A simple idea born in a humble church in Zambia continues to impact lives and churches around the world. This weekend, thousands of churches across America and worldwide will celebrate Orphan Sunday for the fourth year, calling all Christians to mirror God's love for the fatherless.
Hundreds of thousands of U.S. Christians have participated in local Orphan Sunday events each year since 2009, following the example of Zambian believers. On Orphan Sunday, churches and families celebrate God's deep love for orphans and how ordinary people can make that love tangible via adoption, foster care, and global ministry.
The Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), a coalition of more than 130 organizations and which urges churches and Christian groups and individuals to "defend the fatherless" (Isaiah 1:17), released a 33-minute documentary, "Zambia's Gift to the World," on Friday.
The coalition includes Focus on the Family, Bethany Christian Services, Family Life's Hope for Orphans, Buckner International and Show Hope.
The documentary (available on the Orphan Sunday website: http://orphansunday.org/zambia-2012/) features glimpses of Zambian Christians and the children they've embraced, along with leading voices from around the world recounting how Orphan Sunday and practical expressions of James 1:27 are revitalizing churches in their countries. It also features U.S. leaders, including Francis Chan and Steven Curtis Chapman.
Thanks to efforts by CAFO and other Christian groups, believers are increasingly showing their commitment to helping the orphans.
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability's most recent "State of Giving Report" revealed that of 29 giving categories, three of the four categories seeing the largest increase in giving are related to adoption and orphan care. While the 400 largest fundraising charities in America saw a mere .2 percent increase in giving in 2010, giving to Christian orphan care, adoption, and child sponsorship rose by 21 percent, 15 percent, and 24 percent, respectively.
In 2011, more than 500,000 Christians participated in local Orphan Sunday events and activities across America, from concerts, sermons and student gatherings to foster care "Heart Galleries" in church foyers, according to CAFO.
Last November, megachurch pastor Rick Warren participated in a policy summit organized by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington, D.C.
Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., has been active in adoption issues. In addition to holding forums on adoption in the past, Warren's congregation has a program called the "Orphan Care Connection," which provides information and resources on local and global adoption.
CAFO says an estimated 17.8 million children have lost both parents globally, and many times that number of children live with a single surviving parent, most often their widowed mother. In the U.S., more than 400,000 children live in the foster system, with nearly 110,000 waiting to be adopted.
Pastor Billy Chondwe's church in Zambia held the first Orphan Sunday with only 70 members, many of them facing deep poverty themselves, a decade ago. Their sacrificial actions for orphans and widows set in motion a vision that has spread worldwide.
"I had no clue that by now it would go across the globe. I was just looking at it as a local thing," Chondwe said, according to CAFO. "But when I see and hear what God is doing through Orphan Sunday in other nations, I just think, 'It is a miracle. This is the doing of God.'"