210 million orphans exist in our world. This number does not include children who have been forced into being child soldiers or children sold into slavery. In order to put this in perspective, if all the orphans were grouped together, they would be the tenth largest country in the world.
14.5 million orphans will age out of the system by the age of sixteen every year. Roughly ten percent will commit or attempt to commit suicide. 1.2 million will be trafficked into slavery. 2 million, mostly girls, will be sexually exploited. Atlanta, Georgia is the number one location for the sexual exploitation of underage girls in the United States.
In the gospel of Matthew, we have this story of parents bringing their children to Jesus. The disciples saw it as a disruption to the real ministry that Jesus was doing. They tried to stop the parents and Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19: 14).
Who will step up to see that the vulnerable children in our world are brought to the feet of Jesus? If they have no adult in their life, who will bring them? Who will tell them that the kingdom of God belongs to them?
I recently read an account of a war reporter covering a conflict overseas where he witnessed a little girl get shot by a sniper. He dropped his equipment and joined another man who ran straight into the line of fire and both men grabbed the little girl and put her in the back of the car. As they arrived at the hospital the reporter assumed that the man who risked his life for the little girl was the father but soon discovered that he was a stranger responding to the need of a child.
Who is going to step into the line of fire and rescue the orphan?
There are sixty-six books in the bible. Thirty of those books make some type of reference to orphans. Psalm 68:5 speaks of God as “a father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5). It is safe to say that God’s heart is for the orphan. The care we are asked to give comes in different ways but what is clear is that we are to make room in our hearts for some of the most vulnerable people in our world.
The letter of James helps us redefine our faith in terms of serving others. It is a letter written not to bring its readers to faith but to advise its readers on how to live out their faith. He argues faith without works is dead. He says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). The author knows it is easy to define the Christian life by the absence of bad things. We become known for what we are against more than what we are for. But James makes it clear what practicing our religion is to look like when he says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). True religion is a life lived for the sake of others.
I read a few years ago a story of a woman who explained that her favorite spot at the local zoo was the “House of Night,” where nocturnal creatures crawled and flew. She said, “one very bright day, I stepped into total darkness. Almost immediately, a small hand grabbed mine.” “And who do you belong to?” she asked. A little boys voice spoke through the darkness, “I am yours until the lights come on.”
There are a lot of little hands reaching out in our world. There is an average of 205 kids in foster care each month on average in Hall County. This is the reason we have a Foster Care ministry at Gainesville First United Methodist Church. This is the way we live out our values of authentic faith and healthy relationships. We believe that by connecting our church to the foster care needs of our community we are demonstrating an authentic faith as described in the book of James. We also believe that we have a purpose to ensure healthy relationships are developed between the children in foster care and those in our community who can assist them.
Not all of us can foster and not all of us should be foster parents. But all of us can be involved in the foster care ministry of Gainesville First United Methodist Church. We need more folks to serve on our leadership team, we need folks to take an interest in the foster care closet, and we need folks to come alongside foster families and offer support in meals, grass cutting, transportation, etc.
This vision of developing authentic faith and healthy relationships in the life of vulnerable children can also be seen in our relationship with Orphanage Emmanuel in Honduras. We have scheduled a trip to Orphanage Emmanuel for December 29th through January 5th. If you would like to be a part of that trip, I would love to discuss it with you.
Here is what I want to say to each of you: Do not underestimate the capacity of love that God has poured into you. Don’t underestimate the potential that you have to be a vessel of God’s love.
One of my favorite Old Testament stories is the story of Esther. Her people, the Hebrew people, were under the threat of genocide. Haman, a political and military leader of the Persian king, resented the fact that the Hebrews were living within the Persian empire. He comes up with a plan to have them massacred. In the midst of this, through a chain of events, a Hebrew named Esther was made queen. Her uncle, Mordecai, gets word of the evil plot being created by Haman to destroy the Hebrews. He challenges Esther to do something. She doubts herself. The king is powerful. No one can go into his presence without being asked. Her uncle tells her it is a risk that she must take to save her people. He says, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)?
Esther confronts the king and the plot is revealed and she saves her people. But consider this: Esther was adopted. This is the part of the story we sometimes skip over. The scripture says, “Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died” (Esther 2:7).
Mordecai found room in his life for Esther. She was raised in an environment where she was nurtured and found strength as a young lady. Eventually, when she was called upon to act, it was the words of her adopted father that encouraged her. He found room in his life for an orphan. Will you?
It doesn’t mean that you have to be a foster parent or go the route of adoption. It could mean that and for some, it is the next step for you. What it does mean for all of us is that we are to make room in our hearts for vulnerable children because children are in the heart of God. Amen.
(Sermon preached at Gainesville First UMC, Gainesville, GA on Sunday, May 6, 2018)
Next week: Next week we are going to talk about the fact that we have been adopted by God is the foundation of our work with vulnerable children.