(Photo: Saddleback Church/Jack Barry)
The focus on helping orphans worldwide needs to shift from simply perpetuating orphanages to equipping local churches in connecting children to parents, said leaders at the Christian Alliance for Orphans' annual summit this week.
On Friday, the final day of the two-day event hosted at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., included the megachurch's pastor, Rick Warren, and his wife, Kay, speaking about the need for Christians to refocus.
"Business as usual will not get the job done," Warren told about 2,000 people in attendance and a live webcast audience. "Jesus said you can't put new wine in old wineskins. The way we have been doing it for the last 100 years has not ended the crisis. We have to do a radical, revolutionary – may I say – biblical approach. The issue is to get these kids into families."
The number of Christians in the world amounts to the "largest network of people on the planet," he said, amplifying the reason that he feels churches are the solution to the orphan crises.
Kay Warren, who gave an impassioned speech while on stage with her husband, became an advocate for HIV victims and the orphans left behind as the result of deaths from the disease after reading about the staggering statistics 10 years ago.
"The answer to 168 million orphans in our world can be summed up in two words: family and church," she said. "Unless orphan care becomes personal to us it will remain something that's 'out there.'
"As we sit here gathered together and as we watch on the Web you have to know that there are millions of mothers and fathers today asking one question, 'Who will take care of my children when I die?'"
She continued, "When I first heard that out of the mouth of a mother in Mozambique it took my breath away. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say. I had no response for her, but I've heard it echoed over and over.
"I promise you that there is not a single one of those parents who want the response to that question be: 'Oh, my child will live in an orphanage.' I can guarantee you that every one of those parents today who is asking that question is at their heart asking, 'Is there a mom and a dad who will take care of my child?'"
Kay Warren added that children are not meant to live in institutions and people should not fool themselves into believing something good is accomplished when children are placed in orphanages.
She pledged, "We will not build orphanages. We will empty orphanages. We will help without hurting. We will not just give children things. We will give them ourselves. We will do what we can to unite children to a life-long family. We will not measure success anymore by dollars given. We will measure success by how many children have been placed in a permanent family."
Statistically, the solution to the crisis should be a simple one, she said.
"Tell me that with 2.4 billion Christians and 168 million orphans there are not enough families? We used to think that as Christians we would work on the orphan crisis; now our goal is to end the orphan crisis through the church and through family. We used to have as our goal to help orphans have a better life as orphans. Now our goal is to help orphans become sons and daughters. This can only happen through the church," Kay Warren said.
On Thursday evening, charismatic pastor Francis Chan said Christians should pray for the Holy Spirit to help transform people into caring individuals who can no longer simply look away from the orphan crisis.
"When I was in high school and college no one talked about this stuff," said Chan, 44. "I praise God because the last ten years everything has been happening. The message is out there now. Now it is not out of ignorance that people will not care. Now it's just a lack of the Spirit really moving.
"The bottom line is that it should be like it happened to a lot of us. The spirit of God came into us and He caused us to love," he continued. "Some of us were very self-centered people and it was killing us. It was making us miserable. Then, the spirit of God came into us and we understood the forgiveness we received and that He gave us that same spirit of love."
Before concluding by leading everyone in prayer, the former pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif., explained that caring for others unselfishly has been a blessing in his own life.
"Anytime I get the chance to help someone it is the biggest rush in my life and what kind of other life would I rather be living? Let's be thanking God that he gives us that spirit," Chan implored.