Fuller Theological Seminary is helping students thoughtfully understand and support evidence-based practices in action as practitioners. Thought leaders around the country at centers of learning like the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller, work to mold the experienced, as well as the inexperienced, into practitioners who go into the world to implement orphan care practices that align with the best interests of children.
Fuller Theological Seminary’s Dr. David Scott, Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies and Children at Risk, and Dr. Sheryl Ryan, Adjunct Faculty in the School of Intercultural Studies, are two leaders helping students understand the importance of family as they highlight family care practices in their classroom curriculum. Throughout her master’s work in Cross-Cultural Studies and Children at Risk at Fuller, Dr. Ryan was prompted by Dr. Scott to question the orphanage model entirely and to think of a better one. While studying the assessments and analysis of orphanages, she realized that the perspectives she encountered in the research were not present among many of the orphan care perspectives she had previously encountered in her faith community. This realization prompted her to have a significant change of heart on the subject. Her experiences, learning, and heart shifts all led to her doctoral studies, as she was “convinced that there were ways within our faith tradition to bring a more reflective approach.”
After many years of study and her own personal experience with the international adoption of her daughter, Dr. Ryan has come to the perspective that “we as Christians need to be open to doing the hard work of questioning our assumptions about children separated from parental care, and re-imagining our involvement without perpetuating child rescue narratives.” This conversation is not easy and commonly elicits strong emotional responses from the many diverging perspectives. Yet Dr. Ryan remains convinced that just as God intends for babies to be born into healthy families, people helping orphaned children should want them to experience the fullness of this life within the love of a family.
Lyndsay Mathews is one of the beneficiaries of this learning journey. She took Dr. Ryan’s course Orphan Care Approaches: A Spectrum of Responses for Children Outside of Parental Care at Fuller in 2014. Lyndsay came to Fuller with firsthand experience of orphanages and had undergone a shift in heart and perspective after reading Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself. Throughout her studies she felt led to work with at-risk children and was particularly impacted by David Tolfree’s Roofs and Roots: The Care of Separated Children in the Developing World, but it was Dr. Ryan’s course that served to ignite her passion for helping separated children. She learned about the spectrum or continuum of care model and identified and connected with organizations around the world doing best practice work, all of which provided her with the vocabulary and frameworks for which she had been searching.
The course and other similar Fuller classes helped prepare Lyndsay for her first job upon graduating from her master’s program. Lyndsay is now working as the Director of Pastoral Ministries and Outreach at Abide Family Center in Jinja, Uganda, helping support caregivers and families that are vulnerable to placing their children in orphanages. She continues to utilize resources she discovered at Fuller, such as Faith to Action’s Children, Orphanages, and Families: A Summary of Research to Help Guide Faith-Based Action, which she often recommends to those new to the subject. She credits Fuller for providing her the space to assess the research around a continuum of care options for orphans and vulnerable children and then thoughtfully process its implications within an academic community committed to faith in Christ. This kind of exposure in the classroom has helped inform a lifetime pursuit of evidence-based practices for Lyndsay and many other students like her. As for newcomers to the family-based care model, she asks, “What would you want for your child? People in other places don’t want anything different.”
And for those who want to be involved in the work, she advises Fuller students, “Take Dr. Ryan’s course, learn from organizations that are doing great work around the world, develop hard skills so that you can offer expertise in the field, and learn as much as possible before acting—and then keep learning some more.”
The Faith to Action Initiative is thrilled to see that Fuller and many similar programs in higher education across the country are providing opportunities for students to explore these important topics in the classroom to help inform real-life engagement and vocational decisions. Faith to Action recently released A Continuum of Care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, as well as a webinar and podcast on the topic—excellent new resources for academia and higher education to utilize in the work to uphold the importance of family.