Six years ago Paul Pennington and his wife Robin-parents of six children, five of them adopted-launched Hope for Orphans (HFO) as a ministry in their church. A year later they brought that local ministry under the umbrella of FamilyLife, which was looking for ways to take up the cause of fatherless children.
The result is a ministry that equips Christian families to adopt and assists churches to establish orphan ministries. Pennington said he became aware early on that a gap existed between the Bible's teaching about orphans and church preparedness to take up that burden. Some 81 million Americans have considered adoption, according to a study from the Dave Thomas Foundation, and nearly half of those in the study said they would expect to go to their place of worship to get more information about it: "Sadly, however, the church that celebrates spiritual adoption has been woefully unprepared to answer the most basic questions," Pennington noted.
Over the past five years, HFO has put on 20 "If You Were Mine" seminars in churches around the country. The seminars present both a biblical basis for adoption and a "how-to" of adoption. In order to be able to reach more churches, HFO has combined parts of those seminars with other video features and put them on DVDs for use by local churches. HFO doesn't do adoption placements, so it is able to provide information without attendees worrying about some kind of "catch" at the end of the presentation.
The Hope for Orphans kit also includes a guide for setting up a church-based orphan ministry. Pennington says orphan ministries often get started by adoptive parents who have experienced "God's grace and reality through adoption." They become aware of the needs of the 143 million orphans worldwide and want to help: The crisis, Pennington says, is a chance for North American Christians to put aside a "consumeristic, entertainment-based, and me-centered" religion and to become "concerned about the things that concern the heart of God."
He lists some ways for individuals, families, Sunday school classes, and churches to get involved: adopting and giving a child a home; leading a support group for families adopting hurt children; adopting an orphan home in Africa; volunteering to mentor one of the 20,000 foster youth who will "age out of the system" this year with no family or plan; building relationships with pen pals in an orphanage or by live video chat; going to Africa or China to hold and feed kids left all day in cribs; and, of course, giving money.
The Hope for Orphans kit includes materials to help churches put on their own "If You Were Mine" adoption seminars: five DVDs, a workbook, a leader's guide, and a manual for setting up a church orphan ministry (along with a DVD about that). The DVDs contain interviews with adoptive parents Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Paul and Robin Pennington, and Jason and Trisha Weber about their various experiences adopting internationally, domestically, and from the foster care system. The seminar emphasizes the beauty of adoption while stressing the importance of prayer and discernment in the process.
The DVDs mix with interview sessions filmed at a live "If You Were Mine" conference at Saddleback Church, music from Fernando Ortega and Steven Curtis Chapman, and other features (such as a video of a visit to a Korean orphanage). Those considering adoption or churches wanting to fulfill the biblical mandate to care for orphans will find the materials engaging and credible, because the presenters have all gone through adoption many times.
Most of us won't ever travel to Rwanda or have a chance to assist directly in its reconciliation process. But we can support organizations that do. Cards from Africa is a self-sustaining business in Rwanda that employs orphans ages 18 to 25 who care for at least one younger sibling. These "heads of households" would normally find work paying a dollar a day, but Cards from Africa pays six dollars a day and enables them to provide for the needs of their siblings. The business also provides help in dealing with the "practical, spiritual, and emotional issues" affecting the lives of its employees: It now employs 50 orphans and has 50 more names on its waiting list.
Cards from Africa employees make the cards out of paper reclaimed from office trash: They turn it into pulp and then into paper of different textures and colors. The cards are beautiful, with lots of detail: For example, a birthday card features a stork constructed from layers of handmade paper on a yellow handmade paper ground, and an all-occasion card displays a church constructed of wire, on a blue ground, framed by yellow handmade paper. The hand-made designs are glued to a standard cardstock card, which makes a nice surface for writing.
Another opportunity for U.S. volunteers who can't make it to Africa comes via Amani ya Juu, a "sewing-marketing-training" group for women with centers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi (see WORLD, Jan. 17, 2009). Through volunteer gatherings Amani hopes to increase awareness of its work and to sell more of its brightly colored bags, jewelry, and other items handcrafted by women from those three countries plus Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia.
Kim Donohue, a housewife and mother in Germantown, Md., saw Amani's work firsthand when she traveled to Nairobi to train the women in puppet ministry. She decided to host a gathering with a friend. They planned Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon events and sent Evites to "every person we knew"-friends from church, Scouting, and school. Amani sent boxes packed with $2,000 worth of goods: Amani's signature bags, aprons, placemats, wooden bowls, spoons, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, wall hangings, and picture frames. They sold so much on Thursday they had to return to the warehouse in D.C. to get more stuff before their Saturday sale.
During the sales, which raised $2,600 for Amani, a television and two computers played a DVD and slide show about the organization.