The Privilege of the Here and Now
If you’re like me, when you initially think of orphans and children in need your mind is probably immediately drawn to the tens of millions of children living in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe â€“ children over “there.” And this is for good reason. According to the UNICEF report Children on the Brink 2004, there were over 16 million children worldwide in 2003 without a father or a mother. Sadly, there are certainly many more by now. We often hear about the more than 143 million children in the world today that are physical or social orphans, but honestly I am not altogether sure our minds or our hearts can really process the sheer magnitude of numbers like these. After all, we are not really talking about “numbers” â€“ we are talking about children, each made in the image of God and each crying out for compassion and help.
But far fewer people seem to be aware of the situation that faces so many children “here” â€“ even ‘here’ in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area (where I live). No, the numbers are not quite as staggering as they are on the international front, unless of course you consider that this is by far the wealthiest and most resourceful country in the history of the world. We have no ongoing war within our borders, no famine, no pandemic of disease, and yet there are over 500,000 children in America’s foster care system as a result of abuse, abandonment or neglect. They represent the fatherless and children in need that are right ‘here.’ In North Texas alone there are over 4,000 children in foster care and over 1,000 of these children are waiting right now to be adopted by forever families.
The challenge for those who follow Jesus Christ is clear when it comes to the fatherless and children in need â€“ whether they are half a world away or literally down the street. The Old Testament is filled with instructions to God’s people concerning the care and concern they are to extend to the ‘fatherless.’ The early church leader James was equally clear, citing care for widows and orphans as that which is ‘pure and faultless’ in the eyes of God (James 1:27). And in Matthew 25 Jesus himself identified with the overlooked and ignored, stating that ‘as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’
But responding to God’s heart for the fatherless should not require us to choose between the needs of children ‘there’ versus children ‘here.’ The love of God and the ultimate fulfillment of hope found in Him are available to children everywhere . . . and so in response to the ‘either/or’ question of children ‘there’ versus ‘here’ we should be ready to answer a resounding ‘BOTH.’ As we continue to go to the ends of the earth to love and serve children in need, we should also be found willing and faithful to walk down the street and drive across town to be the hands and feet of Jesus to children in our own Jerusalem. We need not debate nor be forced to choose which children have the greatest needs. There are more than enough needs to go around and what is needed most is willingness on the part of those who follow Jesus Christ to simply be available and willing to serve.
Tom Davis puts this well in his book, Fields of the Fatherless, stating that we as Christ-followers are called to a ‘broad redemptive caring’ which means giving of not only our money but also our time, our talents and our very selves in order ‘to enter into the lives of the suffering in a way that makes a community and a family available to them.’ This is precisely what children ‘here’ need most â€“ a community that fully embraces them and seeks to claim them as their ‘own’ in a variety of creative and redemptive ways.
As we think about children in foster care, however, we must face the stark reality that not only are there a large and growing number of children in the system, but that the foster care system is, in many ways, broken and overwhelmed. Time is literally running out for hundreds of children in our area who face uncertain futures without a family, an advocate, a mentor or anyone to claim them. Whether we are talking about the over 300 teenagers in our area that ‘age-out’ of foster care each year move towards adulthood with no family to call their own, or the countless number of kids scattered throughout the state because of a lack of foster families in our area, the needs of children ‘here’ are many and varied, and so too are the opportunities to serve.
These realities should remind us of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ Dr. King’s calls for justice were repeatedly met with voices arguing for restraint and delay, but he prophetically insisted that ‘now’ is the time. Likewise, ‘now’ is the time for followers of Jesus Christ to step forward and lay claim to the privilege of being a voice for children ‘here.’ In so doing, we have the opportunity to overwhelm an overwhelmed system by loving, serving and caring for children in our own community like never before.
This call to love in action is not our responsibility â€“ it is our privilege. In 2 Corinthians chapter 8 the apostle Paul writes of the surprising and generous ways of the Macedonian church. He recounts how these ‘desperately poor’ Christians were ‘pleading for the privilege of helping out’ those in need around them. In an era marked by talk of responsibility and civic duty, one of the unique hallmarks of the Body of Christ is the spirit in which we seek to serve those in need. I believe that God desires to raise up communities of Christ followers that are ‘pleading for the privilege’ to serve children ‘here’ and ‘now,’ not because it is their religious obligation or moral duty, but because it is an expression of the love of God overflowing in their hearts and lives. And as we allow this love in action to overflow we will experience the indescribable privilege and joy of being a part of the transformational work of God in the lives of ignored and overlooked children ‘here’ and ‘now.’