My family had the great privilege to participate in orphan hosting this summer. If you’re not familiar with this idea, here’s a quick version – you invite an orphaned child from Eastern Europe into your home for 4-6 weeks. During that time, you treat the child like one of your own and help him or her develop life skills, learn English, and gain an understanding of what it’s like to be part of a functional family.
I can’t share our host child’s name, so for our purposes, we will call him “M.”. Many people have asked me why we chose to host a 17 year old boy. After all, he’s almost a man. He shaves! He can drive! He can argue like an adult… ask me how I know. Why didn’t we pick a younger kid – someone we could influence more – someone that wasn’t already a lost cause? Yes, someone used those words – “lost cause.”
I am here to advocate for orphaned teenage boys. They are sometimes angry, hard to read, opinionated, and they are always, always tough. (For instance, M went through nicotine withdrawal and a root canal with not one complaint.) They also need people to love them. Under the hard exteriors, well, they aren’t all exactly teddy bears, but they are all wonderful and exceedingly important. This is no lost cause. This is the next generation of fathers!
In M’s case, his “resting face” is rather aggressive. He has floppy hair, piercings, and tattoos. He smokes and drinks and parties (even though he doesn’t want to). I don’t know for sure, but you might cross the street if you encountered him alone at night in his country. But you coax a smile, his sweet spirit emerges, he tells you that he worries about his “American family” he buys a stuffed sheep for our baby’s birthday and he pleads like a much younger child. “You can call me every day?”
M lives at an orphanage. He has been through more in his life than many of us will ever face, and these things have deeply affected him – loss of parents and relationships; desperate hunger in spite of his caregiver’s best efforts; dying and being revived – twice (“I have third chance at life”); fear; and his immense bravery in facing that fear. One of the first things he told me was, “Being at orphanage is better for some kids. Some childrens’ parents is bad.” When you read that, consider also that he would rather be almost anywhere but the orphanage. More than once, he started to tell me something – and then he stopped and said, “No, no. You don’t need know about that.” In other words, he has lived things that he feels would be too heavy a burden to share.
And he is anything but a lost cause. He’s a normal kid who, unfortunately, through no fault of his own, drew the short straw of life. Is any of us beyond the grace of God? Make no mistake – grace and mercy are what he needs, more than he needs to live as part of a family, much more than “life skills.” The same God who calls “not my people” as “my people” declares that in Christ there are no lost causes (Romans 9:25, 1 Peter 2:10, 1 John 2:2).
Not everyone is called to invite an orphaned child into their homes, but we are all called to do something. James 1:27 says this: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” If you don’t have someone marginalized in your life, you need to pray about this verse and ask that God would give you the opportunity to minister to the fatherless.
Men, I am specifically going to call you out in this area. Not nearly enough men are involved in caring for the fatherless! The vast majority of people reaching out to marginalized children are women, with notable exceptions (big shoutout to Pastor Dave) – this is possibly because women tend to be more nurturing, motherly, and comfortable caring for children. But this verse applies to everyone, not just women.
Men, you need to step up to the plate and care for orphans yourselves, especially when it’s frightening and uncomfortable. Put yourself back in your teenage shoes. Imagine that you are alone – no hope of a future, no family, and absolutely no safety, ever. Do you need a woman to come give you a hug and tell you it will be okay? Yes, of course. Do you need a man to come befriend you and teach you how to be a man yourself? Absolutely. You don’t need to care for orphans the same way that women do – you need to bring your own gifts to the table.
And you remember how you learned yourself – by being with other men. You watched what they did, you decided what you liked (or didn’t like), you imitated them. For orphaned children, fathers are often long gone before the children even realize they are missing, or the fathers are abusive and hateful. For orphaned teenage boys, one of the most vitally important missing ingredients in life is a strong male role model.
If you read that sentence and thought, “That’s not me. I’m not a strong man” – think again. Consider your life and how God wants to use you. Read Scripture, get around other Christian men that you respect, pray regularly, and forget about society’s definition of strength. None of us is strong alone, but God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. God is the strongest male role model! And he shows that strength by caring for the needs of those who are unable to care for themselves. That’s real strength!
In Hosea 14, we find a beautiful picture of how the Lord has treated us, orphans ourselves in the eternal sense (and sometimes in the temporal sense too). “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God… ‘In you the orphan finds mercy.’ I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily… They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow.” This is how our Father loves us! We are told to imitate God ourselves – specifically, to care for orphans (go back and read James 1:27 again if you need a reminder of this command).
During our time with M this summer, God worked out this picture in our lives. Very imperfectly, we offered him God’s truth and love (I will love them freely), and he grew and healed (he shall blossom like the lily). I want to encourage you to do the same – whether that is through a hosting organization, or just in your own neighborhood. Even if you feel unqualified, find marginalized people in your midst and make them your own, just as God has done for us. If you are a human person who loves Jesus, you are completely qualified to share love with orphans.
Want to learn more? Check out New Horizons for Children or send Pastor Dave a message. I would love to answer any questions you might have and he can pass your info along to me. Thanks for reading!
in the Midwestern United States