“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Where in the world today is the church responding to the orphan crisis? Ethiopia, home to one of the largest orphan populations in the world, has over five million orphaned and vulnerable children. Bethany Christian Services (BCS) is answering that call by using the power of God’s Word to support local Ethiopian Christians to provide loving homes for children in need of families. In January, Faith to Action featured BCS’s Foster-to-Adopt program, which is working to take children out of institutions and place them in families that commit to adopting them permanently. Although taking in children who are not of their own tribe is a new concept for many, in just a short time, it has been a success with over 85 children placed with foster or adoptive parents.
David wrote in Psalm 68: 5, 6, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” From advocating for the needs of orphans and recruiting families to care for them, to supporting families who have received a child into their home, BCS’s initiative begins and ends with God’s Word. They are putting it into practice by urging the local church to recognize that it is in the essential nature of God to love the orphan. God commands His church to care for the orphan as it is an expression of His love and grace to love and care for them. Sebilu Bodja, Bethany’s Director of Africa Operations, said the “success of the program is highly connected to the spiritual aspect — the biblical and theological reasons for caring for the orphan.”
Bethany is equipping the local church with resources to multiply their efforts and care for children based on biblical principles. Curriculum and seminars such as A Biblical View of Orphans and Adoptions, How to Host an Orphan Sunday, and How to Start an Orphan Care Ministry in Your Church provide training and resources in helping churches establish a foster care or adoption ministry and awareness training. Bodja said these biblical challenges have become a “wake up call for many church leaders.”
James 1:27a says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” After a family takes a child into their home, Bethany “looks after orphans” by providing support through the Family Empowerment Program. Through this program, caseworkers are showing the love of Christ by regularly visiting families’ homes, offering small group and family fellowship opportunities, and providing large group gatherings and sports events for the children. In individual home visits, caseworkers strive to get to know the families intimately, encourage them, and join them in prayer and spiritual guidance for their family and child. Weekly small group meetings create a community of families to encourage, support, and pray for each other. The families make a commitment to meet with one another, share the challenges and needs they face, and offer support to each other.
In addition, the Peace for the Family curriculum, which is utilized in individual visits and small groups, provides resources for parenting skills, conflict resolution, grace-filled communication, discipline methods, and dealing with trauma and grief. This also provides an avenue to observe and evaluate the family’s and child’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health and needs. Pastor Getu Ayalew, who leads Hiwot Birhan Church in Hawassa, said, “The program awakened the church and ignited the vision in her to embrace it as her own. It created a big movement in starting something that was not tried before. The church is actively engaging in prayer for the orphan and in advocating so members will take in children into their homes. Most importantly, because of the Foster-to-Adopt program, the church is pressing the government and community to take responsibility for the orphan crisis and to create a forum that involves the government, churches, communities and faith-based organizations to tackle the crisis together as one.”
Through this example of love and care for the orphans in their midst, it is clear that God’s Word continues to be living and active in transforming communities. Furthermore, it is evident that the church has a genuine connection to God. Author and Pastor Tim Keller said, “A deep social conscience and a life poured out in deeds and service to others, and especially the poor [including the orphan], is the inevitable sign of real faith and a real connection with God…. Justice is the great symptom of a real relationship with God.” The call to respond to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children is based on a biblical mandate, and through this mandate the Ethiopian church is giving children who were once orphans families to call their own.