“You know what’s wrong with you people?”
If this is the leading question, you can guarantee an interesting conversation is about to follow. The passenger in the seat next to me was not pleased I had asked about his relationship with Jesus. This question began his rejoinder about all things spiritual. I mentally began to calculate which direction this conversation might take, but I was wrong. In fact, I never saw his response coming.
“Y’all talk about ending abortion, but none of you people adopt the kids we already have waiting.”
Dropping that nuclear bomb on our conversation, he turned his body away, signaling that our discussion was over.
I sat back in my seat and began to ponder. He was right — at least up to a point. While the number of evangelicals engaged in the orphan care movement has grown, the overall number of adopted children in the United States has barely budged. In the best of years, families in the U.S. file legally to adopt between 100,000 to 125,000 children. That may sound like a resounding success, but more than half of those are familial adoptions, meaning they are the result of a child being adopted by a family member. Worse, adoption is only a small part of a greater orphan crisis globally as millions of children go without even a semblance of a family. Even with our greater awareness of the plight of children on a global scale, the number of churches taking an active role is painfully small.
This should crush our hearts. From a biblical and gospel perspective, we stand condemned.
In the Old Testament, God clearly spells out that the community of faith has a responsibility to care for widows and orphans. In Exodus 22:22–23 we are told, “Do not oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Do not exploit widows or orphans.”
For those who did not think this was an important part of God’s heart, the following warning was added in verses 23–24: “If you do exploit them and they cry out to Me, I will surely help them. My anger will blaze forth against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Your wives will become widows and your children will become fatherless.”
Harsh words. We can ascertain from this text that God the Father sees our role in meeting the basic needs of widows and orphans, and He grants them direct access to His throne. Any complaints do not go well for those unwilling to address the needs that are present. Lest we think this only applies to the Old Testament believer, James 1:27 repeats this theme for us as we are given a clarion call to care for the widow and the orphan.
If an extensive study is done of the Old Testament, the following basic themes emerge:
- Orphan care is commanded by God for the entire community of faith, and a curse followed those who did not take up the cause of the orphan and oppressed.
- Lack of care for orphans is almost always listed in the prophetic recitations of evil in Israel and the surrounding nations.
- God hears the prayers of orphans and promises to be their Defender and Father.
This background in the Old Testament prepares the hearer for the reality of the New Testament imagery relating to orphans.
The apostle Paul extensively utilizes and underscores the legal concept of adoption to display the beauty of our justification and sanctification in Christ. In Romans 8:12–9:5, Paul begins talking about the Christian’s identity in Christ and testifies that we are no longer slaves. Instead our identity changes. We are now children of God because of the work of Jesus.
Just as Paul outlines in Galatians 4, it is through the Holy Spirit that we receive the “Spirit of adoption” that allows us to cry out, “Abba, Father!” In fact, it is the Spirit Himself that testifies we are God’s children.
But it’s not just Paul. In 1 John 3:1–2 and in John 1:12, the apostle reminds us how our status as adopted children of God shows the overwhelming love of God. The call of God to salvation resulting in the adoption and redemption of His children from every corner of the globe (John 11:52) continues unabated.
As Baptists, our claim has long been that we are people of the Word and that we walk in accordance with the Word of God. The time to take action is now. God’s Word is clear that orphan care is part of God’s design and plan for His people. Why are many of us still on the sidelines? Our churches should be exploring how to care for orphans on a global scale. We can foster, adopt, help fund orphanages and other international work, or even go ourselves. The truth is, we simply cannot stand by any longer.
EDITOR’S NOTE — John Mark Yeats is the father of four incredible children given by God through adoption. He serves as dean of Midwestern Baptist College in Kansas City, Mo.
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