According to the United Nations, more than 8,000 children die of hunger or undernutrition every day; about 820 million people go to bed every night with empty stomachs. And there are more than 140 million orphans today, with more than 120,000 in the United States alone.
We are living in a time when the COVID-19 pandemic affects every corner of the world. Countries have locked down their borders, and travel remains restricted. This illness affects the most vulnerable in this world the hardest, with parents dying and leaving children at the mercy of relatives or strangers.
Not long ago, it was the AIDS epidemic that scorched its deathly path through the developing world, leaving millions dead and a huge number of children orphaned or semi-orphaned. The need no longer seems as urgent—yet it remains. Government priorities to support developing countries change regularly, and many church members are worried about their livelihood. Help to those in need no longer flows as readily as it did before.
The UN statistics for orphans or semi-orphans look discouraging. There are more than 30 million in India; 61 million in Asia; 52 million in Africa; and 10 million in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The untold story behind the numbers is the personal toll related to conflict zones, refugee status, natural disasters, and COVID-19. Regardless of country, culture, or calamity, it is children who suffer the most. By many standards, addressing this need would be one of the most significant humanitarian, political, or economic investments the world can make for its future.
Let me give you one example. Kaka was a 10-year-old boy in Africa living with his six-year-old sister, Doka, by themselves in an empty hut. Both parents had died of HIV/AIDS, and the children were left to fend for themselves. Kaka was hobbling around in the village market, leaning on a stick because both feet were inflamed with an infection called infungu (caused by insects laying eggs under the skin, which then cause an infection). He was begging for something to eat for his sister and himself. He was angry at the world because people stole from him what little he had, with no one to care or help.
The United Nations’ millennial goal of halving the number of people in poverty is far from being reached, and ongoing world events make this goal even more difficult to meet. The poor are the ones who suffer the most in any disaster or catastrophe, because they are helpless, hopeless, and powerless. People with money can get by; the poor are powerless. Poverty means illiteracy, inadequate medical care, disease, and lack of education.
Let’s add a more positive perspective by looking at orphans (in the United States) who were taken in and cared for in their lifetime: Steve Jobs, of Apple Computers; Edgar Allan Poe, an American writer best known for his poetry and short stories; Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady; Marilyn Monroe, model and actress; John Lennon, musician; Babe Ruth, baseball player; Malcolm X, African American leader in the civil rights movement.
Regardless of the life they led, we might all agree that they had a lasting impact on this world. Their childhood was certainly not ideal, but they were given the opportunity and support to rise up despite their disadvantages. This serves as an encouragement to us as to what is possible.
There is hope, and Jesus and the Bible remind us of the need to respond as Christians and Adventists:
November 21, 2020, has been set aside to especially remind us of orphans who live in the shadows, and we have the possibility to alleviate the suffering. Will you heed the call?
Let’s remember that all of us were orphans once. You may have had a father and mother, but spiritually we were all orphans—until God adopted us. The Bible says in Ephesians 1:5, God “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (NKJV).
In my travels, it amazes me how the helpless and poor people in this world seem, at times, to be more generous than those of us in more affluent countries—in sharing what little they have with the people around them without thinking of the future. It breaks my heart to have street children offer me a drink or a piece of bread without thinking of their needs. They have so little, yet they are generous and willing to share.
There are members in your midst who have a burden to help children, who should be given the opportunity to do so—and we as a church should not only encourage them but support them to do so. What is keeping you from starting your own mission project in helping orphans? This may be in your backyard or overseas in the mission field. But don’t expect “someone else” to do something when you yourself can do it.
I am appealing to you today to get involved, and I have some suggestions to do so to fulfill Jesus’ admonition to bring the children to Him:
We all know that Christ identified with the poor—which includes the orphans—when He said, “I was hungry, and you fed Me. Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me.” If it were not for the grace of God, you and I could be among the 800 million people who go to bed hungry every night. We could be like them, poor, in debt, hungry, homeless, sick, or desperate, not knowing which way to turn.
God has spared us such agony. We have done nothing to deserve all that we have and much more than we need. To the one “whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48, NKJV). We cannot touch divinity until we touch humanity.
We live in extraordinary times that require us to do extraordinary things. Let us give more—much more, to the point that it hurts—to help others who are hurting. God not only commands us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but He promises us that “then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward” (Isaiah 58:8). We need to do the one to claim the other. Jesus is coming soon, and He will divide the sheep from the goats according to their deeds.
Extreme poverty, debt, and hunger make people desperate. Desperate people do desperate things just to survive. For example, in India, some babies are either aborted or killed at birth because it is one more unaffordable mouth to feed. Girls as young as 10 are sold as brides to old men or given to the temple. At the same time, others are forced to sell their bodies, beg, or work long, tedious hours under horrible conditions for a pittance in order to eat just one meal a day and have a roof over their heads, or to pay off the debt collector who threatens their very existence. They have very little hope for a decent life.
I can give you my personal experience volunteering with REACH International, organized 47 years ago to alleviate and reduce hunger and suffering, especially among children, primarily through feeding and education. We believe that “Education is salvation for the poor.”
Here are a few short stories of children and orphans where Adventist sponsors have been able to make a difference:
1. An Indian child called Alex was one of the first children ever sponsored by REACH. Less than 10 years old at the time, he and his sister were making matchsticks, as the family could not take care of their needs. The organization sponsored him to go to an Adventist school. Decades later, this allowed him to work as a senior vice-president of finance at a bank.
2. A child named Haile came to a REACH project in Wukro, Ethiopia, where he graduated from school. He eventually had the opportunity to further his studies in the United States to become a pharmacist, making medicines for peoples' health needs, and is now a respected pharmacist in Texas.
3. Sebi was a street child who came to a project in Romania. He was a smart but troubled child who got himself into a lot of difficulty over the years. But he stayed in school and was eventually able to go to medical school—and is now a doctor in the UK.
4. Prabhu was an Indian child whose mother could not support him and his siblings. He was raised at the REACH project, where he graduated from high school before pursuing other interests. Years later, he was reintroduced to REACH and wanted to give back to the organization that helped and supported him. He quit his job and is now the administrator in the same project where he grew up.
There are many other examples of children given the chance of making their way through life—becoming teachers, workers, pastors, administrators, doctors, and lawyers. Not all the children stay close to Adventism, but that exposure changed their life, which in turn touched many other lives. Sponsors are the ones who make it possible—in providing the means to give these children a chance.
Today, decide to make a difference in the world of the orphans!
We know that the Bible specifically talks about this vulnerable part of society, and you have heard about possibilities to address these needs. It is now up to you to involve yourself and support those who feel compelled to act.
Today is a special day meant to remind us of this great need and how you can be a blessing to that group. Given that support, these children can grow up to earn a living and help their family. We hope that they will choose to love and obey God. We want them to escape the cycle of poverty and have eternal life as well. Your involvement and support will give you the satisfaction of giving a Christian education to the orphaned, abandoned, and destitute children of the world and answering God's call.
Christ’s work is to be our example. His life was one of unselfish service, and it is to be our lesson book. His tender, pitying love rebukes our selfishness and heartlessness.
Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you” (Matthew 11:29, NKJV). We are called to service for as long as life shall last. Give in sincerity, and your efforts to bless others will result in blessings upon you. God will bless your efforts and multiply them. “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38, NKJV).
The original version of this commentary was first posted on the Possibility Ministries site.