Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Different Side of Orphan Care

After my trip to a couple of Romanian orphanages in 1997, my heart was singed by God.  I walked away forever changed.  The documentaries that were coming out of Eastern Europe regarding orphanages were true.  Babies in row after row of metal cribs with industrial fencing on the ends and edges to help keep the babies in.  Handicapped children who spent almost every hour of their lives untouched, forever scarred by the lack of human contact.  Gypsy babies with liquid eyes and wispy brown hair who most orphanage workers considered "dirty" and then questioned how anyone could kiss or hold them.  A poor country crushed by the pervasiveness of Communism, so pervasive that the government literally said it was a woman's duty to have as many children as she could, despite her inability to feed those children.

While I can't say that orphan care is always at the front of my mind, it is there often.  I used to be incredibly frustrated by the way most Americans were oblivious to what was going on with children in the rest of the world.   And then for some reason, orphan care became a trendy topic in churches around the U.S..  More and more people are aware of the way most women and children live.  However, it sometimes seems like the awareness stops short of being a true agent for change.   The focus narrows and often comes to rest on things like Samaritan's Purse Operation Shoebox or adoption.

I'm thankful people give and I'm thankful people adopt.  But unfortunately, those type of programs are not change mechanisms.

If you created a flow chart of sorts that portrayed families in crisis, the path to becoming an orphan, and the causation behind it, you would not find that the lack of an Operation Shoebox gift prevented the child from becoming an orphan.

And yes, it is true that adoption, prevents children from spending their lives alone as orphans.  But adoption or not, that child is still an orphan in his first life.  My kids, no matter how harsh it sounds, are orphans.  Have they been redeemed to some degree?  Yes, but their hearts and lives have been irrevocably changed.  Had we not been waiting, they may have stayed in orphanage care all of their lives.  But the real issue is not that they might have stayed in orphanage care.  The real issue is that they were even in orphanage care.  Even if a million families signed on to adopt, the reality is those million waiting families do not impact the process of how children become orphans.

Orphan care initiatives must do more than address the care of an orphan.  Instead, we as a church, as a community of people, must change our thinking and expand our label.  We need to be focused on orphan care and prevention.

Orphan care without prevention reminds me of an ER room.  Pretend for a moment that in that ER, you watch as patient after patient comes in with severed fingers, each one relaying to you how they had borrowed Joe's circular saw to do a home improvement project and that saw was missing it's safety guard.  How foolish would we be to bandage their wounds yet ignore the bigger issue of the saw?  Or what if a large number of people came in complaining of stomach pains, all of whom were uniquely tied to a family reunion and Aunt Maud's potato salad?  Unless the potato salad is removed from the buffet line, people will continue to suffer.  Of course, we can give them medicine and restore their health but wouldn't it be better to avoid the sickness?  Orphan care without prevention is like watching hurting people, attempting to repair what you can, and then doing nothing about the reason for the hurt.

While there are many reasons for why families fail and are unable to care for their children, a major one involves the health of the women within the families.  Women are historically the providers of care within a family.  When the women are unable to care for the children due to death or sickness, it places a heavy burden on the men.  All sorts of things play into this from AIDS/HIV to malnutrition, but one of the leading causes of death in women in the developing world is child birth.  The Livesay family serving in Haiti in a ministry that is tied to women's health recently reposted these statistics.

Worldwide the leading cause of death among women age 14 to 44 are complications from pregnancy and childbirth.

15% of all pregnancies result in a potentially fatal complication during labor and delivery. Women in the developing world rarely have access to emergency medical care.

More than half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year - that's one death every minute. Of these deaths, 99 per cent are in developing countries. The lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth in Africa is 1 in 22, while it is 1 in 120 in Asia and 1 in 7,300 in developed countries. (Source:UNFPA)

I have personally seen many fathers in Kenson's orphanage who lost a wife during childbirth (or shortly thereafter) and consequently placed their child in the orphanage.  

Head over to the Livesay blog and read their post on maternal care in Haiti.  Imagine your wife, sister, yourself giving birth in a country like Haiti and then consider how many women do give birth under such dire conditions every day.  Get involved beyond a project that is just about orphan care.  Step up and get involved in orphan prevention.  Vote for the Livesays.  Provide a financial gift to them.  Pray for the women they serve by name.  Don't be a bystander and don't just hand out some bandaids.  Choose prevention.

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