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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.
great orphan care

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.

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  1. Asking the right question is very key to serving orphans. I agree with what Stephanie said, a lot of times people always think they are the answer to that, and that they can best serve orphans when in all reality they are not the best choice. They don’t know the language, culture, and customs. Even if they have studied it in 5 years they can’t say they know everything about that culture. My grandma was born and raised in Vietnam, during the war she was brought over to America and to this day still struggles with speaking the language, how then can we say we are the best answer to serving orphans in a third world country?

  2. I have recently learned that I need to evaluate my passions and desires before acting on them. If I have a passion to serve orphans, what is my motive behind serving orphans? Am I willing to die to myself and what I think is best and serve the way the Lord has told me to serve His children or do I want to do it my own way and only my way? Do I want to serve orphans in the best way possible and desire to meet their needs or do I just get my drive to care for orphans from the way it makes me feel such as feeling like a better person or feeling like I made a difference.
    I think asking yourself what your motive is behind serving orphans is very important. If you have selfish motives it won’t be pleasing to God, and you are less likely to accomplish much especially when the work gets difficult.

    • Well said Danielle!!

  3. I think another great question to ask and answer is, “Who is the best person to care for orphans?”
    Many people would like that answer to be, “ME! I am the best person!”
    I wanted that to be the answer for the longest time, but I have recently come to the realization that I have no idea how to care for orphans…especially those in a third world country. I can’t speak the language, I don’t know the culture or customs, and I am still young and immature in a lot of ways. My desire to help comes from a good, loving heart, but if I am really out to serve orphans (and not myself) then I need to consider who the best, most qualified person would be to look after such emotionally, mentally, sometimes physically damaged children.
    Here in America we don’t just drop off our kids at any random daycare without knowing that the workers are well trained, educated in some sort of childhood development, are CPR certified, and have previous experience. Yet I used to think I could just go and volunteer abroad and voilà! now I’m ready to care for children. This is absurd!
    I encourage people, especially those of us who are young and passionate about helping, to get proper training (spiritually and practically) before determining that they are the best person to care for orphans.

    • Well said Stephanie!
      I thank God for the heart of wisdom that he has given you to understand and accept these truths!

  4. Well pretty much agree with you on most counts. however I would like to highlight a few points here;
    1) What if we really need to start an orphanage to transform the lives of the people?
    2) Where is the best place to serve the orphans?


    • Hello Abraham,
      Thanks for your comment and questions.
      1) What if we really need to start an orphanage to transform the lives of the people? I think one of my former posts will help answer this question. As I said in the post, I’m not against starting orphanages. I’m not against a doctor giving the medicine lasix or albuterol or morphine to a patient. I’m against the doctor giving those medicines to every patient that comes in through the door. I’m also against a doctor DECIDING to give these medicines to a patient before he ever meets the patient to know him or her PERSONALLY and diagnose their condition first. Click here to read the post or copy and put in your URL: http://www.startanorphanage.org/why-start-an-orphanage/

      2) Where is the best place to serve the orphans? The best place to serve orphans is the place that God has sent you to. There is no other place better than that because he will make you fruitful there. As Christians, our goal is to glorify God by obeying him when he calls us. All Christians are called to care for orphans in general. What I’m talking about is going into orphan care full-time or in a significant way. How do you know what your calling is or where he is calling you? That’s the subject of a small book I’m working on right now and will share posts from it on here in the future. Stay tuned. It’s not something I can answer in a sentence or two.

  5. right

    • Thanks Prashanthi