What’s wrong with orphanages?

Caring for orphans and vulnerable children is a Biblical mandate. Stories and pictures of orphans easily capture our hearts.   I recently listened online to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church speak at last year’s Finishing The Task Conference and was blown away by a story he shared.

You may be aware of Saddleback’s PEACE plan that they’ve been unfolding in Rwanda.  PEACE stands for Plant Churches, Equip Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care for the Sick, and Educate the Next Generation.  Rick was expounding on “C” – how his church has cared for the poor in Rwanda.  He was also highlighting the fact the church has the biggest participation of any organization around the globe.  The church is an army of volunteers.

After the genocide of 1994 the President of Rwanda asked Rick for help with the orphan problem.  One million children, or 10% of the county’s population, were left orphaned.  Rick said, “Sure we’ll help, but you need to know I don’t believe in orphanages.”

The goal for Saddleback was to make Rwanda the first nation without any orphanages.  And for 10 years, with the participation of local churches, orphans have been moved out of orphanages and into families.  At the time of the FTT Conference last December when Rick was speaking 2 out of 35 orphanages were left and the goal was that by the end of 2016 Rwanda would be the first nation without any orphanages.  How amazing is that!

After telling this story Rick reiterated that the government can’t do that, NGO’s can’t do that . . . . . only the Church can do that!

Saddleback sends teams to train churches in Rwanda to start an orphan ministry.  A ministry that provides a permanent, legal, lifelong family for children.

It was a powerful talk but you don’t have to take my word on that as it’s available on Vimeo.  If you’d like to hear just the orphan talk – start at 1:14.  If you’d like to hear a bit more on health care (and they are using a slightly revised model of CHE – Community Health Evangelism)  – start at 1:00.  (Actually the 2+ hour talk is all good!) There’s also a bit more information about the Saddleback Orphan Care Initiative here.

Another resource I was made aware of recently is a curriculum entitled Orphan Calling:  A Biblical and Comprehensive Guide to Orphan Care by Jessica Johnson.

World Gospel Mission talks a lot about the Disciple Nations Alliance.  I like this study not only because it’s got great graphics and reflection questions but it talks about DNA values like the Kingdom of God, shalom, and worldview.  It also asks some really hard questions.

Hard questions are good though.  What do you think about orphan care?  Has what Rick Warren or Jessica Johnson shared made you question what you’ve traditionally thought about how the church should help orphans?   Can you initiate a conversation about orphan care within your church or with colleagues?

I love Rick Warren’s response to the President of Rwanda.  “We’d be glad to help with the orphan problem but we don’t believe in orphanages.”  And look what God has done!  How can your church get involved in caring for orphans?



Joy Phillips is WGM’s Wholistic Transformation Coordinator.  She loves to see individuals , churches and communities rise to their full God-given potential.  She has had opportunities over the last 3 decades to be involved in community transformation in East Africa. Currently she networks with WGM’ers globally who are coming alongside the Church to build His Kingdom in all it’s fullness.





What’s in a name?

Whitney Smith McMunn, a WGM volunteer several times over, submitted the winning title for WGM’s Compassionate Ministries blog ~ Between the Trees.  Below she shares the meaning behind the name.


There are two prominent trees in the story of the Bible.

The first we see in the beginning. In the Garden of Eden we find the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; the tree from which Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat. Their disobedience regarding this tree brings sin into the world; sin, destruction, death. This tree is at the center of their story. And, it is at the center of ours. We reached for that which was not ours to take, and we have been broken ever since.

But, it’s not just as simple (though severe indeed) as being separated from God. That relationship was broken and created the greatest loss for humanity. But also, our relationship with each other was broken. We look around and see war, violence, infidelity, lies, hatred, and prejudice. Also, our relationship with the rest of creation was also broken. We are filling massive landfills, depleting resources, producing and dumping toxic waste. On a smaller scale, we simply throw away our plastic bottles and cans, recycling only when it’s convenient, because we simply don’t care. And lastly, our relationship with ourselves has been broken. Many of us know someone who thinks they are so worthless they do harm to themselves, and maybe even try to commit suicide. We encounter those who are so proud they trample everyone in their way.

We didn’t just damage our spiritual selves through sin. All of creation was impacted. All of creation was broken. Our whole lives were affected.

As we progress through the story of the Bible we see this brokenness apparent in so many ways. We encounter people in Scripture who have turned their backs on God and tried to run as far and as fast from him as they could. We also encounter people in Scripture who have surrendered everything to God to glorify his name and make him known throughout the world. And the lives of every last one of them were wholly broken by sin.

But, if we stick with the story and continue to make our way through, we see the beautiful picture of redemption unfolding. We see that every book in the Bible is about the Gospel, leading us to Jesus Christ. And finally we make our way to Revelation, the end of the story, the grand finale—which is also chocked full of the Gospel. And here, in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible we find the Tree of Life; the Tree of Life that is for the “healing of the nations” (Rev 22.2). In this chapter we rejoice that one day “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 11.15). God’s kingdom will fully come and people from all nations will worship him forever.

This is the culmination of the whole story. Through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ we will experience the fullness of God’s kingdom where we will be wholly restored! There will be no more brokenness. We will live as God’s children in the fullness of his presence, and there will be no more hatred, sin, or death, no more sorrow or tears. Just life. Abundant life without any more brokenness.

We are living life between the trees.

This is what we strive for now: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6.10). God’s children are called to be a part of God’s redemptive work to move us from complete brokenness to complete wholeness. That’s what wholistic development is all about. That’s what community transformation seeks.

The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just to restore souls to a relationship with God. And the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just to give food to someone who is hungry. The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring wholeness where there is brokenness, to restore our whole being to what and who we were created to be.

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” (Colossian 1.19-20, emphasis mine).



Whitney has been a Volunteer in Action twice serving in Kenya where she met Joy Phillips.  They talked about Mango Ministries, WGM’s new ministry in South Sudan.  Whitney then spent a year ministering in South Sudan using the training tools of Community Health Evangelism and Biblical Storytelling and mentoring and discipling those around her.  She is married to Kirby and this past spring they led a team of youth from their Church, who they have the opportunity to lead year-round, on a trip to Escuela el Sembrador in Honduras.