Why is it that when people cross the US border and go into the missions field, they think the common sense principles that work in the US suddenly don’t apply? If you have weak leadership in an organization, it won’t go well. The best of intentions, or spending more money, won’t help. Throwing money at a dysfunctional ministry in the US won’t make it better, so why do we think it will work in other countries? An organization needs good leadership to be healthy and effective in what they do.
Every week, some person or group comes to me and asks what it takes to open an orphanage. The first thing I do is try to talk them out of it; it’s harder and more complicated than they think. If they STILL want to open an orphanage I start to explain the three things it takes, in ascending order of difficulty:
1) It takes a safe, clean, functioning location. This is relatively easy; EVERYONE wants to put up a building. It’s easy, it’s long lasting, and you can see the project when completed. Once a project starts, it’s amazing how many people want to help.
2) It takes on-going funding. This is harder than number 1. It takes a lot more money to run an orphanage than most people think. Food, staff, medical, education, transportation, etc. add up quickly. Depending on where you are in the world, figure about $300 per child. If that sounds like a lot, you try to raise ten children on $3,000 a month for everything and see how hard it is.
3) The MOST important thing in running an orphanage is: Who is going to be the on-site director or leader. This is critical, and not everyone has the gifting or skill set to do this. Loving children is not enough.
Frequently, organizations who want to open a home tell me they have the first two items covered (location and funding). When I ask who will run it they respond with either “Oh, we’ll just hire someone”, or “We believe the right person will show up.” If you were opening a church and needed a pastor would you “Just hire someone?” No, you would spend extensive time interviewing, meeting with, and praying over anyone interested. You would want the BEST person possible because the leader sets the tone and quality of everything that goes on. What type and quality of person would you want to raise your own children if something happened to you?
Organizations spend years and tremendous amounts of money finding and keeping the right CEO or president because they know the leader makes all the difference. Whether it’s a neighborhood diner or a huge corporation, the right leader will determine whether the organization thrives or dies off.
A few years ago I was asked to consult with an orphanage in Africa; it mainly involved visiting the home and helping to train their long-term American staff. After spending one day with the on-site leadership, I had a meeting with the people who brought me. I kind of offended them when I said: “No one I met today would make it through the first interview with an organization in the US, why are they running a home? They should not be here”. They were good people, but the completely wrong people to be running an orphanage. God can use anyone, just not in every position. Desire is not enough if the skill sets and the willingness to learn are not there.
If you run or are thinking of running an orphanage, please pray long and hard. Seek honest counsel from people who really know you. If you still want to move forward, please study all you can and spend time working with orphanages that do a great job. Learn all you can.
If you are looking for an orphanage to support or partner with, the most important thing you can ask yourself is: What is the quality of the leadership? Are they doing it for the right reasons? Do they show a high level of integrity? Do they have the skill sets needed to do a great job? If the orphanage leadership is weak, no amount of funding or short-term visits are going to help. An orphanage can not be run by a committee in another country any more than a church could be pastored by someone living in another state. Who is living with and raising the kids is everything.
If I come across as blunt or unforgiving, it’s only because orphan care needs to be great, and I’ve seen way too many homes that are not. This work matters greatly and should be done professionally and in the best way possible. The children who wind up in orphanages have already been dealt a lousy hand; we have a responsibility to help them heal in a safe, loving home. A home where they are lovingly guided through healing and into a healthy place. This can only be done in a home lead by people who are called to this work and have the skill sets to do it well.
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