Do you feel called to open an orphanage? Trust me on this, lay down until the feeling goes away. If you still want to open an orphanage, continue reading.
I wish orphanages didn’t exist. The first choice for caring for abandoned children should be extended family. If the extended family is not an option, then children at risk should be placed with healthy families. Unfortunately, placement with a family is just not an option for many children. Most orphanages are filled with children who, for one reason or another, are not adoptable or are very difficult to place. Orphanages care for children with multiple siblings, children with physical or mental challenges, children with an extended family that cannot care for them but still hold parental rights, etc. So if orphanages have to exist (and they do), they should be great, and run by people with vision and the skill sets to make them a fantastic place for children to heal and grow into healthy adults.
Regularly, people contact me who feel lead to open orphanages. My first question is always: “Who is going to run it?” Putting up buildings is easy(ish), on-going funding is harder, but living at, and running an orphanage can be hugely challenging and is not for the faint of heart.
Like pastoring, it’s very different once you’re in charge as opposed to watching from a comfortable distance. Running an orphanage is 24 hours a day, just like pastoring. Like pastoring a church, everyone who walks into your ministry will be second-guessing all of your decisions and how you’re running things (and they know they can do it better). You not only get to care for kids and staff, but you also need to keep government officials AND donors happy, all at the same time. Good luck with that.
On the long list of things that surprise most people is the amount of administration that has to go on. From the outside, people tend to think that the day-to-day parts of running an orphanage are about holding babies, craft projects, and building healing relationships with the children. All of these things go on, but they make up a remarkably small part of the day-to-day hours of running an orphanage. Actually, “childcare” is an almost insignificant part of the job. Days are occupied with the mundane: grocery shopping, hosting guests, managing staff, answering e-mails, etc. Your days and weeks are filled with what it takes to keep the ministry open and moving forward.
Fundraising will take up much of your waking hours for the rest of your life. Just because you’re passionate about orphan care doesn’t mean anyone else cares. Everyone has different passions, callings, and challenges in their lives. Other people are called to serve and help in other ministries, that’s a good thing. That people have passions and interests that don’t connect with orphan care makes fundraising that much more of a challenge. Sharing the needs of your home, sharing the needs for orphan care in general, and sharing your passion is all part of the work. Share with the right people, get the word out, and God will connect the right people to support it.
Here is what they don’t teach you in “orphan school”: the struggles are real. Caring for orphans is very close to the heart of God. If you’re doing it right, the enemy doesn’t like it. You will never have a normal week again. Sick kids, staff issues, government issues, will be the norm. We figure about two significant attacks a year. Hepatitis outbreaks, wells going dry, we went through one season where EVERY couple on our staff went through a rough patch in their marriage. We’ve had children diagnosed with cancer, we’ve had children die. The spiritual attacks will be part of your life, get used to it. The good news is we’ve never gone through an attack God could not use to make the home stronger and cause us to grow. I can honestly look back and give thanks for all we’ve experienced. Don’t get me wrong, we dread the attacks and storms when we’re going through them, but we also know God is so much bigger.
Please know that this work will rip your heart out. And dance on it. And then bounce it around the room. We deal with the worst side of humanity. I could shock you with the profoundly horrific things that have been done to our children. You do not want this in your life. Then, once a child has been in your care for a long time, and they’ve begun to heal, you never know when a social worker will sweep in and say they are going back with family. Sometimes this is good; many times, it’s not. Your emotional scars and callouses will build over time.
If this rambling article sounds like I am complaining, please do not interpret it that way. I just want people going into this work to do so with their eyes wide open. I’ve dedicated the bulk of my adult life to orphan care, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The work is challenging, the battles are real, and it can be emotionally and physically exhausting. That being said, I have zero regrets about walking away from my “normal” life running a business in Southern California. Although the challenges can be extreme, the rewards far outweigh any of the battles we’ve gone through.
The celebrations where you see groups of your children graduate from high school or college makes it worth the sacrifice. When you’re able to walk so many of the young women you’ve raised down the aisle at their weddings, it’s worth it. When you see children you’ve raised, caring for their own families in a healthy loving fashion, it’s all worth it. If you’re indeed called to orphan care, surround yourself with people of similar vision, give it everything you have, and press forward. It’s a worthy calling and will be the most rewarding experience of your life.
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