Each year, thousands of churches dedicate one Sunday to advocate and raise awareness for the plight of the fatherless — Orphan Sunday. Traditionally, Orphan Sunday has been the second Sunday of November; however, the focus brought by Orphan Sunday came early this year with the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.
Even before Judge Barrett’s nomination was announced, the Barrett family quickly became scrutinized, not only over their religious beliefs, political leanings, and jurisprudence, but also and most critically over growing their family through international adoption.
This isn’t just a political attack — it’s an intimately personal one.
Amy and Jesse Barrett have seven children, two of whom have entered their home through adoption from the island nation of Haiti. They adopted their daughter in 2005, and then adopted their son in 2010 after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the island. In a year marked with much racial tension, strife, and division, pundits began immediately questioning this Caucasian family’s motivation for adopting children of color.
I've been disheartened and deeply discouraged by these questions as the families I've assisted for the past 17 years at Lifeline Children's Services have been motivated by love, the commands of the Bible to care for the orphan, the needs of vulnerable children, and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
James 1:27 states, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
I believe that the Lord commands His people to care for and visit the orphan, not because there is a desire to “civilize ‘savage’ children,” but because family is an essential need for any and every child’s flourishing.
According to UNICEF, there are currently 2.2 million children who live in government-run orphanages worldwide and are available for adoption. However, in an average year, only 225,000 children will be adopted. Of those adopted, approximately 5,000 will be finalized between parents and children of different nationalities while approximately 220,000 will be finalized between parents and children of the same nationality.
According to the laws of their nation of origin, children between the ages of 14 and 18 become unadoptable and must leave their orphanage as they “age-out.” Each day, 38,000 orphaned children reach an age declared by their country as “too old” to be adopted and age-out of the institution that has provided their only home and security. Of the children who reach this age and are sent out of the care of the orphanage, UNICEF notes that 60% of girls enter a life of sex trafficking, 70% of boys live a life of crime and/or are arrested, while 15% of these children commit suicide before they reach age 18.
Adoption is not the only way to care for the fatherless. Recent U.S. statistics indicate that nearly 450,000 children are living in U.S. foster care. Furthermore, the problem is generational with over 65% of those children having parents who also once spent time in foster care.
The need is vast, the stakes are epic, and the calling to care is abundantly difficult, but as Christians, we follow a Lord who told us to lay down our lives, to pick up our cross, and to follow our Savior by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.
Conservative estimates say there are 153 million orphans worldwide. It’s time we as the church take the love of Christ to the world; specifically to vulnerable children.
The Apostle Paul says it this way to the church at Corinth: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
So beloved, we are called to join the work of the Lord in bringing liberty to the captives, healing to the sick and blind, and validation to the fatherless. The Gospel shows us who we really are. Our spiritual adoption is not based on the fact that we were cute, attractive, or worthy, but it is based on the sovereign grace of God set out before the beginning of the world. Our adoption is based on the fact that He is worthy.
Friend in Christ, you have a Father who is pursuing you and marked you out before the foundation of the world. Just as in physical adoption and orphan care, there is nothing a child can do to be chosen or to advocate for themselves. They need the right person with the right resources to look after them. We have the Author, Sustainer, and Creator of the universe who has sought after our souls. He is most assuredly the right one with unlimited resources.
These facts propel us to engage in defending the fatherless. Practically speaking, how can our churches begin ministering to the fatherless?
We can help through adoption ministry which involves assisting families exploring adoption; helping families fund adoption; and supporting families before, during, and after the adoption.
We can participate in foster care ministry which includes recruiting and training foster families; recruiting and training respite families; and caring for families who take foster care placements by prayer, acts of service, and reminding them the promises of God. We can begin to minister to workers in the government system, the government, and non-believing foster families.
We can also begin participating in strategic orphan care. This includes 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 the reunification of orphans into their biological families through Gospel intervention.
Ministry to the fatherless also looks like getting engaged with birth parents and reunification ministry. We bring the Gospel to bear in the family of origin when we help families who are struggling and at risk of losing their kids by teaching about biblical family and parenting. We should always seek reunification and not focus all of our attention on the fatherless while ignoring their families of origin.
Beloved, we all are called to care for the vulnerable in Jesus’ name. We are all commanded to use our lives to engage with the marginalized and the fatherless. So, the question is, following the commands of the Bible, what will we do? Will you speak up for the voiceless and seek to defend orphans and vulnerable children here in our country and around the world?
Lifeline has created a resource page full of videos, slides, handouts, a prayer card, sample sermons, small group guides, etc. to help you get started. We pray that these resources and partnership with Lifeline will bring great momentum to your church in caring for these precious children, starting with Orphan Sunday.
Herbie Newell (MBA, Samford University) is the President and Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms including (un)adopted, Crossings, Families Count and Lifeline Village. Under Newell’s leadership, Lifeline has significantly increased its international and statewide outreach, attained membership with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and achieved international accreditation under The Hague Treaty, begun an extensive foster care ministry, and started its (un)adopted strategic orphan care ministries in more than 10 countries. Herbie speaks nationally at conferences and events, and regularly preaches throughout the world on gospel-driven justice. He and his wife, Ashley, live in Birmingham, Alabama and are parents to a son, Caleb, and daughters Adelynn and Emily. His first book Image Bearers: Shifting from Pro-Birth to Pro-Life, released on January 21, 2020.