“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27 (NLT)
God’s biblical mandate to care for the orphan, widow, and sojourner pervades both the Old and New Testament. As a young adult, it may be easy to think this verse doesn’t personally apply to your life yet. Maybe caring for the orphan or widow will be more practical when life settles down or when you have more financial resources. We quickly justify our lack of concern or action especially on the orphan’s behalf due to our young age and inability to give money to orphanages abroad or even adopt ourselves.
Unfortunately, many Christians, not just twenty-somethings, leave the caring of the orphan to those who are “called” to adopt. Throughout scripture God never gives us permission to ignore verses like James 1:27, even if we never plan to adopt a child. God directs this verse to every one of us in the same manner in which “love your neighbor as yourself” is a universal command. In order to practice pure worship and service to God we are to care for the orphan and widow. James could not have stated this any more explicitly.
How then are we to respond to such a demanding call at a young age? How do we care for the orphan if we do not adopt? I think the answer lies in the latter half of this verse: refuse to let the world corrupt you. The global orphan crisis is not just about children who need loving families. The orphan crisis is inextricably linked to poverty, sicknesses such as HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, war, violence against women, famine, and the ever-lessening regard for the importance of family in the United States.
The Christian Alliance for Orphans estimates that almost 18 million children worldwide live as orphans, having lost both of their parents. When those who have lost one parent are included, the number rises to 153 million. The causes of death for many of these parents lie in the above mentioned list, reinforcing the fact that the orphan crisis is not an isolated problem. Many of these factors result from the fact that we live in a broken world, a world where sickness, pain, and separation from God dominate every facet of society. This brokenness is what causes children to lose their parents and be abused, neglected, and/or abandoned.
James gives us a directive not just to care for the orphan, but also to remain untainted by the world. To accomplish this arduous task, we must be proactive. We cannot let complacency blind us to the evils that exist in our world and we are obligated to bring light to darkness and hope to hopeless situations.
Practically speaking, this means that fighting against the many evils in our world is caring for the orphan. Whether you are volunteering to help families in your community, supporting the single parents you know, working at an HIV/AIDS clinic, or giving food to the homeless, you are combating the evil in this world, the evil that leads to children becoming orphans.
There are many ways young adults can live out this biblical call in a more direct way—you could mentor a child or youth in foster care, support those in your church and community who are considering adoption, babysit for a single mom, or pray that God would touch the hearts of more Christian families to care for foster children and/or adopt.
As we get closer to God, our heart begins to break for the vulnerable. If and when it stops breaking, we have begun to let the world corrupt us. We need to continue hurting, but also continue offering hope to those who have very little.
In the United States, we are in a unique situation where the perceived importance of family is steadily declining. More and more children are born out of wedlock and less emphasis is placed on the importance of marriage. Over and over again studies conclude that the best environment for a child is one in which two, married biological parents are present in the home. While the family unit cannot always function in this way, the way God intended, Christians must speak up for the importance of marriage and family. The Bible calls us to bring God’s kingdom and standards of living to earth. In regards to marriage and family, the Church has the responsibility to step in when children are left as single or double orphans without the family God originally designed. Helping single parents and caring for the children in foster care are two powerful ways to bring more of God’s kingdom to earth.
Currently there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States and 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted.
If God designed the structure and function of the family and it has been broken by the evils of the world, we should work to restore God’s original plan as much as possible. Just as Jesus stepped down into our brokenness to adopt us as sons and daughters, we must do the same, serving in any capacity, to the children who do not know what having a mother and/or father means. If we leave orphan care up to the government and humanitarian organizations, God’s kingdom is not brought to earth and the hope of Christ is hidden from those who may need it the most.
-Cristina Martinez graduated from Princeton in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology and a certificate in Values and Public Life. She is currently working at a Philadelphia foster care and adoption agency.