The little boy in this picture may not be included in the stat of 145 million orphans and vulnerable children currently living in the world. And yet, his struggles to survive should not be overlooked, especially by Ashland Avenue Baptist Church.
The boy’s name is Jarson (Yerson). He lives in the village of Cordova, Peru where A.A.B.C. is currently planting a church. Jarson’s parents spend their time selling chicken and beer. For the most part, his sister Roxanna raises him. She helps him with his homework and tries to keep him out of trouble as they run through the streets of Cordova.
Cordova, like most villages in the Andes, is extremely poor. The effects of the village’s poverty are devastating to the health of their children. This is one reason so many in Cordova see children as just another threat to their survival amidst severe poverty. Alcoholism rages throughout the village. Within many homes, echoes of domestic violence can be heard each night. I have even heard stories of children having to sleep out in below freezing temperatures as a form of punishment.
The hope of each child is to endure the daily cycle of life long enough to get a well paying job in the mines or head to a nearby city to further their education. Few if any children are being raised to continue to live in Cordova for the rest of the lives. And yet, the sad reality is people from the mountain are looked down upon in the cities of Peru. Making their way through college or finding a better life outside of Cordova as ‘mountain people’ is very difficult. The possibility that they would end up homeless in one Peru’s major cities is very real.
Over the last five years this void of love and hope has, to some extent, been filled by a group of “gringos” from Lexington, Kentucky. Our missionaries and short-term teams have spent our days working in schools, kicking countless soccer balls in the streets, and loving on just about every kid in Cordova. We have personally witnessed a transformation among the youth of the village just by our presence. Behind their shy looks and whispers to one another, they are overwhelmed with the fact that a group of American’s would travel to Cordova just to spend time with them.
Ministering to children in Cordova has helped to move forward our church planting efforts. However, we must make sure not to see it as a ploy just to reach the adults. We are actually demonstrating pure and undefiled religion in the face of this mountain’s ancient pagan practices. This is crucial to the church-planting mandate that Jesus commanded when He called us to make disciples of all nations by, “teaching all that I have commanded you.”
This may seem like a small thing but it must help to guide the way we see our future in the village. Furthermore, it should never be separated from the adoption culture that continues to be cultivated at A.A.B.C. right now. Each time we see a former orphan walk into our Great Commission Center in Lexington, Kentucky with their earthly forever family, it should be like gasoline on the fire in our hearts to establish more Great Commission Centers around the world.
This should be true for every local church that has the heart of Jesus, to love all the little children of the world. An effective love for the least of these must be demonstrated through the planting of churches. The ‘already- not-yet’ solution for the 145 million orphans around the world is local churches where former spiritual orphans are caring for the suffering children living among them.
The day we leave Cordova we must turn to see a church waging war against the Evil One through preaching the gospel, baptizing new followers of Christ, and gathering around the Lord’s Table. And if we are to really teach them what these things mean, we will also turn to see them fighting back darkness by defending the fatherless and visiting the suffering children in their homes and on their streets.
- Ex-Orphans. The good news of the gospel is that by God’s grace through faith we all experience adoption. In the Son, our status is transformed from poverty stricken spiritual orphans to wealthy heirs of God’s eternal Kingdom. This truth must hit home in every home not just those where children who have been adopted live. The whole church must come to understand that these children, who were at one time adopted into families, are not the only ex-orphans at church on Sunday.
- Together for adoption. As ex-orphans, we are all in this together. The church must be freed from thinking that actually adopting a child into your family is the only way to care for orphans. Creative outlets must be available that include, but are not restricted to, praying and giving toward adoptions. Everyone must be called upon to funnel their own unique gifts toward alleviating the suffering of orphans around the world. Those who are called to adopt will naturally step forward in such a culture, but they won’t be the only people caring for orphans.
At AABC we believe that adoption is a community project. Our adoption ministry is not a segmented group of people who have the ‘adoption process’ in common. All who are trusting in Christ alone have been adopted by God. Therefore, we all have adoption in common. As a church body we must work together to rescue spiritual orphans, who have never heard and believed in Jesus, with the gospel. We must also work together to rescue the 145 million abandoned and vunerable children around the world through adoption. This is why at AABC adoption and orphan care are both woven into our commitment to the Great Commission.
One of the ways we will be fleshing out this church centered vision for adoption in 2010 is through our ABBA Forum. On January 15, 2010 we will have our first ABBA Forum beginning at 6:30p.m. ABBA Forum is for anyone who has questions about adoption. It is for families considering adoption but also for church members who simply want to encourage and support those families who have and will adopt.
ABBA Forum will be hosted on the 1st Friday of each month at David and Jessica Evan’s home. The Evan’s recently brought their daughter Lilly home from China. They cannot wait to share their story and help encourage our church family in the mission of adoption. For more information you can call or email the church office (8594558244).
The young man was as passionate about the gospel as anyone I have ever met. It seemed as if he was leading someone to faith in Christ on a weekly basis. He was continually reproducing his life in others as he worked to disciple new believers. While he was primarily engaged in campus ministry, his family was also active in a local church. And yet, the ministry in which he was involved had no connection to his church. It was almost like he was moonlighting for Jesus.
When personally confronted about this disconnect he responded, “I have been involved in churches for years and they just do not understand how evangelism and discipleship really works. For me I have to just keep them separate!” He continued to remain perfectly content in keeping his ministry to college students disconnected from his life in the local church.
I am reminded of this young man’s words when I think of folks who have grown weary of trying to meet with their pastor to talk about orphan care. Or when I talk with the pastor whose congregation decided against establishing an adoption fund because of pressing budget issues. Or the ministry director who is continually frustrated with all the ‘bureaucracy’ it takes to effectively partner with a local church.
I am thrilled to see how God is using so many from outside the church to step in the gap that has too long existed between the church and the orphan. It’s amazing to see that finally so many are being awakened to the global orphan crisis. Yet, in the back of my mind I continue to dread the day when I will sit across from the guy who waited for the church long enough and took his passion elsewhere. I fear hearing the words, “The church just doesn’t know how orphan care is accomplished. For me its better to keep them separate!”
The pressing need of 145 million orphans and vulnerable children cannot bypass local churches. If we want our ministry to orphans to bring glory to Christ we can in no way keep it separate from the church.
In Ephesians 1:23, Paul says the church is, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” If this description of the church were not in the Bible, it would sound blasphemous! Yet, Paul is explaining that Christ is building the church and until He is done His plans for human history are incomplete. In Ephesians 3:10, Paul says that its God’s purpose to declare His wisdom to the universe through the church. In Ephesians 5:25-28, he explains that to make this happen Jesus is willing to give Himself for the church.
Therefore, whatever ministry we engage in must be designed to equip and build up the church. If your ministry does not at some point assist the church in the purpose of declaring the glory of the gospel in the world it is in opposition to Jesus’ plans for your ministry. This also means that, like Jesus, we must be willing not only to suffer and sacrifice for the orphan, but first and foremost for the church. Such a commitment to the church in general is to be displayed through accountability and service within specific local body.
I mention suffering and sacrifice for the sake of a local body because this sort of vision for orphan care will take patience. It cannot be just another program being sold to churches. Our goal is to keep this ministry away from the church resource room presently stocked with the last two decades of faddish curriculum, videotapes included. If it is to be sustained, it has to be integrated into the life of the church, which could take some time.
It must first be driven by the preaching and connected to the church’s mission efforts. In the last post, I spoke about how preaching is to drive adoption and orphan care in the context of the local church. From the pulpit, the vision for such a ministry must flow into the church’s mission to reach the world with the gospel. This doesn’t happen overnight!
At Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, we believe that orphan care and missions are intimately connected within our commitment to obey the Great Commission. One way this will work itself out is by making international orphan care a component of our church’s mission work. For example, one of our church’s ten-year mission goals is to personally engage in church planting within the 10-40 Window. Right now, we are looking for opportunities to begin this engagement through orphan care among the unreached.
The organizations that will eventually do the most for the orphan will be those who allow their ministry to be sucked into the ministries of local churches and melded with each church’s overall commitment to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. They will even be willing to see their ideas transformed as they are connected and plugged into the current of each individual church’s ministry energy.
Three organizations who are great models in this way are Hope for Orphans, Abba Fund, and Lifesong for Orphans. Each group is set up to mobilize the local church for the sake of the orphan. They are designed to give each church as much ownership as possible and the ability to fulfill their own vision for ministering to the least of these.
The orphan needs more than scattered organizations doing great things in the name of Jesus. The orphan needs the body of Christ mobilized into local outposts personally equipped for a rescue mission. The way each church takes part in this mission will look different. While there is a great need for para-church organizations to mobilize and assist churches and while each church will have its own issues to overcome, we should never think there is another group of folks on the planet who can care for orphans better. This includes those orphans who live in orphanages in Uganda, as well as, the spiritual orphans who live on college campuses in Kentucky.
This post is one in a series of post titled, “The Orphan Advocate, The Pastor, and The Local Church. Check out PART ONE The Orphan Advocate and The Pastor and PART TWO The Pastor and The Orphan
I stood outside my pastor’s office as he told me with a sense of disgust the story his friend Dr. Russell Moore had just recounted to him about the woman asking if his two sons who were just adopted were ‘really’ brothers. While I would have never had the courage to ask it, the question made sense to me. I probably shook my head in disbelief and walked away pretending to be disgusted as well. But, for several days I remember trying to figure out why the story did not make sense to me.
I eventually figured it out. When I did, it hit me like a freight train and I have never been the same. I had to come to terms with the fact that I had never really understood the doctrine of adoption.
I was raised in a context where adoption was something you only whispered about. While I knew families who had adopted, no one ever talked about it publicly. There was always the fear of embarrassing these families and their kids. Adoption was something for infertile couples and families who really loved children in need. So I never made any connection between the act of adoption and my existence in the church.
I needed someone to connect these theological dots for me. Once this happened I no longer thought about adoption as some sort of reality happening in a realm of the universe light years away. It’s real! I’ve seen it! I’ve experienced it!
This happened primarily through the preaching of two men, David Prince and Dr. Russell Moore. Preaching is what God used to connect the dots between my adoption in Christ and adopting children. My family and I have never been the same. Both of these men continue to help connect the dots for others. Their preaching is helping to cultivate a culture of adoption in my church and the church in general, a culture that understands why in Christ we ‘really’ are brothers.
If you are a pastor, I realize that the last thing you need to add to your recycle bin full of conference invitations and sample small group curriculum is another sales pitch. I promise that I won’t send you any junk mail. However, I would like to tell you how to improve your preaching in a way that will radically transform your church. I simply want to encourage you to connect the dots for your people.
All you have to do is tweak your sermon outlines to make sure your folks understand that adoption is central to their life as the family of God. Every now and then, point out that you are a former orphan leading a group of former orphans. Let your people in on the truth that every time you stand at the front and ask sinners to repent and come to faith in Christ you are attempting to care for orphans. Then start encouraging church members to rescue orphans in the same way they were rescued in Christ. This doesn’t even require a new sermons series. If you are already preaching the gospel, you should be able to look back through some of your most recent sermons and find places where you could have already done these things.
Maybe you were thinking that I was going to try and sell you on starting an orphan care ministry in your church or starting an adoption fund. I just did!
My point is that when you start connecting the dots between adoption and life in the church a whole new culture will begin to emerge, a culture that will cause your members to set out on rescue missions of their own. Adoption and orphan care will begin to take place and all you have to do is preach.
I am not saying that you can establish a culture of adoption through preaching and never need any sort of strategies or ministry machinery to help it along. I am saying that these things will be more effective if they grow from your preaching. Furthermore, your preaching will call to the surface the people in your congregation who are gifted to lead such ministries.
Hopefully, you understand that I am only encouraging you to lead your congregation to experience in some specific ways what you have already been preaching. You have declared with authority that God’s love for the world has nothing to do skin color. Walking by fathers in church hallways with children they committed to sacrifice for before they ever met, proves that this unconditional love is living and real. Looking over at a family with one kid from Kentucky and another from Kyrgyzstan concretizes the reality that the gospel transcends bloodlines and makes Christian unity possible. When families show up with children of different skin color, who have various former cultures, we are reminded of our mission to declare the manifold wisdom of God to the ends of the earth.
I am not asking you to simply be a distant voice on these issues. I am sure that, while you may never personally sort through stacks of notarized paperwork or organize an adoption fundraising banquet, your preaching will lead many others to do so. As a matter of fact, as much as you reflect the wisdom of Christ revealed in the gospel, it will be your voice that all former orphans in congregation hear each time they answer the misinformed, as well as, the forces of darkness by saying, “Yes we are all brothers!”
This post is part of a three part series titled The Orphan Advocate, The Pastor, and The Local Church. Check out PART ONE The Orphan Advocate and The Pastor
My wife and I kept looking at one another in disbelief. We listened as a woman attending the Together for Adoption Conference talked to us about her desire to adopt a sibling group. Our shock was not caused by her desire to adopt a sibling group, but her husband’s ignorance of such a desire. We were taken back by the anxiety she displayed concerning the possibility that he may not be on board with this plan.
It wasn’t just this lady who expressed this sort of anxiety. I also heard from several ‘lay leaders’ about the difficulties they were having with the leadership in their churches as they sought to start orphan care ministries.
As my wife and I drove home from the conference, we talked about what it would be like to want to adopt without your husband’s leadership. What would it be like to have a burden for orphan care before the leaders in your church had such a burden? What would it be like to have pastors who are not ready to make caring for the fatherless a part of your church’s ministry?
If this is your situation, let me assure you that I do know what it is like to have a burden for orphans. The scars of malnutrition that I see on my two sons, recently adopted from Ethiopia, remind me everyday of the need to care for the fatherless. I am well aware that this need goes way beyond casual suggestions and abstract ideas about how to better your local church’s ministry. Real human beings created in God’s image are really suffering by the millions.
While I can relate to your heart for the orphan, I also know what it is like to be a pastor who is responsible for making decisions about effective church ministry. My role at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church is to make sure all we do fits within our vision for impacting the world with the gospel. I have met with sincere people who think that eternity hangs in the balance over the style of bulletin we use or the implementation of the latest evangelism techniques. Even so, I have come to realize that to have an effective ministry you have to be selective. You cannot immediately jump on board with everything everyone wants to do. It is important to have your church’s energy, resources, and focus funneled in the same direction.
With that said, I have the conviction that orphan care cannot just be tacked on to other ministries or relegated to small a niche group. Your vision must be much larger than the guy asking for Krispy Kreme donuts to be made available in the foyer before services. So as an advocate who serves on a pastoral team in the context of a local church, let me give you some advice as you set out to establish something as crucial as caring for orphans in your church.
I want to begin by reminding you to honor the structure God has ordained in the church. For the church to function properly and fulfill the purpose of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, God has ordained pastoral leadership. (1 Timothy 2:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9) As a Christian, you have the responsibility to serve under the authority of faithful men who shepherd with God’s word in the context of a local body. Your responsibility to honor such authority goes beyond dutiful teeth gritting respect. It includes making sure your pastor’s job is a joy and delight. (Hebrews 13:17)
As you approach your leaders, make sure your goal is to do it in a way that will bring joy to their lives. This does not mean that, if first denied, you should ever give up on making orphan care apart of your church’s vision. It means you go about it in a way that respects authority and realizes this is bigger than any one person’s agenda. It’s about the glory of God in the church Christ has promised to build.
It means you will dream big but be willing to start small. Do not put pressure on your leadership to have to immediately revamp their vision and totally transform the church’s budget. That’s not fair to them and will only leave you disappointed.
At first your pastoral team may simply give you their approval to run with some of your ideas. Realize that you will eventually need more than just their approval. You will at some point need their influence, authority, and personality. So check your pride and come to terms with the fact that this ministry will only reach its maximum potential when it begins to rise from the pulpit. It will really begin to thrive as your leadership starts to connect it to the gospel culture already present in your church. Because this is something you probably have little influence over, to see it fleshed out most effectively you are going to have to be patient.
Whatever it is that you are given approval to do, run with it. Make sure everything is carried out with a sense of excellence. Pastors love supporting ministries that function without them having to micromanage all of the details. Assure them that you are not dumping one more thing on their plate that will require more of their time.
We both know that eventually your pastor will be overjoyed to give time and energy to this cause. When that time comes you must be willing to let them infuse their vision into it even if it is not exactly what you had envisioned. Remember your pastors have been called to shepherd the body and that includes you and your ministry.
If at first your leaders are not where you are on this issue, give it time and keep praying for them. They must know that not agreeing with all your ideas will in no way hinder your relationship with them or your service in the church. You are going to continue to love and support them. Once you walk away from their office you must be their biggest fan in the congregation.
I am sure there will be exceptions. But, I truly believe that if your pastors are the men God has called them to be, they will eventually be led to lead your church to care for orphans in some way. If you are at a church where the pastor is constantly studying the Scriptures so that the word might go forth and change your congregation, he will eventually have to deal with God’s heart for the orphan revealed in the Bible. If your pastor is faithfully preaching the gospel so that the lost come to faith in Christ, sooner or later he will see how the glory of the gospel is displayed through the rescue of orphans. If your pastor desires to live above reproach before God and men, then I am confident, as you pray for him such godliness will eventually be fleshed out through orphan care.
If your vision for orphan care bypasses God’s clear vision for the church, it will always be lacking. Orphan care in your church must be done within the boundaries God has set for church leadership. Know that at the end of the day establishing such a ministry, while seeking to cultivate greater joy in the life of your leaders, will only mean greater care for the millions of orphans in the world.
This post is part of a three part series titled The Orphan Advocate, The Pastor, and The Local Church.
After attending the Together for Adoption Conference this past weekend, I am overflowing with thoughts about the ‘movement’ this conference represents. I say movement understanding and believing whole-heartedly what Dr. Russell Moore stated in his sermon at T4A, and what many others involved believe,
“If the orphan care movement is going to be successful, it cannot be a movement. It has to bubble up out of real churches. It can’t be a special interest group competing with other groups.”
So for the past couple of days I have been asking the question, “How will orphan care bubble up out of real churches.” At this time, I am convinced that a majority of orphan care taking place today is more connected to a ‘movement’ than local churches. I hope and pray that what this movement is doing is sounding an alarm to wake pastors and churches to begin to care for orphans. (I know without a doubt that this is what Dan Cruver and Jason Kovacs of Together for Adoption are attempting to do.) I am convinced that many churches who are faithfully preaching the gospel of God’s word are hearing this alarm and responding. I guess we might say that these churches are those who have turned to see that there have always been fizzles of orphan care in their congregations and they are turning them into real bubbles.
And yet, I truly believe that three groups of people must be mobilized into one if this ‘movement’ will ever be owned by local churches. These groups include: the Orphan Advocate, the Pastor, and the Local Church.
In short, every orphan advocate must be a member of a local church where they love and support their pastor. This love and support must be exhibited even when their pastor is not as passionate about orphan care as they are. If he is committed to the gospel revealed in the Bible, it will come. Every pastor must open his eyes not only to the world-wide orphan crisis, but also, the responsibility he has before God to lead his church toward pure religion. As he does, he will begin to see the orphan advocate not as someone leading another agenda item, but as a partner for ministry. When the local church is led to love the gospel of Jesus Christ by their pastor the orphan advocate is able to step in and stir this love up directing it toward the orphan. As these two groups work together in the context of an accountable church body, a culture of adoption fleshed out through orphan care will begin to bubble up.
If the millions of orphans around the world will be served these three groups will have to work in unity. As a matter of fact, on some level, they will no longer need to be seen as three different groups at all. The orphan and the world must come to recognize them as the body of Christ, the feet and hands of Jesus, who display to them the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Over the next week, I plan to make 3 more posts concerning the Orphan Advocate, the Pastor, and the Local Church. The post will be titled: The Orphan Advocate and Their Pastor, The Pastor and The Orphan, and The Orphan and the Local Church. I hope you will join me and consider thinking through these issues yourself, no matter the category in which you may fall.
This past Sunday before lunch, Isaac prayed his first prayer in English. Isaac has been home from Ethiopia just two months now. He is transitioning from Amharic to English. As he prayed, he thanked God for his family, his brothers and sisters by name. He thanked God for his daddy and mommy. For most kids, that would have been good enough. But for Isaac, there is an extended family that has been apart of his life from the time we were apart of his life. He ended his prayer by thanking God for his church, our church, Ashland Avenue Baptist Church.
On the Sunday morning that I announced from the pulpit that we were starting the adoption process a man immediately walked up to me and handed me a check for $1,500.00 to help with our expenses. Over half of our adoption expenses were alleviated by the folks of AABC. Two families donated frequent flyer miles that took care of our plane tickets to Ethiopia. A week before we left, a group of senior ladies gave us an envelope full of cash they had raised for us. The one requirement they gave for the gift was that the boys call all of them ‘Nanny’. On several occasions, I have noticed a few of Isaac and Jonah’s new ‘nannies’ tear up as they admire them from a distance.
Through the 9 month process it took to get our boys home, thousands of prayers were cried on their behalf. On May 6, 2009, our court date in Ethiopia, my inbox was full of messages inquiring whether or not we passed. Once the news was out that we had two new sons in Ethiopia, my phone was overloaded with text messages and voice mails praising and thanking God for His provision.
Such concern for orphans has not only been displayed toward Isaac and Jonah. Over the last year AABC has given close to $40,000.00 toward adoption and orphan care. In 2009, 5 children were rescued from around the world. As a church, we are presently praying for two more families who are adopting children from China and Ethiopia. We hope these families will be home with their kids before Christmas.
From the outside, it may not seem to be much. But, as I walk among the members of this church, I sense the rumblings of a religious movement that is leading to radical sacrifice for the most helpless among us.
Why? Because the people of AABC believe the gospel. This is a congregation who continually exhibits the sort of joy and service that comes from being in right relationship with God. What you see in this fellowship is not a cold dead sunday morning full of generic religious activity. It’s a vibrant religion that is fleshed out in helping the most needy around the world. It’s what the book of James says happens when your relationship with God is alive. It’s faith with works. It’s pure and undefiled gospel ministry.
Isaac’s prayer said more than any of us realized around our lunch table. We smiled at each other and thought, “Isn’t that cute!.” And yet, there was trembling in the cosmos. This simple barely understood prayer was a declaration to the forces of darkness. The principalities and powers were put on alert that there is church in Lexington, Kentucky who is warring against the serpent’s kingdom, a kingdom that would rather have my sons dead of malnutrition in Ethiopia.
We gave him the name Isaac to remind us that he is a son of promise. Our prayer is the one day he will be a true son of promise. At this time, he is the fulfillment of his church’s promise. Nine months before he arrived home they promised him, “We will not leave you as an orphan!”
“Thank you for church!” More than you will ever know, Isaac. More than you will ever know!
Jason Kovacs has a great post on Creating a Culture of Adoption in Your Church. Establishing a culture of adoption is something we have been intentionally working on for the last year (2008-2009) at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church. We believe that this is primarily done through the preaching ministry. It is from the pulpit that we seek to establish an entire congregation culture of adoption.
The message must constantly be sent that adoption and orphan care is not to be a ministry agenda of a select group of interested folks. Rescuing orphans at AABC must be a part of our church’s overall vision to advance the kingdom of Christ in the world.
Jason Kovacs of the ABBA Fund helps to summarize what we are trying to do in establishing a culture of adoption rather than segmented adoption ministry in the following way:
- Ministry tends be an optional program that a small group of interested individuals can take part in.
- Culture is something that the whole church community takes part in by virtue of being part of the church.
- Ministry does not necessitate the involvement or the vision casting of the church leadership.
- Culture will be sustained by the preaching of the gospel and the particular ways it is worked out.
- Ministry is not always clearly connected to the mission of the church.
- Culture is a means to work out the mission of the church.
Since September 2008, we have had 7 new families begin the adoption process. We have received four former orphans into our congregation over the last year. We have also taken in $40,000.00 for adoption and orphan care. (AABC partners with ABBA fund)
We believe these things are a result of ‘culture’ not ‘ministry’. Furthermore, they will only be sustained within a culture cultivated by our church’s mission vision.
Check out our adoption audio resources here.