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.

The Koech's at Kenduiywa Home.JPG

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.

Umoja kids.jpg

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.

Linda from Kirsten cropped.jpg

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.

 

 

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