John Bunyan (1628–1688) once said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” The world around us has changed drastically from the time of Bunyan, with the inhabitants of many countries living healthier, better-fed and better-educated lives. But, according to the UN, there are some 150 million orphans globally, the result of conflict, famine and more recently, pandemic.
COVID-19 has locked borders and restricted travel, limiting the delivery of help they so desperately need. The UN’s millennial goal of halving the number of people in poverty is far from being reached and such events make achieving it even more difficult.
Outside of Scripture, the first people recorded as officially caring for orphaned children were the Romans, who opened the first orphanage in history in around 400AD. Long before then, however, both Jewish and Athenian law required that orphans be supported until age 18. The philosopher Plato said of adopted orphans, “A man should love the unfortunate orphan of whom he is guardian as if he were his own child. He should be as careful and as diligent in the management of the orphan’s property as of his own or even more careful still.”
Generations later, Seventh-day Adventists were reminded of their responsibility to care for orphaned children. The way they cared for these children along with others who have “special needs” is presented as a test of their character and salvation by works. Note the following:
“I saw that it is in the providence of God that widows and orphans, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and persons afflicted in a variety of ways, have been placed in close Christian relationship to His church; it is to prove His people and develop their true character. Angels of God are watching to see how we treat these persons who need our sympathy, love and disinterested benevolence. This is God’s test of our character” (Ellen G White, Testimonies for the Church 3:511, 517).
“Let those who have the love of God open their hearts and homes to take in these children. It is not the best plan to care for the orphans in large institutions. If they have no relatives able to provide for them, the members of our churches should either adopt these little ones into their families or find suitable homes for them in other households” (Ellen G White, Counsels for the Church, p 286).
But there is hope. And it resides in you and me, who have both the obligation—and blessing—of responding. The Christian’s imperatives are clear:
- We are to lead children to Jesus (Matthew 19:14).
- We are to defend their rights and advocate on their behalf (Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 31:8).
- We are to feed and clothe them (Matthew 25).
- We are to protect them from those who would mistreat them (Isaiah 1:17).
- We are to ensure justice for them (Deuteronomy 24:17).
- We are to share our resources with them (Luke 3:11, Romans 12:13).
Sabbath, November 21, has been designated by the General Conference (GC) as a day to highlight the orphans of the world, those innocents who live out of sight and in extreme need of our protection, care and means. This is an initiative supported by the South Pacific Division’s Christian Services for the Blind and Hearing Impaired (CSFBHI) ministry by its affiliation with the GC’s Possibilities Ministries. [pullquote]
Travelling around the world, I’m amazed at the generosity of the poor, sharing what little they have with those around them. They have so little, yet they are generous. Here are some suggestions to improve your own generosity:
- Identify members in your midst who have a burden to help orphans and encourage and support their efforts.
- Select a mission project that is focused on orphans, or start your own.
- Work with an Adventist supporting ministry that focuses on children and orphans (go to possibilityministries.org/ for more information and related resources).
- Personally volunteer or provide direct financial support to a church aid group such as ADRA, or sponsor a child through Asian Aid.
- Encourage and lead your church’s young people to be involved; for example, by having a Sabbath school or study class sponsor a child.
Christ, our example, identified with the poor, the widows and orphans. He said, “I was hungry, and you fed me . . . In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
In alleviating the suffering and hunger of just one of the 850 million people who go to bed hungry, homeless and loveless, we minister to Christ.
This is particularly apt in our Western world where we have an excess of everything, and to whom Jesus directed His remark, “To whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). Remember, we cannot touch divinity until we touch humanity. And it has its ultimate reward (Isaiah 58:8).
I volunteer for REACH International—an organisation that’s been around for almost 50 years. Its goal is to alleviate hunger and suffering among children by providing them food (immediate) and an education (long term). REACH’s philosophical underpinning is that “Education is salvation for the poor.”
Take Alex, an Indian child not yet 10. He and his sister were making matchsticks to survive until a sponsorship sent him to an Adventist school. Now, decades later, he works as a vice-president of finance for a major bank. Or Haile, an orphan in Ethiopia who, again, was sponsored through school. He is now a respected pharmacist in Texas. Or Sebi, a troubled street kid in Romania who, despite getting himself into trouble, stayed in school and eventually went to medical school and is now a doctor in the UK.
Alex, Sebi and Haile realised their possibilities, but let’s give others an opportunity to realise theirs! Make a difference in the world of the orphan, beginning November 21. After all, regardless of your family, economic or social status, spiritually we were all orphans until God adopted us, “[adopting us] . . . to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5).
Gerson Roeske is vice-president of Reach International, USA.