The more than 50 million orphans of Africa, with several million in Uganda, initially presents a joyless statistic. My sister with 5 adopted children from 4 nations, and who is an expert on children at risk, has long made me aware of the controversies surrounding orphanages and inter-country adoption (http://janettepepall.com/). Several personal encounters however have transformed theory into passion.
Sam Kisolo heads up the Youth With A Mission work in Uganda and is based in Jinja at the source of the Nile; a geographical location with prophetic significance. Sam is a gently spoken and warm-hearted brother. Like the swirling deep springs that flow to the surface on the edge of Lake Victoria creating the Nile headwaters, it can be truly said of Sam, “the purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water” and “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” (Proverbs 20:5; 18:4 ESV). With considerable experience of orphanage ministry Sam was struck by the purpose of God expressed in scripture, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:5-6). Since then he has been spearheading a movement across Uganda seeking to place genuinely orphaned children in foster families where they can receive not only the care of a father/mother but relationships with aunts, uncles, grandparent figures and so on. Though Sam is struggling to find enough families to host orphans, especially street kids, the advantages of this form of care over orphanages are obvious.
Without any sense of accusation or denying the loving intentions of supporters of orphanages, the need for dependent children to be placed in families raises a sharp question, “Why are Western Christians so keen to support orphanages when our own nations long ago abandoned these institutions as detrimental to normal social and psychological development?” An obvious answer is that the “feel good” dynamic of supporting needy children is a highly marketable commodity, but there is a far deeper spiritual issue at work. The healing of the Western Church from institutionalisation and its enablement to leave a mature legacy in Africa (and beyond) is at stake.
The Father’s Home
Western Christianity has become blinded to the dangers of institutionalising children in the Third World because our own spirituality has been so thoroughly institutionalised. This is a symptom a foundational problem, separation from the fellowship of the Father. God “make homes for the homeless” because he is first of all a Father with a “holy home” (Ps 68:5-6 The Message). Jesus promised, ““If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”” (John 14:23). To be “at home” with the Father and his Son is to know the power of adoption and to understand that the whole being of God is oriented to healthy family life. To unthinkingly ignore the dangers of separating children from wider family life and culture is a testimony to the failure of much of the Church to live in the power of “the Spirit of adoption” (Rom 8:15).
The challenges of fostering millions of orphans in Africa (and beyond) is enormous, but the cost of attempting to repair what is broken in ways that are not based on the revelation of God in scripture is even greater. The dimensions of this issue are extremely broad.
In Africa the Lord spoke unexpectedly through James, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…. be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves….Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:16-17, 22, 27 ESV). By God’s grace orphans are a divinely given opportunity to reveal his gracious heart as a Father through costly acts of mercy. If we do not appreciate the gift of the orphan we are deceived and have forgotten the compassion of the Father for Jesus, who became fatherless for us on the cross (Mark 15:34 cf. 2 Pet 1:9). The implications of ignoring God’s gift of the orphan to the Church are incredibly vast.
A Church which fails to discern the compassion of the Father towards the fatherless loses the power of the holiness of God’s homely presence amongst us (Ps 68:5). When God is not known as a “Holy Father” who acts from his home in heaven on behalf of the homeless (John 17:11) the Christian community lacks the spiritual authority to speak against the presence of corruption in Church and State. Western donors need to see institutionalised orphanages as a legacy of colonisation which has in many ways corrupted African family life. A new wave of support for the restoration of healthy extended families is vital to the transformation of Africa. This is a vital spiritual strategy to defeat the great scourge of corruption in seats of power (Ps 68:1) and prove to be the sign of a genuine divine visitation – revival.
On the final day of our conference participants gathered in a circle to talk and pray about future connections between Australia and Africa, suddenly one mature aged man called out, “Do not leave us as orphans!” This plea struck deeply into my heart for I remembered the words of Jesus, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you….Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”(John 14:18; 16:32 ESV). Immediately I knew for sure that the group from Australia must return to Africa in the blessing of the Father. To manifest the presence of the Father through practical care in the name of Jesus is one of the sweetest fruits of the gospel. Anyone who in themselves knows the power of the Spirit of sonship will definitely be passionate about the adoption of children; in the very widest sense.
To underline the importance of this simple message for global Christianity let me finish with an embarrassing example. Australians are horrified by the fact that we as one of the richest nations on earth have 105,000 homeless citizens; but the vast majority of our homes have unoccupied bedrooms. When we see a move amongst Christians to take in the lonely from the streets into their own homes, we will know that we are experiencing a genuine divine visitation of the Father’s Spirit of adoption; this is the revival that our Lord seeks.
 All these statistics are approximate and depend on particular definitions used for “orphan”
 Rather than children of poor families who seek to deceive agencies that they are actually orphaned.
 I am not devaluing the ministry of orphanages, or suggesting this genuine care can be immediately abandoned.
 Especially in countries where the Church is small.
 The word here means to bring practical assistance; “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt 25:36).
AFRICA INSIGHTS SERIES