Abba Changes Everything
Imagine, for a moment, the plight of an orphan somewhere out there. With every passing year, she will become less "cute," thus less adoptable. In a few years, on her eighteenth birthday, she will be expelled from the system. She might join the military or find job training. Maybe she'll stare at a tile on the ceiling above her as her body is violated—alone or before a camera crew of strangers—by a man who's willing to pay enough for her to eat for one day. Maybe she'll place a revolver in her mouth or tie a rope around her neck, knowing no one will notice except the ones who have to clean up afterward. This story could just as well describe a boy who is orphaned. Can you feel the desperation of what it means to be an orphan? Jesus can. Orphans are his little sisters and brothers. He hears them.
In saying that orphan care is missional, I do not mean that every Christian is called to adopt or foster a child. But every Christian is called to care for orphans. As with every aspect of Christ's mission, a diversity of gifts abounds. Some have room at their table and in their hearts for another stocking on the mantle by this coming Christmas. Others are gifted financially to help families who would like to adopt but cannot figure out how to make ends meet. Others can babysit while families with children make their court dates and complete home-study papers.
Still others can lead mission trips to rock and hug and sing to orphans who may never be adopted. Pastors can simply ask whether anyone in their congregation might be called to adopt or foster parent, or to empower someone who is. And all of us can pray—specifically and urgently—for orphans the world over.
Some would seek to contrast orphan care—and other so-called social ministries—with evangelism, perhaps even with the gospel itself. But such a dichotomy just does not stand up to biblical revelation. Genuine faith works through love, the Bible tells us (Gal. 5:6). The mission of Christ points us, as theologian Carl Henry reminded the last generation of evangelicals, to a God of both justice and justification.
Since genuine faith is always orphan-protecting, a culture of adoption and evangelism can work together. Indeed, they grow from the same root. Churches that are other-directed instead of self-obsessed in adopting unwanted children will be other-directed instead of self-obsessed in verbally witnessing to unwanted people. A conscience that's burdened for orphans, rather than seared over in the quest for more stuff, will be burdened for spiritual orphans. A church that learns to love beyond the borders of biology will learn to do mission outside the borders of geography.
A Kingdom of Rescued Children
As the Spirit draws more Christians to orphan care, we also must insist that adoption is not just a backdoor route to child evangelism. Of course, Christians who adopt will teach their children that what they believe is true and ultimately meaningful. Every parent does that and, to some degree, cannot do otherwise. A secular progressive parent would (rightly) correct racial bigotry or misogyny in his or her child. We wouldn't accuse that parent of having a child in order to export Western democratic values. In the same way, Christian parents will teach their child the message of Jesus, regardless of how the child arrived in their home.