Care of Orphans: Guiding Principles and Best Practices, Complete Version

The Purpose Statement

This paper is written to define the guiding principles and corresponding best practices concerning the care of orphans. Action International Ministries desires to engage our hearts and minds prayerfully in a subject area that we believe to be core to our organizational calling. It is a central ministry focus because of what we believe to be clear instructions in the Word of God concerning the care of orphans. We recognize that at the grass roots level the identification of ‘what is best’ in terms of individual models of care may change, but we seek to understand the underlying non-negotiable convictions that will serve as a foundation for our ministries. Our desire is that the fruit of our discussion will be ministry that is God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Bible-centered and Spirit-led.

The Global Issue

In our primary fields (Asia, Latin America and Africa) orphans comprise nearly 8% of the population under age 17. India had 35 million orphans in 2003, and 3.7 million new orphans were added in 2004. In Zambia orphans comprise a staggering 19% of the population under the age of 17 are orphans! Brazil added 470,000 new orphans in 2004 and they will be added to the 4.3 million that have already been identified.1 Poverty, civil unrest, war and the AIDS pandemic are dealing a crushing blow to the current generation of children. There is no question as to whether we should engage in the care of orphans, but we seek to understand how God might be honored in our actions.

The Role of ACTION

The mission of ACTION is to see the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled. We cooperate with churches and other Christian organizations to present Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (evangelism); assist Christians in their submission to Christ and their growth in the Church (discipleship); and minister in the name of Christ to the whole person, especially the poor, as in Matthew 25:31-46 (development).

We believe that the care of orphans is fundamental to God’s plan for man and, as followers of Christ, we must actively engage in identifying those practices which are best and seek to implement them for the sake of those in need. Action International Ministries has taken up the banner of orphan care and advocacy around the world. We desire to stimulate one another in our current work, and exhort others to press on in this most needful ministry.

The Biblical Mandate

Any philosophical question becomes mere speculation without an agreed-upon foundational body of truth. We affirm that the Word of God serves as the Body of Truth for all discussion, is inerrant and infallible and must be faithfully applied to all questions of faith and practice. Therefore, we believe that examining the Biblical mandate in regard to the care of orphans is of paramount importance. The Bible mandate specific to the care of orphans is as follows:

Orphans, like all men, are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1).  

God takes special concern for the person and plight of orphans (Deuteronomy 10:18; Jeremiah 49:11; Psalm 146:9).  

The care and protection of orphans are commanded by Scripture and that command is binding upon the Church, which includes all Christians for all times (James 1:27; Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 24-26; Isaiah 1:17).  

To care for orphans is denoted as pure religion before God and, therefore, the very act is God-honoring despite any hardships or suffering that result to God’s servants (James 1:27).  

The neglect of orphans is an abomination before the Lord and Divine judgment is promised to those who neglect, abuse and/or exploit orphans (Exodus 22:21-23; Job 24:9; Deuteronomy 27:19; Jeremiah 5:28; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5).  

Knowingly to disregard someone in need (including an orphan) constitutes unbelief and sin (James 2:14-17).  

We are required to defend the orphan and be his advocate (Isaiah 1:17).  

Justice is demanded on behalf of the orphan (Deuteronomy 10:17-22).  

Christ commands that children (including orphans) be allowed access to Himself (Mark 10:13-16; Matt 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17).  

We recognize that God’s adoption of His elect constitutes a “best-care” model for followers of Christ (Ezekiel 16:3-6; Hosea 2:23; John 1:12-13, 11:52; Ephesians 1; Galatians 3:29; 4:5-6; Romans 8:15; 9:4, 24-26; II Corinthians 6:18; Hebrews 2:10; I John 3:1).  

The Biblical definition of ‘orphan,’ by implication, seems to be broader than some would allow today and should include those children who are neglected, abused, abandoned and/or exploited (Malachi 3:5; Ex 22:21-23; Deut 24:17; James 1:27). The Wycliffe Bible Commentary on James 1:27 supports this conclusion: “Since orphans and widows were not provided for in ancient society, they were typical examples of those needing help”. 
V. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament says regarding James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion demands personal contact with the world’s sorrow: to visit the afflicted and to visit them in their affliction.” 
Strong’s Concordance suggests bereaved, fatherless, and comfortless as ideas inherent in the word “orphans” or “fatherless.”

Guiding Principles & Best Practices for Orphan Care

The best care for orphans will be achieved through following principles and practices that are derived from the Biblical foundation:

Following God’s revealed will in Scripture about the care of orphans.  

Recognizing that orphans are made in the image of God and therefore purposing to care for them in a way that reflects the kind of love, concern, protection and nurture that is commensurate with one who bears the image of the Creator.  

Promoting the Biblically defined family unit, the sanctity of marriage and the necessity of Biblical fidelity to the institution of the family.  

Exhorting, encouraging and empowering the local expression of the body of Christ to be a catalyst for proving the best possible care on behalf of orphans.  

Working with and through models of care that are thoroughly Biblical (opposed to humanistic/psychological/anthropological models).  

Assisting God-ordained institutionsÑsuch as churches, families and schoolsÑ to be empowered as the primary means by which Biblical models of care are instituted.  

Leading by example through individual acts of compassion, sacrifice, suffering, and service to orphans for the glory of God.  

Advocating on behalf of and, when necessary, defending orphans against exploitation, neglect and abuse.  

Determining that the gospel must be central to any model that is deemed best, which is to include close attention to the content of the gospel message, the clear declaration of that message and a powerful demonstration of it.  

Committing ourselves to the principles of Scripture in caring for orphans, being careful not to subject Scripture to the institutions of man when they are in conflict.  

Embracing the fiscal realities of providing care that is determined to be best and most Christ-exalting.  

Participating in models of care that mirror the love and care that God has for us.

Application of Biblical Principles within ACTION

It is beyond the scope of this paper to grapple fully with how specific models of care might be applied to the countless situations encountered by various individual ministries within ACTION around the world. It is certainly within our corporate wherewithal to commit ourselves to being involved in one of the most basic of Christian endeavors, namely, caring for orphans in the best possible manner. Currently ACTION and/or our ministry partners care for and minister to orphans through a wide range of models which include the following:

Advocacy and Representation.  

Church-Based Foster Care Programs.  

NGO-Run (Non-Governmental Organizations) Residential Care Facilities.  

Short-Term Foster Care Placement Homes.  

Long-Term Foster Care.  

Government-Directed Institutions.  

Family-Style Orphanages.  

Foster/Adoption Ministries.  

Community-Based Care Initiatives.  

Residential Care for Displaced Orphans.

These models of ministry are very different in concept and focus, yet they are in line with our organizational purpose of demonstrating Christ to those in need. Our vision and mission at ACTION dictate that all of our ministries focus on the supremacy of Christ, the proclamation of the gospel, and the nurture and growth of followers of Christ.

We believe that God uses a variety of models to demonstrate His love and concern for orphans. But we also are concerned that these models can become platforms for abuse, neglect and exploitation. We are committed to making sure that those models of care we participate in are not only grounded on a Biblical foundation and guided by Biblical principles, but are also held to those standards. While models of care might be rooted in Biblical principles, they are run by humans and are, therefore, subject to corruption and sin. ACTION strongly encourages all ministry entities that participate in the care of orphans to subject themselves to the following guidelines:

Regular evaluation as to whether or not Biblical principles are being integrated.  

Support and participation of local churches whenever possible.  

Excellent training and equipping for all participants in orphan care.  

Financial accountability as defined by the member country giving oversight.  

Encouragement of strict adherence to ACTION’s Child Protection Policy.  

Initiation of regular reviews of stated purpose for ministry.  

Establishment of clear lines of authority and accountability for said ministry.  

Participation in networking with others involved in orphan care for the purpose of evaluation and identification of best practices.  

Development of concise, yet thorough, documenting procedures.  

All activities constantly bathed in prayer for the sake of the children God has entrusted to us.

Thoughts and Concerns

One central concern is that this topic may become a theoretical discussion, one of many that we put in our missiological ‘hat’ that can be discussed at a moment’s notice. Is it possible that we have sanitized the whole issue with philosophical debate about ‘what is best’? Ephesians 1:3-5 clearly teaches that we have been adopted into God’s family solely through His gracious act of love and have been given access to all of the blessings, privileges and rewards of His act. In response should we not act accordingly by exalting Christ through various models of care that demonstrate love and concern and, when appropriate, the adoption of orphans. These acts are not based on results, pragmatic methodology or psychological principles, but are based on the nature of God’s love for us and the response due Him. Is this not the best model that we should be pursuing? We should strive to provide the best care, love, instruction and opportunities for orphans, just as God has done for us.

An additional concern is that the Church is woefully uncommitted to the plight of orphans within the context of their own home cultures. Welfare-state governments and secular institutions in progressive nations have assumed responsibilities that have historically and Biblically belonged to the Church. The Church, accordingly, has lost sight of the tremendous needs of orphans everywhere and has forfeited her responsibilities and blessings. Perhaps we engage in debate in order to disinfect the heart of the matter even within the Church. God’s people worldwide must take on the mantle of responsibility in responding to the current orphan crisis.

Moravian families in past centuries seldom raised less than a dozen children—many of whom were not their biological offspring. They did not rely on solutions from the government but simply acted in a way that seemed Biblically to be consistent. Presently, however, there is an ever-increasing erosion of family values and therefore a right concern for our own children. But then this does not justify feeding our own children with the proverbial ‘silver spoon’ while so many around the world starve. We debate whether or not a child should be left in the care of extended family members who not only have meager means to care for them, but who, themselves, are held captive by their ancestors’ traditions that are often demonic. We talk of endorsing models that are morally corrupt for the sake of nationalization. How is it that we endorse the idea that a child is better off mired in economic poverty, banished to substandard education and condemned to a livelihood that will be meager at best...all because we would not want them to become disassociated with their cultural roots? God does not treat us like this, and to advocate it for an image bearer of the Almighty God of the universe is abominable.

We must act in way that is wholly consistent with our message and take action. We must repent of our inaction and confess our sin personally and corporately and, if necessary, to change radically our own models first if we are to advocate the same for others.

We recognize that the sovereign and providential hand of God is at work in all things, in every circumstance and through every person. We understand that Scripture makes simple, yet forceful, directives to provide care for orphans. And we acknowledge that both the Biblical narrative and the historical record tell us that God has used many individuals who have come from ‘less than best’ circumstances in powerful ways for His glory. We count it a privilege to give love, care and concern for children who face unbelievably dire circumstances, and pray that through our action God will be exalted in the world.