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?