In recent years, people have been asking good, deep questions about Christian nonprofits, global missions, and childcare. Maybe you have heard stories of someone’s good intentions gone wrong. Or maybe you’ve wondered how to ethically share the love of God in an increasingly complex world.
Over the next few months we want to look at a few of these questions, highlight encouraging stories of God working, and share what we’re learning at Agape Asia. This month we’re tackling the topic of childcare and looking at the story of a girl named Grace.
In the realm of orphan care and sponsorship programs, a concern has emerged – a shared desire to ensure that our actions are ethically aligned with the well-being of children. Many people are asking questions about what truly constitutes the best care for children and how we can ensure our good intentions are matched by wise practice. Agape has been having lots of discussions that revolve around Scripture, our 27+ years of experience, and educated voices of wisdom from whom we can learn.
Over the years, we’ve heard lots of questions about childcare in Asia and we’ve asked ourselves even more! Questions like…
“What’s the best way to care for orphans?”, “Are orphanages good for children?”, and “I want to help change children’s lives, but I feel weird about sponsoring a child.”
It’s clear from Scripture that God deeply cares about the vulnerable, especially the orphans and widows (James 1:27). We have found that these two groups often overlap in Asia. The most common root cause of child abandonment is absent fathers, either because they have passed away at a young age or left their families. Children in these situations are referred to as “single orphans” because they have been orphaned by one parent. Single mothers facing this situation experience all of the difficulties of a widow as they struggle to work, parent, and keep their family together by themselves.
The majority of orphans in the world are actually “single orphans” from backgrounds like this. Many mothers facing these struggles find it impossible to raise their child, provide an education, or even afford enough food. As a result, children are often totally abandoned even though they have a living mother or other relative. Traditionally, children like this wind up in orphanages. Orphanages (or care centers) run by compassionate, Christian leaders can be a life-saving place for those with nowhere to go and we are thankful for the role care centers have played in Agape’s own ministry! Scripture and research are clear: the best option for a child’s growth is in a loving family.
Several years ago, all of Agape’s childcare work took place in care centers. These care centers were well run by qualified, trusted leaders and they allowed us to rescue thousands of children. In recent years, however, we have been quickly shifting towards family-based care. In situations where a child has been abandoned or is on the verge of being abandoned, we offer support so the child can grow up with a loving family member. This is called “kinship care”. Reuniting children with family members or preventing abandonment is a powerful way that we can share the Father’s love! When children who have been abandoned by all family members or rescued from other dangerous situations, we strive to place them in Christian foster families.
That brings us back to Grace. When Grace was young she was found as an orphan with no family anywhere to be found. Without any help she would die or struggle to grow up on the streets alone. With some luck, some leaders from an orphanage might find her and give her a place to grow up.
But thank God that a godly couple in Myanmar found Grace and took her in as their own, adopted daughter.
In family-based care, Grace was able to grow up in a small home with both the couple’s biological children and other adopted children. She received the kind of personal love and guidance that is only possible in a family. Even better, Grace is blessed to grow up in the church. Grace’s parents lead a house church for the community, so in addition to her daily devotions and school homework, Grace is soaking up Christian community right in her own home!
Today 86% of the children in our sponsorship program are growing up in family-based care where they receive the loving, holistic care they need to thrive. That includes stable relationships, education, medical help, food and shelter, emotional support, and the Gospel. The 14% of children in our sponsorship program who still live at care centers either come from very difficult family environments or are children we are actively trying to place in families.
Making this transition has taken years and hasn’t been easy! It has required lots of planning and prayer to find suitable families and rethink our ministry. It has involved lots of conversations and planning that have only been possible through the work of a new Social Worker on our staff. And we’re not done yet.
These days you’ll hear us talking about Community Sponsorship in addition to Child Sponsorship. As we dig deeper into the issues that cause children to be abandoned, we’re realizing that we need to broaden our approach to focus on many people in the same community. We still offer single Child Sponsorship as a way to change a child’s life, but we are increasingly focusing on groups of children in the same community. This allows us to more effectively monitor their development, focus on the well-being of their host families, address root issues in the culture, and work with growing churches towards a future where all children in the community are growing up in godly environments.
If you’re interested in learning more about topics related to orphan care and ethical childcare, we would love to have a conversation, answer questions, and dream about the future. Here are a couple of resources that are guiding our journey:
- Mission Wise – this short, simple book is written for church members and leaders who are thinking about their church’s approach to global childcare and missions
- Christian Alliance for Orphans – CAFO is a global community that unites and strengthens Christians to respond effectively for vulnerable children and families