I can remember with crisp clarity the details and muffled sounds of that hot night: shockingly loud crackers bursting, gleeful shrieks of the neighborhood kids, the scent of sweets and smoke and festival filling the air. The celebration outside was inviting, but my eleven-year-old self was seated on a too-small couch, squeezed between my parents and younger brother, sweating in spite of the air conditioning. Across from us sat a little boy, uncertain and overwhelmed-- an orphan.
I was old enough to know what the word orphan meant – a child who, for a variety of reasons, had no parents. But the little boy sitting in front of me put a sweet face on that weighty word, at least for the first ten minutes of our meeting. It was a short association because, through a translator, I got to participate in and witness a transformation – that of an orphan boy becoming a son.
Now when I see his face I think only of the words “brother” and “son." We had walked into the room as a family of four meeting a fatherless boy; we walked out of the room as a family of five. He was ours and we were his, his forever family.
It wasn’t until much later that I saw parallels in my own story – the story of my salvation. The term orphan applied to me; before I knew Christ, I was fatherless and hopeless. God’s work of redemption, his heart toward me, was one of a loving, rescuing, adoptive Father.
What the Bible declares about God’s heart and work toward us is that we have become his heirs:
Is it any wonder that God, whose heart towards us was one of radical adoptive love, asks his people to reflect his heart by defending the fatherless? “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27) and to “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause" (Isaiah 1:17). God calls us to display the same amazing love that He has given toward us so that his ultimate work of salvation will be displayed and He will be glorified.
In India, UNICEF statistics from 2011 (they have not been updated since then) estimate the number of orphans in India to be around 2 crore children from ages 0 to 14. The number is huge and can feel overwhelming, but as Christians we are called to actively care, to push past the word “orphan” and see the little boy, the little girl, longing to be loved.
We can engage spiritually, by praying faithfully. We can engage practically, by volunteering, donating, finding local ministries that are reaching these kids and supporting their efforts to whatever extent we can. And we can engage even more radically, by considering adoption ourselves, by seeing it as an important way we can display God’s love.
This next Sunday, November 2nd, is International Orphan Sunday. The seeds of Orphan Sunday were started in Africa, by a local church that wanted to respond Biblically and radically to the orphan crisis in their community by raising awareness and calling the church to respond. Orphan Sunday has since become an international movement of churches taking the opportunity to reflect God’s love for orphans. It looks different in every church that observes it, but the common thread is a desire to raise awareness about God’s heart for the fatherless and our responsibility to respond: to love the unloved, the defend the defenseless, to see the lonely, burdened, sick, and poor provided for, and to place the fatherless in homes.
And it is a beautiful truth that God’s sacrificial love for you results in you becoming His beloved daughter--part of His forever family.
This November 2nd would you consider reflecting on His deep love for you and praying about how He would have you respond and show love to the fatherless among us?