I once heard an author compare caring for orphans and vulnerable children to emptying an ocean with an eyedropper—a task that seemingly never ends because there’s so much water in the ocean. There’s thousands of needy children in our world, and no matter how many loving families adopt, foster, or provide respite care, there’s always more children waiting for the love and permanency of a family. Caring for the orphans and vulnerable children in our world is a communal effort, one that takes people, time, resources, and support.
As a young person, I’ve wrestled with frustration and excitement over this God-given, communal task.
How can I—regardless of my age, time, resources, or stage in life—care for orphans and vulnerable children?
As I’ve examined Scripture and spent much of my life engaged in this work, I’ve arrived at two conclusions: Scripture clearly instructs Christians to engage this issue, and each of us can engage regardless of our age, time, resources, or stage in life.
The Biblical Mandate
Throughout Scripture, we observe God’s disposition towards orphans and vulnerable children. Some texts that reflect on God’s care for these groups include Psalm 10:17-18, Psalm 68:5, Psalm 82:3, Psalm 146:9, Isaiah 1:17, and James 1:27.
James 1:27 is one of my favorite texts to reflect on as I consider the believer’s calling to participate in this work. According to the ESV Study Bible, those whose religion is “pure and undefiled” are those who do the Word and obey its commands, such as caring for the most vulnerable in society.1 As I consider the orphans and vulnerable, I am reminded that these precious children are close to God’s heart and mind, and should be close to mine, too.
Obeying the Biblical Mandate
There are numerous ways you can obey God’s command. Each of us has a different season, age, amount of time to give, or resources to dedicate. Despite those factors, each of us can do something to love these marginalized people. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can get involved.
There are three ways you can take direct action: Working with respite organizations such as Safe Families for Children, foster care, or adoption.
The mission of Safe Families for Children is to “host vulnerable children and create extended family-like support for families through a community of devoted volunteers who are motivated by compassion to keep children safe and families intact.”2 Through involvement with Safe Families, you can provide short-term respite care for children in need. Safe Families hostings can be anywhere from a few days to multiple weeks, depending on the needs of the child’s parent(s) or guardian(s). At the end of the child(ren)’s stay in your home, they return to their family. If you’re interested in becoming a Safe Families host, visit their website to learn more about host and placement requirements.
Foster care is another form of short—or long-term—care for children who’ve been removed from the care and custody of their parent(s) or guardian(s) due to abuse, neglect, addiction or other circumstances that affect the safety and well-being of the child. While the end goal of foster care is reunification, it sometimes doesn’t happen, causing the child to be placed for adoption or eventually age out of the system because an adoptive family cannot be found for them. If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, your state’s website should have agency listings, training requirements and other qualifications listed.
Sometimes, God calls families to domestic or international adoption. Hundreds of adoption agencies exist to partner with prospective parents who desire to adopt a child. Children of all ages, needs and backgrounds are waiting across the world for a loving home. If you’re interested in domestic or international adoption, a quick Google search will help you identify adoption agencies in your area, as well as their requirements, qualifications, and costs.
Other Ways to Care and Serve
If you’re anything like me—not old enough or financially able to serve as a foster parent or Safe Families host, much less an adoptive parent—reading about direct involvement in care for orphans and vulnerable children can feel overwhelming. Will I ever have the opportunity to love on and care for these children? Can I do anything to serve these children without serving as a host or adoptive parent?
Dear friend, there’s so much you can do! The options for serving orphans, vulnerable children, and those who care for them are seemingly endless. Let’s discuss a few!
Depending on your state and local policies, you may be able to serve as a respite care provider for Safe Families hosts or foster parents in your area. As a respite care provider, you would be licensed to host a foster or Safe Families child in your home for a set time (i.e. 1 day, an overnight, a weekend) to provide their regular host a short break. If a family you know has recently adopted, consider offering your help with childcare or other related needs the family might have (transporting other children to events or school, etc.).
Another need of many Safe Families hosts, foster parents, adoptive parents is supplies. Oftentimes, Safe Families and foster care placement children arrive at a host’s home without everything they need, such as diapers, formula, bottles, clothing, or toiletries. If you know a Safe Families host or foster family in your area, be a friend that quickly responds to needs. Is someone you know welcoming a placement this week? Call or text them and ask, “What do you need?” and purchase it. Is a foster family in your area welcoming a new child into their home? Mobilize your community by collecting financial donations, gift cards, or asking people to buy different items to add to a care package for the child. A trip to the store for clothes or diapers might not seem like much to you, but for the host family, it is an act of love and care that will make them feel supported and know that the child they’re hosting is loved. Similarly, consider hosting a baby shower or “sprinkle” for a family in your church that’s recently adopted. Whether they have an online registry or prefer gift cards to purchase items as needs arise, this is another way to bless and care for the adopted child and their family.
When a family welcomes a child through adoption or a Safe Families/foster care placement, bringing a meal is another way of tangibly demonstrating your love and care. Consider sending restaurant gift cards, dropping off a homemade meal the day they welcome a new placement, or creating a meal train for the family. Providing meals helps relieve stress and reminds the family that you see and care about their needs, whether big or small.
You can care for orphans and vulnerable children by educating people in your church, community, and neighborhood. Consider inviting a representative from Safe Families to your church to share more about the organization and how your church members can get involved. Host an event at your church or local community center that focuses on the needs of foster children in your city. You can share relevant statistics, stories, and invite local foster families to share their stories. During National Adoption Month, ask your church for permission to host a fundraiser for an adoptive family in the congregation or use a Sunday School hour to talk about adoption and ways your church family can get involved. Not sure how to find the right education resources? In addition to adoption agencies in your area, organizations such as the Christian Alliance for Orphans, Show Hope, and Foster the Family all have helpful resources that can provide credible information and ideas for you as you consider how to educate your church and community.
One of the most significant barriers to domestic and international adoption is the cost. Most families pay anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 (or more) to adopt a child, depending on a variety of factors such as the location they’re adopting from, the length of the process, attorney fees, and more. In addition to helping adoptive families identify application-based adoption aid grants, consider hosting a fundraiser for a family in your church or community that’s pursuing adoption. I’ve been involved in carnivals, pancake breakfasts, bake sales, dinners, and other fundraising events whose proceeds have gone directly to an adoptive family. Fundraising is a significant way of blessing adoptive families and involving others in your church or community.
Finally, but certainly not of least importance, you can care for the orphans and vulnerable children across the globe by praying for them. The things you can pray for are seemingly endless, but here are some ideas: Pray that God will provide an adoptive family for every waiting child, and for financial provision for those adoptive families. Pray that God will provide each child the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care they need before and after adoption. Pray for the reunification of families in the foster care system, and provision of adoptive parents for children who cannot be reunified. Pray that God will provide robust support systems for adopted children and adoptive families, such as medical professionals, therapists, educators, and others. Pray for God to soften hearts and mobilize people across the globe to participate in caring for the orphans and vulnerable in their community. Prayer calendars offered by local adoption agencies or churches are another helpful way of knowing how to specifically pray, as well. In addition, if you know of Safe Families hosts, foster families, or adoptive families in your church or community, ask them for specific prayer requests and praises that you can regularly pray for. God delights to hear the prayers of his people, and prayer for the orphans and vulnerable in our world is no exception.
Dear friend, I want to remind you: there is always something you can do to care for orphans and vulnerable children. Some days, it might feel like you’re emptying the ocean with an eyedropper. However, your job is not to empty the entire ocean. Your job is to love those God places in your path, whether it’s one child or dozens. With God’s help, do the best you can to love whom God grants you to love, and trust that he will mobilize and equip others to love the children in their lives. Regardless of your age, time, resources, or stage in life, you can do something.
1. When you think about caring for orphans and vulnerable children, what Bible verse or portion of Scripture most clearly stands out to you? How does this verse instruct you to care for orphans and vulnerable children?
2. Can you identify anyone in your church or community who serves as a Safe Families host, foster family, or is an adoptive family?
3. What are 2-3 practical ways you and others can serve these families?
1 ESV Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 2393.
2 “About Us,” Safe Families for Children, https://safe-families.org/about/. Accessed June 28, 2023.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Leah Jolly is a graduate of Wheaton College where she studied international relations and Spanish. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband, Logan, and is pursuing her MDiv at Calvin Theological Seminary. She attends Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan. You can connect with Leah on Instagram and Substack.