To many, orphan care conjures up calm, beautiful pictures of smiling children being fed and cared for and loved. Once we bring these sweet children into a home where they are loved and safe, it can’t help but go well from there, can it?
It turns out that it can.
Everyone has heard the stories: Romanian orphans who have “lost” the ability to love, the foster kid who acts out so severely that he’s been bounced from home to home to home.
My first exposure to this idea was in Anne of Green Gables. When Marilla tells her neighbor, Rachel Lynde, in the first chapter of the book that she and her brother plan on adopting a boy to help on the farm, her neighbor is shocked. She tries to talk Marilla out of it and when she realizes that it isn’t possible, she leaves Marilla with one last word. “Only don’t say I didn’t warn you if he burns Green Gables down or puts strychnine in the well—I heard of a case over in New Brunswick where an orphan asylum child did that and the whole family died in fearful agonies.”
This picture always made my blood boil as a child. Rachel wasn’t meant to be a kind and considerate character, but this crossed a line. How dare she talk about those helpless kids that way!
As I grew older and learned more about orphan care, I began to hear more and more stories that destroyed the Annie Facade. These stories paint a very different picture of what we believe orphan care should look like. Why is it hard?
If orphan care is God’s heart and adoption is a beautiful picture of the grace of our Lord (and I believe both of those things whole-heartedly), why can the road be so bumpy and sometimes straight-up painful?
Love is beautiful and important, but those three little words that warm our hearts can’t immediately erase the effect of in-utero exposure to stress or toxins, abandonment, or years of trauma.
Children who are raised in difficult environments have larger amygdales and smaller prefrontal cortexes, meaning that the fear center that operates one’s “fight or flight” response, does more work than it should, while the reasoning part of their brain struggles. This was a necessity for the children who grew up in desperate and dangerous circumstances. However, once the children are in safe and stable environments, the behaviors that used to be crucial for the child’s survival become frustrating and disruptive.
Does that give us an excuse not to care for these children? Certainly not. God has not given up on us, even though we rebel and scorn his grace over and over again. If a perfect God still loves us when we treat Him so poorly, how much more are we, as imperfect, selfish, prideful beings to help those who the world has cast away?
While God doesn’t call everyone to adopt or to work for orphan care ministries, every person in His church is called to care for the orphan in some way or another. See James 1:27, Psalm 82:3, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Jeremiah 7:5-7 if you’re not sure.
Radical love is part of God’s heart and we are called to pursue His heart relentlessly.