Heart for Orphans: 6 Things Orphan Care has Taught Me

Jason Johnson is the lead pastor at Woodlands Point Community Church in Houston, Texas. Founded just four years ago, Woodlands Point already has a beating heart for the orphan due to a large number of families and individuals in the church who are pursuing foster care, adoption and/or child advocacy. (If you have a few minutes, there’s a great video about it here.) To support the growing passion, Woodlands Point started a nonprofit called The Orphan Care Network to support and serve an alliance of churches in the Houston area that want to be active in orphan care. Jason is also in the trenches; in addition to their three daughters, he and his wife Emily, are currently fostering a newborn baby girl and seeking to adopt her. This post, originally posted on Woodlands Point’s blog, reflects his journey. 

Here’s a few things I’ve learned of myself, of Jesus, of the Gospel and of the call to care for the oppressed, marginalized and orphaned children in this world. It’s a scratch on the surface of the depths of what there is to know, but I’m grateful that in His mercy God grows us as He sends us – and He sustains us along the way as we pursue His mission.

1. As excited as I am about caring for orphans, they certainly aren’t excited about being them.

My call to care for orphans is more about the help they need than it is about my need to help. I cannot use orphan care as the means by which I gain some personal sense of fulfillment, purpose or meaning. Only Jesus can provide that for me. The last thing orphans need is me using them to mask my own personal insecurities by burdening them with the expectation to satisfy my self-righteous need to help someone less fortunate than me. Orphan care then becomes an idol, and a service project – a work upon which my identity is based and my self-justifying needs are met.

These kids experience horrendous atrocities and injustices in a very short amount of time. They are not trophies for me to put on display so people know how obedient, radical and missional I am. The end goal of my obedience in caring for orphans is not my own obedience, but rather the orphans themselves. It’s about what is best for the child, not what is glamorous or daring or risky or evangelically sexy for me.

2. My goal is for the child to win, even if I have to lose.

There’s an incredibly profound tension wrapped up in orphan care, fostering and adoption – the only reason you have a child in your care is because the biological parents have squandered their capacity and trustworthiness to be mom and dad. In moments of clarity, when I look at our foster baby, I’m burdened for her drug-addicted mother and incarcerated father. I’m reminded that this precious child has become a part of our lives because her parents are wrecking their own. I desperately want to keep this baby forever, while at the same time her mom and dad desperately need Jesus to fix their lives forever. I’ve had to learn how to grieve for the parents, how to pray for them and how to hope that Jesus would rescue them…even if, in the end, it means the baby girl we’ve grown to love goes back to live with them one day. I must be willing to pray and hope that mom and dad are able to provide a safe and loving home for their baby and that in the end, Jesus changes their lives and they win with Him, and she wins with them. Otherwise, I will continue to make this about me winning, even to the detriment of them.

If our sweet girl goes back home we will grieve the loss of a child we have grown to love, but will rejoice over the lives of a young mom and dad that are hopefully headed in the right direction. At the same time, if she stays with us forever we will rejoice over God’s precious gift, but I hope we grieve as well, over the lives of young parents that have yet to find a hope and a healing that can only come through Jesus.

3. I can only change the life of an orphan to the extent I’m willing to let an orphan change mine.

It is impossible to hold a tragically neglected and abused child in your arms and not be profoundly moved by the weight of their story. In many regards, their few days or weeks or years of life have been filled with more sorrow, more pain and more betrayal than many of us will experience in a lifetime. It has to change your perspective. It has to shift you. Their brokenness has to break you. It has been a gracious act of mercy on the part of God to confront my shallowness with the depths of our foster baby’s reality. There are so many poor, oppressed, marginalized, abused and neglected children in the world…and I now have the privilege of rocking one to sleep at night in the comfort of our home, with clean clothes, a full stomach and a face full of kisses from my daughters who love her like a sister. It’s humbling.

For whatever change we will bring about in the life of a marginalized and orphaned kid, it will come back on us exponentially. Their brokenness exposes ours. Their need exposes ours. They need a home, a love and a hope from me in much the same way I need that from Jesus. As I hold her I’m reminded of how I am held by Him. Her reality exposes mine for what it is and infuses a vision into it for what it could and should be…if I would only let myself be a part of her story, so that her story can change mine.

4. I can’t do this alone.

It’s impossible to carry the weight and burden of orphans alone. We are incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by The Orphan Care Network – people from our church committed to abandoning themselves over to the task of eradicating the orphan crisis both domestically and globally. Whether it’s late night texts asking how things are going, lending us a car seat or some baby clothes, or sitting with us as we struggle through the deep emotional tensions of attaching ourselves to a child who may or may not stay with us forever, God gives us people who help hold up His heart in us through it all, even when we feel like we can’t hold on anymore.

We are forever bound to those who are in the fight with us. Through mutual experiences and a common understanding of what it’s like to care for orphans, the community around us has both fueled our drive towards the mission of God and sustained us along the way.

5. God calls us to do very big things in very small ways.

Fostering and adopting abused, neglected, marginalized and orphaned children is a big deal, but it expresses itself primarily through very small, very menial, very hidden tasks that go largely unnoticed. We are daily stopped by people and asked about our foster baby, and we count it a privilege to share with them God’s big heart for the fatherless, His big plan of fully adopting us through Jesus and our big commitment to do the same for orphans. But that’s not the end of the story. The rude realities of orphan care find themselves up for a 3am feeding, changing a diaper for what seems to be the 100th time that day, on the phone with case-workers, lawyers, doctors and government departmental offices, filling out stacks of paperwork, sitting through court hearings and driving across the city for parent visits.

Yes, orphan care is a big deal, but its grandness is not measured by the public fame it produces but by the private faithfulness it requires…when no one is around to see, and no one cares. The only way we will make a big difference in this child’s life is if we do the small things she needs us to do for her with eagerness, willingness and joy – whether anyone is around to see it or not.

6. The Gospel.

In the end, this little girl has taught me much about the Gospel – God’s radical, redeeming, consuming, healing, hope-giving love for me through Jesus. As I rock our sweet girl to sleep so too I’m held with great assurance in the arms of a Father who has brought me into His family and called me His own. He changed my name. Gave me a new identity. Granted me the rights and privileges of being His heir. Secured my future and changed the trajectory of my life forever. I was once an orphan, but now I’m showered in His kisses of grace, and nothing will be ever be the same.