This article, written by Christy Britton, is updated from the original posting in November of 2017 on the ERLC website.
In his book Radical, David Platt says, “We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.”
When I read this book years ago, I believed this statement, and my belief terrified me. I was also relatively certain that I would never identify myself in a category of people who held orphans, and sadly, that gave me relief from my fear. I knew that if I ever met an orphan, ever held one, that everything would indeed change. I knew that and feared it, but I slept comfortably at night in desired and blissful ignorance. I didn’t want my world to change.
When God opened my eyes
But God confronted my ignorance with his truth. He illuminated my darkness (Psa. 18:28). In his goodness, God gave me what I thought I didn’t want. He gave me a great grace, the grace of exposure. He opened my eyes to show me something that I didn’t want to see. He exposed me to orphans, and the thing that I feared came true; everything did change.
In a recent conversation with my pastor, Tony Merida, he said, “Once you hold an orphan, you’re done.” He’s right. It happened to me. Almost four years ago, I flew to Africa and held my first orphan. I’ve held many since then, but nothing could have prepared me for the change that followed.
My priorities were new. I restructured my spending so I could support local leaders caring for orphans. I started going on mission trips to visit orphans in Kenya and Uganda. I began to advocate on behalf of their needs. I started working for 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit that partners with local leaders around the world taking care of orphans and widows. I pray for God to sustain the fatherless (Psa. 146:9). I write about justice and caring for the fatherless. I do all this because God opened my eyes to see their plight.
Instead of being scared to see them, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Instead of being afraid of what they might ask of me, I wanted to give them everything. Instead of focusing on all the ways they were vulnerable, I began to feel fiercely protective of them. Instead of thinking of them as someone else’s responsibility, I wanted them to be mine. In his grace, God changed me.
What exposure changes
God illuminates what the prince of this world covers in darkness. We don’t look at what we don’t want to see. We protect our ignorance so we don’t have to be confronted with our responsibility to care for orphans (James 1:27). Engaging the global orphan crisis is hard. It requires sacrifice. We have enough to take care of under our own roof. We are content to live in blissful ignorance. We naively assume someone else will go, someone else will help. But someone else can’t obey for us.
Through the grace of exposure, God changes us into people who desire to care for orphans. As God transforms us he receives more glory. He changes us into people who see the vulnerable as fellow image bearers and not as burdens. God uses exposure to awaken our spirits to what the world ignores.
The problem with change is that we only want it if we can control it. We’d love for our lives to change in ways that benefit us. God is for that, too. But sin often blinds us from what is best for us. God sees what’s best, and in his grace, exposes us to it. I spent years thinking that taking care of orphans was good, but not necessarily commanded. I heard the Word, but I did not do the Word (James 1:22). I thought God wouldn’t ask it of me since I have several biological children. In my ignorance, I thought I knew what was best for me. I was wrong.
We are his, and he is for us. He wants to change our lives for our joy and for his glory. And in his goodness, he knows that what’s most beneficial for us is to be conformed to the image of his Son. I’m so grateful to my God for exposing me to what is best for me, for showing me the joy of obedience, particularly in an area where I was afraid to release control. I’m thankful to know that my life is enriched, that my joy is greater, and that my God is glorified because I care for the vulnerable. As an image bearer, it is my joy to care for orphans and show them the Father who never abandons his sons and daughters.
In his book Orphan Justice, Johnny Carr says,It is not as if I—or the church as a whole—was hard-hearted and didn’t care about the plight of orphans. I simply did not know the enormity of the problems. No one had seriously engaged the issue of orphan care in any of the churches or schools I attended. But in this case, ignorance is not bliss. Millions of kids around the world are hurting in ways we cannot imagine, and we are called to respond with compassionate care.
We can’t use ignorance as an excuse. Our ignorance is costly to orphans. We must pray to our Father, the Father of the fatherless (Psa. 68:5), to open our eyes to the plight of orphans and to give us hearts that mirror his heart for them. We must pray for the grace of exposure.
Exposure graciously placed me in a category of people who hold orphans. Caring for orphans once seemed a burden to me, now it brings me joy. This former orphan, adopted by God and made an heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17), has been changed, and is changing, from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). My heart delights in this obedience.
Exposure to the needs around us leads to awareness. And God uses this awareness to change our hearts—for our good and his glory. We don’t need to fear or avoid exposure, like I did. Instead, we must welcome it as a grace and a means to more than we could ask or imagine.