My family is in the process of adopting two children from Africa. Navigating their adoption has deepened our perspective on the greater work of spiritual adoption we’ve received in Christ. We too were once orphans longing for rescue and refuge until we were brought into the family of God. Our adoption into God’s family, and the amazing grace and mercy we’ve received, then compels us to care for those who are vulnerable.
On this Orphan Care Sunday, the body of Christ gives special attention to how we can care for children we might call “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40). Though this designated day may be an initiative of the modern church, orphan care is not. Throughout church history, the body of Christ has been on the front lines of caring for the fatherless.
As my family moves through the adoption process, we’ve drawn inspiration from stories of church fathers who cared for orphans. Here are three examples of what we can learn from them as we embrace the biblical command to care for orphans.
George Whitefield: Orphan Care Meets Physical and Spiritual Needs
Throughout church history, the body of Christ has been on the front lines of caring for the fatherless.
George Whitefield, leader of the Great Awakening during the 1700s, is well known for his care for orphans. Burdened for these children, he opened an orphanage in Savannah, Georgia. He named it Bethesda, which means “house of mercy.” He felt it was essential to meet the physical needs of the children in the orphanage, but more than that, he believed their spiritual needs were of the utmost importance. Frequently caring for more than 100 children at a time, he worked to alleviate their physical suffering and made sure they heard the gospel.
Through adoption, we too seek to create “houses of mercy” as we welcome children into our homes and families and provide for their physical needs. It’s also Great Commission work, calling us to faithfully share and live out the gospel, asking the Lord to deliver these image-bearers from the domain of darkness and transfer them to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col. 1:13).
George Müller: Orphan Care Steps into Suffering
Born in Germany in 1805, George Müller later moved to England to serve as a missionary. Moved by compassion for needy children he saw while walking the streets, Müller opened an orphanage to provide for these orphans. It housed more than 10,000 children over his lifetime. He even lived among them himself, ensuring they were taught the gospel and were loved and cared for. Müller went to be with the Lord at age 92. At his funeral, over a thousand children followed the casket to the cemetery to pay homage to their earthly father.
Müller looked at these children with love and was moved to act in mercy toward them. It can be easy to see “the least of these” and be burdened briefly but then move on with our comfortable lives. Instead, may we, like Müller, respond with care for the vulnerable and marginalized. Perhaps the sacrifice for some may mean welcoming a child into your family.
My prayer is that the Lord will raise up many families to enter into suffering and shepherd these children to the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the love and tenderness of an earthly mother and father, Lord willing, many children will also come to know their heavenly Father.
Charles Spurgeon: Orphan Care Is Needed in Your City
Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” was born in 1834. At one point, he traveled to Bristol, England, to visit George Müller and hear him preach. After Müller finished preaching, he asked Spurgeon to share a few words. Spurgeon was unable to because he’d “been crying all the while.” He said, “I never heard such a sermon in my life.”
Spurgeon returned to his church in London and preached the following week, challenging his people to care for orphans according to God’s command. Through members’ donations, the church responded by opening Stockwell Orphanage. The children at the orphanage loved Spurgeon. They were said to crowd around him when he would come to visit. On Sundays, the children attended his church and heard the faithful preaching of God’s Word.
Culture of Adoption
Spurgeon was spurred on to care for orphan children by Müller and in turn sparked a culture of adoption within his congregation. In today’s adoption world, we often hear the term “cluster adoptions.” This refers to a culture of adoptions within churches and communities as brothers and sisters encourage one another to open their hearts and homes to children. Not every Christian is called to adopt, but every Christian can participate in fostering a culture of adoption, be it through financial support, meeting practical needs during the adoption process, or praying faithfully alongside adopting families.
Not every Christian is called to adopt, but every Christian can participate in fostering a culture of adoption.
When we care for the plight of the orphan, we echo the heart of our heavenly Father in whom “the fatherless find compassion” (Hos. 14:3, NIV), and we stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us. We do well to follow in their footsteps and point young image-bearers to the hope found only in Jesus Christ. Through God’s grace and mercy, may many orphans find their true homes as sons and daughters of God.