“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” – Mother Teresa
This quote came to my attention while watching a video of Stephen Ucembe’s talk at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit IX. In it, he shared his personal story about what it was like growing up in an institutional orphanage in Kenya. (Note: use headphones in order to hear better and start the clip at 5:50).
One thing Stephen kept talking about was love – a lack of love, a desire for love, a need to learn how to love, etc. “We all know the power of love. I don’t know if any of us doesn’t know the power of love,” he stated at one point. He said this to show the importance of love in a child’s life and the issues that can arise when a child grows up without knowing love, particularly in institutionalized care.
Recently, I finished co-leading a six-week Journeys of Faith study series written by the organization, Faith To Action. This study shares how churches and individuals can best care globally for orphans and vulnerable children, particularly through primarily supporting family-based care. Here are some important facts I learned:
- A child who has lost both parents is considered a double orphan and a child who has lost one parent is considered a single orphan. More than 80% of children living in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent.
- It is often “push and pull” factors, such as unemployment or educational opportunities, not lack of caregiver options which are the leading cause of placing kids in orphanages instead of keeping them in family-based care.
- Strengthening families and communities living in poverty also helps orphans and vulnerable children too.
- Protecting children from abuse usually means engaging their communities as well as their families.
- In short-term missions, we need to put the needs of children and their communities above our own wishes or ideas of a “successful” trip. This can keep children from forming unhealthy attachments which can turn out to hurt them in the long run.
Personally, certain things within the study impacted me greatly as well. These items either caused shifts and changes within my own journey of faith or else made me more aware of God’s presence and leading within the area of caring for orphans and vulnerable children. Here are a few of them:
- The Bible talks about active and passive sin. For example, “active” sin is wrongly oppressing those who are vulnerable. “Passive” sin is refusing to defend and fight for the vulnerable. This made me understand that just because I may not be actively hurting or oppressing those who are vulnerable does not mean I am free from passive sin in this area either!
- Children living in orphanages are usually unprepared for living in the world outside. The statistics and anecdotes we learned about children coming out of orphanages were heartbreaking to me. I know it is already hard enough to come of age after having a normal, loving childhood so these things made me wonder why we are making it just that much harder for children to do so after having been through institutionalized care.
- After watching several video clips and reading many stories about northern hemisphere/southern hemisphere church partnerships, I realized the importance of micro-loans and other similar programs in the area of family-based care for orphans and vulnerable children. These can help so much in reducing the “push and pull” factors that cause children to be placed into orphanages in the first place. This knowledge definitely made my thinking shift in regards to what it can look like to truly help children.
- At the end of this study, my thinking about short-term mission trips also shifted. I had been somewhat biased against going on them at all recently but after reading a list of “12 Guiding Principles for Short-Term Missions” which included things like, “examine your motivation” and “emphasize the assets of the community,” I realized they can be done well!
I want to end with a written prayer used in the first and last sessions of the Journeys of Faith study. It speaks to me so clearly of the heart of God for all children, but particularly those who are orphaned or vulnerable. Now, my question is how can I live more fully into God’s invitation to me in this area?!
We thank you,
for your great and unending love
for each and every child.
In your perfect wisdom,
you have created us for family—
that every child may grow surrounded in love
and with a sense of belonging.
May your heart be our heart,
and your plan be our guide:
For every child’s heart, joy.
For every child’s soul, meaning.
For every child’s body, protection.
For every child’s mind, peace.
For every child, family.
**I’m linking up today with Holley Gerth’s Coffee For Your Heart. Click on the image below to find other great posts from the linkup too.**