Missionary Orphanages

I don’t quote TWEETS very often… but I really like one from Craig Greenfield. (@craigawauros). He is the head of Alongsiders International.

“One of the reasons Western missionaries are so quick to start orphanages in the Non-Western world is that our own lock of community prevents us from seeing the importance of community and extended family in Asian and African countries.”

My wife and I are connected with one orphanage here in the Philippines, and have done some limited ministry work in a couple of others. Nothing wrong with that. Orphanages do have a clear function. But Craig does bring up a good point.

  • A healthy extended family can address care for orphans, widows, and others in need. When the extended family breaks down,
  • A healthy community can address these concerns. (See example of this HERE.) When the community support breaks down,
  • A healthy government will have mechanisms in place to ensure that the needy in society are cared for. When government fails, or lacks capacity,
  • A missionary orphanage provides the safety net for orphans (and others in need).

Since there are many children in toxic family systems, in dysfunctional communities, under corrupt or incompetent governments, missionary-run orphanages make sense.

BUT… why aren’t more missionaries focusing their attention on promoting healthy extended families, communities, and government? Most of us don’t feel competent to influence governance in our home countries, much less in our country of ministry. Communities and families, however, are more within the scope of missionary’s ability to minister towards transformation.

Many missionaries do get involved in community development, but commonly more involved with economics, education, and faith structures. Missionaries do also work with families, but not much as far as extended families. This is hardly surprising since most Western missionaries come from dysfunctional extended families.

There may be another reason. Evangelicals may not seek families, communities, or government solving the situation for orphans since they may see orphanages as a better place to share the gospel and educate Biblically than the other solutions. This may be true, but the advantage is countered by the fact that the children lose their future impact in their community and family.

For long-term Kingdom transformation, supporting families (both nuclear and extended), supporting communities, and supporting good governance should be prioritized, with orphanages being the back-up net when these fail.


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