“Does this church even need me to come talk about orphans?” That was the thought going through my head on Orphan Sunday five years ago.
As a missionary in Tanzania, I was privileged to work with a network of pastors and church leaders that were always eager to welcome in a “mzungu” to their church service. I gladly accepted the invitation of my friend Pastor Evarist Silayo to preach at his village church.
I opened up the Bible to some of the “greatest hits” of orphan care scriptures. “God has given us the spirit of adoption” in Romans 8 and “God sets the lonely in families” in Psalm 68. I may have even thrown in the seminal James 1:27 verse (do I even need to quote it?) And yet, I couldn’t help but notice one critical thing about this church:
They were already taking care of orphans and widows.
There was no need to twist their arm into activation. As I looked around this church of 35-40 people, vulnerable children, single mothers and widows were already numbered among them. At best, I would hope to be an affirmation that they were on the right path.
Fast forward a few years and I was at another Orphan Sunday for a large church in California. I was there as a foster care recruiter on behalf of my agency at the time. I stood at a table outside the church in a row of agencies working to support at-risk children. While none of us shared from stage that day, the pastor mentioned that we were waiting outside to speak with those interested in learning how to care for foster youth from the community.
I’ve never seen so many people pass by my table.
While I had a couple nice conversations, there was no recruitment happening and the vast majority of congregants, hundreds of people, passed by all the tables with nothing more than a glancing smile.
Were they too busy? Had the people of this nice area of California become so insulated from the needs of vulnerable children that fostering or becoming a CASA volunteer seemed implausible and lofty?
What was the big difference?
I think that there is a clue from Deuteronomy 14:29 where Moses is instructing God’s people and describes that “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come”. Similar to Jesus’ words that the poor will always be among you (Matthew 26:11), there is this sense that the people of God should naturally be sharing space with orphans, widows, sojourners and the poor. Proximity matters.
And it is from that shared physical space, that ministering to orphans and widows can happen so seamlessly.
This Orphan Sunday, you might get a few attempts to twist your arm into becoming foster parents, you might get a couple of organizations that are looking for you to donate, but could I just recommend you do one thing? Get close.
You’ll never visit orphans unless you’re close to them. You’ll never care for a widow in distress unless you go near her. You don’t need a big plan, you don’t need to go straight to getting licensed as a foster parent, you don’t need to just donate to an orphan care ministry and check it off your list. Getting close to vulnerable children and families will be the best start and in that place, through building relationships, God can begin to do immeasurable things.
Visit our friends at the Christian Alliance for Orphans to get ideas and resources for how you can participate in Orphan Sunday this year ➡️ cafo.org/orphansunday/resources
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brandon Stiver is a Senior Director at 1MILLIONHOME, host of the Think Orphan Podcast and author of the book "Teteeni Shauri La Yatima" ("Take Up The Cause of the Fatherless"). After spending several years working cross culturally with orphaned and vulnerable children in Tanzania, Brandon now resides in Tacoma, Washington where he oversees global programming for 1MILLIONHOME.