Whether I’m teaching adoptive parents in the United States or caregivers in an orphanage, children’s home, or school in the international context, I’m able to instructionally hold to certain principles of education that I know to be true.
One month after returning from a bustling high-rise filled city in China, I found myself walking the bumpy red dirt roads of an underserved “urban village” in Uganda, a place where I had travelled two years prior and had promised myself that I would one day return. The cultures of these places were considerably different. The way and pace of life in these places were not really comparable. The contexts in which I was teaching certainly could not have been more different—like teaching on two different planets. Yet, the foundation of what was taught remained the same. The heart was the same. The needs of the orphaned and vulnerable children scattered all over the world have always been the same, and the God who loves them certainly has not changed. I was reminded in Uganda that healing in the lives of incredibly wounded children often times has a common thread.
God’s healing power and ability to transform lives and communities has been on clear display in one of (un)adopted’s strategic partnerships in Uganda. God has used the Busega Community School for the Deaf and Blind as a tool to radically change the lives of precious children and to bring about change in a community in which these kids suffer much stigma and ostracization. Children who were once considered outcasts in their society, with no language or perceived social value, now have the confidence to stand and speak of their gratitude for the Lord and for those who have provided care for them. I watched through tear-filled eyes as these children who have experienced such personal trauma danced with joy, praising their Lord. Once again, I remembered that God is in the business of transformation, redemption, and healing! He is the one who creates the change, BUT He often times uses His people as the agents to bring about the change.
So, how do parents and caregivers help to bring about healing in the lives of a wounded child?
They follow the model of our Heavenly Father, who so tenderly and perfectly loves and cares for us. These Biblical principles and truths supersede any amount of existing cultural differences and barriers. Viewing and caring for orphaned and vulnerable children the way that God views and cares for us is what I desire to teach in any community in which the Lord may send me.
Following the example of our Heavenly Father, I would like to highlight four biblical principles from the material that we teach:
1) God cares for us holistically, not in part…
God does not only care about meeting our physical needs. Yes, He is concerned with the food and shelter that our physical bodies need, but He cares for us holistically as well. Psalm 139 records King David’s declaration of the precious and vast thoughts God has for His children, who He has made “fearfully and wonderfully” in His image. He cares about our emotions; He desires to develop our understanding and knowledge of Him; He desires for our spiritual development to continually improve, etc.
In the same way, just as God cares about our spiritual, emotional, social, educational, and physical well-being, we should care about the holistic well-being of the children that we serve. If we are only focusing on one or two areas, we will not be serving these children well.
2) God looks below the surface…
Jesus does not look at our outward appearance, but rather looks at the heart. He doesn’t only see the external; He sees us on the inside, as we truly are. He not only sees our behavior, but also sees beyond our actions to the internal motivation behind our behavior. In the same way, He not only sees our visible external needs, but He is also able to determine what our needs are before we even ask. He sees the needs behind our words and actions. In 1 Samuel 16:7, God told Samuel “Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” Though often times we cannot perfectly anticipate the needs of those around us, let’s examine these children and attempt to meet not only physical needs, but also the needs of their heart and souls by continuously pointing them to the Creator, Sustainer, and Lover of their soul—the One who can meet their needs perfectly.
3) God looks at what is pleasing in us…
God sees what is good in us: Himself. We were created in His image and He delights when His character shines through us (Gen 1:1). God uniquely created these children and loves them. We can show them this truth when we look for reasons to praise and celebrate the child’s gifts, talents, abilities, and progress. When we focus on a child’s strengths, it builds positive self-esteem and helps a child believe he can succeed. These children need us to be able to identify the special ways God has created us. Additionally, the Bible also says that we should encourage each other. Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11). Let’s be part of building up children for the glory of God.
4) God desires that we be conformed and sanctified to His likeness and by His grace, starting with our hearts …
In regards to discipline, we teach parents and caregivers to be aware of disapproving the misbehavior rather than the child. The child needs to know that even though the negative behavior is rejected, they indeed are not being rejected. These children may be fearful of abandonment and rejection. You can say to a child, “although your behavior was not acceptable, you are accepted.” This is what I believe God says to us every day. He says, “Your sin is not okay, but I love you.” He says, “Your actions are far from perfect, but I will not give up on you.” We also teach parents and caregivers that their goal should not be to simply stop a negative behavior, but more importantly to establish connection, trust, and create teaching moments; the goal is a heart change and long-term success, including appropriate behaviors. Again, I believe that looking at the model of our Savior we can see that Jesus wants to not only stop our sin, He wants also to change our hearts.
From the United States, to Central and South America, to Asia and Africa, God has laid a blueprint for us to follow in how He desires for His adored children to be cared for. He desires for us to look like Him and to follow His example of love, grace, compassion, and character, which Christ modeled for us. He desires for us to play an active role in the life transformation of His people. Using these principles, we can see the common needs of children and how we can advocate for their best.