Providing gospel-centered resources to mobilize the church for global orphan care.



There are a number of challenges within the evangelical church that would be greatly helped if our churches recovered afresh the beautiful truth of our adoption in Christ.  Here are two of those challenges.  The first relates to the Christian’s own state of mind and heart; the second relates to the church’s calling to care for orphans (James 1:27).  And let me just state on the front end that both of these challenges are connected to each other, as we shall see.

The Internal Challenge of Prodigal Suspicion. There’s a great little book by Sinclair Ferguson called Children of the Living God. Fairly early on in the book he talks about the prodigal son in Luke 15 to help us understand a little more about ourselves and how we often perceive our relationship with God. He notes that when the prodigal son finally decided that it was time to return to his father, his plan was to tell his father that he was no longer worthy to be called his son. The prodigal son’s thinking was along these lines: “I really messed up. When I asked for my inheritance and left home with it, I dishonored my father profoundly. I’ve blantantly squandered and belittled his love. I disgraced him. So, when I return, I’ll return as his slave not his son. It’s the right thing for me to do.” The prodigal’s thinking demonstrates that he is suspicious of the father’s love for him: “He certainly will not treat me or love me any longer as a son, and I really don’t blame him.”

Sinclair Ferguson sees something in the prodigal’s thinking that parellel’s how we as Christians often think of God and His fatherly love for us. He writes, “Jesus was underlining the fact that – despite assumptions to the contrary – the reality of the love of God for us is often the last thing in the world to dawn upon us.  As we fix our eyes upon ourselves, our past failures, our present guilt, it seems impossible to us that the Father could love us.  Many Christians go through much of their life with the prodigal’s suspicion.  Their concentration is upon their sin and failure; all their thoughts are introspective” (Children of the Living God, 27).

When the prodigal son says, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:18-19), he is thinking in terms of wages-earned rather than extravagant love and grace-received. He is blind to the grace of the Father.

When we as believers relate to God like this, we are slow to return to the Father after we have sinned against him.  We don’t anticipate let alone expect His fatherly embrace.  And when we do return to Him, we think of Him primarily as our master and not our Father.  As a result, real Christian joy is absent and passionate Christian living is lacking. It’s almost impossible (if not impossible) to mobilize Christians who doubt God’s love for them to care for orphans over the long haul, or at least to mobilize them to serve orphans with great joy and freedom. We’ll look more at this towards the end.

The External Challenge of Church Practice. God has called the church to care for orphans. But the practice of caring for orphans is fraught with massive challenges. Allow me to overwhelm you with some staggering numbers.

There are 143 million orphans in our world. If all the orphans in the world were moved to the country of Mexico, Mexico’s population would more than double, growing from 108,700,000 to 251,700,000.

Over 16 million children were newly orphaned in 2003.

There are approximately 17.5 million orphans who are ages 0-5.

There are approximately 47 million orphans who are ages 6-11.

There are approximately 79 million orphans who are ages 12-17.

87.6 million orphans live in Asia.

43.4 million orphans live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are as many orphaned and vulnerable children in Ethiopia as there are people in greater NYC.

12.4 million orphans live in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Almost 1.5 million children live in public care in Central and Eastern Europe.

That’s our world.

What about the United States?

More than 800,000 children pass through our country’s foster care system each year. There are over 500,000 children in our foster care system right now. 129,000 of those children are waiting to be adopted from foster care right now. That’s how many people live in the capitol of South Carolina. Approximately, 25,000 children age out of the foster care system each year, many with no support system and little to no life skills. There are currently over 5,400 children in South Carolina foster care. Over 1,500 of them are waiting to be adopted. So far this year only a couple hundred of them have been adopted.

This brings us to this question: How many children are adopted each year? Between 118,000 and 127,000 children have been adopted every year since 1987. More than 50 percent of all adoptions are handled by public agencies or come from countries outside the United States. More than one-third of Americans have seriously considered adopting, but no more than 2 percent have actually adopted. Only 4 percent of families with children (1.7 million households) contain adopted children.

With this many orphans in the United States and in the world, the church has a monumental task before it if it is to practice true religion.  James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”  Clearly, the church has its work cut out for it.

But as I noted earlier, Christians who are not confident of God’s love and delight in them as His dear children will find it extremely difficult to care for orphans when it’s hard, really hard. When you’re not convinced that the Father delights in you even as He delights in Jesus, you don’t have the emotional capitol necessary to visit orphans in their distress, especially over the long haul. Eventually you’ll wear out and your commitment will grow thin.

Why do I believe this to be the case? The only people who are truly able to turn their eyes outward to care for the world’s most needy are those who knowingly live within and enjoy the loving gaze of their heavenly Father. If we are not confident of His love, our eyes will turn inward, we will become introspective, with the result that we will primarily be concerned with our needs, our lack, our disappointment, rather than the needs of orphans. As a result, we’ll be afraid to risk or do the hard thing when it needs to be done.

Or we will give our lives to care for orphans as an attempt to earn our heavenly Father’s love. We will serve orphans as an attempt to earn God’s delight. We may not know that this is why we’re doing what we’re doing, but it is what drives us deep within. Our hearts may be secretely ruled by thoughts like this, “I will pour myself out to defend and care for the orphan. Maybe then, if I do that, God will be pleased with me.”

Neither of these ways of thinking or living flows out of the gospel. The gospel is good news. It’s joy-news because it speaks to us of the Father’s love that has freely come to us in Jesus Christ.

Both of these challenges the internal challenge of prodigal suspicion and the external challenge of church practice would be greatly helped if the beautiful truth of our adoption in Christ freshly gripped our hearts.

When we consider all that God has done to bring us into His family through adoption, we realize that it reveals the unfathomable: God actually cherishes and delights in us, His children! The love of God as revealed in the gospel replaces the prodigal’s suspicion with joy in the Father’s delight!

May our churches commit to meditating on the truth of our adoption in Christ. Let’s pray that it work its way deep into the core of each church’s corporate consciousness. It is this truth that will mobilize us to care for orphans with great joy and enduring commitment.

  • Brad Warren

    Excellent article. I love how it connects adoption through Christ with adoption of children. It gives a spiritual basis that will fuel zeal for ministry to orphans. I find James 1:27 one of the most convicting verses in all of Scripture. I’m praying for God to use me personally and professionally to serve these ends.

  • Maridel Sandberg

    See what love the Father has LAVISHED on us!! That we should be called children of GOD. Oh that our hearts would be filled up to overflowing with this good news so that we can better fix our eyes on Jesus and run the race set before us. I believe that race is all about giving our lives away for those who cannot speak for themselves – those millions of orphans around our globe and in our back yards. Thanks dan.

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