What Would You Want for YOUR Kid?
In the book, “In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence” by Philip Darke and Keith McFarland, the authors relate the story of a priest involved in the care of vulnerable children near Lima, Peru:
Santiago attended an event at the orphanage that included many wealthy people from Lima and other surrounding cities. During the event, a major donor, let’s call her Martha, was gushing about how amazing the orphanage was and how great the “mothers” were caring for and raising the children. As she went on and on praising the institution, Santiago’ frustrations grew and grew because he knew the orphanage’s level of care was lacking in so many different ways.
So when Martha finished her praise and looked to Santiago for his thoughts on the orphanage, Santiago asked her this simple question:
“I guess you wouldn’t mind if your own kids were growing up here, would you?”
After recovering from the initial shock of the question, Martha composed herself and responded, “Well of course not. . . but my kids aren’t orphans.”
But what if our kids- or our nieces or nephews or grandchildren or students or any other children we care about- were orphans? What would we want for them?
We want them to be with family, or close to them. We want them to continue to be involved in their sports teams and after-school clubs. We want someone to listen to them when they’ve had a bad day at school or been broken up with for the first time. We want someone to make sure they take their allergy medicine every night and don’t lose their glasses. We want them to live with someone who can tell if they’re lying and who knows when they’re upset even if they don’t say so. We want someone to cheer them on from the front row at their school talent show and invite them home for holidays when they grow up. We want them to have caretakers they know so well and love so much that they’ll ask them to walk them down the aisle at their wedding or call them for advice when they have a child of their own.
It’s true that orphanages and institutions offer some level of protection, three meals a day, a bed, a roof over their heads, and access to education and health services. They are better than many alternatives. But in thinking about care for the children we love, most of us want “best,” not “good.” And scripture and social science both point to family-based care as what’s best for children.
When we think of how our children would be cared for in our absence, many of us have plans already in place. We have a family member or family friend who would take them in, and we know without a doubt that they would be loved and cared for by this person. If we don’t have someone close to us in a position to care for a child, we dream of other best-case scenarios. Our child is quickly adopted, or at least fostered, by some loving family. Rarely do we imagine our children will be placed in institutions, and most of us would cringe at the thought of our own child living in an orphanage.
This is not to say that orphanages are bad. Orphanages fill a crack in our society through which many vulnerable children would fall otherwise and prevent many children from far worse living situations. This is simply to say that families- biological, adoptive, foster, or otherwise- are better. And it’s rare, though not unheard of, for a living situation in an orphanage to so closely resemble family. The reality is that very few children in orphanages and institutions receive the individualized care and support they need to overcome past traumas, and many kids get lost in the system with no one to fight for their rights to a permanent, loving family.
Deuteronomy 10:17 says, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.”
Christ’s ministry would have been far different if He showed partiality. Imagine if Jesus had only healed the lepers He knew well, or invited over the tax collectors that were His cousins, or died for the sins of His brothers and no one else. It would cease to be Christ. It would cease to be the utmost expression of love. It would cease to be the gospel.
If we are to live as Christ’s body on this earth, to do His work and love as He loves and shine His light in the darkness, we too cannot show partiality. We can’t decide that only our children deserve the best treatment. We can’t serve orphans and widows we don’t know only if we have extra time or hand-me-down clothes. We can’t be giving the most vulnerable the scraps of our efforts and resources and saving the best for those we already know.
What we want for our children should be what we support for others’ children. We cannot afford to dilute the gospel by showing partiality, and millions of children cannot afford to be treated as though they deserve less. We can’t put aside caring for those we don’t know and just hope someone else does it, because God has already chosen us.