by Michael Chung
There is one unreached people group that surpasses all of the above: the orphaned children.
WHAT IS THE WORLD’S LARGEST unreached people group? If one were talking Western Hemisphere, then PIONEERS would say that it is the Quechua-Apurimac, living in places like Columbia down to Chile, but concentrated in Peru.
The Joshua Project numbers the Japanese at over 121 million and the Shaikh of Bangladesh at over 128 million unreached.1 Global Frontier Missions (GFM) states that there are still over 130 million people in the world outside the influence of the gospel. Yet, according to GFM, only ten percent of missionary work is being done among the least reached people groups of the world mainly living in the 10/40 window.2 The numbers are staggering. Many in the Church do not pursue reaching these unreached people groups because these groups live in the most impoverished, most difficult, and least developed areas of the world.
But there is one unreached people group that surpasses all of the above: the orphaned children. How many orphans are there in the world? UNICEF estimated that in 2008 there were 132 million; 13 million of those were children who had lost both parents.3 The group SOS children’s villages estimated 132.2 million orphans in 2010, counting only Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.4 The organization World Orphans estimates that there are 153 million orphans worldwide.5 Although the numbers/statistics vary, they all communicate the same thing—there are too many children in the world who need families.
If there are 153 million children in the world who need families, could the Global Church provide families for each child if it banded together? According to the Pew Research Center, there were an estimated 2.18 billion Christians worldwide in 2010. If we divide 2.18 billion by 153 million, then we have 14 Christians per orphan. The task at hand is huge.
My Adoption Journey
Before I go further I must admit that it took a lot for me to become an adoption advocate. Stricken with infertility for the first five years of marriage, I was very content to live life if God never opened our womb. My wife, on the other hand, had adoption on her heart from a young age and approached me about the possibility.
My heart was definitely not in it. If it were up to me, the thought of adopting a child who was not my own flesh and blood was out of the question. I did not think I could love a child who did not share my biology. I understood that this line of reasoning was not acceptable. Also, I was a vocational minister as well as a Bible/New Testament professor, so shrugging off my wife’s request was not suitable.
Looking deep into my soul, I realized that it was filled with fear and selfishness. Fear, because I was afraid of the type of child I could be getting and afraid that the life I currently had would be worse off with a child. Exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and loss of freedom would become my companions. What if the child was too needy? What if he or she was a terror? What if I did not love him or her, or resented him or her for stealing away my life? What if my life had more suffering than it already had? Could I love a child who did not share my DNA? These fears and others raced through my mind.
Selfishness, because I saw that I had a fairly good life of teaching, writing, freedom, and quiet (all things I valued). Adopting a child would mean that I could not give as much time to my career as I wanted and would not have the freedom to do the things I wanted to do.
However, in my heart and soul, there was no good reason not to adopt. So with reluctance, I told my wife that we could move forward, knowing that if adoption was not a good idea for me and for us as a couple, God could halt the process. Little did I know that it would turn out to be the best decision of my life.
On March 4, 2013, I met the most beautiful child I had ever seen. He had a name from the orphanage, but we would give him a new name and a family. That was a turning point in my life; it finally sunk in that adoption is close to God’s heart. All believers in Christ are adopted and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Now, my wife and I had redeemed this 2-year-old boy from an institution that provided him with survival, but not the love, care, and attention a child needs—and certainly not the environment God intended for growing children.
I cannot imagine life without him and I do not think I could love a biological child any more than I currently love my adopted son.
Challenges Orphans Face
What trials do orphans face? According to Orphan Hope International,
• Every day, 5,760 more children become orphans.
• Approximately 250,000 children are adopted annually, but…
• Each year, 14,505,000 children grow up as orphans and age out of the system by age 16.
• Each day, 38,493 orphans age out.
• Every 2.2 seconds, another orphan ages out with no family to belong to and no place to call home.
• Studies have shown that ten to fifteen percent of these children commit suicide before they reach age 18.
• These studies also show that sixty percent of the girls become prostitutes and seventy percent of the boys become hardened criminals. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year (The State of the World’s Children 2005).
• Two million children, the majority of them girls, are sexually exploited in the multibillion-dollar commercial sex industry (The State of the World’s Children 2005).
God’s Heart for the Unprotected
All defenseless people are close to God’s heart (see Exod. 22:21-27; Exod. 23:6-12; Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 14:29; Deut. 16:11, 14; Deut. 24:19-21; 26:12-13). Orphans are some of the most vulnerable.
God has a huge heart for the orphaned child. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word yathom appears forty-two times and can mean fatherless, fatherless children, orphan, and orphans. The Greek word—orphanos—only appears twice in the New Testament, but the word for adoption—huiothesia—occurs five times. Throughout scripture, God advocates for the poor, widowed, foreigner, and orphan—in essence, those who are defenseless.
Adoption has changed my understanding of deep theological truths. It has given me a more heartfelt knowledge of what it means to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Christ, the beloved son (Col. 1:13, paraphrase mine). Seeing an orphanage with one’s own eyes helps us understand why these institutions, no matter how well run, are no place for children to grow up. They lack the care, environment, and resources necessary for a child to fully develop. Many adopted children are often mentally and physically delayed due to the institutional experience. In my son’s orphanage, he slept in a room full of cribs. I counted over twenty, and almost all of them had two children sleeping in them.
We deduced that my son did not go outside much based on his very white complexion when we first received him. He spent the first two years of his life in two play rooms and a sleeping area. Children like him could not have received the nutrition, attention, or environment necessary for the proper milieu a child needs. Indeed, he was transferred into a considerably better situation much like God transfers believers into his kingdom.
But the deeper issue is spiritual—although my son will receive better physical care from us, he will also have a chance to respond to the gospel. There are many orphanages run by Christian missionaries, but others are government-run and do not have a spiritual/religious component to their routine. Although many allow volunteers who are missionaries, growing up in a Christian family is still an optimal condition for a child to receive and understand the gospel. The Church can reach this group of people who are in desperate need of the gospel and belonging to a loving family.
Had it not been for my wife, I would not be writing this article. We are in the process of adopting another child from overseas. You may not be ready to adopt, but there are ways to impact and help the orphans, as well as to begin to consider the possibility of adoption:
1. Pray. Jesus exhorts us to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest (Matt. 9:35-38). The same principle can be applied to this harvest field that is ripe as children all over the world are crying out for the love of God and family. Since real religion according to James 1:27 involves caring for orphans (and widows), let us pray for God to move the hearts of others to take steps of radical faith and adopt out of obedience to the word of God and care for the orphan.
2. Donate. Almost every organization working to help orphans accepts donations. Many of these organizations do not receive government funding and exist solely on contributions.
3. Support programs that advocate for adoption. People need support and encouragement, and many families are not able to adopt due to financial restrictions. Many churches and para-churches have adoption as a program they support. Find ways to be involved and befriend those who want to adopt, while supporting programs with an adoption focus.
4. Study scripture. David Platt’s book Radical challenges people to live in authentic discipleship instead of personal comfort and cultural preference. In essence, Platt challenges people to base their lives and decisions strictly on the Bible. Here are a few passages that talk about God’s heart for the defenseless— Exodus 22:21-27 and 23:6-12; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:19-21; and 26:12-13; and James 1:27. Take time to study the scripture’s message on the defenseless and how families can be involved to alleviate this type of suffering.
5. Talk to those who have adopted. In our adoption journey it was extremely helpful to talk to people who have adopted and hear their experiences. They would also tell us about their agency and whether or not they would recommend it to others. This helped us get the ball rolling and made the issue of adoption not so nebulous.6 Meeting adopted children and seeing them interact in a family also gave us hope that the process was of the Lord.
The need is great, and orphans are a group of people who not only can change the world today, but who will also have a significant impact on the next generation and beyond. They will understand the goodness of believers’ adoption in Christ and redemption from the kingdom of darkness. With this in their hearts, they can go out into the world to proclaim a gospel that they have not only heard, but also lived.
6. Here are a few links that organize various agencies: www.christianalliancefororphans.org/agencies-and-ministries/adoption/ andwww.adoptionfellowship.org/about.asp
Platt, David. 2010. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books.
Michael Chung is an adjunct professor of New Testament and Christian Formation at Fuller Texas, an extension of Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also a visiting professor of New Testament at Bandung Baptist Theological Seminary in Bandung, Indonesia.
EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 458-462. Copyright © 2014 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.