I am going to start this post by stating that I am not an an expert on the global orphan crisis nor do I want to change your mind or your definition of what it means for a child to be an orphan. I do know that many of our sponsors and supporters were confused by the fact that many of our children have 1 or both of their parents who are still alive, and I want to discuss that a little bit. I actually remember when I first realized that many of the children still had parents living, and I did not know how to react at first. I always thought that an orphan was a child whose parents died. Even then, I thought it was only extreme cases when there were not other family members (or even friends for that matter) that would step in and take care of the child. When we began doing ministry in Haiti, my whole perception changed, but even that took me a while. It actually took us almost a full year to even realize that many of the children who lived at our orphanage still had parents. When I first realized it, my first reaction was that these children and their parents were simply taking advantage of us. I thought they just wanted an education, food, medical help, and a few gifts every year and I was actually pretty upset to start with. The funny thing is, if that is what they needed and we could provide it for them, it would have been a very worthy cause. If we could provide these needs to this many children, I should have never thought of it as them taking advantage of us, I should have thought of it as us helping children who needed us.
But the more we worked with the children, and then especially when we moved to Haiti 18 months ago, I realized something…These children did not really have parents.
Out of the 34 children we started with, we still take care of 23 of them like a parent would. Only 19 live with us, but there are 4 others that are too old to live at an orphanage, but we still help them with school, food, tutoring, and even a part-time job so that they can learn responsibility. Only 11 of the children could go back to living with their parents, and even then only if we continue to help the children by helping their parents (we have given them jobs, paid for school, and done some other things just to make sure that the children are ok). The point is, just because a child has parents who are still alive does not mean that they have people who either can or will take care of them. Sometimes I feel like, to define the term “orphan,” you have to define the term “parent.” In fact, of our children who still have parents in the picture, I have met almost all of them a total of 1 time, and that was on our moving day. For the previous 2 years we were working with their children, we never saw them once! We did not even know they existed. To make things even crazier, the majority of the parents who came asked us for money, jobs, help starting a business, and many other things that proved again that they were not “true parents.” How could they be? Most of them had not seen their children in 3 years, and it was very evident.
I will say at this time, I have no idea what it feels like to not be able to provide/take care of someone that I love. I have no idea what it would be like to get to the point that I lost all hope and had to give my child to someone else just so they could be taken care of. It is an awful thing to have to think about, and I have seen many parents here who would take care of their children if they could. They truly love their children, but they do not have the opportunity to work, they have too many children for anyone to take care of, or they just do not know how to handle parenthood.
This will always be one of our biggest challenges.
How do you decide who comes to live in the orphanage and who needs to stay with family? Just because a parent/relative of a child asks you to take their child with you does not mean it is what is best. On the flip side of that, just because a child has parents does not mean it is best for them to stay with their parents, we have seen this firsthand. I do know that each of the children who are living with us right now need to be living with us right now. We have been with them for the past 3 years. We know which ones have parents who care about them and can take care of them, and which ones do not. The children who live with us, unfortunately, do not. We have 2 children who are living with us right now who we thought we would put back with their family only to find out that their moms are both pregnant (and are not ready to provide for another child). We have 2 boys here whose dad is an awful influence on them (we know that at least one of them has come to the orphanage after drinking before when he was 12 years old) and who would be floundering at home right now. We have one girl whose Mom came to visit last weekend and actually said, “I only came here to get the money you promised to give me to start my business.” (On a side note, we did not give her money nor did we promise to give her money in the past, this is a common practice for people here to try to get money from you). We tried to get her to sit with her daughter and she refused, and we asked the daughter to sit with her mom and she said “no thanks.”
The point is, I do not know how to practically and truly define the term “orphan.” There are so many different ways you could look at the word and at the circumstances surrounding what has truly become an “orphan crisis” in our world today. I do know that the children who are living with us need to be here. I also know that there are many children around the world who are being exploited by “orphanage directors” who are there solely to make money off of children who may or may not have a better home right around the corner. I think the only way to really do orphan ministry is to be willing to get your hands dirty. It is more than just sending money to a place and hoping that the children receive it. We have to be willing to step into a long-term commitment to change the face of orphan care around the world. I would urge everyone to do 1 of 2 things:
- Find an organization (similar to All Things New) to support where you know that your support is truly helping children. An organization who has a long-term plan as well as a desire to help the children who are with them currently. An organization that you trust and that you know is doing whatever it can to extend the Kingdom of GOD by taking care of orphaned and abandoned children.
- Step into action for yourself. Take a trip and be ready for GOD to change the course of your life. Be open to the very real possibility that GOD wants you to be on the mission field. Be ready to go wherever you are sending your support so that you can know for sure that you are helping children who need it.
This is not a call to become a supporter of All Things New…This is a call to see that there is a true crisis world wide of children who may never know what it means to be cared for by a parent. What is a true orphan? A true orphan is a child who has no one to take care of them. No child should ever have to be alone and no child should ever know what it feels like to be starving, homeless, and helpless. But there are millions (possibly billions) of children who feel like this everyday. If they do not have parents who can be there for them, they need people like you and me to be the body of Christ and to make sure that their needs (physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual) will always be met. We are still learning about orphan care and how to do it effectively, but I promise you we will always seek after GOD and let Him lead us as we care for children here in Haiti.