Family. It’s important to God.
Family shows up throughout scripture.
The story of creation ends with the foundation of a family, with Adam and Eve coming together to bear and raise children. Noah spent years building an ark to save his family. The census of Israel was recorded in Numbers by having the Israelites camp around the tent of meeting, “each under their standard and holding the banners of their family.” Nehemiah organized the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem according to family, and all family members participated. Within the orphan care movement, we frequently quote Psalm 68:6, “God sets the lonely in families” and cite the many examples of Dads and Moms raising children according to the Living Word and hearing the stories of salvations of entire “households.”
In each one of us, there is a longing for family.
During a brief orphanage visit in Uganda in May, while talking with a group of children my wife and I asked the children if they had any questions for us. We were expecting questions about American culture, or maybe what we were doing there in their community. But the first question floored us – “Would you please pray that we will all find families?”
During my years of work in Eastern Europe, I would often talk with kids living in orphanages. One question that I would ask is this – “Imagine that you are king/queen of the world, and you can have anything you want. Anything at all. What is the one thing you would wish for?” The answer was always the same – no matter the age, boy, girl, or nationality:
“Mama” “Papa” “Family”
I remember so fondly times spent with my family growing up. From camping trips, to opening day fishing adventures, to traveling around the country. After Dad got sick with cancer when I was in grade school, we boys knew when to be quiet after his “treatments” to let him rest. And when he was declared cancer-free, we rejoiced together. He taught me the basics of business in the family store, and demonstrated a solid work ethic through his commitment to providing for us. Mom was our biggest cheerleader, which was tough with 3 boys always involved in some sport or performance – she was always at the sidelines at our games, matches, meets and plays. Our extended family always gathered at our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, often with over 40 people celebrating the holiday together.
We were close, and we still are.
Yet so many in this world do not have this understanding of family, and struggle to put these scriptures in perspective because this was not their experience. While we tend to focus clearly on children, many orphans “age out” of the system and enter adulthood with that continued longing for a family.
While in Uganda, this concept became so clear to my wife and me. During the Leadership Forum with almost 400 people in attendance, after seeing a photo of our family and listening to us speak, two adult pastors approached us explaining that they did not have the blessing of growing up in a family. Each of these – one in writing and the other face to face – asked us if we would be willing to adopt them into our family. Even after so many years, that longing in their heart to belong was so strong that they were willing to humble themselves with such a bold request. With a heaviness in our hearts, we shared that we could not adopt them…yet also celebrated that in Christ we are indeed members of the same family.
May the Church embrace that reality more and more — both in adoption of those who need parents, and in loving welcome of all who are lonely.