what about orphanages? (part 4)

This will be our final post in this initial series on orphan care (Post 1, Meet the McCollums, Post 2, Post 3), but the discussion isn’t over. I’m sure I’ll have John back to share his wisdom (and maybe even his sarcasm). And besides, I’m madly in love with a family of kiddos at one of the Asia’s Hope orphanages, and I won’t be done talking about them anytime soon.

But I have lots of other stuff I need to get to. Like the 7 Read-a-Long (go sign up!) and Traffick Jam 2012 (goodness, it’s coming up quick!), and all that other stuff I listed in this post. And then a bunch of other stuff I just thought of.

If you’ll recall, I interrupted John yesterday just as he was getting ready to share some so-what-can-I-do? wisdom with all of us. Let me repeat the question and John’s initial thoughts, and then I’ll let him keep talking this time.

Me: I have lots of friends (online and in real life) who have a real heart for orphans. What advice would you give for those who want to be involved in a hands-on way (besides just giving money)? And beyond Asia’s Hope, what kinds of things do they need to find out before giving their time/money/resources to an orphanage (or organization that supports orphanages)?

John: First of all, I want to offer a word of encouragement and affirmation. Caring for orphans is one of the highest, noblest aspirations I can think of. As a Christian, I believe that God’s spirit dwells in a very real way among the poor, the oppressed, the orphaned and the abandoned. There is a special blessing for all who give sacrificially to help orphans, a deep communion with Jesus that is impossible to attain from mere church attendance, formal worship or even Bible study. That having been said, some strategies and some motivations for serving orphans are more helpful than others.

I think that the first step toward hands-on involvement is one of deep and often painful self-examination. Think and pray long and hard and commit to doing what’s best for the orphaned kids and not what seems most rewarding to you. Ask yourself if you’re willing to work in anonymity, willing to work in submission to those with spiritual authority in the communities in which you wish to serve, and willing to work for little or no discernible reward if doing so will provide the greatest benefit for orphaned children. If you’re willing, then I believe you’re on the right path.

After my first trip to Cambodia, I wanted with all of my heart to move to the country, and to just immerse myself and my family into daily, hands-on interaction with the people there. I’ll admit, I believed that I was uniquely called and equipped to make a difference with my presence ‘on the ground.’ I was challenged – and saddened, at first – by a Cambodian pastor who said to me, “John, we do not need you here. We have experienced, skilled workers here. We need you to help us provide financial resources that we cannot get here, and to tell our brothers and sisters in America about what God is doing in Cambodia and ask them to help.”

I had to do a real gut check. Was I in this for me or for the people I was claiming to serve? It was only after I decided that I would continue to work for the good of the Cambodian people even if I never received any of the warm feelings and personal affirmation that I really got confirmation from God that this was the right path for me and my family. I don’t mean to suggest that there is no role for hands-on involvement for Westerners in international ministry; I just mean that we all need to check our own priorities at the door and focus on what really is best for the people we’ve been called to serve.

Second, you need to take personal inventory of your skills, your talents and your spiritual gifts and determine which of these are most useful in meeting the needs of orphaned kids. Do you have money or access to money through your church or circle of friends? Mobilize those resources. Talk to your boss; approach your pastor. Encourage them to make orphan care a priority.

Are you a skilled communicator? A photographer? A graphic designer? Do you have logistical, technical or accounting skills? There are dozens – maybe hundreds – of existing organizations doing great work that could use your services. Get involved. Volunteer.

Some of these opportunities might even lead you to in-country involvement. If you’re a nurse, doctor or dentist, or if you are certified to teach English as a second language, you might be uniquely equipped to go short- or long-term to minister overseas.

Third, you need to figure out which organizations you align with philosophically, strategically – even theologically. This may take some time and some research. But it’s a really important step. If you’re going to pour your heart and soul and your money into a cause, it’s worth making sure that the cause is well-run and well-conceived.

Here are some key questions you should ask to determine whether or not an orphan care organization is worth supporting:
• Does the organization align with my ethical and theological world view?
• Is the organization legally registered with the government?
• Does the organization meet or exceed the government’s minimal standards for child care?
• Does the organization have long-term, trained and well-supervised staff?
• Does the organization have a child protection policy that covers all staff and visitors?
• Are sibling groups kept together?
• Does the organization attempt to replicate family living?
• Does the organization have workable strategies for stable, long-term funding?
• Does the organization have strategies in place to transition the children into successful, independent adults?
• Does the organization respect and empower indigenous staff?
• Is the organization and its staff financially transparent and accountable?

If you can answer “yes” to all of these questions, then I’d say you’re working with an organization that is trying its best to do what’s best for the kids in its care. If not, then you should exercise real caution about getting involved. No organization is perfect, but you should expect to see progress toward all of these goals.

Wow, great stuff. Thanks so much for taking the time to spell all of that out for us, John. This series has been super helpful. Lots to process, lots to pray about, lots to get moving on.

And thank YOU, friends, for your contribution. Any more questions for John? Have at it.

7 thoughts on “what about orphanages? (part 4)

  1. Pingback: Marla Taviano » my right-now story

  2. Angela Lambright

    Have you ever heard of Make Way Partners? They have orphanages in Sudan, a safe house in Romania, and are starting ministries in Peru and D.R.Congo. From what I’ve been able to gather, it seems like the orphanges are in dormatory style. One where girls sleep and one for boys on a compound of sorts. They have about 600 children currently and still have to turn kids away. Do you think in certain areas where there is such an overwhelming number of orphans that meeting their basic needs is more pressing than smaller homes where they wouldn’t be able to help as many children? Before the orphange was built the children were sleeping outside and were open to slave raiders as well as being eaten at night by hyenas and wild dogs. I definitely agree with everything you’ve said in these posts and was just wondering if you knew anything about this ministry or had opinions on the way they are handeling the orphan crisis in Sudan.

    1. John McCollum


      I’m not familiar with them, but I visited their web site.

      I hesitate to criticize ANY organization rescuing kids from devastating circumstances. I will say, however, that it’s my opinion that a dormitory-style home is best used for short-term, transitional or emergency living.

      Obviously, it’s better than nothing, but study after study shows that kids do poorly over the long term in large, institutional settings. Kids really DO need a mom and a dad, not just a hot meal and a place to stay.

      We live in a fallen, less-than-ideal world, however. I’d love to see churches, businesses and individuals in the richer world provide for their brothers and sisters in places like Sudan so that they can afford to have the full spectrum of care.

      And I really believe the money exists on our end and the talent exists on theirs. We just need to figure out how to build the structures and relationships necessary to make that connection happen in a responsible, redemptive manner.

      This would include village-level food assistance, enterprise development, capacity building, training, education, emergency or transitional housing and family-based care.

      1. Angela Lambright

        Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions 🙂 It seems like such an overwhelming need with so few people responding to it. And it seems to me that people are quick to sympathize with it but don’t really want to put forth the effort to do anything about it. Thank you for your work and willingness to educate us on things we can do to help. You will be in my prayers.

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