FamilyLife Today® Podcast

In Defense of the Orphan

with Paul Pennington | November 21, 2008
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Is anyone defending the cause of the world’s 143 million orphans? Today’s broadcast features FamilyLife President Dennis Rainey as he speaks to BIOLA University students about his passionate defense of suffering orphans, and how compassionate activism works, right from God’s own Word.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Is anyone defending the cause of the world’s 143 million orphans? Today’s broadcast features FamilyLife President Dennis Rainey as he speaks to BIOLA University students about his passionate defense of suffering orphans, and how compassionate activism works, right from God’s own Word.

  • 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.

Is anyone defending the cause of the world’s 143 million orphans?

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In Defense of the Orphan

With Paul Pennington
November 21, 2008
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Bob: The Bible says that we are to be God's representatives on earth, His ambassadors.  When people look at us, they ought to see Jesus.  So how are we doing?  Are people seeing the heart of God when they look at Christians today?  Dennis Rainey says, too often, the answer is no.

Dennis: They look at us, and they wonder, "Where are those caring for the poor?  Where are those who care for the orphan, for the foster child who has no family?"  If anyone ought to be doing it, it ought to be those are followers of Christ.  I believe we should be pro-orphan.  Why?  Because it's God's heart.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 21st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We're going to spend some time today looking at the heart of God for the orphan.  Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  Do you think God has tapped anybody on the shoulder this week and said, "Come on, let's get after this?"

Dennis: I think the orphan is on the heart of God, and I think when something is burdening Him, which it's clear in Scripture it does – He does call his people to act on behalf of the orphan as a reflection of His heart, and there is no question to me there will be those families who will be called to adopt; others who will be called to go and provide help and hope for orphans overseas; but there will also be – I think a larger number, Bob, who need to step forward in their own churches and start an orphan care, foster care, and adoption ministry in their local church as a layman.

Bob: And not everybody's response is going to be the same, as you said, but all of us can do something, can't we?

Dennis: We can, and that really led me to say yes to a speaking engagement, really, more than two and a half years ago, where I was asked to speak at the 100th anniversary of Biola University.

Bob: The Bible Institute of Los Angeles, that's how it got the name "Biola."

Dennis: That's how it got its name, and they asked me to come out and deliver a series of messages in Family Week, during that 100th year celebration, and I decided one of my messages to those college students would be to challenge them with the plight of the orphan.  And I really regret, Bob, that FamilyLife Today is not video at this point, not television, and we couldn't take our listeners to that gymnasium where I spoke there in Southern California with – I don't know, 2,000 to 3,000 students jammed into that auditorium and, Bob, I think this generation of young people really want to do something about these social problems, like HIV AIDS and orphans that have come about as a result of that.  I think this generation of young people want to demonstrate their Christianity and follow Christ and do something extraordinary, and helping the orphan is one of those things.

Bob: Well, and we're going to let our listeners hear how you challenged those students at Biola back a number of months ago, and maybe, in the process, some of our listeners will be challenged as well.

Dennis: Hope so.

Dennis: [from audiotape.]  A.W. Tozer said, "God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible."  What a pity we plan to do the things we can only do by ourselves. 

The year was 1983, Barbara and I had been praying about adopting a child for two years.  You might wonder why we would praying about adopting a child after already having four children of our own.  But as Barbara was a little girl, I believe God put it in her heart to begin to pray that someday she would have the privilege of giving an orphan a home.

And, for some reason, back in 1980, 1981, we began to talk about that, and God stirred that back up again, and we began to actually engage God in prayer about that, and so when we were at one of these Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences in New York City, and we arrived at the hotel before we were to speak, there was a note to call Dr. Smith back in Little Rock.  And immediately, when we saw that note, both of us knew exactly what was happening, because, you see, Dr. Smith is an OB, he's a doctor, he delivers babies.

We called Dr. Smith, and he said, "There is a young lady who is giving birth to a little girl right now, and she needs a home.  My wife and I have been praying about who to place this baby with, and we think your family is the one to place it with."  We said, "Let us pray about it one last time, and we'll call you back."

So we got our kids on the speakerphone.  Our kids happened to be staying with an attorney, a lawyer.  And so we asked the kids, "What would you think about adding a sister to our family this weekend, kids?" 


And you could hear the cheer from Ashley, Benjamin, Rebecca, and Samuel.  "Yay!" they said.  And so while we were still in New York City, the attorney went and got Deborah and added her to our family.  That was the easiest birth we have ever had.


We went home with our family moving from four to five, and then God blessed us with another child.  You see, I just happen to believe the passage in Psalm 128 – "Behold, children are a gift from God.  The fruit of the womb is a reward."  It's not a curse.  Don't you believe this culture, which makes you want to think that having children is negative.  If anyone needs to be fruitful and fill the land with godly descendants, it ought to be us, a believers, disciples of Christ who carry the Gospel to the next generation. 

Well, I come to you this morning on behalf of those who have no voice – the orphans.  In James, chapter 1, verse 27, the Apostle James writes a very clear statement – "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." 

Men and women, this is pure and undefiled religion.  There is a book out written by Barna, some latest research about un-Christian, those who are not believers looking in and why they don't become a Christian.  Do you know what the number-one issue they say it is?  Hypocrisy.  They look at us, and they wonder where are those caring for the poor?  Where are those who care for the orphan, for the foster child, who has no family?

If anyone ought to be doing it, it ought to be those who are followers of Christ.  I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that one of the ways we keep ourselves unstained from the world is to go near the orphan.  Does our God have a heart for the orphan?  If you have a pencil, and you want to write these passages down, because I'm not going to turn there, but I'm going to tell you just a little of God's heart for the orphan.  Are you ready?

Psalm 10:7-8 says "He hears the prayers of the orphan."  Psalm 10:14 says "God is the helper of the orphan."  And Psalm 145:9, "God supports the fatherless."  In Isaiah 1:16-18, "He defends the orphan."  In Psalm 68:5-6, "He is a father to the fatherless."  But God's heart doesn't stop there.  He commissions us to do the following – In Proverbs 31:8-9, He challenges us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; to become a voice for those who have no voice.  In Psalm 82:3-4, he says to "vindicate the weak and the fatherless."  In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "Even the least of these, if you do it unto them, you did it unto me." 

More than 45 times in Scripture God speaks of His heart for the orphan.  Why?  Because He values His image in each and every individual person on this planet.

Let me ask you a question – are you glad God has a heart for the orphan?  I was one – spiritually without a father, lost, condemned under the law, but He sent forth His Son to adopt me.  So does it seem unreasonable to you that the Christian community, out of any community on the planet, ought to be pro-orphan?  Are you with me?  It's at the heart of our Gospel.  It's at the heart of what we're all about. 

Orphans are a physical reminder of a spiritual reality – that Jesus Christ did not abandon us when we were lost.  He died to redeem us and give us a place in His family.  Orphans are God's spiritual antidote for superficial, self-indulgent, complacent Christianity.  Living our lives merrily as we go by our way, the orphan stops us dead in our tracks.

It's an opportunity of God-sized proportions, but this morning on my way here, I turn on the news, NPR reports that in Iraq they've just uncovered new video training seminars aimed at training children to become terrorists.  The leader of the Anglican Church in Rwanda says that one of the leading groups that are preying upon orphans that have been abandoned throughout the continent of Africa are Islamic terrorists.  With no mommy and daddy to protect them, they recruit them and brainwash them and train them.

And then there are other groups – like the sex slavery group.  Gary Haugen and his ministry, International Justice Mission, I understand you're engaged with that – good for you.  We've got to find a way to protect these girls from evil.

When Barbara and I adopted our daughter, we thought we were doing a very noble thing.  Hm.  She has taught me more about the love of God than any human being on this planet.  Grafting in a little girl who, at times, has not been easy to love, but I'll cradle her face in mine, and if you knew the story, this would have a whole lot more meaning than I'm giving you right here, but to cradle her face in my hands and to tell her, "Deborah, I would adopt you 1,000 times out of 1,000."  One of the greatest privileges of my life is to love her.

God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible.  What a pity we plan to do the things we can only do by ourselves.  Like our own biological children, orphans are image-bearers.  They remind us of the glory of God.  They illustrate God's heart for the orphan.

Well, I'm going to give you three quick action points out of this message.  Pray for those who have no voice.  I wish I had time to tell you what was going on, but for the first time in the history of modern adoption, maybe in the history of the church, orphan care agencies, all the Christian agencies, orphan care, adoption care, foster care agencies, have forged a coalition together to address this God-sized need.

If you can believe it, until four years ago, they had never met together in the same room.  But there are a number of great agencies, big and small, that are addressing this, but it begins by praying. 

There's a little church in Brenham, Texas, home of Bluebell Ice Cream.  I like Bluebell Ice Cream, you can tell I like Blue Bell Ice Cream. 


This little church has 400 or 500 people in it.  They called us, asking if we had $45,000 so that they could bring 27 orphans from an orphanage in Kazakhstan to come visit their church on a summer visitation project.  I said, "I don't have $45,000 to give you.  But God does – pray."  So they began to pray, and pray they did.  They not only raised the $45,000, they brought 29 kids over.  Do you know what happened in the weeks those 29 kids were here?  Each and every one of them got a home. 

They ended up emptying the orphanage.  Forty kids!  Would you like to go to their youth group?  It looks like the United Nations!


Can you imagine those kids growing up in this little church?  How that radically impacted that little church of 400 or 500 people?  That's the kind of stuff that needs to happen.  Engage God's heart.

The second thing I want to challenge you to do is to enlist others in your church.  I'm actually going to challenge you to start and orphan ministry in your church.  I've got a book over here I want to show you – "Launching an Orphan Ministry in Your Church."  That is a very simple process for how you, as a single man and single woman, can launch and orphan care ministry in your church.  This is happening all over the United States.  I predict in 10 years there will be 40, 50, 60, 75,000 churches that have orphan care ministries all led by single people, by lay people, et cetera.  I believe in every church in America you will find people who have been touched by the heart of the orphan, and they are ready to go to work.  All you need to do is have some simple tools to know how to go to your pastor, set it up, and go do it.

Go online to, start an orphan care ministry in your church.  I wish I could take you to Franklin, Tennessee.  The Fellowship Bible Church in Franklin, Tennessee, set a goal of adopting 100 children in 10 years.  They now have adopted 112 children in three years.  Eight-three families opened their arms from China, Africa, Europe, Asia.  Amazing what a church can do when it grabs hold of the vision, and it recognizes the heart of God and beginning to express it.

Finally, the third thing you need to do is go near, go near.  Whether it's here in America through the foster care system, whether it's going overseas on a project, find a way to go near the orphan.  My wife, Barbara, did this.  Barbara found a way to go near.  She went to China.  You know what my wife did?  You're thinking, what would this ever matter to a person – to just go into a nursery and hold a baby.  But she went into an orphanage in China and what she'd do every day, she just held a little girl.  She called this little girl she was holding, "Sarah." 

About the fourth or fifth day, she was picking Sarah up to hold her, she noticed that Sarah was blue and not breathing very well.  And so she rushed to get a neonatologist from, I believe, the SMU from Dallas, Texas, who was on the project with her, and he looked at her and said, "We must take this little girl to the hospital immediately."  And so he got into an ambulance with her, and they rushed her to the hospital, and they saved her life.  They saved little Sarah's life, this little bundle that Barbara was just holding.

Do you want to know the rest of the story?  One year later, Sarah was adopted by that neonatologist and his wife.  And now she's a little girl, five years old, growing up in Dallas, Texas, with a mommy and a daddy.  There are things you can do.  You can do something.

Amy Carmichael made a great statement.  She said, "We have all of eternity to celebrate the victories but only a few hours before sunset to win them."  Express some pure and undefiled religion to your generation.

Bob: Well, we've been listening today to a message that you gave to the student body at Biola University, and you told me that you saw something spark with those students.

Dennis: You know, Bob, I think, as I said at the beginning of the broadcast, there are a lot of young people today that are looking for meaningful, authentic ways that they can represent Christ around social issues today, and I think the needs of orphans with 143 million orphans in the world represent one of the great causes today that young people can go and give their lives to help them.

Maybe it's only 30 days, maybe a summer, perhaps a year, for, for others, it may be to give a chunk of their lives to teach them math, how to use a computer, how to set up a business, how to follow Christ, disciple them, and take young people who don't have a mother and a father to protect them and not only instruct them but protect them spiritually and give them a mission for their lives so they can carry on God's work in their country and their lifetimes.

Bob: You have to be careful before you go, though, because you're not going to want to come back alone, are you?

Dennis: You know, it's a remarkable thing to go into an orphanage, it really is, and to realize those boys and girls, whether they be babies who can't say a word, yet who are saying plenty; or young ones or teenagers – one of the hardest times I've ever cried was at an orphanage in Beijing, China, where I saw a young lady who was blind and, I believe, was crippled, but who was in an orphanage and had been rescued from a life on the street.  And it was incredible, as she sang "Jesus Loves Me" to us in her native tongue, and we attempted to sing it back to her in English, and we just didn't make it, because we were all weeping.

When you go near the orphan, you're going to go near the heart of God.  So you better have your spiritual seatbelt strapped on and be walking close to Him so you make sure you do exactly what He wants you to do.  Because He may call you to more than you anticipated.

Bob: Yes, and we want to be resource.  We want to be available for whatever God calls you to do to help you do it.  We've put together a whole bunch of resources.  You can come to our website,, and if you click on the right side of the home page where it says, "Today's Broadcast," click where it says "Learn More."  That will take you to an area of the site where you will find many of these resources – the booklet that we've created on "Launching an Orphan Ministry in Your Church," the brochure we put together, "Ten Ways Every Christian Can Care for the Orphan and the Waiting Child," the new Homebuilders study we've designed for couples who are thinking about adoption, how you can get together with other couples and talk and pray and think about whether this is something God would have you do, and the adoption workshop we've created called, "If You Were Mine," that is now available in a DVD format so that any church can host a workshop for your community or for people in your church who are thinking about adoption.  The If You Were Mine conference is a way to answer questions people have about the subject of adoption.

All of these resources are available from us here at FamilyLife.  You can get more information about them on our website at, or you can 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.  When you get in touch with us, someone on our team will let you know how you can have the resources that you're looking for sent out to you.

Now, as we wrap things up this week, I know that Thanksgiving is next week, and around here we try not to talk too much about Christmas until Thanksgiving is over, because our focus ought to be on Thanksgiving and preparing for that time of celebration and for gratitude to God.  But I just have to tell you, the new book that Barbara Rainey has written about Christmas that's called "When Christmas Came" is a beautiful book, and we're hoping that many of our listeners will get a copy so that when Thanksgiving is over, you can have the book available to being preparing your heart for the celebration of Christmas.

This book takes a reflective look at John 3:16, and features eight new watercolors that Barbara has painted, and this week it's our gift to you if you are able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  When you go online at or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation, feel free to request a copy of this book, and we'd be happy to send it to you.

If you're donating online, you can request the book by typing the word "Christmas" in the keycode box on your donation form.  If you're calling just ask for a copy of Barbara's book when you make your donation and, again, we're happy to send it out to you, and we do appreciate your financial support of this ministry.

Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when Wes Stafford from Compassion International is going to be our guest.  We're going to hear a little bit about how God gave him a heart for children all around the world.  That comes up on Monday, and I hope you can be here 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 Monday 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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