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COVID-19 making orphan crisis worse, Christians urged to help: 'The need is great'

COVID-19 making orphan crisis worse, Christians urged to help: 'The need is great'

Stand for Orphans prior to COVID-19 | Screenshot: Vimeo/lifelinechild

Christian adoption, foster and orphan care ministry Lifeline Children’s Services launched its annual fundraiser Stand for Orphans this month, but COVID-19 is making the orphan crisis “more than a crisis,” says Executive Director Herbie Newell.

Newell and his family kicked off Stand for Orphans on July 9, inviting children of all ages to raise funds for the 153 million orphans in need worldwide. The Birmingham-based adoption, foster and orphan care ministry, however, has been forced to offer alternative ways for families to raise money because of the global pandemic. Lifeline Children’s Services is encouraging people to be creative on how they go about garnering support. 

Stand for Orphans, which began in 2015, raised over $500,000 in the past five years and has amassed national support. Their work has helped them gain matching donations and partnerships with organizations such as Chris Tomlin’s Angel Armies.

The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post’s interview with Lifeline Newell, who launched Stand for Orphans with his family. He shares more about the initiative and how the 2020 pandemic has made the vulnerable only more vulnerable.

Christian Post: Can you share a little of your background and about Lifeline Children’s Services?

Newell: While working as a bivocational junior high youth pastor, I practiced accounting with a local Birmingham, Alabama, CPA firm Warren, Averett, Kimbrough, and Marino. At the same time, my wife, Ashley, was working as the assistant director of Sav-A-Life, a local crisis pregnancy center. At night around the dinner table, we would discuss the issues facing clients who had come through the center, pray for them, and strategize ways that our church and our family could stand in the gap for them.

In 2003, through a long series of events bathed in much prayer, I was offered the position of executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services, Inc. which was and still is a sister ministry of Sav-A-Life. Ashley and I saw this as an opportunity from the Lord to partner in ministry together professionally, and I we knew that one day once our family grew, we would want to involve our kids in the ministry as well. 

When I started at Lifeline, we had about 10 full-time staff members working predominantly in Alabama but targeted in Central Alabama. Over the last 17 years, I have seen the Lord expand this ministry across 12 states and 25 countries with over 170 staff and team members spread across the United States and the globe.

Since its founding in 1981, Lifeline has placed over 3,500 precious children into loving Christian homes and ministered to over 5,000 women in crisis. Through all of the God-given resources and facets of our ministry, Lifeline seeks to make an investment in the lives of children, mothers in the wake of crisis, families wanting the blessing of a child, and orphans around the globe needing a home in which they can see and hear the Gospel.

CP: How is COVID-19 affecting all of this? 

Newell: COVID-19 had been a complete game changer in so many ways. It has even affected the way we can do Stand for Orphans this summer. While some families will continue to try and pull off a traditional stand in their neighborhood, the fear for most is just too great. Knowing that the landscape has changed this summer, we are offering virtual stands where kids can do bake sales, use their talents to earn money, or sell jewelry and crafts online.

Also, we are encouraging kids to challenge their friends with Lifeline’s Got Talent. Kids take a video performing their talent, post it to social media, tag @StandforOrphans, and use #LifelinesGotTalent. Then they challenge three friends to join the fun by posting their own talent on social media and by donating through Standfororphans.org. 

We are even getting adults involved through the Lifeline Lemon Challenge. A “willing participant” takes a video eating a lemon, posts it to social media, tags @standfororphans, and use #TheLemonChallenge. Then they challenge three friends to do the same and donate through standforoprhans.org.

And then lastly and most importantly, COVID-19 has made the orphan crisis that much more of a crisis. In many of the countries where we work, we are seeing the effects of both the illness as well as economic collapse. As always, the most vulnerable only become more vulnerable in these scenarios. Children are being separated from parents, losing parents, and left in truly chaotic situations. Just since March, Lifeline and (un)adopted has been able to feed, clothe, and get medical attention for over 5,000 vulnerable families and children in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

CP: Stand for Orphans, launched by your wife and kids, has raised a lot of money since its inception. Can you share a testimony that really impacted you concerning the initiative?

Newell: I remember hearing the testimony from a mom whose children put together a lemonade stand in the hot sun for four hours. She told us that her children were so excited about raising money and awareness for children who were without families from around the world. The children came in drenched in sweat and counted their money. Their earnings for the day were $8, and they were understandably disappointed. We had a pretty lucrative match going that summer and so the mom, in an effort to encourage her kids, told them that because of the match, they hadn’t just raised $8 but $16. Her children started jumping with joy because of the impact they were able to make around the world. What a simple reminder that there is more joy in giving than receiving.

There are so many direct impact stories that could be told. For example, I was in Uganda one summer with my son who was 12 years old at the time. While sitting with our partner, Raphael Kajjubi, in his home in Busega, Uganda, he shared with me a need for one of the children who was being served by King Jesus Church — the church where Raphael serves as pastor. The need for this young deaf girl included school fees, money for food, and clothes to attend school. In partnership with King Jesus Church, a school for the deaf and blind had been established in the community. He told me they would need to add exactly $850 in order for this young girl to start school. Because of Stand for Orphans and the money kids were raising, I was able to tell Raphael that we could secure a place for this young lady at school. Two summers later, I was back in Uganda with my daughter, and this young girl came up to me and told me in sign language, “Thank you for helping me get into this school. My life is forever changed.”

CP: Why would you encourage families to raise money together for the global orphan crisis?

Newell: The need is great. There are 153 million orphaned and vulnerable children around the world and 450,000 kids in U.S. foster care. We are told in the Bible that pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is to look after orphans and widows in distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27). 

As Christian parents, the home is the greatest place of discipleship. It’s not up to the church, pastors, or student ministers to disciple our kids. It’s our job to model, teach, and train our children in godliness. Stand for Orphans is not only a way to care for the vulnerable; it can truly be a tool of discipleship as we lead our children to get engaged in Gospel-driven justice.

CP: How can you encourage others to pursue adoption, foster, and orphan care despite the expenses or red tape?  

Newell: The good news is that there are many ways to fund adoption including grant agencies, ministries that provide non-interest adoption loans, tax credits, etc. Adoption is expensive because it is filled with legalities, travel, medical expenses, paperwork, potential foreign government fees, potential immigration fees, and time. Lifeline has three pages worth of resources to help families fund their adoption at www.lifelinechild.org/fundyouradoption/

I could tell story after story of families who had their adoptions fully funded. The Lord will equip those He calls. Not everyone is called to adopt or foster, but we are all called to do something. And we are never promised that when we are called that it will be easy or carefree. The disciples were called to leave their nets, tax booths, and ways of living to follow Jesus. Paul was called to leave his comfort to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. The goal is not comfort, but Christlikeness and following Him.

Families need to pray, seek the Lord, and make sure they know He is calling them to adoption or foster care because it is only one of many ways we are all called to care for the fatherless.

All are called to care for orphans, but a specific few are called to adopt or foster.

CP: Can you talk about how social media can help Stand for Orphans in this season?

Newell: In this socially distant environment, it provides ways for kids to communicate their plans to take a stand for orphans, helps people to challenge others to take a stand, and enables us to communicate all that Lifeline continues to do. 

This summer, Stand for Orphans will be able to reach the goal of raising at least $100,000 because of social media. Just this week we launched The Lemon Challenge and in just a short 24 hours more than 50 people have participated. Stand for Orphans will be mostly virtual this summer and social media gives a free and easily accessible way for kids and families to get the message out.

CP: In addition to raising funds, what could the body of Christ practically do to help the 153 million orphans who are in need around the globe? 

Newell:

  1. We can support families before, during, and after adoption and help with securing funding for the adoption.
  2. We can participate in foster care ministry, including recruiting and training foster and respite families, offering prayer and acts of service to them, and ministering to government workers, the government, and non-believing foster families.
  3. We can also participate in strategic orphan care by ministering to caregivers in institutions; minimizing developmental deficits by utilizing tutoring programs, education programs, and therapy; teaching and mentoring older orphans with job and life skills; helping with transitional assistance for older orphans who are aging out; and developing programs for reunification of orphans into their biological families through Gospel intervention.
  4. We can also get engaged with birthparent and reunification ministry by helping families who are struggling and at risk of losing their kids by teaching them about biblical family and parenting. 

We also see six practical things we can do as illustrated in Ruth 2 by what Boaz does for Ruth.

  1. Take notice of orphans
  2. Provide for orphans' needs including food, shelter, clothing and essentials
  3. Affirm and bless orphans
  4. Protect orphans and advocate for their safety by making them a priority, not a burden
  5. Honor orphans and serve them with your time, talent and abilities
  6. Invite orphans into your family

For more information, you can reference a post written by my wife on the inspiration and creation of Stand for Orphans. 

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