November 7, 2012

How to Restore a Child

What is true religion? Faith? Works? Grace? Inspiration? This question has been the topic of perpetual debate and discourse.

Through the apostle James God gives one of the most simple and direct definitions of religion: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27, NKJV).1

In Arabic, the word for “visit”—iftiqaud (if-tee-cod)—is derived from an action verb meaning “to miss someone, go look for them, and provide for their needs.” God’s charge to us is to be concerned enough to actually seek out and provide for orphans and widows at the time of their greatest need.

If we serve orphans and widows in the Spirit of Christ, we will become keenly aware of their needs and passionately aroused to supply their lack. By so doing, we live “true religion” (see also Isa. 58:6-8; 61:1-3; Matt. 25:34-40; John 17).

More Recent Counsel
Ellen White wrote about orphans and how we can be God’s hands and feet to care for His precious, vulnerable ones. “Among all whose needs demand our interest, the widow and the fatherless have the strongest claims upon our tender sympathy. They are the objects of the Lord’s special care. They are lent to Christians in trust for God. . . . There is a wide field of usefulness before all who will work for the Master in caring for these children and youth who have been deprived of the watchful guidance of parents and the subduing influence of a Christian home” . . . so “they may become children of God.2

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Helped: These children are among the 177 students in Haiti who are supported with funding from Restore a Child.

We know that God will provide for orphans, but what we often fail to realize is that God does so through us. Our high calling, our privilege, is to relieve those in need in the name of Christ. Before being able to relieve the needs of the soul and mold the mind toward Christ, physical needs must first be satisfied.

Most of us in the Western world don’t know what it means to be without the care of parents. Most of us don’t know what it means to be starving—not just for a single meal, but to go for weeks, months, even years, without substantial, filling meals.

Most of us are far removed from such dire needs, yet that does not negate our privilege or diminish the enormous joy that awaits us when we extend God’s abundance to others in the form of basic care. To be God’s hands and feet for His glory requires that we be conduits, not repositories, of His blessing (see Num. 10:32; Mal. 3).

Our heavenly Father will always take care of us, particularly those who have no earthly guardians. He has gone one step further by inviting us to work with Him, to strengthen one another (Eph. 4:11-16). It is not merely a sense of duty that should inspire us to meet the needs of others, but rather a sense of care and simple acts of kindness. Ellen White wrote, “In caring for the children we should not work from the standpoint of duty merely, but from love, because Christ died for their salvation. Christ has purchased these souls who need our care, and He expects us to love them as He has loved us in our sins and waywardness. Love is the agency through which God works to draw the heart to Him, for ‘God is love.’ In every enterprise of mercy this principle alone can give efficiency; the finite must unite with the Infinite.”3

Practical Help
After His resurrection Christ commissioned Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). To feed the Lord’s lambs is to restore them to wholeness; it is meeting spiritual and practical needs. If we love Jesus, we will seek, feed, and care for all His children. We are not whole and complete until all the missing are restored into His fold. Jesus Himself provided for people’s immediate needs, then He unfolded His beautiful truth to their open hearts and minds.

“Give them evidence that you are a Christian, desiring peace, and that you love their souls,” wrote Ellen White. “Let them see that you are conscientious. Thus you will gain their confidence; and there will be time enough for doctrines. Let the heart be won, the soil prepared, and then sow the seed, presenting in love the truth as it is in Jesus.”4

Jesus will soon say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).

I Was Hungry
Hard hit by the worst drought in 60 years, children are starving by the thousands in the Horn of Africa. Worldwide more than 1 billion people are hungry; that’s one seventh of the planet’s population. Malnutrition is widespread, exacerbated by chronic poverty and illiteracy.

I Was Thirsty
Because of the drought and exploitation of natural resources from the time of colonization to the present, many countries, such as Haiti, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, find that water is scarce and potable water virtually nonexistent. New, deep wells are needed to draw clean water for drinking, washing, and irrigation.

I Was Naked
How destitute does an orphan or child have to be before our hearts are stirred to action? How much suffering do we have to witness before we become restless to restore orphans, widows, and the poor to their God-given human dignity and rights?

God is described by these words: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner living among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18). As people who take Christ’s name, how can we expect to be restored into God’s image if we don’t work to restore God-given human rights to our brothers and sisters, let alone restore them into God’s image?

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Barely Clothed: This toddler in a Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, refugee camp barely wears enough to be considered clothed.

I Was Sick
Impoverished families have no funds for food, let alone medical care. For pennies a child can receive medical care, hospitalization, and/or surgery. In treating the sick, injured, dying, Dr. and Mrs. James Appel and Drs. Olen and Danae Netteburg in Chad are demonstrating the healing power of God’s love (see sidebar).

I Was in Prison
Whether a literal prison or an emotional and intellectual prison, we must “loose the chains of injustice and untie the chords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isa. 58:6). Education is the most effective way to break every yoke. Recent statistics reveal that 50 percent of primary school-age children around the world are not enrolled in school. Worldwide 33 percent of girls older than 6 never go to school; 30 percent of children attending primary school will not make it to third grade.

The Blessing of Serving
Opportunities to serve are abundant. Whether you serve on your knees, on your feet, at your desk, with your hands, with the people at home or abroad, Christ’s commission is to sow, water, and/or reap His waiting harvest of souls. As we labor for the welfare and salvation of others, our own self-interests wane and quickly disappear. Ellen White wrote, “This work for others will require effort, self-denial, and self-sacrifice. But what is the little sacrifice that we can make in comparison with the sacrifice which God has made for us in the gift of His only-begotten Son?”5 

Jesus assured us that by action or inaction, whatever we do for “one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” we have done it also to Him (Matt. 25:40).

A steady commitment of support will make a life-changing impact for children. To facilitate transforming someone’s life is a blessing beyond measure. The promise is that “the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, . . . so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deut. 14:29).

November 12 is World Orphans Day. Ask God to reveal to you how you can help restore a child. 

1 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, pp. 281, 282. (Italics supplied.)
3 Ibid., p. 283. (Italics supplied.) See also Jer. 31:3.
4 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 120.
5 E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 283.

Natalie Kazzi lives in Loma Linda, California, where she is working on a doctorate in public health nutrition. This article was published November 8, 2012.