There are 132 million orphans in the world — children, by UNICEF's definition, who have lost one or both parents.
13 million of these have lost both parents.
And this number — it doesn't even take into account the hundreds of thousands of children who have been abandoned, including the more than 600,000 abandoned REPORTED children who now dwell in Chinese orphanages. (NGOs inside China report that number of children closer to 1 million.)
Because those children, though they LIVE like orphans, technically have living parents who abandoned them and thus, don't meet the criteria to be counted as "orphans." (With no parents present to call their own, I call them orphans on this blog. Because no child chooses to be abandoned.)
That number — it’s shocking. It’s appalling. It’s daunting.
Because no person can TRULY picture the faces of that many innocent, deserving superheroes lying in orphanage beds and foster homes and places far less comfortable, convenient or full of care.
All hoping that someone will see their plight.
All praying that SOMEONE will change their grim-ending story.
In China, a majority of the children who fill the overcrowded orphanages were abandoned at birth or in the first few years of life. And a whopping 98 percent have special needs, medical needs or disabilities.
In this country, where nearly 1 million orphan children are abandoned and left behind on adoption listserves because of the gravity of their medical needs, the orphan story ends at age 14, when, if a child is not adopted by his birthday, he becomes unavailable for international adoption.
American agencies inside China tell us that, if these children are located inside overcrowded facilities that can no longer provide for them, or if they are not offered work as nannies at their facilities, that’s the age these children turn to rural work.
Turn to the streets.
Turn to sex trafficking.
Turn to suicide.
Without a family, at the age when most of us are learning algebra and asking dates to homecoming dances, these orphans exist on the fringes of society and likely never experience the beauty of unconditional love.
And their entire lives long, they believe the lie.
The lie that they have no worth.
The lie that they have no value.
The lie that they are unwanted. Unloved. Dispensable.
All while we in the land of luxury where even our cars have their own homes contemplate whether it’s a “convenient time” for our family to provide a home for an orphan.
The condition and status of the Chinese orphans we’ve grown to know and love — the D.J.s and the J.J.s and the Joys of the world — they’ve turned our worlds upside down. They’ve wrecked our hearts. They’ve rearranged our lives. And after looking into the deep black-brown eyes of what the world calls “the least of these” and PLEADING with others to feel what we feel and see what we see — we can no longer pretend like telling their stories alone is enough.
For many years, we’ve PRAYED over the Chinese orphan story.
We’ve SHARED the Chinese orphan story.
And now, we’re calling out a movement of people — flawed, imperfect people with nothing more than unveiled eyes and open hands — people willing to open their HEARTS to the orphan story and their HOMES to what’s needed to CHANGE it — who God can use to CHANGE THE CHINESE ORPHAN STORY.
If we're all being really honest, that starts not with jumping in mile-long lines for the healthiest and cutest and youngest. It starts with STOPPING THE ORPHAN STORY BEFORE IT STARTS (more on orphan care and support later this month!) ... and bringing home the children who ACTUALLY wait.
The older ones.
The special ones.
The ones with medical needs.
Friends, not everyone can adopt a child with special or medical needs, but everyone can do SOMETHING!
Let’s stop being talkers and contemplaters and considerers and “someday”-ers.
Let’s step up, step out and allow the love of Christ compel us to be OUT OF OUR OWN minds … so we can be FULLY in HIS.
Let’s open our hearts and our hands and our wallets and our homes to a God who trusts US to be HIS hands and feet in this broken, hurting world.
Let’s ask for HIS eyes!
Let’s ask for HIS heart!
And let’s ask for HIS hands as we call out a movement of people to be not just orphan story sharers, not just orphan story tellers, but orphan story CHANGERS.
Because friends, IF ANYTHING is going to change, we need us some WARRIORS.
Ain’t no one got time anymore to be tap dancing around the issue while trying to sensitively and not offensively share the story of nearly 1 million abandoned children filling the orphanages of China. Not when special needs orphans are suffering and aging out and even DYING while we dance.
We’re not calling out tentative advocates.
We’re not calling out “someday” considerers.
We’re calling out WARRIORS — those who have now SEEN the plight of these angels and WATCHED as their stories have gone unchanged and have decided to stop sitting on the sidelines and start joining in the battle.
The battle to CHANGE the orphan story, most specifically, for the older and special needs children crowding the orphanages of China.
And like any good army, we need warriors of every size and shape and skill and calling. Because the battle isn’t won with just infantrymen and infantrywomen alone.
It’s won when the entire ARMY works TOGETHER.
We need field workers. Those who don't BRING but GO. Those who work IN COUNTRY to serve the children with special needs and medical needs who may never receive care otherwise. Who work with birth families to get the support they need to KEEP their children and provide for them. Who provide services that stop the need for adoption before it starts ... and equip families to stay together.
Before we need ANYTHING, we need those who GO to change the stigma, influence the culture, provide support and prevent special needs superheroes from needing care in the first place.
We need intelligence warriors. Those who research and investigate and help us get to the root of this crisis that is leaving medically fragile children without parents and superheroes without homes. Who educate. Who research. Who figure out what's needed to END the abandonment that is filling Chinese orphanages with less than "perfect" children with medical and special needs.
We need communications warriors. Those who get the word out about the children left behind and fervently and passionately and consistently TELL THEIR STORY. Who reframe the issue and share their plight and call to action those with the abilities and resources who just might not KNOW about the TRUE condition of the thousands of parent-less and abandoned children in a country that still sees stigma attached to those with deformities and medical needs.
We need finance warriors. Those who FUND the battles that WIN the war. Those who might not be able to be on the front lines of orphan care and adoption but can support with money and resources those who CAN. Organizations like Love Without Boundaries. Organizations like Half the Sky. And families willing to stand up not for just the youngest or healthiest but for those who truly WAIT.
We need support warriors. We need S shops. We need people of every heart, skill and gifting. Those who can volunteer their services to help with the logistics of medical missions and paperwork at home. Who can run newly adopted children to doctor appointments and medical appointments and tutoring sessions and English lessons. Who can notarize documents. Who can bring meals to recovering frontline warriors. Who can offer their talents and skills to the children newly home. Who can babysit and grocery shop and chauffeur and do everything in between to support families who volunteer for those frontline positions ... and who can send logistical support for temporary in-country orphan care.
We need medical warriors. Those willing to use their medical gifts and degrees to read orphan profiles and provide orphan surgeries and partner with adoptive families to bring home children who might be more medically fragile than their comfort levels would have formerly embraced. And who, equally as importantly, GO to the frontlines. To SERVE those who need care. And to provide and equip nuclear families in-country with what they need so that abandonment no longer becomes a consideration for a family with a child with medical needs.
We need host warriors. Families who might or might not be qualified to adopt but love children and are willing to open their hearts and their home to the most in need of advocacy for one month at a time. (The next Great Wall hosting session is this summer. Sign up now to get information about the list of available host children that will be coming out in March.) The kids who are the oldest. The kids with the scariest paperwork. The kids who have been waiting years and years on listserves for a family to choose their file.
We need about a gazillion prayer warriors.
And we need FRONTLINE FIGHTERS. And friends, we need a LOT OF THEM. Because with new restrictions with very few exceptions for families adopting from China and elsewhere, there are only a few of us out there who now QUALIFY to stand on the frontlines of this battle. And we need every last one.
Families who will sign up to SUIT UP and march head-first into battle. Families who will jump in to not just adopt the healthy children with long waiting lines but the children who for YEARS just WAIT. The children with the greatest needs. The children who look the scariest on paper. The children who are the greatest casualties of a world that frequently only values the life of those who are successful, smart or useful.
THESE are the ones who need warriors! Not the healthy. Not the babies. Not the ones with lines miles long. The ones TRULY left behind.
UNICEF estimates that 95 percent of the world's true orphans are over the age of 5. If we're really going to be part of the WAR and not just the battle, those of us who are qualified need to start running to these children FIRST.
Together, our little army could fight for ORPHANS and ABANDONED CHILDREN the way our SERVICE members fight for our COUNTRY.
With a heart so big that we would be willing to DIE for the superheroes we serve.
Because friends, that’s what it’s going to take to CHANGE the orphan story.
All of us dying to self.
Dying to the need for comforts and conveniences and beach houses and fancy cars in the land of luxury where even the poorest among us own a cell phone.
Dying to the need for “normalcy” where success is defined by the colleges where our 2.5 children go when they graduate top in their high school classes.
Dying to the need to accumulate and collect and store away and stack up … and start remembering that the only things we can take with us from this world are the PEOPLE we introduce to the love of CHRIST.
This counter-cultural life of DEATH TO SELF — it sounds hard. It sounds crazy. It sounds like something no family would ever want to pursue.
But friends, I’ve seen it. I’ve tasted it. I’ve experienced it in my nearly 13 years as a military spouse.
How when you live this challenging and counter-cultural life in COMMUNITY — when you do it in the ARMY — you just collectively redefine normal. You sacrifice together. You stop mourning the “normal” life and start celebrating the beauty of homecoming ceremonies and PCS adventures and coast-to-coast travels and worldwide friends. And you grow CLOSER to the families fighting alongside you than you ever dreamed possible.
And soon, you realize that THIS life — the life where you sacrifice and serve and die daily to self for a cause greater than your own family’s happiness alongside others with the same lifestyle and the same passion and the same life pursuit — a life poured out for OTHERS — really IS the “good life.”
Friends, we could form an entire COMMUNITY of people who take that rare left turn at the fork in the adoption road and bring home special needs orphans … with an entire support system in place to encourage, pray for and financially support those who DO! Because when you do HARD THINGS, counter-cultural things, things that look “crazy” in the eyes of the world but you know are really crazier NOT to do inside of a community of people doing them alongside you, they’re no longer scary! They’re no longer strange! And you’re no longer alone.
And you suddenly find yourself inside an army of people who love the way you love, think the way you think, care the way you care and step out audaciously the way you feel called to step out — and, as they also stand on the water outside the comfort of the boat, keeping their eyes on Jesus alone, they reach to the side and squeeze your hand.
Orphan warriors, THIS is our battle cry! THIS is our rallying call!
What if we built an army RIGHT HERE in this blog community whose mission was to change the Chinese orphan story? What if we used this blog to encourage and connect and serve and FUND families fighting on the front lines of both adoption and in-country orphan care? To TELL the story of the superheroes left behind? To enlist families we could, as an orphan warrior community, send to the front lines of battle with all the prayers and all the encouragement and all the support of THIS army of orphan warriors behind them? Who could gather the resources needed to support families who would stop abandoning their children with the right kind of support?
It would look like a movement.
It would look like a battle.
It would look like the body of Christ.
It would look like the ARMY OF GOD.
And by God’s grace, through His strength, in His mercy, it really COULD change the orphan story.
Operation Orphan Warrior.
It starts RIGHT HERE. It starts RIGHT NOW. It starts TODAY.
PRAY about special needs adoption.
TALK about older child adoption.
RUN to the abandoned. The broken-hearted. The medically fragile. The left behind.
And then join the movement. Join the community. Join the ARMY OF ORPHAN WARRIORS!
Change the orphan story.