November is Orphan Awareness Month. November 8 is Orphan Sunday, when many churches formally recognize biblical instruction to care for orphans and perhaps carry out some type of church-wide initiative to take part in the cause. Then, November 21 is National Adoption Day, another day to consider how one can participate in meeting the needs of the fatherless around the world.
The sad faces of orphan children capture the hearts and sympathies of churchgoers in the U.S., and they are often moved to enter into orphan ministry in some way, whether from their church center, by traveling abroad, or by inviting a child into their own homes.
However, caring for these little ones is not always easily done in other countries, often the very places where orphaned children face the most desperate needs.
India is one country where unwanted or poor children are vulnerable to many grave dangers. Young females are less valued than males and so are often abandoned, subjected to infanticide, neglected and abused, or sold into sex trafficking. Children who are born into poverty or the lower castes are often trapped in a life-threatening cycle of hunger, want, and hard labor that amounts to slavery. Education or basic needs are out of reach for such children, and their families are often so degenerated through alcohol abuse or desperate poverty that children leave home and go to live on the streets to escape abuse, poverty, or the threat of being sold to human traffickers by their parents.
Until recently, many Christian nonprofits started by locals and international missionaries were operating to alleviate the sufferings of these children. Then, the country’s strongly pro-Hindu, nationalistic government began subtly cracking down on the efforts of Christian aid groups. Overseas funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), even those as large and as well known as Compassion International, have come under close scrutiny. Many smaller groups have been forced to close their doors under government pressure. The government cites concerns about misuse of funds that veil its true purpose to curtail the work of Christian organizations (which largely receive funding from the U.S.), and thus putting a stop to any subsequent Christian conversions.
But God uses for good what man intends for evil (Genesis 50:20). While the Indian government meant to shut down missions organizations and stop Christian work among the native people through various laws and actions in the past several years, it has ended up unintentionally acting as player in bringing about new, effective models that have expanded the impact of Christian orphan care. Just one true-to-life story demonstrates how missions organizations have been forced to adapt new models of orphan care and seen greater Christian outreach as a result.
Look Unto Jesus Ministries has been working for 40 years to serve children living on the streets in Bangalore, India (See “Rescue the perishing,” AFA Journal, 3/13.). Founder Helen Singh and her late husband Sundar began by bringing children into their own home, where they provided them with food, clothing, medical care, and education. When their first child was born, 25 children already lived in the house.
“There have always been these children, living in our home. I grew up with that,” said Maurice Singh, who has helped direct the program since his father’s death in 2009.
Eventually the Singhs constructed the Michael Dean Children’s home to shelter more children. These children, who had no family able to care for them, lived there and received food, clothing, education, and the training needed for whatever career they chose. Some of these children would be reclaimed by a relative and reunited with family. Others grew up in the program with children who acted as older brothers and sisters in designated family groups. The children came to call Helen “Amma,” or mother, and Maurice and his sister Hannah “Anna” and “Akka,” big brother and big sister, respectively. The design operated smoothly, and graduates often returned as adults with successful families, careers, and ministries to visit the home and the Singh family.
Then, in 2014, the Indian government began aggressively enforcing a law called the Juvenile Justice Act. In the name of protecting children, the law forbade teaching any religion other than Hinduism to children in residential homes. It also required every home to build a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque into its facility. In due time, LUJM received a visit from a government official who told them they must turn the children away or take Christ out of their ministry. The choice was one that was too hard to make, as LUJM weighed their genuine concern for the children and their commitment to the gospel.
“We are not working just to feed and clothe children, but to spread the gospel,” Maurice Singh explained. “The purpose for all we do is to lead people to look unto Jesus.”
LUJM arrived at a means of accomplishing both purposes, getting around the government mandate by adapting to a new model, one that is increasingly embraced in modern missions work for orphan care. The residential format of the home was converted to a foster care model that placed the children in homes with local church members. And, as a result, LUJM has only seen the work of the gospel multiplied as the children act as Christian witnesses in each village where they now live.
“Priya is one nine-year-old girl who saw that family members were troubled and unhappy, so she shared with them what she has learned about the love of Jesus, and that family was saved as a result of her testimony,” Singh shared.
The orphan ministry of the Singhs in India is only one example of how missionaries are working to become innovative in spreading the gospel and serving with Christian love and compassion in various countries under unpredictable circumstances and sometimes intense pressures.
Similar stories from other orphan care ministries are highlighted in the current issue of the AFA Journal in recognition of Orphan Awareness Month. The feature also provides further contact information on LUJM (which will also be featured on AFR’s Exploring Missions on November 22 at 1:00 p.m. CT) and other ministries that provide opportunities for observing Orphan Awareness Month through Christian orphan care.