Understandings of the word “orphan” often differ. Common use points to a child whose parents have both died. A synonym sometimes used in the Bible – “the fatherless” – highlights the death or absence of a father. The current UN definition includes children who’ve lost one parent or both.
The idea at the heart of the biblical clear directive to care for orphans includes all of this and more. At essence, it speaks of a child who lacks the protection, provision and love that God intended parents to provide. In some cases, these children have lost both parents to death. In others, the loss of one parent (often but not always the father) has exposed the remaining parent and child(ren) to great need and harm. In still other cases, the absence, incapacity or unwillingness of parents has left a child with all the vulnerability of an orphan, even if their parents are still alive.
We see this same vulnerability vividly in many of today’s unaccompanied refugee minors, especially in the Middle East and Europe. Some of them dwell in refugee camps, on the streets or in temporary shelters. Others embark on journeys of thousands of miles in search of relatives or a safe place to call home.
These children fit clearly with the biblical understanding of the orphan – children whose unique vulnerability places a unique call upon God’s people to provide protection and care.
This is why some groups of Christians in Europe – where the global refugee crisis is currently seen and felt keenly – are spotlighting the needs of unaccompanied minor refugees for Orphan Sunday this year. They will remind the church that God cares, deeply and personally, for each one of these children…and that God invites His people to be His hands and feet in service to them.
Certainly, there is space for differing opinions among Christians about government policies on immigration. It is not always clear how best to hold together compassion and concerns for security and other issues. But there is little ambiguity in the Bible’s call to the church. We are to be a people known for welcome, hospitality and care for all those in need – and, in a distinctive way, for children who lack the shelter of family.
Whenever and wherever we have the opportunity, God calls His people to open our hearts and sometimes even our homes to the orphan in any form – whether the boy whose parents died…the girl whose widowed mother needs aid to keep her family together …the hurting child in foster care…or an unaccompanied minor refugee. Each of these souls are near to God’s heart in a special way…and they should be to ours as well.
Get resources to pray for and serve unaccompanied minor refugees in Europe.