I met Patrick on my recent trip to Uganda. He lead us through the muddy roads and into the slums, children ran to him, grabbed his hand and followed. He shook one sleeping boy awake and told him to follow, the boy rubbed his eyes and stumbled after him. I have never seen a clearer picture of Jesus, His beauty shone through Patrick. The boys who had followed him were mostly orphans, they had come to the city as an escape. Some had parents who had died, some had experienced severe abuse, and some only came in search of better. But each of them had one thing in common; they all came looking for hope, anything that told them they belonged.
The boys were beautiful, but they were oh-so-broken. They sang worship songs as they got high, the words of grace and a good God made absolutely no sense to them, but they sang and they clapped and they danced. Patrick provided them a safe haven for those couple hours, he fed them and tended to open wounds.
I saw myself in those boys. Far from home, searching for anything to fill the loneliness. I have walked the journey of life, stumbling over my own two feet and wondering if I am really enough. I wonder if the void in my heart will ever be filled with joy or if the unworthiness in my soul will pour out and fill the hole like asphalt. Though I know Jesus, I forget that I am known by Him. I have referred back to my orphan self, the one that does not know the graces that flow into the earth and the love that fills the emptiness.
My heart aches for the orphans of the world. Oh, Christians, take up your cross and follow Christ into the messy. Follow Christ into the pain and the joy, where the orphans are waiting. I am convinced that adoption and orphan care reflect the Father in a powerful way, and because of this I am compelled to care for orphans because I yearn for the world to see less of me and more of this extravagant grace-offering Father.
I have seen mighty works of God through caring for the orphan, I have also seen orphan care start to become a trend. Recently at a concert an sponsorship organization asked who would like to go to heaven, those who raised their hands should sponsor a child. No, by the redeeming blood of Christ we are welcomed into heaven, not by works. While we are commanded to care for the orphan, it is not an obligatory task that we are to check off on a to do list. We do not care for orphans to gain our way into heaven, but rather to bring heaven to earth. When we care for orphans because we want into heaven, it becomes empty and selfish. However, when we care for orphans because we long for the orphan to experience heaven, we become joy-filled and selfless. We should reflect not a Christian trying to get out of hell free, but rather a Father’s love that refused to leave us where we were.
As we left the slums that night my Ugandan friend said to us, “I grew up in the Kampala slums, but never have I seen things that bad and so dangerous.” Oh, but the beauty we had witnessed in that dark and shattered place. These boys who once were strangers to Patrick, now were sons. I saw grace lavished upon the boys, as they hid drugs that were their only antidote to numb their pain. I watched as food was placed in front of them and hope was offered. Patrick did not seem to mind who they were, he only saw who they could be. The gospel of Christ was displayed to me, stooping to the low places to find the lost and the hurting.
Christians, rise up your battle cries for the orphan. The gospel is painted in glorious ways when we go beyond comfort and we sacrifice self-fulfillness in order to care for those who are really so much like us. Maybe today that means losing yourself, selling your possessions and moving half way around the world to live out the gospel on the ground. Maybe it does not look so extreme, maybe you are called to adopt a child or foster children as they wait for a family. Maybe it means seeking out young pregnant mothers and saying “this is our journey now.” Taking their hand and preventing an adoption from occurring. No matter what, it will be hard, you will face resistance, you will fall short, but the redemption of the cross will remind you of why you are that beautiful broken vessel seeking to run this race well.
I cannot tell you how caring for orphans is supposed to look like in your life, but I can tell you this: as adopted and redeemed children of a all-powerful, all-beautiful, all-loving King, we should be compelled not to turn our backs on opportunities to display the gospel. Instead we should run towards the opportunity even if it is costly and means sacrifice.
I loved an orphan in Uganda, one who stole my heart and never returned it. For seven months, I loved this little one, I tried hard to protect both my heart and his heart. I could have loved him forever. But then all the earth shook and shattered beneath us, and I was left broken. I walked away in tears and heartache, I blamed myself for months that if I had never allowed myself to love so deeply I never would have been hurt. I worried that I had given false hope to an orphan by loving him so well during those days together. I dreamed of him at night and I prayed that his little heart was being mended. He was eventually reunited with relatives and most likely does not remember me any more. But I wondered why I had cared so much for this little one, the one everyone seemed to overlook. To this day, I do not understand why. All I know is this:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19
That little one taught me a lot about what it is to love selflessly and without fear. I learned that in orphan care sometimes you are the one who receive more than you give. Sometimes the lives you set out to change are the lives that actually change you. Sometimes orphan care is you pouring yourself out only to come out broken, bruised and empty handed. Sometimes sacrifice will leave you wondering where you went wrong. I am convinced that when heaven and earth meet, it is messy. There is a battle to fight, but you will solider on because the precious ones in front of you have never experienced love or faithfulness or tasted and seen that the Lord is only good.
Orphan care is beautiful yet some days it feels like a minefield just trying to find hope, but let us love the orphan because earth is in need of more heaven.