— Jedd Medefind serves as President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, an alliance of over 200 organizations and 850 churches working together to live out God’s call to care for vulnerable children.
Christians have an ancient reputation for protecting and caring for the most vulnerable, including orphans and abandoned children. As abortion policies shift across the U.S. following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, we have an opportunity to renew that legacy. Now is the time for us to step up. We can come alongside vulnerable children, mothers, and fathers with the extraordinary generosity that’s defined the Church at her best.
A Growing Need
The Court’s ruling didn’t end abortion in America, but it has begun a new era thick with uncertainty, need, and opportunity. As state legislatures deliberate over how to proceed, we can anticipate that tens of thousands of children will be born each year who would not have under Roe v. Wade — possibly far more.
Many of these children will be welcomed into stable homes where parents, although perhaps surprised by their pregnancy, will swiftly fall in love with their new family member. For other new arrivals, however, the story will be different. Many children will enter the world amid a vortex of struggle and scarcity. This subset of would-have-been-aborted children will face headwinds from the start: intense prenatal stress, economic hardship, family breakdown, risk of serious neglect and abuse, and more.
This reality portends great need. It presents an immense opportunity as well. It invites the Church to meet these children — as well as their mothers and fathers — amid tremendous vulnerability.
Christians’ Legacy of Orphan Care
For 2,000 years, Christians have been known for their care of orphans and other children and mothers who need it most.
Even as a despised minority in the Roman empire, Christians earned a reputation for venturing outside city walls to rescue little ones who’d been left to die by the Roman practice of “exposing.” Early saints, from Benignus of Dijon to Afra of Augsburg, built networks of fellow believers to care for exposed children, other orphans, and isolated mothers.
This identity is deep in the Christian DNA. It rises naturally from the clarion calls of Scripture to pay special care for “the orphan and widow in distress.” It makes the gospel visible, showing the world what our God is really like. As Psalm 68 describes, “A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. He sets the lonely in families.”
How Can Christians Care for Orphans Today?
How can we step up afresh to this ancient commitment? Of course, not everyone will adopt or foster or mentor struggling parents. But every one of us can play a part. Together we can build a culture that reflects God’s heart, both within local congregations and as part of the broader Church.
I’d emphasize three areas of prime opportunity:
1. Pregnancy and Birth.
Mothers and babies are never more vulnerable than from conception through a child’s early life. Help at this time is critical — from the counseling and aid provided by pregnancy care centers to church-based mentoring, tangible aid, and friendship for young mothers and fathers.
2. Families in Crisis.
Parents facing addiction, incarceration, poverty, mental illness, relational conflict, or other crises are rarely more than a few steps from family breakdown. Material help paired with earnest relationship can make all the difference. When breakdown has occurred, churches can also find or provide loving foster homes, as well as robust wrap-around support for foster families and for biological parents seeking to reunite. The national More Than Enough initiative is working to make this kind of support a reality in every church.
3. Ongoing Community.
All humans need community to thrive. Friendships and community are especially critical for isolated moms and dads in every season of life. These can spring from formal gatherings like MOPS, Celebrate Recovery, Bible studies, and other church events, as well as (perhaps especially) from shared meals in a home. These relationships offer models of healthy family life (truly critical for those who’ve lacked it), the encouragement and perspective of a listening ear, accountability to good choices, and more.
Support Through Christian Community
What is the key ingredient in all of these? Relationship. Certainly, material support is critical too, from both government and nonprofit sources, but rarely are these enough on their own.
Apart from meaningful relationships, material goods are often merely first aid — perhaps stopping the bleeding but not leading to true healing and health.
Such relationships can’t be mass produced. They come one loving heart at a time. Government assembly lines will never generate enough devoted friends for young mothers, mentors for young fathers, caring foster or adoptive parents, or wrap-around helpers for families.
The (very!) good news is that God has provided for this. He’s given us the church, where these things can be lived out — together. Each and every one of us plays a part.
To be sure, none of it will be easy. Whenever we follow Jesus into our world’s hurt, we inevitably share in that hurt. But to do so is not only the life God calls us to, it is the best life, far richer and more purposeful than any “safer” alternative.