5 Reasons the Church Can’t Outsource James 1:27

Post by Jedd Medefind

Barna Research last week highlighted the growing Christian engagement with adoption and foster care among its “Three Major Faith & Culture Trends for 2014.”

I’m seeing this every day. Across the US and globally, Christians are embracing orphans in amazing ways–from local foster care and adoptions to support of orphan care world-wide.

And this is key: it’s not just about lone families adopting or fostering or sending checks. It’s most of all about the local church living out James 1:27 as a community.

Why? Here are 5 reasons there is no replacement for the local church in caring for orphans:

  1. “Government makes a terrible parent.” Those are the words of a friend who spentĀ  25 years in government child welfare. Good government can play a vital role in protecting kids from abuse, but government can never provide the love, nurture and belonging that every child needs most.
  2. It’s Hard. Every child’s journey as an orphan began with tragedy. Usually it gets worse from there. So when we welcome these children into our lives, we taste some of that tragedy, too. Loving a wounded soul to wholeness is a journey no one family should walk alone. The encouragement and aid of a supportive church community is essential.
  3. Loving Orphans Shows the World God’s Heart. Far more that a mandate from God, care for orphans is a mirror of God’s heart. Before Isaiah directed, “Defend the fatherless, 1:17″ the Torah described, “He [God] defends the fatherless.” (Dt. 10:18). When a church embraces orphans, we’re offering the world a small yet potent reflection of how God first loved us.
  4. Welcoming in Orphans Remakes the Church. Abstract discussion of “justice issues” suddenly become a precious child, now in our midst. The challenges and joys of loving this child bind us to each other, build community and deepen faith. A pastor friend described foster care in his church, “I see it growing our understanding of biblical love–that it involves real sacrifice; it gives like God does to those who have no way to pay you back.”
  5. We Can Be the Solution. If just one of three US churches adopted a child from foster case, there would be more families waiting for children than children waiting for families. Yes, the global number of orphans is daunting, but the local church in every nation can become the primary answer. What a way to bring glory to God and re-shape the world’s perception of the Church!

Want to learn more about how you and your church can wisely engage adoption, foster case and global orphan care? Join us for CAFO2014 at Willow Creek Community Church, May 1-2.

Yes, government and NGO’s have a key role to play. But when it comes to loving orphans, there is no replacing the local church. We just can’t outsource James 1:27.

Jedd Medefind serves as President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. His most recent book, Becoming Home, helps Christians and churches engage adoption, foster care and orphan ministry.



  1. DeLeith Duke Gossett says

    Hi Jedd, you know that I respect you and your approach to your ministry. However, consider my latest article as a counter to your #4, especially when, in the current movement, the only people of color in a church are many times children that have been cherry picked from other nations. As quickly as the church has mobilized to fund adoptions (because, frankly, most adoptions are only possible through fund-raising efforts), wouldn’t it be better to use all that money to invest in efforts to keep families intact in other countries? Nearly 10,000 annual adoptions x @25,000 per adoption = much money to quickly and collectively aid those in tangible ways of family preservation. Wouldn’t that be a true initiative that Jesus would endorse? I am hopeful that I will be able to attend the Summit 10 conference and hear the debate between you and David Smolin. Until then, DeLeith Gossett http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2400603

    • Jerry says

      hmmm. I did not read “international adoption” in # 4 at all. In fact, I think a Ugandan church could read # 4 and apply it to Ugandan orphans, considering paragraph 2 and the follow up in #5.

    • Jedd Medefind says

      Thanks for the note, DeLeith. I feel you always ask good questions. I didn’t intend #4 to be international adoption, per se — but about the many different ways local churches welcome in children who lack the support and nurture of family. That’d include adoptions, foster care, mentoring and more in the US and also (very importantly) all of these taking place locally in other parts of the world, too.

      As we have discussed in the past, I do think Christians should wrestle through the costs-benefits analysis of all ministry undertakings, including the costs of international adoption. But I ultimately feel it is hard to fully quantify the value of a family to a child who otherwise would have grown up without one. Just as important, I don’t think it is accurate to pit intercountry adoption against other ways of caring for orphans as if it were a zero-sum competition between the two. In reality, I see intercountry adoption as one of the biggest catalysts for support of in-country orphan care. That said, I do think the questions you ask are ones the Church does need to grapple with and think about seriously.

    • says

      As an adoption care worker in Nicaragua, I hear this argument a lot… that orphans would be better served in their own culture and their own community. I have no doubt that in many places that is entirely true.

      However, here in Nicaragua, I believe the vast majority of orphans are significantly better off when adopted internationally. You see, this is the poorest Spanish speaking country in the world. It is the second poorest in our hemisphere, after only Haiti. There is a rising middle class, but currently the idea of adoption is so foreign and so preposterous that it is almost unheard of for Nicaraguans to adopt. Poor orphans are the trash of the culture, especially if they have any sort of disability or special need. There just aren’t the facilities to care for them here.

      Now, the argument is that if you took all the money being spent on adoption in this country, perhaps those facilities or resources might be created. Perhaps, but in the case of children who have no family to speak of, you would be dooming them to a life in group homes or government facilities, with no one to call their own. Is that really what Jesus would endorse? I honestly believe He would prefer those kids to grow up in families, regardless of whether the family is in Nicaragua or the States.

      One family we’re currently assisting is adopting a six-year-old girl who was stabbed! by her mother. There is no resource or facility or any amount of money that can make that better for the child, save for the redeeming love of Jesus. To see this little girl being adopted by a family who knows the power of that love is nothing short of a miracle for her.

      This culture is broken. One hospital has estimated that over 90% of girls in impoverished areas are sexual abused by age 6. Of the pregnant teens brought to their hospital to deliver, they estimate that at least 30% were impregnated by a close relative. Impoverished women are raped, beaten, used and abused regularly. There are many missionaries and aid workers seeking to turn the tide, but until that happens I firmly believe the best option for orphans abandoned here is to be adopted out to another country.

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