September 2012 – "They love one another, and from the widows, they do not turn away their esteem; they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly And when they see a stranger, they take him into their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother."
The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher, 125 A.D., quoted in Orphanology.
"They love " With these words, Aristides, an eminent Athenian statesman, began his description of the Christians of the early church - those who plucked unwanted children from garbage dumps, children who would have been trapped into lives of slavery and sexual trafficking or left to die. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have remained at the forefront of those who step out to rescue these most vulnerable of the world's citizens.
Almost 2,000 years later, Tony and Kim Merida traveled to the Ukraine to adopt two children. They returned home a family of six. Their two children had become a sibling group of four. Some months later, an Ethiopian son joined them, transforming their family from zero to five children in 15 months.
The most vulnerable people on earth
While the orphan receives heartfelt compassion in the modern scene, the plight of the fatherless is still desperate. Countless children, every day, in every country, are abandoned at orphanages and on streets; countless more are surrendered because of parental neglect and abuse, and even more become victims of human traffickers.
"Orphans are among the least powerful and most vulnerable people on earth." Dr. Tony Merida said. "They are vulnerable really from a very early age, they are vulnerable in the orphanage and they are vulnerable, definitely, when they transition out of the orphanage. An orphan does not have a voice. No one sees them on the news at night, and they are very weak and easy to take advantage of."
Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks on adoption throughout the country and co-authored the book Orphanology.
Waging war for the fatherless
A Christian understanding of adoption and the gospel message is vital to waging an effective war for the fatherless. What led the Christians to take orphans into their homes in the first century should motivate the Christian to intercede for orphans today, not by whitewashing the evil that wreaks such horrible devastation, but by recognizing that it is only through adoption by God that sin does not destroy our own lives.
In the midst of Satan's fierce attack, Christians became the brethren of Christ. In the same way, the love and grace of God is extended to the fatherless to bring them into a family "after the spirit and in God."
Is adoption plan B?
However, some view adoption as a way to "fix" what is wrong - to sidestep infertility, to do a favor to a child, to make the world better. While such motivations do not make adoption any less praiseworthy, it does little to distinguish adoption within the church from adoption in any other segment of society.
"I think a lot of people do view adoption as plan B," Merida said. "Most people who think of adoption want a little baby who is the same color as them. I think that is where the gospel can really transform people's perspective."
Special needs adoption
Without this gospel perspective, many of the most vulnerable of orphans are overlooked. In adoption terminology such children are defined as "special needs," which refers to older children, sibling groups, racial minorities or the disabled.
In the world of orphans, a landscape characterized by those who share one preeminent need - a family, Merida agreed that special needs orphans are more difficult to place.
"Couples should not enter the adoption process with a dream baby in mind," he said. "There are no dream babies in adoption. I would rather see couples walk in and say, 'We are going to see where the Lord leads us. We want to be wide open to any race, any age and any health condition.'"
The recognition that adoption takes place by the hand of God makes it clear that a child enters a family because God placed him or her there and defined who that child will be. In this way, there is no distinction between those who enter a family through birth and those who enter it through adoption.
However, adopting any child requires what Merida described as the "radical reorientation of our lives for the sake of the fatherless. The real cost is reorienting your life. It calls for a reorientation of our lives, an adjustment of all that we hold dear, which is really our time and treasure."
The church at the center
In the end, it must be recognized that the real issue is not social improvement, fulfilling one's desires or rescuing the destitute, but of fighting against Satan's war on families, on life and on the gospel.
This is why the church must be at the center of adoption. Merida pointed out that leading the adoption movement are "churches with pastors who are speaking in favor of adoption." Adoption should begin within the church, and the church should support and minister to the family before, during and after the adoption process.
There are many ways the church can fulfill the ministry of orphan care. While not every Christian will adopt a child, all can participate in the adoption of physical and spiritual orphans around the world. "I don't think that every Christian is called to adopt," Merida clarified. "But every Christian is called to display the adopting love and grace and mercy of God, caring for the poor, the widow and orphan."
Churches can care for orphans through foster care, orphan hosting programs, interim care and transitional care. Merida's Orphanology provides a wealth of resources and tips for creating orphan ministry within the church, as Christians of the 21st century, like their first century forbearers, continue to stand at the front lines and display the vivid reality of God's grace to those who live face-to-face with the horror of sin and brokenness.
Orphan care resources
Find a way to participate
Christian Alliance for Orphans
6723 Whittier Ave Suite 202
McLean, VA 22101
Create orphan care ministry in the church
Lifesong for Orphans
Bethany Christian Services
From Tony Merida
A real life 'Paper Dream'
Paper Dream is the first original short film written and produced by American Family Studios, the new moviemaking division of AFA. It's the story of a young couple dealing with infertility. AFA received this recent email from Kevin and Michele H.:
"My wife and I were blessed by AFS' movie Paper Dream. We were amazed by how it was our life on film. We struggled with infertility and wondered where God was in the midst of it. God led us to adopt a little special needs boy from China. After our first adoption experience, we became addicted to experiencing parenthood through God's blessing of adoption and returned to China and adopted our daughter, Lydia."
Follow their journey at journeytolevi.blogspot.com and journeytoourlydia.blogspot.com.
Paper Dream is available at afastore.net or 877-927-4917.