FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Hope for Orphans Goals

with Paul Pennington | November 17, 2008
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The plight of the orphan is on the heart of God—and it’s on Paul Pennington’s heart, too. Along with Jason Weber, Pennington, director of Hope for Orphans, fills listeners in on “If You Were Mine” conferences coming up over the next few months.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • The plight of the orphan is on the heart of God—and it’s on Paul Pennington’s heart, too. Along with Jason Weber, Pennington, director of Hope for Orphans, fills listeners in on “If You Were Mine” conferences coming up over the next few months.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

The plight of the orphan is on the heart of God—and it’s on Paul Pennington’s heart, too.

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Hope for Orphans Goals

With Paul Pennington
November 17, 2008
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Bob: There are 130 million orphans worldwide.  There is such a staggering number, is there really anything the church in America can do?  Paul Pennington thinks so.

Paul: The church has the capacity, the church has the power, and I think, as we sit here today at this point in history, the most affluent Christians to ever live on this planet, 360,000 churches here in the United States, the end game for us is that we can be a servant to the church around the world to love the orphans in their own country.  I think that's a great thing – for the churches in this country to learn what it means to be a servant to the church in the Third World.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for November 17th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll talk today about what churches and individuals can do to care for the orphans worldwide.  Stay tuned.

[musical transition]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  Some of our listeners may be thinking, "You know, I've been hearing a lot about orphans lately."

Dennis: Mm-hm, they should be.

Bob: It's by design, isn't it?

Dennis: We are.  We're trying to pound the airwaves.  You know, there's a – I believe it's a Proverb that says we should give voice to those who have no voice, and the Scriptures are speaking of the orphan there.  And we've got a couple of – well, megaphones in the studio with us – human megaphones for the orphan – Paul Pennington and Jason Weber join us on FamilyLife Today.  Jason, Paul, welcome back to the broadcast.

Jason: Thank you.

Paul: Thank you.

Dennis: Have you ever been called a megaphone before?

Jason: Never in my life have I been called a megaphone.

Paul: That's a new one.  That's definitely new.

Dennis: Paul, you've never been called a megaphone, Paul?

Paul: I've been called loud but not a megaphone.


Dennis: Well, Jason and his wife, Trisha, have been married for 12 years.  They have three children, and they have adopted from the foster care system.  Paul and his wife have been married for 30 years, and you guys have six children, five of whom are adopted and four of whom are special needs children, right?

Paul: That's correct.

Dennis: So as we come to this subject of the orphan, we've got a couple of guys here in the studio who are not just megaphones, but they have a heart for orphans because they have – well, they've participated with God in what is one of the greatest privileges on the planet.

Bob: And Paul and Jason give leadership to the Hope for Orphans initiative that is a part of what we're doing here at FamilyLife, and that's been up and running for five years now, Paul.  I remember when you first checked in here and said you'd heard Dennis talking about the needs of orphans on the radio, and you said, "You guys need to do something," and Dennis said, "Well, you need to come help us do it," and so you did, right?

Paul: That's exactly right.  I remember that day, too, Bob.  I think I walked in here with a legal pad with the words "Hope for Orphans" and about a half a page of vision.  And through the grace of God showed us through Dennis and Barbara and FamilyLife, it's just been incredible to see what God's done.

Dennis: You know, it really is interesting, and you and I have talked about this, Paul.  The whole approach to orphans within the Christian community has been around for thousands of years.  I mean, Christians – those who bear the name of Christ – have owned this respect and yet here we were in the midst of one of the greatest crises of modern day with 130 million orphans in the world, and the Christian community is really not organized to begin to address those needs.

Bob: Well, and I remember there was a little bit of a shift even back at the beginning because, as you said, we kind of went at this thinking we need to help address the issue of adoption and how Christians can be involved in adoption, and as that first summit came together, it seems to me like that was the time when we pulled back and said it's not just adoption that we need to be focusing on, but we need to be looking at the needs of orphans, and adoption is a component in that, but it's not the whole picture.

Paul: That's exactly right.  You know, the more we begin to dig into God's Word on this issue – as a matter of fact, over 40 times in the Old and New Testament, God speaks to Israel and the church about His love for disenfranchised groups – not just orphans but widows and strangers.

And that point became much more salient in our hearts the more we got involved in this, and I think especially when we went to visit orphanages.  You know, it's one thing to hear Scripture and to hear statistics.  But when you walk into a building, and you see a child that has no mother and no father and no chance to ever be adopted, you begin to realize that adoption is just an extreme form of orphan care, but the Bible speaks in James of loving orphans, and that means all of them, and that means the whole church, and that's how we made that transition that this is about the whole church and in America, somehow, we had kind of forgotten that.

Dennis: Paul, I was recently reading in the New York Times that rape has become a huge issue on the continent of Africa, and what's happened is you've got all these women who have been widowed by AIDS, and they are unprotected.  And so now what's happening is in many countries these women are being exploited, and they are now being infected with HIV-AIDS, and this is resulting in another round and wave of orphans.

For instance, in the country of Rwanda, there's 500,000 widows, many of whom have been raped and now have HIV-AIDS, and they're going to die, and there's 200,000 orphans there.

Jason, the church really is the only solution that can begin to approach a country and a continent with these kind of numbers.

Jason: That's right, that's right, the church really is, and the church is the one institution that's been mandated by God to do it, and it's the one institution that has the reach and the ability to proclaim that message and to empower others.

Bob: But I hear Dennis's statistics here, and think to myself, "That's huge."  I mean, yeah, the church has been mandated by God, but it feels so overwhelming.  That's just Rwanda, and you talk about the whole continent of Africa or now you get into Asia, and you start hearing numbers like 130 million orphans, and you go, "How can the church" – it's like a squirt gun against an inferno, you know?

Jason: That's right.  You know, a good friend of ours, Rick Warren, points out, and he makes a great point – he says, you know, there are villages in the farthest recesses of the world that don't have a school, they don't have a clinic, they don't have a store, but they've got a church.  The church is everywhere, and if we can empower the church to respond to the needs of orphans in their communities and then in other communities beyond that, we really can get to every orphan on the planet so that every orphan knows somebody who loves Jesus.

Dennis: To that point, there are 400,000 churches in America.

Jason: That's right.

Dennis: And it is the greatest organization that's ever been placed on the planet for life change – anywhere in the world.  And if we could just enlist 10 percent of those churches, I think, speaking to Bob's point about how big an issue this is, I think we can make a huge dent in the problem here.

Paul: There is no doubt about it.  The church has the capacity, the church has the power, and you know what?  One church can make a difference, and I think as we sit here today at this point in history, the most affluent Christians to ever live on this planet, 360,000 churches or more or whatever it is here in the United States, the end game for us is that we can be a servant to the church around the world to love the orphans in their own country.  I think that's a great thing for the churches in this country to learn what it means to be a servant to the church in the Third World.

Bob: Now, you looked back five years ago and brought together these adoption care providers.  You started to see the issue is bigger than adoption over the last five years.  You've continued to meet not just with adoption providers but with a growing movement of churches and individuals who are saying the needs of the orphan are huge.  In fact, you just had a summit back in May in Fort Lauderdale and had how many people show up?

Paul: We had almost 600 leaders, Bob, at Summit 4 in Fort Lauderdale.  Summit 5 will be this spring in Dallas.  At this point, we're planning for 1,000 leaders.

Bob: And these are leaders in their churches, in – I mean, who is it that's coming?

Paul: It's all the above.  In the beginning there were only 30 of us here or so in Little Rock, and most of those were para church leaders.  Now – and this is the wonderful part – is this movement is about the mass mobilization of the church to, in fact, be the hands and feet of Christ.  And at Summit 4 we had 300 lay leaders from churches all over the country.  In Dallas, it will be many, many more.  This organization, this event, is all about empowering the church to be available for how God wants to use it.

And the thing about it is is we don't do anything for God.  We have the privilege to join God when He is working, and when you consider that we've gone from 32 to this year, I think, 1,000 leaders in adoption, in orphan care, in efficacy, foster care, and especially the local church, that's pretty amazing to see.

Dennis: I think someday – I think someday we're going to fill an arena.  We're going to see 10,000 leaders from the church from all over the country come together because I think God's at work rescuing the orphan from all kinds of certain evil.

Bob: So what kinds of things are churches and organizations doing that maybe they weren't doing five years ago as a part of this alliance?

Jason: Orphan's ministries are starting up in churches all over the country and even all over the world.  We're hearing reports from places like the Ukraine, where churches are saying, "Hey, we have to do something."  And what we help churches do is engage in a process to start an orphans' ministry.  Now, how that looks?  It looks all kinds of different ways.  We know of churches that are made up of 75 percent of the churches people over 65 years old, and they have a prayer ministry.  They have a bulletin board in the back of the church, and they're praying for kids in foster care on a regular basis.

We have other churches with multimillion-dollar budgets just for caring for orphans who are engaged in foster care systems, who are helping other churches in their community empty out foster care systems in their state.  There's a wide variety of things that churches can do.

Dennis: And it's all lay-led.  I think that's what we need to point out here.  We're not talking about this having to be carried as a load by the pastoral staff.

Paul: Dennis, in fact, occasionally it happens.  At Saddleback, for example, Rick and Kay Warren had a Heart for Orphans ministry, and they have led the way in their church.  But in most cases, what we're seeing are what we like to call "local champions."  These are people who God has raised up who understand this is His heart, and they are just available.  And it's been incredible to see what's happening. 

It's bringing a revolution to the church, because you've got to lose yourself maybe to find yourself, and one way to do that in this culture is to serve those who have no voice.

Bob: You know, some of our listeners have heard you talk about a little church in a small town in Texas that had a heart for the orphan.  They brought about 30 kids over from …

Paul: … Kazakhstan.

Bob: From Kazakhstan, and they had three weeks over here and wound up – just about all of them got adopted.

Dennis: No, they all got adopted.

Bob: I guess, actually, all of them got adopted, didn't they?

Jason: Plus some.

Bob: And that church didn't quit there, did they?

Paul: No, this church – and, actually, now it's a group of churches.  This is another example of what Jason is talking about.  One church orphans' ministry infected a group of smaller churches all around the Brenham area, and this last – summer before last – they brought over 23 children from Ethiopia, and this is an area of South Texas where that was a little more risky than bringing over kids from Kazakhstan.  And those 23 Ethiopian kids, every single one of them, got a family.

Dennis: So they now have 40 children from Kazakhstan …

Paul: That's right.

Dennis: … that they adopted.

Paul: Right.

Dennis: And how many …

Bob: Twenty-three from Ethiopia.

Dennis: What an interesting youth group it's got to be.

Paul: Well, not only that, I mean, think about this – this is one small church, and this is the point for listeners out there.  You may think, "What can I do?  I'm just one person listening to this broadcast."  This whole ministry started with two ladies that nobody would listen to for a year, and now there are all these children that have a family.

In fact, my favorite stat is at First Baptist of Brenham on Sunday morning there's more kids whose first language is Russian than English.  That's the Gospel.

Bob: Yeah.

Dennis: It is the Gospel, and that's what you're really calling people to do.  Now, if they want to get started and wanted to consider how they might start an orphan care, foster care, adoption ministry in their church, where would they start?

Paul: In Hope for Orphans, our mission statement is serving every church to reach every orphan, and we like to think of ourselves as the bridesmaid, and these folks that you're talking about are the bride.  And they way we do that is we have resources that can make that happen.

Number one, we have "Launching Orphans' Ministry in Your Church" – It's a book with a DVD.  It can take an individual through the process of how to launch a ministry.

Bob: And we've had 10,000 or more copies of that circulated, right?

Paul: We're going into the third printing right now.

Bob: Wow.

Paul: Now, the second step of this is we have a new event called "Your Church and the Orphan," and at Your Church and the Orphan, if you've got friends, especially, you can come to one of these events as a group from your church, and one of the things we've learned is that churches launching in community is an even more powerful thing, and we've been doing this event, Dennis, in different parts of the country where we've had teams of 30 different churches represented, and we go through a day and teach them.

Bob: These are live, regional events so that somebody might travel from their hometown to St. Louis or to somewhere on the East Coast on the West Coast, but they can get, in that one day, a blueprint, a template, for how they can go back home and get this launched in their church, right?

Paul: That's exactly right, and what really happens is, by the end of the day, they've become a team, and they've already really launched.  We don't tell them that at the beginning, but that's what happens.

You know, the third thing, and you don't have to have even launched an orphans' ministry to use this resource.  You know, one of the things we learned at the beginning is one-third of all Americans have considered adoption in their life, and 48 percent said the first place they would go to find out is their church.  But most churches are not equipped to help those families considering if God wants them to adopt.

Well, we've taken our If You Were Mine live workshop content and made it into a DVD leader-based workshop that can be used by any church – actually, it can be used by a family.  I mean, if you're a listener right now, and you're thinking about is adoption right for my family, you can use this at home.  But it's also designed so that churches can make adoption education an ongoing outreach of their church.

Bob: So, Jason, let me see if I can get this right – would a church decide to have a one-day workshop and just use these DVDs as a way to make that workshop happen?

Jason: They could absolutely do that.  They could also do it– it's divided into seven sessions, so they could do it over seven weeks in a Sunday school class.  They could do it as a small group Bible study.  We have developed this intentionally so it has a lot of flexibility.  They can add – if they want to have guest speakers come in and do breakout sessions on certain things, it's all designed so that can happen.

What we do is we give church leaders the tools, and they go out and do it.  If there is anything that we ever do that we feel like, hey, with a DVD or with a book, we can empower the church to go do it, the lay leader to go do it, then we'll work ourselves out of a job.  That's exactly what we're all about.

Dennis: And, Jason, what I want to make sure our listeners hear when you say "church leaders," you're really talking about a layman or a laywoman or a couple or a couple of women hosting this conference using these DVDs.  This is a – well, it's a very simple thing for them to put on for their church whether it be for 15 families, a couple of dozen, it doesn't matter.  The point is, is take a step out in faith and perhaps host it for your community and join together with other churches.  The issue is you can lead this as a layman.

Jason: That's right.

Bob: And, Paul, we did these workshops, these If You Were Mine workshops live on a number of occasions and learned, over the course of doing it, what the questions are, what people are really asking.  The idea is, with this new DVD workshop, folks who come in with a desire but need the knowledge to know how to proceed, by the end of the workshop, they know what to do if they are interested in proceeding with adoption, right?

Paul: That's exactly right.  We've done these events from coast to coast, we've done them in small churches and big churches.  And what we've learned is that when couples can come into a church environment, where there is no conflict of interest, no one is asking them to make a decision.  We're not an adoption placement agency, we're just an advocate and educate.  It's a wonderful recipe for bringing glory to God.

Bob: And, Dennis, we've said this a lot of times here, but I think we need to say it again – adoption is not for everyone.  We're not suggesting that every person ought to adopt or needs to adopt.  In fact, that's something you ought to be very prayerful about before you decide to adopt, but there are probably more people who ought to be thinking about it than are currently thinking about it.

Dennis: Well, you know, the Scriptures are real clear.  In James 1:27 it says "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this – to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep one's self unstained from the world." 

I want to make two points about this.  Number one, it says to visit the orphan.  It didn't say you have to adopt the orphan.  It does say you need to go near, and in going near, God's heart is going to rub off on you, and you're going to get a fresh picture of, really, our spiritual adoption and how God selected us and placed us in His family.  And then I think you'll get a fresh vision for how God can use you to help with the needs of orphans.

And then the second thing I want to say about this is the second half of this verse – it says, "and to keep one's self unstained from the world."  I personally think today, perhaps uniquely, because of our affluence and our materialism of our nation, we need to go near the orphan for our own sake.  We need to go near because it will redeem us away from the idols and the trappings of living better than we deserve to live and maybe failing to give sacrificially.  We need to be a part of giving to the orphan and sacrificing for them and making their needs a part of our daily spiritual discipline.

I just – a few minutes ago, before I came into the studio here, just e-mailed a couple that you know, Paul and Jason – Benedict and Kathleen Schwartz.  They'd sent me a report on their outreach in Namibia, and Barbara and I have invested a little bit in that ministry, and I just sent them a note and cheered them on on their anniversary of their ministry there and then asked a question about how the work was going of something we had invested in there.

Well, you know what?  That's good for me.  That's good for me to see those pictures, those faces, and to be reminded that you know what?  I need to go near, and I need to keep myself unstained from the world.

Bob: Well, and, in fact, they are going to be our guest tomorrow on FamilyLife Today.  So you'll get an update from them on what's going on in their ministry and in that part of the world.  But I imagine we have listeners today who are thinking, "Okay, I have been hearing a lot.  My heart is sensitive to" …

Dennis: Have we got a deal for you.  Jason and Paul have been working hard just to be able to deliver it on a nice platter for you just to take it back to your church.

Bob: Here is what you need to do.  Just go to our website, which is, and on the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says, "Today's Broadcast," and if you click there where it says "Learn More," it will take you to an area of the site where there are all kinds of resources that these guys have put together to help you with your family or help you in your church, know how you can launch and orphan ministry, and one of them is this workshop on DVD that we've talked about – the If You Were Mine conference.  Seven sessions that you can do in a day or you can do it over seven weeks or do it in a small group or just do it with your family.  But it helps answer the questions that folks have about the subject of adoption.  And if you've ever wondered whether adoption is right for you, this DVD series will help you answer that question and help you decide whether to take the next step or to hold off and do something different to care for the needs of orphans.

Again, all the details about that resource and other resources we have to help you with orphan care are available at  When you get to our home page click on the right side of the screen where it says "Today's Broadcast."  It will say "Learn More," you click there, and it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can answer any questions you have about the resources that are available or make arrangements to have the resources you need sent to you.

Let me take just a minute to say a special word of thanks to those of you who partner with us here at FamilyLife to help with our financial needs.  Those of you who are Legacy Partners and who donate each month, or those of you who are able to donate from time to time to help support this work.  We do appreciate your financial support.  We are listener-supported, and those donations make it possible not only for us to be here each day with this program, but you make it possible for many of the ministries of FamilyLife like Hope for Orphans to even exist.  So we want to say thanks for your financial support and let you know we appreciate you.

This month if you are able to help with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we have a thank you gift we'd like to send you – a brand-new book from Barbara Rainey called "When Christmas Came" – a beautiful book that features eight new works of art, eight new watercolors that Barbara has painted that are all meditations on John 3:16, which most of us don't think of as a Christmas verse, but the message of that verse is all about Jesus coming and God giving and Christmas.

Again, if you'd like to receive a copy of Barbara's book, "When Christmas Came," all you have to do is make a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  If you're making that donation online, and you'd like to receive the book, type the word "Christmas" in the keycode box on the donation form or call and make your donation at 1-800-FLTODAY and simply mention that you'd like a copy of Barbara's new book.  Again, we'd be happy to send it to you, and we do appreciate your financial support of this ministry.  It means a lot to us.

Well, tomorrow, as I said, we're going to talk to a couple who have a great story to tell – a story of how God re-prioritized their life and made the needs of orphans – well, they notched it up a few notches on the priority list.  You'll meet Kathleen and Benedict Schwartz on tomorrow's program, and I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  


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