We recently got to ask Trace Thurlby and his team at the Global Orphan Project a few questions about how modern Christians can best care for orphans and vulnerable children around the world. The Global Orphan Project is a faith-based nonprofit committed to breaking the orphan cycle through the power of community, commerce, and the love of Jesus. As a community of donors, we love to learn from those doing God’s work on the front lines; their on-the-ground insight can inform how we give and how we pray.
1. When we hear the word “orphan,” certain images may come to mind. How would you describe the children you are serving?
Many people assume orphans are children with no parents or relatives to care for them. But in fact, 80-90% of kids living in orphanages around the world have at least one living parent who could care for them if they had the means. Poverty, war, natural disasters, trauma, substance use, family breakdown, and physical and mental illness all impact a parent’s ability to care for their children.
The children we serve need healthy, loving families. And those families need support from caring people in their community to help them overcome adversity and succeed.
Here in the U.S., it’s not abuse that’s fueling the removal of more than 400,000 children from their homes – rather, neglect undergirded by poverty and a lack of healthy community support. If more early interventions were available – to stabilize and strengthen families before breakdown can occur – most of these children could avoid entering foster care and experiencing further trauma.
2. How have recent global events affected your work?
In especially challenging times, the number of children and families in need increases exponentially. It has been estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out 10-15 years of global progress in working with the most vulnerable. Illness, death, and the pressure of economic lockdown created a child welfare pandemic, and our network of local church partners responded in inspiring fashion. The result was unprecedented growth in the number of children served.
3. Why is engagement with local churches and communities so important in caring for orphans?
We believe in local solutions. Events beyond our control can happen at any moment. In these times of crisis, as well as in the daily grind, community leaders are the ones who truly know their children and their stories. They are the ones who can be ready to provide immediate, personalized help to children and families who have been impacted.
Positive, sustainable outcomes are most often grassroots; top-down solutions are usually too far removed. Communities have churches, philanthropic organizations, and caring people who can collaborate to effectively solve some of the most difficult problems plaguing our society. God is not taken by surprise in these crises, and at the center of His plan are ordinary people who love their neighbors in the name of Jesus.
4. Have you recently had to change any of your models for engagement in the communities where you work?
Over the years, our organization has limited our use of residential care models (children living in group homes and orphanages) to focus on healthier, family-based care models (family strengthening, foster/kinship care). We believe in empowering neighbors to care for neighbors – to be heroes to their own children and communities so that kids receive the safety, support, and love they need to reach their full potential.
For example, our partners in Haiti are introducing a healthier way to care for vulnerable children following the devastating earthquake and tropical storm that occurred last August. Rather than repair the damaged orphan homes, leaders in Les Cayes are constructing several community homes to raise children through a kinship model of care in a family-style environment.
5. What are one or two of the biggest needs that go unaddressed?
People often think of poverty in economic terms, but in reality, poverty is often found in a lack of community. Too many parents are isolated, overwhelmed, and in need of help. Without support, families will continue to break apart, and children will be the ones that suffer the most.
When it comes to child welfare, the 330,000 Christian churches across the U.S. share a divine responsibility to take action. If only 10% of churches invested in meeting the needs of local children in crisis, our nation’s foster care crisis would be reversed. Children would know the love of family, families would gain dignity from a caring community, and the Kingdom of God would advance.
For churches looking to accelerate this important work, CarePortal provides a way to easily mobilize congregation members. Meeting a simple need at the right time can be the difference between a child staying with a family member or being removed from their home. Providing something as simple as a bed can make all the difference and open the door to ongoing, meaningful connection.
6. What gives you hope for the future?
God and His Bride.
God cares deeply about His children, and we see Him moving in mighty ways through the local church to care for at-risk families. In just over seven years, we have seen 3,500 churches – connected by CarePortal – step up and provide local, timely care for 150,000 children, delivering $50 million of economic value. We are convinced this is still just the beginning.
In the future, we hope to see (and be part of creating!) more proactive solutions that empower families. Together, through the collective impact of churches, businesses, nonprofits, schools, and more, we can break the orphan cycle and be part of reversing the foster care crisis – for the benefit of children, for the good of the Church, and to the glory of God!
Interested in learning more about Christians’ role in orphan care here in the U.S.? Check out Renewing the Christian Legacy of Care for Orphans.