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Photo: Nickol Teague

Being a friend of The Boaz Project, you are no stranger to the term “orphan.” In fact, not only are you familiar with the term, but you understand that definitions vary. For example: a child could be a “single orphan,” meaning that there has been a loss of one parent, or a “double orphan,” implying the loss of both parents. A child could also be an orphan, not because of death(s) but because the mother and father gave up rights of the child or abandoned them.

These are things that you have sadly come to learn by courageously engaging in the plight of the orphan.

Yet, many things are buried under the label of orphan that aren’t always common knowledge. Sometimes these things, if we are unaware of them, can take us by surprise when we visit or adopt the orphan.

We at The Boaz Project work hard to understand the term orphan as well as the child who carries this label and the complexities that come with it. We do this in order to become well equipped to care for them and walk alongside them to a place of healing.

All too often it would seem that the simple solution to the orphan crisis would be to try to fix the things that qualify a child as an orphan. We could just take them off the streets or out of the system, permanently place them in a loving family, and meet all their physical needs. Then we could look and say, “We did it. There is one less orphan in the world.”

Unfortunately, there is much more to a child spiritually, emotionally, and mentally that will forever keep them identifying as an orphan unless we dig deep and get to the root issues. The deep, hidden issues that come with the label “orphan.”

One of these issues is the mental state in which a child lives. Children who come from hard places can live in a constant state of survival mode.

Living out of survival mode means out living from the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the brain that sends signals to the rest of our body when we feel as though we are in danger. This part of the brain is what triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response. When a child is an orphan, he or she may constantly live in this state of fight, flight, or freeze. This can be where a child lives mentally whether he physically lives on the streets, in an institutionalized orphanage, a family style home, or even an adoptive home.

When children are trying to survive day to day, the brain shuts off parts that are used for deciphering if we are loved, if we are making a difference in the world, and even the part of the brain that is used for making decisions, simple and complex.

Children who are living out of the sympathetic nervous system day in and day out, may not necessarily be physically fighting, fleeing, or freezing. This could look like a child flying into a tantrum at the drop of a hat. It could be a child who seems to have a “glazed over” look in their eyes because mentally they have checked out to protect themselves. It could even be a child who seems much younger than her actual age because developmentally they have “frozen,” her brain cannot take in the information it needs to learn and grow and develop.

So why is this important? This is important because as an organization who equips leaders around the world to care for orphans, we need to make sure that we are addressing all the needs of the orphan. While we can clothe a child and place them in a family, if this child is living each day in fight, flight, or freeze mode they will never be able to know that they are safe, loved, and can become a contributing member of society. It is important that we work along caregivers to help them get to the root of the trauma.

It is important for you, a donor/advocate/adoptive parent/mission trip team member, to understand so that you know being an orphan is so much more than being without parents. It comes with trauma and deep pain that can affect a child’s daily life.

But there is hope.

God has made our brains in incredible ways. Healing can happen and often times does through safe, nurturing connections and healthy relationships. In Romans 12:2 Paul writes, “. . . be renewed by the transforming of your minds. . .” This gives us great hope, for the children we work with and even ourselves, we are not stuck in trauma.

We at The Boaz Project as so thankful that you have engaged in the plight of the orphan. We pray that by engaging, you are learning and gaining more knowledge of the orphan. Through this knowledge, building of relationships, and much prayer we hope to address all needs and help bring healing. And we know that this is possible only through Jehovah-Rapha, the God who heals.

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