We hear a lot about orphans these days. Pictures of Angelina Jolie jostling an African child on her hip jump out on the pages of People magazine. We learn about the tens of thousands of abandoned Chinese orphans waiting for someone to adopt them.
Many Christians respond by writing a check to support organizations that care for orphans. That is essential and vitally important, and God bless you if you contribute. But there’s even more that you and I can do.
In Isaiah 1, God reprimands His people for failing to “defend the cause of the fatherless.” And folks, although we may not realize it, we don’t have to look very far to find plenty of youth who fit the definition of fatherless.
Of the 423,000 children currently in U.S. foster care, 20,000 of them will “age out” of the system this year. Technically, they are 18-year-old adults. In reality, they are abandoned youth with nowhere to call home. Many won’t receive Christmas gifts this year or even have a place to eat Christmas dinner. Some will be locked up in jails.
In fact, according to a report produced by the organization Honoring Emancipated Youth, 40 to 50 percent of those who age out of foster care are homeless within 18 months. Only 46 percent graduate from high school. One-quarter of them are incarcerated within two years.
In 2005, the PBS documentary “Aging Out” followed the path of several former foster children as they moved out on their own. One of the teenagers profiled, David, was taken from his paranoid schizophrenic mother when he was less than a year old, David spent the next 18 years jumping from one foster home to the next. All the while, he was in and out of juvenile detention facilities for violent behavior. He eventually became addicted to drugs and landed in jail. When he got out, he journeyed cross country, spending the next year homeless on the streets of Seattle.
David says in the film: “I want to make a life that I can call a life, something that I can be at least a little bit proud of. I'm definitely not proud of my life right now.”
Societal orphans like David are desperate for someone to pay attention to them, to notice them as treasures and not throwaways. Ultimately, they need a father’s love. And that’s just what God calls us to do — to embrace the Davids of this world with the hope of Christ and the promise of a real and lasting home.
For those of us who take this call seriously, that may mean opening up our homes to current or former foster children. It may mean rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty. And it will definitely mean discovering God’s heart for the orphan in a radical way.
When I visit prison and meet men and women whose hearts are breaking because they can’t be with their families this Christmas, I often think of their children and wonder where they are. My guess is that many of them are probably in or just coming out of foster care. By loving these children, we often end up sharing Christ’s love with prisoners as well.
To learn more about how you can get involved in helping foster kids and welcoming orphans of all ages, visit BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary.
Jim Liske is the CEO of Prison Fellowship.
Publication date: December 5, 2011