Something wonderful and possibly unknown about the JBU community is that there are a lot of families here who have adopted children. Adoption is close to my heart because my family adopted my youngest son, Roman, in 2007. He was ten years old when we adopted him from a Ukrainian orphanage where he had spent 5 years of the first 10 years of his life. His mother died when he was five, and though there was a father’s name on his birth certificate, there was no evidence that his father had ever been a part of his life. He spent a good part of his childhood in an institution with other kids whose parents had died or abandoned them.
Adoption is both a wonderful and a difficult thing. While bringing a child into a family through adoption is joyous and exciting, one should never forget that every adoption is rooted in loss. Every adoption begins with a child who has lost his or her parents either through death, abandonment or the termination of parental rights. That’s tragic. Every adoption, though a precious gain for the new family, is born of loss for the child. Adoption begins with an orphan.
The statistics about orphans are staggering. In 2016 there were 15.1 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) around the world, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). An estimated 140 million more children were either single orphans (one parent dead, one living but perhaps unable or unwilling to care for the child) or social orphans (orphaned due to abandonment, parents in jail, on drugs, ill, or unable to care for their children due to other reasons). These statistics don’t include children who have been sold into slavery or sex trafficking and children in countries that do not release their statistics on orphans (like many Middle Eastern countries). This crisis is not just in “other” places. In 2014 in the United States, there was an estimated 400,000 children in the foster care system on any given day with about 100,000 of those eligible to be adopted, according to showhope.org.
The future for orphans is often bleak. In Ukraine, where my son is from, children age out of the state-run orphanages at 16. Approximately 10% of these children will commit suicide before their 18th birthday. If they do not commit suicide, an estimated 60% of the females end up in prostitution and an estimated 70% of the males end up in the criminal justice system, according to Orphanshope.org. American children in the foster care system have equally disturbing outcomes.
According to The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) report No. 20, “In 2012, 23,396 youth aged out of the U.S. foster care system without the emotional and financial support necessary to succeed. Nearly 40% had been homeless or couch surfed, nearly 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime, and only 48% were employed. 75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs. 50% of all youth who aged out were involved in substance use and 17% of the females were pregnant.”
With all this information, how should the Church ( or we as Christians—whichever you like better) respond in this orphan crisis? You may be expecting me to say that every Christian family should adopt children, but, I don’t really believe that. Adoption is not possible or best for every Christian. Not everyone is called to adopt, but every Christian is called to care for orphans (James 1:27, Ps. 82:3-4). The first and foremost thing you can do is to pray – pray for children around the world who have experienced the loss of their parents, pray for families who have adopted or are in the adoption process, pray for families who are considering adoption, pray for families who foster children, pray for ministries that work with orphans or foster children, pray for governmental agencies that work with orphans and children who have been removed from their homes.
Support with your money and/or your time ministries that work with orphans or kids in foster care. In Northwest Arkansas there is a chapter of The Call, a ministry that recruits, trains, and supports families who foster children. They can use your time as a volunteer even if you don’t have money to financially support them. If you know families in your church who are fostering, who have adopted, or who are in the process of adoption, support them. Give to them financially, offer to come over and play with their kids, offer to help with laundry or meal preparation or clean the house. Encourage your church to participate in Orphan Sunday, a Sunday in November used to raise awareness about the plight of orphans around the world and how the church can become involved.
Especially as a college student, you may not be able to adopt a child right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t care for orphans. There is a great book that I have used when I’ve taught a section of Gateway about adoption called Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting by Johnny Carr. At the end of each chapter, there are suggestions of things anyone can do, things many can do, and things a few can do. This book is a great resource for anyone who would like to get involved in caring for orphans, and I highly recommend it. I’d also love to talk with you via email or in person about adoption and orphan care if you would like.