This month, Sharie, myself and the director of an Fundaninos, an orphanage where we serve in Guatemala, were blessed to attend the CAFO (Christian Alliance for Orphans) summit.
CAFO is a yearly conference about orphan care attended by Pastors, churches, organizations and people, who are passionate about fulfilling Christ's instruction to care for the orphaned and fatherless. They come together to teach, learn and share about how to better care for orphaned and vulnerable children.
God worked out some amazing miracles for us to go, including; a kind hearted fellow missionary in Guatemala to sponsoring our trip, someone to watch our children while we were gone, a vehicle to use in our travels and free places to stay.
It was an incredible experience. We learned a lot and had the opportunity to talk to with people working in orphan care from all around the world. Here are a few of the things that impacted me the most:
1) We are all called, in some way, to serve the orphaned, widowed and vulnerable. Pastor James Yim summed it when he said: "The question for me, is not how can the church be involved in orphan care, but how can the church not be involved in orphan care!" In speaking of the church, he wasn't talking about buildings, organizations or denominations, he was talking about the body of believers that profess to believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
2) We are all called to serve, but how exactly we serve, might look different. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." Just as there are many callings within the body of Christ, so there are many ways to get involved with caring for the most vulnerable. Some may be called to adopt, others to foster, others to serve in orphan care or prevention ministries, others still to support and enable those ministries. The only thing we cannot do, is not get involved.
3) Getting involved may cost, and I'm not just talking about money, resources are needed, but we must be careful not to outsource the Gospel. To think that just because we give financially to something we are no longer obligated to get personally involved, is a mistake. One of the biggest needs many organizations face in regards helping their children, is volunteers to give their time. Josh Sipp said it well “Kids spell trust T-I-M-E”. You don't have to go 1000 miles away to an orphanage to do this, there are social orphans and vulnerable at risk children in every city of every country of the world. Studies by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University found that “Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult”.
4) Mike Douris, the founder of Orphan Outreach, often says, "We need to operate according to what's in the best interests of each and every child we are working with." In the world of orphan care, it seems like there are as many models of caring for children as there are children. Yes, there are best practices and ways of doing things, and we should always strive for them. But what works well in one country or situation may not work exactly the same another. We have to be sensitive to the needs of the child, the culture of the country and the realities of the situation. Most importantly, we should not forget the power of the Gospel.
5) “Why are we here? It is not guilt or duty or even idealism that draws us here. We love because He first loved us.” (Jedd Medefind, President of CAFO). If the Gospel is God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, then caring for orphans in the heart of the Gospel. When we reach out and care for the orphaned and fatherless, when we love them, serve them and care for them with our whole hearts, we are doing for them what God did for us, and that is the beauty of living out the Gospel.
6) We are not alone. One of the most encouraging things for me at the conference, was seeing that we are not alone the work we do, although, after 13 years working a missionary in Guatemala, it can sometimes seem that way. At times the obstacles appear insurmountable. While attending the workshops and meeting with people from all around the world, I saw many wrestling with the same problems that we do, some doing better, some not. Yet all were there, in humility, willing to talk, share, discuss and listen to what others had to say. It gave me a greater peace that we are not running this race alone but are a small part of what God is doing to motivate the hearts and lives of His church to care for his orphaned children, wherever they may be.