Interview: FOTF Director of Orphan Care on Voice of the Orphan

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

The Focus on the Family director of orphan care and adoption, Mark Andre, spoke to The Christian Post on Monday about the new nationwide campaign called Voice of the Orphan, launched jointly by FamilyLife, Focus on the Family, and Steven Curtis Chapman’s ministry Shaohannah’s Hope. Voice of the Orphan launched its broadcast week on Nov. 13 and will run until Nov. 18.
CP: What is Voice of the Orphan?

Andre: Voice of the Orphan is a co-operation between Focus on the Family, FamilyLife, and Shaohannah’s Hope with the purpose to raise awareness of the plight of the orphans within the church and among Christians. Also, we want to raise awareness about the practical ways in which every Christian can get involved. Of course, adoption is a spectacular and probably one of the most redemptive forms of orphan care, but it is not the only way to get involved. Some people choose to adopt but every Christian has been called to care for the orphans. So that is what we want to do – to bring light to their plight and of God’s heart for the orphans as well as practical ways in which every one can get involved.

CP: How did the idea for Voice of the Orphan originate?

Andre: FamilyLife has worked with orphans for a number of years and they have an organization called Hope for Orphans. Their goal has been to educate people primarily on adoption and starting orphan care ministry in the church. Shaohannah’s Hope has been to help people finance adoptions. Focus on the Family became interested in this through a meeting with Jim Daly, our president, and Debi Grebenik, who is at the front range of this issue.

As Focus was beginning to research this we began to realize that Family Life Today had already pulled together a coalition of orphan care providers and adoption agencies. So several of our members attended that coalition and began an open dialogue with Family Life Today. We realized we had certain things in common along with Shaohannah’s Hope, which is a media presence, and that we can bring awareness to this issue.

So that is kind of how the whole thing came about.

CP: If most people know that orphans are a problem in the world, why is this campaign significant?

Andre: You would think that is the case. I have only been with Focus for a short time, but before that I was actually on the board of a mentoring organization that worked with foster kids. One amazing thing is that most churches when you bring the issue to their attention are unaware that there are orphans in this country because we changed the name. We now call them foster kids, which actually imply that they are being taken care of which is kind of an issue.

So I think it is important to bring awareness that we have orphans right around the corner from us, in the same school as our kids even, and they have particular needs. In fact, God has called us to meet their needs.

The second thing is many people believe in order for us to get involved with orphans we have to do some big project or something intense. What we have found is that when churches begin to engage in orphan care, God meets them. When a Christian engages in orphan care, God transform their lives.

There is a lady who is featured on our website – Kerry Marks-Hasenbalg. She said it is very possible that the church needs the orphans more than the orphans need the church. I have to agree with her. As we begin to get involved, God reaches out and shows us His face in the face of the orphans.

This is both a campaign for the church and the orphans. We really want the church to get that experience of reaching out and meeting the needs of the orphans. And they are! There is a church in Possum Trot, Texas, that is not even on the map. It is after the dirt road ends. This church in a community of maybe 200 families adopted 71 children out of the foster child system. There are many other examples of churches getting involved. It is revolutionizing their congregation.

In Philly, there is a couple there called Coz and Joyce, and they just do a phenomenal work in the inner city in north Philly. One of the things they found is that there is so much work to be done right there with the foster kids who are vulnerable to drugs, to abuse, to so many different things. You know what, we really don’t have to go far to find the orphan even in our country.

There is tremendous need for people to realize that orphans are not 6,000 miles away, although they are there, but orphans are right here, and there are things that you can do today to make a difference

CP: Is there a particular region in the world where the orphan issue is most severe?

Andre: If you start to look at large statistics and you start looking at what is happening in Africa, where every 14 seconds a child loses a parent to AIDS, how do you quantify that? But when you start looking at the individual stories, it is like you’re at the place where you ask who has the greater need? I’ve worked with foster care kids. I’ve taken them on my ambulance and the sorrow and hopelessness they have as they walk themselves through a system that is not designed to be the parent. The government is not meant to be the parents, so that is a tragedy. You look in Uganda where these orphans become soldiers. How do you quantify this?

So is there a particular area in the world? The whole world has these children who are in desperate need. So I say, yes, there are. The one right next to you is the one that God really wants for you to care for as well as the one far away.

There are areas in the world where it seems extremely intense, but don’t minimize the fact that to the child that is an orphan his situation is the most horrendous and that is why I say, hey, you can’t quantify it that way.

CP: What happens to orphans that are never raised in a family or family-like environment?

Andre: Let me give you a few statistics that when I saw them I was deeply disturbed. This is just fatherless statistics. The orphans themselves that are not in a family are vulnerable to economic hardship, lack of love, attention and affection deficit. They have a higher tendency to withdraw from school; they have psychological distress; they have a higher possibility of being abused both physically and sexually and are at risk of AIDS. Malnutrition and illness also become a problem, along with stigma, discrimination, and isolation.

I want to also bring to bear, God defines orphans as the fatherless. They are not directly related but it gives you an idea of what happens when a child is raised without a father. Foster care children are three times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder than those coming back from Iraq. Less than 2/10 of one percent of the world orphans have even a chance of being adopted; 63 percent of the youth suicide comes from fatherless homes; 85 percent of children that show behavioral disorder come from fatherless homes; 80 percent of the rapists that show anger problems come from fatherless homes.

The problems that happen from this: in foster care, only 54 percent will earn a high school diploma and only 2 percent will earn a bachelor degree or higher; 51 percent are unemployed; 25 percent of the kids in the foster care system have been homeless; and 30 percent are receiving public assistance. Three in 10 of the nation’s homeless adults report being in foster care system. It is a serious issue here. Seventy percent of homeless mothers who were in the U.S. foster care system as a child have at least one of their children in foster care.

Aside from those who don’t get any care, even those who are in foster care system are not working.

It is not to discredit those who are working in the system, who are doing the best job I’m sure that they can do, but the state can’t be parents. God designed parents to be parents and he designed the family.

CP: Does the campaign recommend adoption as a main solution to the problem?

Andre: Two-tenth of one percent of children who are orphans have the chance of being adopted. I scream out adoption, yes, that is a great option. It is so important and so redemptive. I’ve adopted three children and it’s such a great experience for the children and for us as a couple. But I also have to recognize that at this point in time it is not a reality for so many children so we say the biggest thing is to get consistency into these children’s lives. Let them know that somebody loves them. I’m a big believer in mentoring the foster care and post adoptive kids.

CP: What can churches and individual Christians do to help the orphan problem?

Andre: What can a family or a single person do? They can go and mentor a child or go visit an orphanage. A father or mother can bring up the concept in their own homes – what is it like not to have a father and mother and what can we do as a family?

Naturally you can pray for them. You can speak up for them and be a court-appointed advocate for them. Or call up your child welfare and ask what can we do to help orphans in our communities? You can build an orphanage for as little as $7,000-8,000, go on a short term mission trip, or provide a safe home as a foster parent.

The church is really my hope. It is estimated that there are 117,000 children in foster care in the U.S. that can be adopted tomorrow and there are about 450,000 evangelical churches in the nation. That’s like 4 to 1. We got to be able to take care of this problem.

In Washington, D.C., there are about 822 churches and then when you look at the orphan count - children designated for moving into the adoption realm – there are about 790 according to a 2004 count. Those numbers can be done. This is such a doable number that we should be fighting over the orphans we have in this country.

To pastors, I want to encourage them to begin preaching on it right from their pulpit because they have such influence. It will revolutionize the church because God designed it that when we do things for the least we experience Him. I don’t know a single pastor who does not want his church to experience God in a very real way and this is it – orphan care.