Book Review: Tony Merida and Rick Morton’s Orphanology

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One very cold, Siberian morning, my wife and I sat in an orphanage in northern Kazakhstan waiting for another visit with our favorite 10 month old. (You can read his story here). As we waited, an orphange worker came walking by with two small children, a boy and a girl. They were about two years old, and they stared at us immediately. The girl was very excited and she began to jump and shout, “Mama! Papa! Mama! Papa!” as the worker hurried them away. Our hearts jumped too, but alas, we only had the paperwork, approval, and money for Caleb. We could not be the parents of these two.

The memory has stayed with us. When I think about Caleb’s life in an orphanage or I consider what our lives would be like without him, or his without us, the memory of those two excited orphans reminds me: there are more.

And there are more. Many more. Millions and millions more.

In Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care, Tony Merida and Rick Morton ask a difficult question, “Will we settle for a safe, comfortable religion or will we use the resources for the good of the world and the glory of Christ?” Orphanology is a challenge. It is a challenge to take seriously the words of James 1:27:

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 (ESV)

Readers may wonder how James might say that this is “pure and undefiled religion.” The answer is simple. Orphan care is at the heart of the gospel. The horizontal adoption visible in orphan care, points toward the vertical adoption that all in Christ have experienced.

The challenge is clear and obvious. Merida and Morton highlight this challenge by examining this and other passages of scripture, by explaining the facts of the state of orphans throughout the world, and including many touching stories of adoption and orphan care. UNICEF estimates between 143 and 210 million orphans in the world, yet that number does not reflect them all. Many children are institutionalized, homeless, or caught up in human trafficking; uncounted by UNICEF. These children are also orphans and they are in desperate need of Christ and His church.

The challenge being clearly stated, Orphanology moves on to very practical methods that any Christian or church can implement in order to address this need. This is the real strength of the book. Merida and Morton offer insight as to how a church can begin:

Orphanage funding

Churches can partner with existing orphanages around the world. in order to support them and their mission to care for orphans.

Foster care ministries

Churches can encourage members to become foster parents, support and encourage those who do, and welcome the foster children with open arms.

Adoption ministries

Churches can rally to support those in their congregations that are adopting. Adoption is a long, difficult, and expensive process and a church can offer encouragment and financial support.

Transitional ministries

Many children are too old to be “in the system” and too young to be on their own. Churches can help these teenage orphans as they transition to life in the adult world.

Orphan hosting

By hosting a group of orphans for a short stay in the U.S., churches have an opportunity to show love, share Christ, and encourage ongoing adoption and orphan care.

Further, there is an entire chapter covering how church leaders can cast the vision for such ministries and implement them.

All said, there is no reason why a church cannot care for orphans. Is everyone called to adopt? No. Is everyone called to be a foster parent? No. Yet, Christians are called care for orphans. Merida and Morton have done an excellent job relaying this call and giving practical steps toward answering it. The real question is, what will YOU do?

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99% of you don’t have the guts to re-post this

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I have watched social networking through a few well-known disasters (floods, earthquakes, etc) and have noticed an interesting pattern among Christians. First there is a sharing of information. The links to news stories travels fast. Quickly on its heels are the calls for prayer. Before long information will be shared on how to help; what to collect, how to text a donation, etc. Churches will share how they are mobilizing and opportunities will abound for getting involved. Then a strange thing happens. A forwarded post shows up. It looks something like this:

Doesn’t make much sense, does it??: Homeless go without eating. Elderly go without needed medicines. Mentally ill go without treatment. Troops go without proper equipment. Veterans go without benefits that were promised. Yet we donate billions to other countries BEFORE helping our own first. 1% will re-post and 99% won’t. Have the guts to re-post this.

I have never re-posted this and it has nothing to do with guts. I don’t re-post it because one, I am a Christian and it is outside of my mission as a follower of Christ, and it really lacks a lot of common sense.

Let’s tackle that second reason first. Common sense. That’s somewhat of an oxymoron, as sense is not too common. However, let me show you what I mean. Yes, America has its problems. Yes there are homeless people in the streets. Yes, many go without health care, and so on. However, to be needy in America is vastly different than being needy elsewhere in the world. If you don’t believe that, you probably need to take a few trips outside the country. In my community, I am the treasurer for the Ministerial Alliance. That means, just about every request for a local church to help the needy in our community comes through me. Food, temporary housing, rent, utilities, clothes after a fire, etc, are all requested. Our county is among the poorest in the country with more than half the population living below poverty. I think I see a good cross-section of America’s needy. Most are living better than the average person I have met in El Salvador and Kazakhstan. Most have luxuries that folks in those countries can hardly imagine. Yet, they fit in that category of “Homeless going without eating, Elderly needing medicine, etc.” The average person that comes through my office gets about $75 worth of help. Very, very few are grateful. Many have actually cussed me for my efforts. I tell you that to tell you that I once also helped a woman on the streets of Kazakhstan. I’m not much for handing out money on streets, but when I saw that she was cleaning meat off of a chicken bone from the trash in order to feed her toddler, my cold heart was won over. I gave her what change I had left, the equivalent of $3. She burst into tears.

Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of needy people in America that are grateful when helped. I once delivered about 300 gallons of bleach to a Katrina relief station and was hugged by about a dozen people. What I am saying is not that people in other countries are more grateful, but they are more needy. Let’s face it, given the choice, I’d rather be homeless in America than have a home in Haiti, especially after the earthquake!

Let’s also consider the massive amount of resources available for the needy in America, especially in times of disaster. If you are in a major disaster in the US, the relief comes rolling in while you get a hotel room and plenty of funds to rebuild. If you are in a disaster in Haiti, you will sit on a pile of rocks. Before you email me and tell me of someone that wasn’t helped in the US, ask yourself which is more often the case?

The fact is, that it makes sense to raise support for other countries because we have it and they need it. They need it far more than the “needy” of our country do.

However, my first reason is more important. I don’t re-post this silly post because I am a Christian and it is outside of my mission as a Christian. You see, Christ sends His people “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). You may say that I should help America first, but I say I do not serve the god of America. I serve Christ. His mission is global, thus my mission is global. That is not my country first and then the world, but the world, which includes my country. If you are a Christian, you should absolutely be seeking to help the needy in your community, in your state, in your country, AND IN YOUR WORLD!

I guess the real question is not do you have guts enough to re-post a silly little forward (what courage that must take!) but do you actually have the guts to follow your LORD?