Orphan Care (Or, Why I Hate Orphanages) Part 1: When We Think We Know Better than God

March 5, 2019

When I think of entering the murky waters of writing about orphan care, I remember a day at the beach a few summers ago when we were visiting the States.  We were camping close to July 4th, so things were crowded.  As we made our way to the beach, the shore was packed!  Piles upon piles of people had staked out a claim.  You could not see the water through the throngs of people and their umbrellas.  The first 20 feet of water had people wading and swimming so close together that you often bumped into a complete stranger when tossed by the waves.


The ideas and opinions surrounding the care of children called “orphans” around the world is like that picture:  many, many opinions and ideas bumping into each other, but there is a vast ocean beyond still beyond.  My opinions are just my opinions.  While I have spent hours upon hours doing research, attending classes and workshops, and living the life of caring for OVCs (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children), I realize that I know relatively little.  I hope to explore what I have learned here with some continuity and clarity, both to codify and solidify my ideas, as well as to communicate them with those who are joining us in the work we do.




“Father of the fatherless and protector of the widows is God in His holy habitation.  God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”  Psalm 68:5-6


The research is undeniable:  the best place for children is in a family.  (I will get into the statistics and research in another post, but what I hope to communicate here is not based on human wisdom.)


We debate the methods, the process, the outcomes.  We come up with ideas to mitigate the symptoms.  We sponsor, we give, we build, we go.  So much of what we do, however, does not empower the family.


We work in a country where it is estimated that there are around 1.2 million orphans in a country with 16.5 million people!  However, about 80% of these children have a living parent.  Nearly 6500 children live in orphanages and institutional care in Zambia*  (This does mean that we care for about 1% of that total where we work; which still seems overwhelming for our capacity.)   The vast majority of these cases are due to poverty.  64% of Zambians live on less than $1.90 a day and can’t afford to feed and educate the children in their care (the birth rate is also 5.0 which means most Zambians have quite a few children in their care!).  There are no easy solutions to these issues.


However, we cannot make the mistake of thinking that our methods are better than His.


No orphanage, children’s home, sponsorship program, boarding school, or transitional living center can improve on God’s design for a child to be in a family.


I do not believe God makes mistakes.  I cannot believe that He does.


Please let this sink in.  We can do the research, we can analyze results, we can formulate the arguments, we can claim the exceptions, but our reasoning is not God’s wisdom.  Why do we think that what we create is better than what He has created?  How can we think that anything other than what He says is best will produce the best outcomes?


We do hear the occasional “success story” come from one of these places, and we hear the vision of “raising up the next generation of leaders”, but reality and the accompanying statistics tell us that what we are doing is not working.  And why should it?  




He has told us what He does:  He puts the solitary in families.  


We should also.





(There are deliberately  no 'orphans' pictured here.  Only the beautiful country where some children are labeled as such.  It is not who they are.)


*Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (2017) Nationwide Assessment of Child Care Facilities


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