Asking the Right Questions is Key to Serving Orphans Well
Great orphan care and poverty alleviation in general, depends on asking the right questions. There is great power in asking the right questions.
The quality of the question is key
The quality of any answer is determined directly by the quality of the question asked. If you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer. If you ask the right question, you get the right answers. You ask a weak question, you get a week answer. You ask a powerful question, you get a powerful answer.
Asking the wrong question
One question that people who are new to orphan care ask me frequently is: how can I start an orphanage? That’s the wrong question. Why? Because this question presupposes that to care for orphans you need an orphanage. What if to care for orphans well we didn’t need to have an orphanage? What if orphanages were actually a bad way to care for orphans? What if there was a better way to care for orphans without putting them into an orphanage? Growing research from some of the world’s top universities like Harvard and the University of California is showing that raising children in institutions like orphanages is not a good way to raise children. In fact, institutionalization hurts children for the rest of their lives. Now, that doesn’t mean that there is no role for an orphanage. There is a role as a temporary transition home, not a place to raise children.
Asking the right question
The right question is: what is the best way to transform the lives of orphans? First, you need to have a vision–a compelling picture of a desirable future for the orphans that you want to help. That vision is your goal. You want to see the children of that community living that beautiful future. Second, get to spend time with them and know their condition well. Third, then seek God to help you come up with a revised vision of a great future for the kids and their community now that you know so much more about them. This second vision needs to be created with the collaboration of local partners. They have to be co-leaders. Don’t do it alone.
Together with local stakeholders, ask yourselves: What would you love to see these orphans like when they are young adults in their twenties? In their fifties? At the end of their lives? After you have come up with a vision for them, the next step is to ask the question: what is the best way to take them from where they are to where you envision that God wants them to be? To get the right answer to this question, we must ask it with all honesty and not be biased. We must truly surrender our will to God and say, “Lord, whatever you show me as the best way to carry out this vision for the kids, I will follow even if it goes against what I had thought or desired.”
Whatever answer you get at the end of thorough research of best practices, collaboration with coequal local leaders, committed prayer, and waiting on the Lord, then you should do. If that is starting an orphanage, then jump on it with all your heart. If it’s not, then don’t. Remember, you can’t use faith as a cop out for poor quality work. You can’t be doing something that research by experts in the field clearly shows causes harm to the children and say, “this is what God told me to do.”
Of course, there are exceptions. If expert advice contradicts something clearly commanded in the Bible in unequivocal terms, then the Bible must be obeyed, not the expert. For example, sharing Christ with children and raising them in the fear and admonition of the Lord is commanded in the Bible. If experts were to say that is bad for Children or it shouldn’t be done, we will ignore them and do what God says. Realize that there are some people who refuse to take their sick children to the hospital for medical care because they say, “it’s because God told me not to” or they say, “it’s against our faith.” We cannot do the same thing by ignoring best practices and expert recommendations when we care for children.
The goal is serving orphans
The goal is serving orphans, not opening an orphanage. If you make starting an orphanage your goal, you have lost the battle to help orphans even before you start.Orphans can become the victims of your orphanage, the thing that you use to achieve your dream of starting an orphanage. But if your dream is serving orphans the best way possible, not starting an orphanage, then you are guaranteed to win.
My question to you is, what is your goal? Is it to start an orphanage or to transform the lives of orphans?
** Please, don’t think that I’m discouraging people from starting orphanages. I’m simply pushing people to think and correct their orientation so that they end up making the right choices.