Book Review: Orphan Justice

Caution: Don’t read this book unless you are ready to DO SOMETHING that really counts for the sake of the gospel.  Johnny Carr wrote Orphan Justice while serving as the National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services.  As a side note, Bethany is the organization that we have partnered with to adopt our son from Ethiopia and this book was a great resource into the intricacies, celebrations, disappointments, and joy of adoption.  Johnny makes the point that caring for orphans isn’t just a fad or something that we should do to make ourselves feel better…or even to help with overcrowding in orphanages…orphan care is a proper response to the gospel.  In fact, adoption is the most perfect picture of what the gospel is all about…Jesus did something on our behalf that we could never do ourselves that ultimately impacted our lives forever.

Johnny and his family have five children.  The youngest three were adopted and have a variety of special needs.  Johnny is very transparent in the book about how heart wrenching this whole process has been…and how incredibly rewarding it has been for his entire family.  I especially appreciated the stories he shared about his oldest two kids and the way that they have come to understand the gospel in a way that they never otherwise would have been able to.  In this book, Carr pointed to several Scriptures to back his point about orphan care being the very essence of love from the perspective of the Bible.

I highlighted several things while reading and have pasted those quotes below…

  • James 1:27 says, “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” (NLT).
  • We cannot settle for cheap solutions because we as Christ followers have a responsibility before God to act and, more importantly, to keep acting. We cannot be silent while children around the world are being robbed of hope and life.
  • Most of the people in our church were trained in Evangelism Explosion and went out witnessing door-to-door at least one night a week. We were good at keeping ourselves unspotted from the world and sharing our personal witness, but in all of our passion for the gospel, we neglected to place the same importance on caring for those in distress, as we are commanded to do in Scripture.
  • And our redeemer God longs for His people to be on the front lines of providing compassion, support, and gospel-centered care.
  • “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18).
  • “Do not deny justice to a foreigner or fatherless child” (Deut. 24:17).
  • “When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deut. 24:19). Caring for the marginalized of society—widows, orphans, and foreigners—lies at the heart of Yahweh’s covenant with His people.
  • Caring for the marginalized of society—widows, orphans, and foreigners—lies at the heart of Yahweh’s covenant with His people. These verses speak blatantly about the role of God’s people in caring for the fatherless and inviting them into community.
  • Other psalms strike a similar tone, extolling Yahweh as “father to the fatherless, defender of widows” (Ps. 68:5 NLT). Jewish scholars point out that God’s care for orphans flows directly from His position as king over all the earth.6 God’s people, then, are commanded to care for orphans as a direct result of who God is.
  • Stop and consider this: Just like the children of Israel, we, as God’s people, will be judged for withholding justice from the oppressed and the orphan. If we have the means and the capability to care for orphaned and vulnerable children, yet fail to do so, we are in direct disobedience to God.
  • This is not primarily a book about adoption. This book is about caring for orphans whose lives and plights cannot be separated from complex social issues. There’s a saying within the adoption and orphan care movement: “Adoption is not for everyone, but caring for orphans is for everyone.”
  • We need “Orphan-focused Sundays,” but we also need far more—we need orphan-focused churches. Choosing to stand by and do nothing where we see injustice, suffering, and evil is wrong. It is sin. We must take active steps to care for orphans. To do anything less is blatant disobedience.
  • But our anger must drive us to action to “speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed” (Prov. 31:8). This is a key aspect of the gospel we cannot dismiss—“to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners” (Isa. 61:1)
  • Seek Him. Ask Him. If you can handle the truth, He will not leave you without an answer.
  • “Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.”
  • As followers of Jesus, we cannot be satisfied with children living in orphanages as a long-term solution.
  • They desperately need Christ followers from all walks of life and with all types of skills to serve as mentors and role models to help people gain the emotional and spiritual resources they need in order to create better lives for themselves and their children. Will you consider how you can help families move from poverty into hope? Will you ask God to give you a heart for the poor, then put feet to your prayers?
  • “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done” (Prov. 19:17 NIV).
  • “Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy” (Prov. 31:9).
  • While this sacrificial living will likely look different for each of us, it will require giving up some of our creature comforts, much like John the Baptist challenged the crowds: “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same” (Luke 3:11).
  • Wess Stafford, President of Compassion International, witnessed this reality firsthand growing up as a missionary kid. He says it far better than I ever could: “I learned in my childhood in Africa that a child may be born into poverty, but poverty is never born in a child. The worst aspects of poverty are not the deplorable outward conditions but rather the erosion and eventual destruction of hope, and therefore, dreams.”6
  • Many children are abandoned, left at orphanages, or forced to enter the American foster care system not because their parents have died, but because their mother and father are too poor to care for them. Poverty colors a child’s world with fear, uncertainty, and desperation. It robs kids of hope and destroys their futures.
  • Poverty is not a social justice issue for governments to figure out. It is an invitation to each one of us to reach out in humble gratitude for how God has rescued us, not forgetting our own poverty and desperate need for Him. If we truly want to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness, we must start with our own hearts.
  • Foster care is risky. Adoption is risky. Love itself is always risky.
  • One particular Scripture stands out to me that Paul penned, “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
  • “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
  • Proverbs 31:9: “Speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” The reality of what I had experienced screamed out one thing: We’re failing.
  • But don’t act out of guilt or obligation or just because you think it’s “cool.” Until God breaks your heart for the orphans He loves and longs to rescue, your response will likely be superficial. I challenge you to get on your face before God.
  • As believers, we have been adopted into God’s family and given a new name, a new family, and a new future—“But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God” (John 1:12). Over and over in Scripture, the Lord refers to us as His children and He as our Abba Father—our Daddy.
  • I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things” (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • The gospel doesn’t erase our past, but it drastically changes our future with a living hope. The gospel gives us the opportunity to be healed and to know God as our Abba Father. With our adoption into God’s family comes a radically new life. “The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). As God’s children, everything He has is ours. “He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?” (Rom. 8:32).
  • Not only did Jesus die for these orphaned and vulnerable kids, but He also defeated death, hell, and the grave to rise again. He now offers them the glorious gift of the gospel through us.
  • So let’s dig deeper into the apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians: “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13, emphasis added).
  • The gospel wins. But the gospel is applied through believers. We can no longer be silent. God is beckoning His people to set aside our pride, selfishness, and lack of concern, and take up the gospel. He desires for us to raise a battle cry on behalf of these forgotten children, to fight for their futures, and to welcome some of them into our families.

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