Thanksgiving was just a few days ago, and I find myself reflecting on all that I am grateful for this year. I filled my belly with turkey, Mama’s dressing, corn pudding, and pies while sitting around a table with some of the people I love most. I celebrated the presence of my new son and his first Thanksgiving home. I was even able to sneak away for some Black Friday shopping without tears from either of us. This year everyone in my family is healthy and home, and for that, I rejoice!
This time two years ago, we were surviving a difficult transition home with our third son, whom we had adopted from China. Regardless of how challenging life was at that time, I still was so grateful that we had been obedient to God’s calling to bring our son home. With so much emotion and passion, I continued urging others to defend the fatherless. I prayed that families would open their homes to the least of these. I held meetings with church leaders to talk about the plight of the orphan and shared ways to get involved in the crisis domestically and internationally. I poured my heart into blog posts in hopes that more people would choose to get involved. Over the past few years, my desire to empower, encourage, and enlist others to serve the least of these has remained a huge desire of my heart.
As Thanksgiving ends and launches us toward the Christmas season, it also signals the end of National Adoption Awareness Month. On November 8, 2015, churches across the world recognized Orphan Sunday to encourage people to step into the lives of vulnerable children everywhere. After 3 years of praying for such an opportunity, the church we recently began attending allowed us to host its first Orphan Sunday event. I cannot express how excited I was to put this event together.
Although I believe adoption gives vulnerable children the most hope for a future in this world, the heartbreaking reality is that the majority of orphans will never be adopted. Additionally, not all people are able to adopt a child, so I wanted to make sure our event provided ways to defend the fatherless in addition to adoption. I made a list of 7 different agencies and organizations and invited them to participate in our event. Each agency would be given booth space to share information before and after the main program, and during the actual program, they would each have 5 minutes to share how their organization works to serve vulnerable children. I was so encouraged by the excitement that each representative shared as we discussed the details of the evening. To speak with like-minded people who share your passion can sometimes feel like a rare treasure!
In addition to inviting the 7 agencies to the event, we chose powerful worship music and videos and strategically placed them throughout the program to keep people engaged. God can present Himself and His Will so beautifully during those moments. Hunger is an unfortunate reality for so many orphans around the world. Both of our children from China have experienced insecurity and fear about food. In order to make the issue of hunger more personal to people attending our event, we decided to incorporate the Orphan’s Table into our program, as well.
While I was coordinating details of the evening, my friend Christy, who is employed at our church, was facilitating everything on the inside. Christy worked hard to make the evening such a success. She used some of the print materials at the Orphan Sunday Website to create an info card, which was available in our church’s lobby area. She also communicated and coordinated the need for church-wide announcements about the program. The Orphan Sunday event was posted in the bulletin for several weeks leading up to our event. We were also so fortunate to have multiple pastors give pulpit announcements the three weekends leading up to the event. To hear our pastors calling our congregation to stand up for vulnerable children brought tears to my eyes.
On the morning of Orphan Sunday, I couldn’t help but smile when the church service begin with the 2015 Orphan Sunday video. The Lord was answering so many of my prayers, and the evening program hadn’t even started yet. It was incredible.
Finally, Sunday evening, the time came to see the fruit of everyone’s efforts. I almost could not believe my eyes that evening as I met representatives from each agency and watched them set up their booths. When I looked to the left, I saw my friend and her uncle preparing all of the food for the Orphan’s Table portion of the program. It was a huge undertaking, and I am still smiling with such gratitude! Our Children’s Pastor, his wife, and their small group offered to provide free childcare that evening, which was extremely generous. We were confident that more families would attend our event if childcare was provided, and there were 60 children registered for childcare. To see people I love come alongside us to support our passion and execute the Orphan Sunday event was such a gift. Before I knew it, people began arriving, taking their children to childcare, and visiting the booths to talk with representatives from the various agencies. Everything was coming together so beautifully!
Just before the event began, my husband, Ryan, started ushering people to the chapel. We provided everyone with a program and paper on which to take notes. I couldn’t believe all of the people who came pouring into the chapel. It was exciting to see many of our closest friends, my dad and step-mom (who surprised us and drove 2 ½ hours to be there), Ryan’s parents, our senior pastor, fellow adoptive moms with whom I had only corresponded online, old coworkers, and several people from our previous church attending the event. Ryan went to his post at soundboard, and he began coordinating all of our audio/visual components for the evening.
Two wonderfully talented people from our church played guitar and sang Holy Spirit to begin the main program, and then Ryan started the 2014 Orphan Sunday video. Next, it was my turn to speak, and although I expected to be super nervous, I found myself more excited than anything. Seeing all of those people gathered together on a Sunday evening – and missing the Colt’s game nonetheless – brought my heart so much joy! After I finished speaking, my friend, Christy, led everyone in a prayer, and we began the Orphan’s Table. While everyone ate their small portion of food, our musicians played and sang Called Me Higher. I loved the way the songs, video, and introduction worked together to set the stage for the rest of our evening.
As soon as they finished singing, a representative from Lifeline Children’s Services shared information about adoption and their (un)adopted program. Next, a representative from Central India Christian Mission shared a powerful video about a child whose life changed by God through CICM. She also discussed opportunities to sponsor and/or adopt children served by this ministry in India. Ryan played a Francis Chan video clip to demonstrate the parallel between our spiritual adoption and earthly adoption.
The next portion of the evening provided people with various ways to get involved with vulnerable children in our local community. Our county’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) shared information about Foster Care. Then, Safe Families provided information about the need for safe, loving homes while parents voluntarily restore stability in their lives. Next, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) shared about the need for children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect to have someone to represent their best interests during judicial proceedings.
To introduce the next part of the program, Ryan showed another video about global orphan care opportunities. A representative from The Boaz Project shared about their organization’s work serving orphans in India and Russia and provided ways for people to get involved. Last, representatives from Horizon International provided attendees with information about how their organization serves orphans affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and offered several ways for people to get involved. As soon as they finished, Ryan then played one final, powerful video called Depraved Indifference by Eric Ludy. Despite seeing it at least 10 times, I still cry every single time.
Hearing representatives from each organization speak about the great needs in our community and around the world was heartbreaking. Those people are on the front lines, witnessing vulnerable children on a daily basis. At the same time, my heart was encouraged to see so many people willing to learn more about opportunities to defend the fatherless. I closed out the program with some final words and a prayer. Tears of heartache and hope fell that evening. The musicians played one final song, No Turning Back, which had such an impact throughout our first adoption journey. Everyone was dismissed to visit the booths and gather more information from the representatives before going home. It was incredible to talk with people about how God was moving in their hearts that night. I loved seeing so many people asking questions and learning more about the organizations. Visiting with some very special adoptive families and meeting the children I have prayed home was so powerful.
Throughout the entire evening, I found myself amazed at what God had done that evening in bringing us all together. He sovereignly opened doors for us to share His heart for the fatherless and had planted us in a field that was ripe to hear His heart. As we move forward, it is my deepest hope that God answers the prayers of many children through the people who attended the Orphan Sunday event. I am confident that He planted many seeds that evening. I have received many email messages from people excited to take next steps or wanting more information. We are having dinner with a couple next week to talk more about adoption. As much as I would love to continue adopting more children, I believe with all my heart that this is how I need to serve the fatherless for now. I want to be a voice for vulnerable children, encouraging, empowering, and enlisting others to step into their lives.
I hope many of you reading this post will encourage your churches and/or community to engage in the plight of the orphan. I gave you as many details as possible for you to consider as you plan your own events to bring awareness to the plight of the orphan. Regardless of whether God is opening doors for you to host your own event or you are feeling resistance from those around you, never give up because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Stand boldly as you speak with love and keep fighting the good fight! I am cheering for you.