I wrote the following entry, and a few that follow, at 4:00 AM as a storm rained down on a tin roof overlooking a courtyard in Bujumbura, Burundi last year. I’m not sure why it took me so long to post them, perhaps because they fall more into a ministry philosophy category than one of in-field reporting. Regardless, we have developed this model considerably further since I penned these initial thoughts based on our discussions. I look forward to sharing more with you on that later...
Continuum of Care (introduction)
True holistic or ‘whole’ ministry not only means providing for all the functional needs of the individual, but possessing all the potential solutions available for that individual. It entails having all the options at your disposal to meet the needs according to a ‘continuum of care.’ Where an individual’s needs and circumstances fall on that spectrum dictates the prospective approaches and solutions. For the potential orphan, it involves first trying to prevent orphaning, second, rescuing the child after orphaning.
More specifically, the rescue and care of abandoned and orphaned children should follow a progressive continuum of options that all involve the coordination and direct involvement of the local indigenous church located in the community.
Prevention involvement should primarily focus on keeping dying families or guardians alive for as long as possible, or by supporting high-risk struggling, impoverished, or single-parent families. In other words, the goal should be to avert orphaning and abandonment, or to at least significantly delay it.
Indigenous churches, as they engage their communities, conduct home care visits and provide much-needed medicines, food and other assistance for this purpose. Naturally, they also have significant additional ministry opportunities into these families as a result.
If orphaning is still imminent, the church already has a history with and familiarity of these children due to its prevention and delay involvement. Requisite trust has been built with the families and the kids. The church prepares the family for death through counsel and practical programs that help to safeguard memories, family heritage and continuity. Meanwhile, the church looks to see what extended family options currently exist or helps to convince and support otherwise uncommitted relatives to step up and take in these children. Again, this provides further inlets for the church to reach and minister to families. The church is given witnessing avenues beyond just the interest in the children.
If these first two options don’t exist or have failed, then the church turns to its own congregation – first to see if church members can raise and care for the children as their own (adoption) or as an intermediate step until another family is found (foster care). The church therefore serves as an integral community-based solution.
If the church’s capacity has already reached its upper limits, then a church-based residential care solution is needed in order to keeps kids off of the streets, herded into institutions, preyed upon by traffickers, or being exploited as domestic slaves in other community homes.
Group residential care, however, still has to be designed to provide a family environment, albeit a large one of fifteen children or so. Church families, that may have existing kids of their own, are recruited to care for these additional children in church-based homes with full funding provided for food, clothing, education and other critical needs. It’s a long-term obligation - a lifelong commitment - to what, in essence, equates to a group adoption.
In these large family settings, widows can complement the live-in care provision. Formerly disenfranchised and ostracized, many of these ladies need a home themselves and a renewed sense of purpose and belonging. They know loss and pain and are therefore uniquely qualified to counsel and comfort children who have lost their parents.
Volunteers from the church body are also on hand to provide assistance, mentoring, and skills development for the children in the group home.
There exist many young children already struggling on the streets and in garbage dumps and brothels. The indigenous church still goes through the necessary steps to find and support extended families for their rescue. But, absent that, these children also need to be incorporated into families within homes overseen and run by the church.
Many orphan care ministries speak in terms of ‘transition’ or ‘reintegration’ concerning children that age-out of the system. For the children in World Orphans’ church-based homes, these words carry less meaning. Under our current ministry model, our children remain fully integrated in their communities and daily experience what healthy families look like. There is no big disconnection between the environment of their upbringing and the next season of life in the ‘real world,’ only the normal anxieties typically associated with making it on your own.
What’s more, these children never graduate from a home, much like we would never graduate from our own families. The families are told that their care for the children is not a 5, 10 or 15-year commitment. It’s a 65-year commitment! These kids are now part of families, families that they will still visit; families that they will celebrate life’s achievements and milestones with; families that will gather together for reunions and holidays.
There are children we serve, however, that can be deemed as in need of transition. These are children in countries that raise their orphans in state institutions, or in countries where circumstances placed them into large privately-run orphanages. They also include latter-stage children that have been on the streets or rescued from other dire circumstances. These kids need comprehensive help through well-designed intervention programs that prepare them for the next stage of life.
In many cases, these children are immediately placed at the mercy of evil forces that prey upon them as soon as they are released from institutional care. If the church doesn’t step in at that point, the kids are soon immersed into a world of drugs, prostitution, slavery, or forced military conscription. Their lives are typically harsh...and short.
To avoid this highly-vulnerable period following institutional release, World Orphans is establishing transition homes, again owned and run by indigenous churches, that take in children before malevolent parties have a chance to grab them. This residential care format provides the necessary training (including social and skills development) to allow the children to better integrate into broader society at a later date.
Whether it’s a child leaving a primary or transitional home, or directly aging out of an institutional orphanage, there is a further opportunity and responsibility for an indigenous church. Much like we would help our own children with ‘next steps’ resourcing and care, so is it with children from any type of residential care program. They need assistance to take the first strides of self sufficiency. That may come in the form of additional training or higher education, but can often mean a simple micro-loan to establish them in a trade, small business, or other income-generating scenario.
Why go this extra mile?
Because it could mean the difference between stopping or perpetuating the vicious cycle of orphaning and abandonment. It’s not just the specific child (now young adult) in question, but also their future offspring. The child needs to have every chance to be successful and self supporting so that they don’t, in turn, abandon children or fall to the ills that take and destroy lives after children are born.