Orphan Care: what should it look like?

Linda Spriegel, WGM missionary in Kenya at Tenwek Hospital, shares in this post about the Tenwek Orphan ministry and some of the challenges they faced this past year.  What should the response of the Church be to orphans and impoverished families?  There is more and more discussion on the global front about doing away with orphanages and empowering families to adopt.  We’d love to hear your thoughts as you read and process Linda’s story in regards to care of orphans.

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The Tenwek Orphanage ministry was in crisis!! Funds that had carried it through for ten years were gradually decreasing, and we realized we couldn’t keep doing everything we had been doing as we supported four orphanages in the Tenwek area.

These orphanages were started by Kenyan believers who have hearts for the needy. Over the years they had given their land, their resources and time to welcome and care for needy children. Missionaries had come alongside these orphanage directors to supplement their needs for food, firewood, and clothes, and to help with school fees. Some of these directors had networked with local churches to help provide for their daily needs. For example, one director had arranged for a different local church to sponsor the food needs each month. But it was always a struggle, and Western visitors and supporters in the US were often looking for ways to share their resources with the needy. Tenwek missionaries were glad to help channel giving to where they saw vital needs.

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Some of these children were genuine orphans, with no living parents, and others came from homes where the resources were too few to feed them and send them to school. Year after year, the orphanages continued to grow, with expanded building projects for more dorms, bigger dining rooms, etc., funded by caring donors from the outside. And orphans were being helped!  Some of them completing high school, going on to good jobs or for continued higher education.

But in March 2016 it seemed like this ministry was coming to a screeching halt as the orphanage ministry accounts went into the red. Although it was difficult, we believe the Lord ordained this financial crisis to stimulate a much-needed conversation. What is the real need for outside involvement in these locally-started orphanages? Was the Lord trying to change our mindset? This all came at a time when the main family in this ministry was headed back to the US for Homeland Ministry Assignment with no obvious successors in place. No one had the time and energy to put into this ministry like this family had been doing, even if the funds were there.

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So, what, if any, should be our involvement in these orphanages? If we were able to restore a balance in the fund, what should our priority be? What do we tell our donors?

Thankfully, we have able advisors on the Tenwek Orphanage Committee, Kenyans with years of experience in community health and development work. They, more than anyone, can sense when helping is starting to hurt, and when original vision and good will is getting in the way of the long-term good. As we prayed and consulted together the decision was made to hand back all day-to-day expenses to the local orphanage directors and only seek funds for student scholarships. The Committee and the Directors agreed that education would have the most lasting impact on the orphans. The Tenwek Community Health and Development staff offered to help round out the scholars’ training with seminars during their school breaks on other necessary life skills.  Formal education and mentoring together will help these kids break out of the cycle of poverty in their families’ lives.

This is just one angle of the orphan issue. It seems we are moving a few steps away from dependency on the Western world for these orphanages.   This will help in the long run but there are broader issues at hand. Can we move even farther along to the point of changing the focus from residential care to training and equipping families to cope with the challenges of raising children in the midst of poverty?

We are not the only ones raising these questions. There is a movement, mentioned in Joy’s blog of August 31, 2016, to move orphans out of orphanages and into families. A cousin of mine who is very involved in global issues relating to orphans and vulnerable children recently shared with me the work of two other groups.  World Without Orphans (http://www.worldwithoutorphans.org/) is “a global movement for every child to grow up in a nurturing permanent family and to know their heavenly Father.” They offer seminars, teaching and discussions to move churches and organizations in this direction. In fact, a conference is coming to Kampala in March!

Christian Alliance for Orphans (https://cafo.org/) unites churches, organizations and individuals committed to caring for orphans around the world. From their website, “CAFO members join in coordinated initiatives that grow effective adoption, foster care and global orphan care rooted in the local church.”   A great-looking summit is being held May 4-5 in Nashville.

Aligning ourselves with others who share this passion may be helpful in shaping our future direction.

I commend my Kenyan missionary colleagues for their untiring compassionate care for the orphans, both through the Tenwek Orphan Ministry and the Kenya Africa Gospel Church.

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Linda ministers in Kenya with her husband, John, who is an Internist at Tenwek Hospital.  Linda has developed a network of women who are involved in Bible studies that reach hundreds, if not thousands of women, called Tabitha Ministry.   She has also chaired the Tenwek Orphanage Ministry Committee over the past several years.





As you finish off the last of your Christmas sweets and think about how to get rid of that holiday weight gain this book is a poignant reminder about our role in a world where many go to bed hungry.


From Jon Steury who serves as WGM’s Africa Regional Director along with his wife, Vera.


Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Moving from Affluence to Generosity by Ron Sider (available on kindle for only $7.99)

I first read this book several years ago and even then it was not a new book. The copy I have is the fifth edition and in it, Ron speaks of writing the book “almost thirty years” ago. However, the Biblical concepts it presents are timeless, and kept relevant by the continued updating of the facts and figures and examples throughout the book.

The book is an examination of world poverty and hunger from a Christian perspective with consideration given to what can be done to address and alleviate the problem.

Because I’m a “detail guy” I was intrigued by the facts and figures throughout this book that time and time again “put things in perspective” for me. The first chapter, A Billion Hungry Neighbors, felt like an onslaught of uncomfortable realizations as the scale of world poverty and hunger was presented through data and interesting anecdotes. I was astounded to learn how great the gap is which exists between the world’s “haves” and “have-nots”. It felt overwhelming, hopeless and depressing. Fortunately, the book doesn’t leave you there.

The book is divided into four sections:

Part One – Poor Lazarus and Rich Christians (The presentation of the problem.)

Part Two – A Biblical Perspective on the Poor and Possessions (The analysis of the problem from a Biblical/Christian perspective.)

Part Three – What Causes Poverty? (A look at the causes of the problem.)

Part Four – Implementation (A look at what can be done about the problem.)

This was the first book I read that really delved into the roots and causes of poverty – and even a deeper understanding of poverty – that it’s not just “a lack of money”. This has helped me to try to look at “the poor” in a more wholistic manner – searching for the areas where even they are “rich” in some aspect of their lives.

I appreciated the thorough review of the different causes of poverty in part three, and the many practical suggestions in part four on how we (I) can fight against it.

I was so impressed by this book that I have shared it widely with many of our supporters. I learned, in the process, that the book is somewhat “political” as well, when I shared it with supporters who were in “big business” in the USA and did not agree with some of the author’s conclusion in Chapter 11 – Making the World More Fair. Fortunately, we were able to talk it out and accept each other’s understanding.

I also suggested to one of our supporting church’s missions chairman that for their next annual “Missions Banquet” that instead of serving an international meal, they put a copy of this book at each place at the table because the cover of the book shows a place-setting of fine china and silverware – and that bread and water be served as the evening meal in realization that a large percent of people in the world will not have any more than that for supper. I’m not sure if my suggestion was taken, but I felt it would give a far more accurate picture of the need for “world missions” than a big dinner with lots of international dishes.

As you can see, the book’s intent is not to make us feel better as western Christians, instead, it’s to challenge to us to “move from affluence to generosity” as the subtitle invites. Or, for us to find ways of identifying with, caring for and showing Christ’s love to the poor. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us – so the challenge remains. Read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger to learn how you can face the challenge head on in a Christ-like manner.