from john mccollum, asia's Hope co-founder and executive director
A call to courageous leadership on behalf of orphaned children
The plight of orphaned and abandoned children is one of the greatest humanitarian crises facing our world today. By some estimates more than 150,000,000 children live as orphans. Their parents have died, have left them, or have been separated from them by forced labor, natural disaster or migration.
Children without parents face dangers at every turn; they’re vulnerable to disease, malnutrition — and they’re at extraordinarily high risk for economic and sexual exploitation. Some of these children are taken in by relatives who will give them high-quality care. A tiny percentage of these children can be adopted internationally. But untold millions of these children languish in abject poverty without proper food, shelter or protection from those who would do them harm.
In an age of unprecedented wealth, the church — George Mueller’s church, Hudson Taylor’s church, Jesus’ church — risks sitting on the sidelines while this crisis ravages God’s children in every corner of the world.
Yet there is no crisis we are more perfectly suited to address. We who were adopted into the family of God, we who represent the wealthiest generation of Christians the world has ever seen, we who are able to send people, supplies and resources across the globe with unprecedented ease.
So why are so many American, European and Australian churches pulling away from this fight?
Because we’ve been told that there are no solutions. Or, perhaps, we’ve been oversold on the promise of solutions that will only help a tiny fraction of kids in need. Or, as we’ve seen first hand — over and over again — we’ve been told that because certain models have proven themselves flawed, they cannot be repaired and should be defunded, dismantleded and discarded completely.
And as we walk away from the fight, we surrender to the overt injustice of human trafficking, disease and despair. We cede our birthright as defenders of the weak to those are willing to allow countless children to suffer and die today while they withhold care in the name of some ideologically-driven social science experiment.
Do we really give up that easily?
Are we really willing to allow these kids — whose tears arise as prayers to a God whose name they have never known — to suffer and die because we heard someone say “orphanages are bad!” and we’ve left it at that?
We don’t give up that easily on other problems. When we hear horror stories about hospitals, schools, churches and political systems that harm people through bad ideas and bad practices we don’t give up on medicine, on education, on religion or on governence. We work to find new solutions — to prune that which bears bad fruit and feed like crazy that which is healthy, productive, redemptive.
When I first visited Cambodia almost 20 years ago, I had never seen any evidence that a residential care setting could be anything but destructive for vulnerable children. The orphanage that my son was born into in Vietnam was no place for a child to grow up in. And the state-run, institutional orphanages we visited on the banks of Phnom Penh’s Mekong River were even worse. The children were filthy, sick — some even dying — and the few staff caring for the hundreds of kids untrained, poorly paid and completely unsupervised.
Those experiences — and the videos that were emerging from institutional orphanages in Ceaușescu’s Romania and the former Soviet Union — could have left me completely without hope.
But those experiences and ideas were tempered, countered by my time with Cambodian Christians who, despite having suffered genocide, civil war, life in refugee camps, poverty and persecution could still sing, hands in the air and tears on their cheeks: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow, because I know who holds the future, life is worth the living,” Christians who told me, “We have so many orphans in our country. But we can care for them if you will help us.”
When we started our first children’s home in 2004 in a little town called Battambang, Cambodia, we had no idea that we were building not just a better orphanage, but a model that could — if refined, expanded and amplified — offer hope not only to tens of millions of orphaned kids around the world, but to countless Christians who desperately desire to respond to God’s invitation to join him in his vocation as “father to the fatherless,” but have been told by academics, bureaucrats — and even other Christians — that it’s just too dangerous, that it’s impossible to provide family-style care for orphaned kids in a long-term, residential setting.
I’m so thankful we listened to our faithful brothers and sisters — to those closest to the problem — and not to our detractors.
And it was those brothers and sisters — specifically a dear Cambodian pastor and his wife, Sengyou and Sokhean — who provided us a model that seemed to them to be a natural, even obvious solution. Although it was impossible for them to legally adopt such a large group of children, God had brought these kids into their lives and they would live together as a family, giving these them the same love and attention they gave their own biological children.
The first generation of Asia’s Hope kids didn’t just survive, they thrived. They didn’t just surpass expectations, they shattered them. Statistics suggest that fewer than 15% of all Cambodians can expect to finish Grade 12 — fewer than 3% if they come from poor families like our kids. But today 90% of the kids at Asia’s Hope Cambodia are on track to graduate high school. And almost all of our high school graduates qualify for university admission.
And we’re seeing the same kinds of results for our kids in Thailand and India as well. This year, we’re paying for more than 120 of our kids to attend university. And over the next few years, that number will more than double. They’ll graduate with degrees in medicine, law, education, theology, business, psychology. Some of the poorest, most vulnerable kids on the planet are poised to take positions of leadership in business, in ministry, in philanthropy and in academia.
And yet, I still hear people say, “Well, from everything I’ve read, orphanages, well, they’re just bad!”
I stand with the 800+ kids and 200+ indigenous staff on behalf of the millions of orphaned children who live each day teetering on the precipice of starvation, slavery and sexual exploitation and say, “That answer isn’t good enough.” Failure is not an option. It might be for some, but it isn’t for God’s people. And it certainly isn’t an option for these kids.
We can do this. We are doing this.
We’ve proven it can work in three very different countries with three different languages and cultures, different forms of government, different economic systems. And we know it can work elsewhere. I’m talking with orphan caregivers in Pakistan, Myanmar, Kenya, Uganda, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Cote D’Ivoire, Nepal, and beyond. They’ve heard about our results and they believe our model can be adapted for use in their communities.
And we’re showing pastors, business people and orphan advocates in America, Europe and Australia that they don’t have to sit this one out. That they can’t afford to allow these orphaned kids to live and die without the love of a mother and a father, simply because conventional wisdom says that there isn’t and can’t be such a thing as “family-style” residential orphan care.
I believe that in our next fifteen years, we’re not only going to expand to help more kids in Cambodia, Thailand and India. We’re going to extend our model — our time-tested philosophies, policies and practices — around the world to guide God’s people into courageous leadership on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable children.
Will you join us?
You can start by giving today. You can amplify our call to courageous leadership by following and reposting us on social media. And you can contact us if you’re interested in leading your church, business or family into a partnership to sponsor homes, college scholarships, schools or student centers.