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.





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