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What is a True Orphanage?

Some of the material in this post is from an excerpt from a lecture given by Dr. Kenneth Acha in a course at Austin Bible Institute. To find out more about other classes offered at ABI, please follow the links at the bottom of the page

The way you define something determines how you respond to it.

That’s something Dr. Kenneth Acha said to me in a class I took last semester at Austin Bible Institute, Starting an Orphanage. He was teaching a lecture about the new definition of an orphanage. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines an orphanage as “a residential institution for the care and education of orphans.” In recent years, however, institutions have gotten a bad rap. Simply calling something an institution makes people think it is bad, but an institution, by definition, is not good or bad. It is simply an institution. I don’t think we should define something by it’s worst representation, but by it’s best and most noble.

Look at it this way: a lot of marriages nowadays end in divorce, although that is not it’s original purpose. Do we change the title of marriage to something else because how it has been handled in the last few decades drastically hinders it’s true meaning? I don’t think so.

We know that God has used orphanages to serve people. We also know, given the advances in medical sciences and our understanding of the harm that children can suffer if they are not well taken care of, our definition of what is acceptable as an orphanage must change, but the name doesn’t have to change.

What we see common today in many marriages is not how marriage was years ago. The concept, and commitment, of marriage has evolved over time and taken different forms, some of them very disheartening. Yet, when we define the marriage, we must define it as it should be, not as it is.

Dr. Acha taught me that he believes that the form of the orphanage too must change. What is acceptable as an orphanage needs to change. The role that orphanages play needs to be examined to made sure that the interests of the child are advanced in every age and every part of the world.


Everybody agrees that the institutional orphanage with many children and few staff is unacceptable. As a result, some have come up with some alternatives to move away from institutional care. There are many examples of different types and sizes that have been developed over the years and some of them are praised as creating a “family environment”. However, a family environment isn’t the same thing as a permanent family.

Kids need forever-families, not temporary family environments. I believe that a true orphanage can be a family if it meets the right criteria and follows best practices. A true orphanage is a small functional family unit that provides healthy, enduring, cross-generational family relationships to children whose parents are dead. In this definition, all true orphanages are good, serve the best interest of the children, and follow the best patterns of parenting common within the community in which the orphanage exists.Kids need forever-families, not temporary family environments (via @AustinBibleInst) Click To Tweet

What if orphanages were small, functional families with a mom and a dad who were in a child’s life forever…even after they turned 18 and moved out? What if it was a real family; exclusive, intimate, without volunteers coming in and out, and children passing through year after year? Would the children in that small family, although not biological, still be an orphan? Or would they be part of the family forever?

Share your thoughts below in the comment box!

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  1. thank you very much, it is indeed an eye opener

    • You are very welcome!

  2. Thanks for this inspiring definition of an orphanage. I am also looking forward to joining the next class of this course by His grace.

    • We look forward to you joining us! Hopefully God will allow next spring 🙂

      • nice study

        • Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it and hope it was a blessing to you as you reach out to help others.