, something is very wrong when a child is without a healthy family
Scripture continually proclaims how God loves and longs for healing in the world, particularly seen in His repeated use of adoption as a picture of that healing. While we were still apart from Him, God adopted us into His family through Jesus Christ. To proclaim that beautiful and glorious picture, we are meant to love others with that same unconditional love. Christians, we love orphans because God loved us while we were spiritual orphans ourselves.
It looks simple enough when it’s typed words on the screen, but orphan care is a lot more complicated and multifaceted than many people realize. Not everyone is called to care in the same way.
Step 1: Find Your Calling
As I said, orphaned kids tend to lead difficult lives. It’s vital to spend a lot of time praying about what work God has for you. It’s always better to be inside the will of God, even if He asks you to do something scary. I once heard someone say that every kid needs an adult who will love them irrationally and unconditionally – find the child you can be that adult for! Some children really do need an irrational level of commitment, unrelated to their behavior.
Orphaned kids need the Gospel, and they need human love to help them understand God’s love. When people talk about orphan care, they’re usually actually talking about things like developing healthy relationships, giving them food and clothing, smiling, maintaining eye contact, helping the children develop life skills such as hygiene and money management, and generally bonding in a healthy and appropriate manner. This doesn’t always look like a family relationship or setting. Think about all the types of relationships you have, which you learned from someone along the way. Learning appropriate boundaries and vulnerabilities in a variety of relationships is vital!
Step 2: Get Involved
Everyone has a different idea for what it looks like to get involved in orphan care, and that’s a good and beautiful thing. Together, we make the complete Body of Christ!
You might already have orphaned kids in your life, and not realize it. Do any of your friends foster, adopt, or host internationally? Ask them how you can intentionally come alongside them and minister to their children. Your children might have friends at school who don’t have stable family lives, while still living with biological parents. Ask your child’s teacher privately if any classmates could use an anonymous donor for clothes or snacks to be sent home for dinner or on weekends (many kids rely on school meals). Make friends with your kids’ friends, and you will share God’s love without even realizing it by being kind to them. So many children don’t experience kindness at home, and so the cycle often continues in the next generation if they never get to see healthy families in action. All of these things could help prevent the generational cycles of abuse or neglect to continue.
You might even be friends with an adult orphan, and not ever realize it. Try asking your friends about their holiday plans; you might be surprised at how many have nowhere to be for the holidays.
Here are a few options for you to consider if you’d like to partner with an organization. My family has participated in several of these, and more. Remember that you’re getting involved in real people’s lives, so be cautious and committed in whatever you choose.
Coyote Hill (https://coyotehill.org) is a Christian children’s home in Harrisburg, which is about 20 minutes north of Columbia. They always need volunteers to spend time with the children, and to complete work projects in the homes.
Rainbow House (https://rainbowhousecolumbia.org/) is an emergency shelter in Columbia. It includes great homeless youth transitional services for older teens.
LoveUganda is a letter writing program that matches adult Christians with Ugandan youth. The mentors share the Gospel with the children by writing them quarterly letters and providing a level of stability in their lives. It also exposes the children and mentors to each other’s culture, which is valuable from a trauma standpoint.
New Horizons for Children (www.nhfc.org) is an international hosting organization that matches orphaned children from Eastern Europe with American host families. The children can visit for 4 weeks at Christmas and 6 weeks in the summer.