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The Essence of Orphan Care
by Mike Douris
Posted on Tuesday, July 15, 2014
“Pure and undefiled religion is this: to minister to widows and orphans and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27 - a verse that has motivated the church and believers to care for the most vulnerable since the words were written on papyrus many centuries ago. They reflect the heart of the Lord from Genesis to Revelation and into eternity as His love of those most in need define His essence.

Yet when one really studies the verse it reveals a lack of specificity of what it means to minister or care for orphans. Its real meaning lies in the heart, which should beat in concert with our Savior. When we find ourselves caring for vulnerable children we feel His power, love and pleasure.

I have felt that pleasure and seen His power for forty years of ministry working with children. I have also seen the tragedy, pain and sorrow of sin and its effect on families and children. In our current culture we like to boil things down in as few words as possible so it can appeal to a quick read on the web or in a tweet. When James penned or quilled that verse - it seems he did his best to define true religion in the most concise manner he could – it truly is a verse of our time - conducive to a tweet!

As I reflect, in an attempt to concisely define orphan care, it is less about using words than reflecting on visual memories of children I have met and the power of God in transforming lives through relationships. I can see so many faces of children - pictures in my mind of their lives through time – complicated, painful, hopeful, miraculous and imprinted permanently on the heart.

There are so many images I could point to after four decades of ministry but in an attempt to condense the essence of orphan care to a picture – a snapshot if you will – the image of a little ten-year-old girl in the small town of Mystora comes to mind. I had a full day of meetings in Moscow when I woke up to the news that Chechnya terrorists had blown up apartment buildings in Moscow in the early morning hours, killing hundreds of men, women and children—my plans had changed.

bombing-chechnya

We decided to buy supplies for the surviving children and loaded as much as we could in a small car and drove to the site of one of the buildings. Surprisingly, they let us go into the area where the building had been bombed. I will never forget the expressions on the faces of the workers who were digging for bodies out of the rubble. Their faces covered in dirt and their eyes in a dead stare in shock of the horror of carrying the dead out of the rubble. The terrorist blew the building up very early in the morning to kill as many as possible. We left the aid in a building that once housed the children that had survived but they had been moved to another location by the time we arrived.

My plans for the weekend were put on hold — another group from another organization asked me to accompany them on a trip to an orphanage in the Vladimir region. I was thankful to have the opportunity to go and visit another orphanage so off we went.

It was a great experience to have no other responsibility than to hang around kids and get to know them since I was not leading the group. Natasha and her friends immediately attached themselves to me to show me the orphanage and for the next few days I got to get to know them very well. This little ten-year-old girl named Natasha did not leave my side the whole time I was there. It was hard leaving them saying long goodbyes to prolong the stay as long as possible.

natasha
mike-children-vladimir

I made a point anytime I got to go back to Vladimir to stop by the orphanage to spend time with Natasha and her sister, Ira, but as time went on — my travels took me away from the region and I lost contact with them — though I kept a picture of Natasha on my desk with several other children I had grown close to in order to remember to pray for them.

Ten years later, I had the opportunity to go back to Vladimir and I randomly asked our host if she remembered a girl by the name of Natasha from Mystora Orphanage. Amazingly she said yes and knew where she was living. I asked if we were going close enough to stop by and see her, and she said that it was on our way and we could stop by.

As we got closer to her flat, I became concerned — I had to admit that more than likely she would not remember who I was and it could be awkward for her not remembering — it had been 10 years — she was now 20 years old.

We walked up the narrow dark steps of the soviet-style building and came to the door and knocked. The door opened and there stood this tall young lady who ran up and hugged me tight around my neck — I was doing my best unsuccessfully to hold back the tears — she remembered!

natasha-age20

After the short catching up on life, she began showing me her apartment and on a shelf in her room it caught my eye — a picture — of her and I together when she was ten years old. I was overwhelmed with emotion. She had kept that picture of us for ten years not knowing if we would ever see each other again!

To me Natasha is a picture of the essence of orphan care. The power of unconditional love to heal, give hope and know they are valuable knowing their whole life experience has been rejection and loss of love. The impact that a relationship has on a life no one can predict. It can change a life in ways that only the Lord can accomplish.

So – what is the essence of orphan care?  It is agape love just as it is the essence of Christianity and the essence of the triune God — “God is love.” If we lose that seminal truth we lose it at our own peril and most importantly the peril of the children we serve.


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