There are 153 million orphaned and vulnerable children around the world. That’s a hard number to visualize. It's more than the entire population of Russia. Or Mexico.
It is half the population of the United States and more than the combined populations of Tokyo, Shanghai, Mumbai, Sao Paolo, London, and New York.
These children are the ones most vulnerable to societal ills, yet they are the ones least powerful to bring about change.
Children at risk face obstacle after obstacle including but not limited to extreme poverty, lack of education, lack of access to basic medical care, and sexual exploitation. And the problems multiply once a child turns 18 and seeks to live life independently.
- 64% of children in Guatemala and Honduras live below the poverty line
- 72% of Guatemalan and Honduran students drop out after sixth grade
- 60,000 children are born with HIV/AIDS every year in India
- 35 million people around the world lack access to basic medical care
- 44% of children face extreme poverty
- 53,000 children in Russia, Ukraine, and Latvia age out of the orphan care system every year
Who or what is an orphan? You would think that would be an easy question to answer but definitions and perceptions vary greatly. So how would we define the term orphan?
In the Old Testament the orphan is a Hebrew word meaning ‘fatherless.’ The Bible most times refers to “widow” and “orphans” together, which makes sense if the term is defined as fatherless. Once a father died he left his wife as a widow and his children as orphans. In judgment statements, the Lord says to the nation He is judging, “I will make your wives widows and your children orphans.”
So by definition in the Old Testament,
an orphan is a child who has lost his father,
the primary provider of the home.
It is interesting that in the New Testament the Lord says, “I will not leave you as orphans.” You see before we were saved, we were separated from our Father because of sin – everyone is an orphan. The Father sent His Son to pay our debt – sacrificing him on the cross but then raising Him from the dead in order that we would not be orphans – we were reconciled to the Father through the death and resurrection of His Son. Then he adopted us into His family as sons and daughters. All this imagery is consistent with the Old Testament definition of orphan.
There is only one other reference to “orphan” in the New Testament and that is in James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion is this: to minister to widows and orphans in their distress and keep oneself unstained by the world.” It is amazing that when James is pressed to give his definition of what pure religion is - he uses widow and orphans as his example. There is a reason for this. James knows that in the 40+ references in the Old Testament about orphans, many of those verses are God judging Israel because they ignored or took advantage of widows and orphans – the most vulnerable in society. How believers live their life is a reflection of their heart. If Israel was not caring for widows and orphans, then their heart was far from God because He considered himself “a Father to the fatherless.”
In that spirit, James echoes what the Lord said to Israel – that if your heart is beating with God’s heart then it will be reflected in your caring for the most vulnerable - your life will reflect and define the essence of pure and undefiled religion.
Religion at its essence, is taking care of those who can not take of themselves.
It is interesting that UNICEF uses the biblical definition of an orphan as the basis of their statistic – defining an orphan as a child who has lost one parent, which is overwhelmingly the father.