Posts Tagged ‘crisis’

In James 1:27 the believer is instructed to visit widows and orphans in their distress.

As American Christians, I think many of us have not considered the implications of what distress really means for kids in foster care and many other orphans throughout the world.

Many North American believers have awakened to God’s love for fatherless children. In some circles, unfortunately, and sometimes dangerously, it is even becoming a badge of spirituality to adopt.

Still, God has given thousands of children the joy of a forever family. The growing adoption movement is a visible illustration of God’s plan to overcome sin and brokenness through His adoption of us, made possible by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. As for the Christian families adopting these children, the blessings for both them and their children have been nothing short of a demonstration of the reality of God.

However, what many people have not always understood is the magnitude of pain, hurt, fear, need, affliction, or “distress” as it were, that many children bring with them. When we love these children with special needs or who are coming from dark places, that means that this distress becomes a part of us…our marriages and our families. Some, maybe most, who are adopting have no idea of how to prepare themselves, much less their children and spouses.

This includes not really grasping the level of sacrifice that God is sometimes calling families to in adoption. In Hebrews 11, we all remember the recounting of the victories and miracles that God performed through people of faith, but what we forget are those lives talked about in verses 35 through 38. These are equally lives of faith; believers who endured mockery, scourging, chains, stoning, death by the sword and affliction. They, like those who experienced victory, also gained approval through their faith for something better.

Sometimes adoption is full of victory, miracles and joys unimaginable. But sometimes it brings with it the sufferings, confusion, doubts and struggles that can only be faced through faith and with the power of the Holy Spirit. When families are called to such adoptions, they often need help. The Church should be a place where they can turn and get that help.

There is a crisis brewing and spreading almost as fast as God is mobilizing the Church to serve orphans. The crisis is coming about as a result of the rapid increase in believers who are adopting older, special needs and at-risk children, but are not fully equipped to do so. The crisis is manifesting itself in an increase in the number of families struggling to cope with some of the issues their new children bring to their homes, and in an increase of post-placement risk of disrupted adoptions as well.

Next year, some experts estimate that 60% of all children adopted from China to American families will be special needs kids. In Ukraine, like many other parts of the world, it appears that future adoptions will be skewed greatly to older kids and sibling groups, in addition to those with severe emotional and medical needs. In America, we understand more instinctively that children from foster care are often coming from hard places.

At Hope for Orphans, we believe that God’s solution for meeting this crisis (and the whole orphan crisis for that matter) is THE CHURCH. The Church was designed by God to be that safe community where members of the body serve one another when the wheels come off in life. The Church should be a place where families can be honestly prepared, maybe even helped through self-assessment in advance of entering the process to adopt older, special needs, or at-risk children.

This September 16th and 17th, we will be hosting the Hope for Orphans Institute at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas. The purpose of this two-day conference is to equip orphan ministry leaders, pastors, counselors, social workers and others with biblically-based skills and tools to serve families called to adopt older, special needs and at-risk kids. We will have nationally-renowned experts providing insights to help families and leaders to meet this growing need. This event will be hosted and moderated by Ryan Dobson, who is himself an adult adoptee.

We believe that the Church is the key place that the needs of struggling adoptive families can be met in-depth and in sustainable ways. For social workers and professionals partnering with the Church in serving families in acute need, the principles from this conference will give new power to help make a difference. To learn more about this event and how God can use you to help others in your church and community, go to www.HFOInstitute.org.


Paul Pennington is the founder of Hope for Orphans. He and his wife, Robin, have six children. They live in Dallas, Texas.

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The last twelve months, not unlike the twelve months prior…or the twelve months prior to that, have produced a slew of tragedies.  In just the first 4+ months of 2010 there have been earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Indonesia, Turkey, California, Spain & China – with an estimated 230,000 lost lives from these quakes.  2010 has brought avalanches in northwestern Pakistan, flooding & mudslides in Portugal & in Rio de Janeiro, & landslides in eastern Uganda.  There have been multiple plane crashes – the two with the most casualties include a Polish military jet going down and killing 96 on board & an Ethiopian flight crashing and killing 90.  If statistics are playing out as they have in previous years (and they are), then in the first quarter of 2010 over 2.25 million children will have died of preventable disease before their fifth birthday – half of them in Africa alone.  Within 24 hours of this blog post another 24,000 will have perished.

But there is another tragedy occurring – and it’s happening as you read this post right now. And it’s happening to me as I write this post.  It is the tragedy of being less and less moved by the loss of life, the destruction & the carnage described in the first paragraph. It is the reality that our hearts are burdened enough by the suffering in our own lives and most of us don’t have the capacity, the desire, or the will to allow ourselves to enter into the suffering of those outside our immediate context on a day after day basis.  We are saturated with the suffering of others as day after day images of tragedies flash across our TVs, our computer monitors & our iPhones.  Day after day we hear of tragedy.  Day after day we read of devastation, loss & sorrow…parents losing children… children losing parents.  Whole families wiped out.  Entire villages reduced to rubble.  The reality is that our hearts are frail and we simply grow weary of the information and grow calloused to the suffering.

We’ve even come up with a term for this reduction in compassion – it’s called “compassion fatigue.”  A simple Google search for “compassion fatigue” produces 163,000 results.  Our friends over at Wikipedia sum it up:

“Compassion fatigue, also known as a Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among victims of trauma and individuals that work directly with victims of trauma. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self doubt.

“Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with decontextualized images and stories of suffering. This has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering. Journalism analysts cite research which shows that visual images affect brain activity in demonstrable and measurable ways.”

As I’ve been noodling on this whole compassion fatigue concept, my mind took me to the question, “Does God experience compassion fatigue?”  I mean, does He become overwhelmed by the suffering?  Does His heart grow weary of the pain and loss?  Is it possible that He would check out…unable to handle what He sees on a day in and day out basis?

If you’ve spent much time in my personal blog, then you’ll know that my gut response to this question is no, of course not. His capacity to experience compassion is unending.  However, I wanted to go back to Scripture to verify that my gut response was indeed backed up by God’s word.  The Old Testament is full of passages that speak to God’s compassion (Ex. 34:6-7; Deut. 4:30-31; 2 Chronicles 30:8-9, Nehemiah 9, Lamentations 3:19-26, Jonah 4:2ff to name a few).  And when we get into the New Testament and see Jesus, who “is the image of the invisible God”, we get to see God, in physical form, live a life void of compassion fatigue.  Two (of the many) passages that most encouraged my heart were Matthew 20 & Luke 7.

  • Matthew 20:29-34: Jesus is leaving Jericho.  He has just told His twelve disciples that they are headed to Jerusalem and this thing they are a part of is moving towards a murder – His murder.  It is crowded.  It is noisy.  There is chaos just being near this man.  And in the throng of people sit two unnamed men – both blind.  Though they cannot see Him with their eyes, they can see with their hearts that this man is something special.  And so they cry out at the tops of their lungs – a loud and annoying yell – “Have mercy on us!  Have mercy on us!”  The crowd tells them to shut up.  But Jesus stopped.  Is He busy? Yes.  Is He overloaded with requests?  Yes.  Are there crowds of sick people that need His attention?  Yes.  Is He aware that His body is about to be ripped to shreds by a whip?  Yes.  Is He cognizant of the fact that, in a very short time, nails will be driven through His hands & feet?  Yes.  And yet, He stopped.  No compassion fatigue – just compassion.  And two men receive their sight.
  • Luke 7:12-15: Jesus is approaching the city of Nain & comes along a funeral procession.  In the coffin is a young man – the only son of a widow.  This woman has lost everything – no husband to protect her…no son to provide for her.  She is alone.  But in God’s sovereignty, her aloneness is about to be interrupted.  Jesus sees this woman through the crowds – both the crowd following Him and the crowd following the coffin.  He sees the coffin. He sees the pain. He sees the loss.  No compassion fatigue – just compassion.  And with a touch to the coffin and a single sentence uttered there is life restored where there was death.

If you want to see how God responds to suffering, you need not look beyond Jesus.  If you need proof that God does not experience compassion fatigue, then spend some time in the gospels and remember that you and I are the blind men on the side of the road.  We are the widow who has lost everything.  And yet, God, full of compassion, has moved on our behalf.  “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

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David Leventhal sent this update from Haiti:

Today was a good laying the groundwork day.  Our team met with CMBH (Southern Baptist Group in Haiti) & World Relief.  The net result of our time is that we will be able to meet with 46 churches in the coming week.  Definitely a great start to the church to church partnerships we are hoping to create to care for Haiti’s orphans.

Our time with World Relief was especially sweet as we got to hear about all the great things they are doing to care for orphans & vulnerable children.  Their headquarters in Port Au Prince was destroyed so they are working out of one of their hospital / orphanage facilities called King’s Hospital.  After our meeting we were able to spend some time with the children in their orphanage.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing like getting eyeball to eyeball with a child that has lost everything.  It brings a renewed perspective that you simply cannot get from a book, a sermon or a meeting over coffee. It will wreck you in the best possible way.

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As many Christians continue to see the face of suffering on the news every evening, they wonder, “What can I do to really help?”  Over the past week on this blog, our team has been discussing the role of adoption and giving in response to the crisis in Haiti.  One of the things I have been thinking about is the role of a local church orphans ministry in the midst of a humanitarian crisis such as this.

We have seen a huge outpouring of individuals wanting to do everything from donating the use of their airplanes, to spending time in Haiti administering medical care, to hosting and even adopting children affected by this tragedy. In light of this great number of Christians who are poised and ready saying, “Lord, here am I – send me,” what can an established church orphans ministry do?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do with my friends was to play “Tackle the Man with the Football” (we had another name for this game that isn’t really suitable for print). There were really no rules to speak of, no order and certainly no protective equipment – you just looked for the guy with the ball and did everything you could to get him on the ground.  In short, it was chaos.  In retrospect, I have no earthly idea how I’ve made to this point in my life never having broken a bone.

As I got older, my friends and I graduated into more organized football and learned the importance of game plans, coaches and quarterbacks (and helmets).  When it comes to caring for orphans through your church in the midst of a crisis situation, a church orphans ministry can serve the function of a quarterback on a football team.  Still under the authority of the church staff (the coaching staff), a church orphans ministry leader has the advantage of being on the field and seeing things others can’t see and that will greatly affect the outcome of the game.  I recognize that football as a metaphor for church orphans ministry falls short at several different levels in light of the severity of the need. However, I feel it does help for illustration purposes to describe the three roles that a church orphans ministry can play:

1) Apprise – To apprise means to “inform.”  A quarterback takes in a lot of information and assimilates that information for others.  If he sees the defense doing certain things, he lets the coaches and the other players know.  You can be the eyes and ears for your church as it relates to orphans in the midst of a crisis.  For example, in Haiti, a church orphans ministry leader should be the one who knows the daily developments related to Haitian orphans.  What is happening to the children?  What are the Haitian and American policies on adoption and on temporary care in the U.S.? What are Christian organizations doing specifically for orphans in Haiti?

Finding and assimilating this information and then passing it on to your congregation through your church’s website, e-mail and your team’s social networking connections can help members of your church know the truth, can eliminate rumors about what is and is not possible and will equip them to respond accordingl

2) Advise – A quarterback can tell his coaches on the sidelines what he is seeing on the field and then make recommendations for a plan of attack.  Having gathered as much information as possible, you may very well be in a position to humbly counsel your church’s leadership about the church’s corporate response to the crisis.  Your church staff will undoubtedly be in contact with your missions team but you can provide counsel specifically related to orphans involved in the crisis.  How will the church counsel members who indicate an interest in adopting a Haitian orphan?  What organizations will be recommended to church members for financial partnership?

The key to playing this role in your church is to approach leadership as a helper and not as an expert.  Make recommendations rather than impassioned demands (i.e  “Children are starving on the streets without parents – what is this church going to do about it!!!!”)  Remember that you’re on the same team as (and under the authority of) your pastor.

3) Advocate—If a quarterback notices that his running backs are not getting the blocks they need to get through the line, he is going to talk to his linemen and advocate for his running backs.  In the same way, when you see a place where a strategy or a particular group of children need to be noticed, speak up.  Keeping in mind the last part of point 2 about humbly approaching church leadership, don’t be afraid to advocate in your church and “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves . . .” (Proverbs 31:8a).  God has placed you in a position within your church to be the voice for children who lack one. God will use you to demonstrate His love and His reality to children in the most desperate of circumstances.

A church orphans ministry at a time like this cannot only be a blessing to hundreds of children, it can be a blessing to your church and your church’s leadership as you use your passion and experience to serve your church and the Kingdom.

If you don’t yet have an orphans ministry in your church and are interested in learning more about starting one, please click here.  If you would like to talk with someone at Hope for Orphans about orphans ministry in your church, please contact our Manager of Church Mobilization, Shane McBride, at SMcBride@familylife.com.

By God’s leading and with the wisdom He provides, you can play an important role in helping the members of your church “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless. . .” (Psalm 82:3a).

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This is the second in a three part blog series addressing the crisis in Haiti.


In the past week I have received scores of emails from organizations asking me to give money to their Haiti relief efforts.  Many websites are now carrying advertisements for all types of non-profit organizations that are serving those devastated by the earthquake.  When a crisis strikes and people are moved to help there are always going to be huge financial needs, as is the case in Haiti.

So that our giving is not done in a haphazard manner it’s helpful to have a framework or a lens through which we view these requests – a “why?”, a “ how?” and a “who?”.



Motives matter.  It’s important that we remember why we ought to be giving financially to serve those who are hurting.  We need to be honest with the reality that as long as we are alive we will wrestle with our motives.

In 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 the apostle Paul reminds his readers that the reason they have excess is so that they can share with others in need.  We have been blessed financially so that we can be a blessing to others.  We have been given much so that we can give much.  And don’t miss this – all this flows out of the gospel.  We see in Christ the one who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NASB).  We find that Christ, though he “existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8, NASB).  Make no mistake about it – our giving should start from what we’ve been given through the birth, life, death & resurrection of Christ.  We love because He first loved us.

This means that our motivation for giving should not lie in our tax deduction. It should not spring from a desire to have our name on a building.  It should not emanate from the thought that God will find greater pleasure in me, for if you are in Christ then you are already clothed in righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) and co-heirs with the Son (Romans 8:16ff).

With requests coming at you almost daily how do you determine who you should give to?  What criteria should be used to sift through the many ministries, organizations and NGOs?  Randy Alcorn, the President of Eternal Perspective Ministries said it succinctly: “Our mailboxes are filled with urgent requests from innumerable ministries. The needs may be real, and needs are important, but they are also endless. So needs alone are not sufficient reason. For the glory of God, we must say ‘no’ to many need-meeting opportunities, even most of them, the vast majority of them, in order that we may say a strong ‘yes’ to those that God has uniquely called us to support.”

Might I suggest two criteria to start with  – there are certainly others you could & should use, but I think these two are good ones to get you started:

1)      Gospel-centric:  We believe that the God created man with a body (that is temporary) and a soul (which lives on for eternity).  Since they are both God’s handiwork both are important, but the state of a person’s soul is insurmountably more important. There is an African proverb that says, “An empty stomach has no ears” – which is another way of saying we cannot ignore people’s physical needs for the sake of simply passing along the gospel. And so when we look to give to an organization that is going to help provide for people’s physical needs we ought to look for one that has the long term (e.g. eternal) perspective in mind.

2)      Accountable: We believe that you should only funnel your resources to organizations and ministries that are accountable.  Membership to an organization like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountablity (ECFA) is a great way to filter through some of the ministries you may be looking to support.  The key is that the organization be above reproach in the way they handle their resources, their financial reporting & disclosure, their donor development and other key aspects of their ministry.

I would also encourage you to check out Randy Alcorn’s writing. He has been producing really solid content on this whole idea of stewardship.  I’ve found his writings very solid from a biblical perspective & very challenging from a personal perspective.  You would do well to spend some time on his website.   One post that is particularly relevant to the topic I’m addressing now is: Nineteen Questions to Ask Before You Give to Any Organization

We’ve talked about the why & the how – what about the who?  Let me suggest a four organizations (all members of ECFA) that I believe are worthy of your resources:

  • Global Aid Network (GAiN) – Providing humanitarian relief on the ground. GAiN had prepositioned a container in Haiti before the earthquake & had supplies already in the country.
  • Children’s Hunger Fund – CHF was in the right place, with aid products, training, and strategies, at the right time, just days before the earthquake struck. They have responded immediately and have begun to launch long-term poverty relief strategies.
  • Hope International – A leader in the Christian micro-finance space.  You can give to their Haiti Re-Development Fund that will be put to use to help the people of Haiti rebuild their lives.
  • World Orphans – Partnering with the local Haitian church to care for orphans. 

For other recommended organizations you can click HERE for Desiring God/John Piper’s list or HERE for Together for Adoption/Dan Cruver’s list.

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This is the first in a three part blog series addressing the crisis in Haiti.  The question we have heard most revolves around the adoption of Haitian orphans and so this is where we felt compelled to start.  The other two posts will center on the priority of giving and of church orphans ministries. The leadership team at Hope for Orphans spent some time over the past 48 hours thinking through the best way to communicate a response to the adoption question.

With this post, we launch the Hope for Orphan’s blog and it is our desire to use it to help you live out the heart of God for orphans which has not changed since the Bible was written. Just this week it was announced that the oldest written examples of the Hebrew language ever found were discovered near Israel’s Elah valley. It just so happens that this text was about pleading for the rights of orphans and widows at the hands of the King.

This morning I saw a story on T.V. about orphans from Haiti being airlifted by Americans to the U.S.  This disaster is an opportunity for we The Church to live out the connection between the Good News and good deeds.  At a time like this when the need is so overwhelming, you may have many questions about the best way to help.

Many have been calling us at Hope for Orphans asking about the possibility of adopting orphans in Haiti.  You may have received some of those same questions.  For families that have already been in the process to adopt a Haitian child, the State Department announced yesterday that “humanitarian parole” for certain Haitian orphans is being offered. That means if you are in process and have been matched with a child, the placement may be expedited. You can learn more about this at: http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis.

For those interested in pursuing adoption of Haitian orphans, we want to share a few important thoughts regarding this desire.  The process by which orphans will be adopted from Haiti post-earthquake is still unclear as much of the infrastructure has been wiped out.   Regarding a desire to adopt a Haitian orphan – first of all, the reality of this crisis does not change the fact that the most important consideration in any adoption is obedience to God.  If God is calling you to adopt from Haiti (or anywhere else for that matter) then you should pursue it.  However, we must caution others to not mistake the emotional response to the devastation we see with the clear direction of God’s Spirit in our lives.  Here are a few issues anyone thinking about adoption should consider:

  1. How have we sensed God’s leading toward adoption prior to this tragedy? While it is entirely possible that the Lord is using this tragedy to open your eyes to the needs of orphans and the possibility of adoption, you may want to proceed with caution if this tragedy is the first time you have ever considered adoption.  You will want to take some necessary steps to insure that this is, in fact, the Lord’s leading and not simply an emotional response to the suffering you are seeing.  This kind of response is natural but should not be the driving force in decision-making.  Adoption is a life-long decision that should only be made after careful consideration.
  2. Are you and your spouse unified in your decision to pursue adoption? Two of the biggest temptations in adoption take place in the arena of your marriage.  The first is to pressure or even nag a spouse who is not convinced of God’s calling to adopt.  This temptation is especially strong at a time like this when the need seems so urgent.  It is important to remember that for millions children, the need for a family is –  and has been – urgent every day and this tragedy should not be used to apply additional pressure to a spouse that is unsure of God’s leading.  The second temptation is to give in to a spouse that is applying pressure to adopt.  It is natural to want to please our spouse, but additional and serious complications will come down the road in your marriage if both spouses are not equally convinced of God’s call to adopt.
  3. Have you sought the insight and counsel from godly people who know you well? The best insight into our lives and our motives often comes through the eyes of others.  If you are inclined to consider adoption, talk to others who have your best interests at heart and whose lives demonstrate a commitment to the will of God.  Also, it would be wise to seek counsel from others you know who have adopted.  They can share with you the realities of raising children who have experienced great suffering and can help you to pursue adoption with healthy and realistic expectations.
  4. Have you been faithfully praying about what God would have your response to be? There is nothing more sobering than realizing that you are about to make a major life decision during a time when your prayer life is anemic.  Caring for orphans is God’s will for everybody. Adoption is not.  Spending regular time seeking the Lord in prayer is the best way to insure that you are not about to step outside of His will for your life.
  5. Is my desire to adopt coming primarily from a desire to obey God or to “save” a child who is suffering. The desire to help a child in need is very important.  The thing to remember is that adoption is not the only way to do this.  You can be a part of God’s care for the orphans of Haiti in other ways.  Adoption is one aspect of orphan care and requires clear direction from the Lord.

If after considering these things, you feel God may not be calling you to adopt, remember there are other things He may lead you to do in response to this tragedy which we will be discussing in the days to come.

For centuries God’s word has taught that loving orphans, the poor and the widow are in fact pure worship. I pray that out of these ashes many more will seek to join God where He is working and worship Him there.

On behalf of the Hope for Orphans team,
Paul Pennington
Founder & Executive Director
Hope for Orphans

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