She learned to steal. Caught, on three occasions, she was beaten and left for dead. After once such occasion, presumed dead, she was left at the garbage dump. There, someone took notice of her took her to an orphanage. Eventually a missionary couple adopted her and give her a name. She never knew her original name. She had no idea of what her actual birth date was or even her place of birth.
The story of Stephanie Fast is a story of God's protection in the midst of incredible hardship. Unfortunately, she is not the only one.
It is estimated that 153 million children worldwide, ranging from infants to teenagers, have lost one or both parents. In the United States of America, there are 400,000 children live without permanent families. In Canada, there are some 45,000 orphaned children in Canada, 22,000 of which are currently, right now, waiting for adoption.
While we don't talk about it much, the Bible has much to say about orphans and the fatherless.
The Old Testament description of God is very clear. "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing." (Deut. 10:18).
God expects us to do the same. In Isaiah 1:17 we are instructed to, "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."
Why does God care so much? Psalm 68:5 describes God as "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows." Isn't that something? God considers himself a father to the fatherless. That’s why he cares.
There are many other references in both the Old and New Testament which very directly state God's concern for the widows and orphans and the fatherless. Likewise, God is equally concerned about the foreigner in your land - that he/she not be taken advantage of. Wherever you look, God is on the lookout for the weak or the hurting or the vulnerable. And I don't know very many people more vulnerable than children.
The care of children is very much God's concern. And, according to God's Word, it's something that we should be concerned about as well.
Matthew 18:5-6, Jesus said, "And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." Isn't that awesome? You want to do something for God? You want to impress God? (not that he can be impressed), do something for a child. You will touch the heart of God. That's it! Pretty straight forward.
The reverse is also true. Jesus goes on to say, "If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." Remember, He is a father to these children. In other words; if you’re messing with them, you’re messing with Him!
This is so important to God that it states in James 1:27, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
More than any ritual, more than any prayer, any sermon, any whatever else - that which God looks at as a response to our faith - is how we look after the vulnerable. Just as we were (and are) vulnerable and God poured out so much for us; he expects us to do the same.
We've seen it before. As we have been loved (by God), we are commanded to love one another (see John 15:12 and 1 John 4:19). As we have been forgiven (by God) we are commanded to forgive one another (many examples of this). What God does for us, he expects us to do to one another.
1 Peter 2:9-10 reminds us; "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
There was a time when we didn't belong. There was a time when we were outsiders. There was a time when we were not the people of God. But God has loved us; sought us; forgiven us; adopted us - and now we are his chosen people. We have a sense of spiritual belonging. We are part of a family.
I firmly believe that God would have us offer a similar sense of belonging to those around us - and, according to so many scriptures in both the Old and New Testament, He has his eye particularly on the vulnerable children.
How do we respond? Just like anything else, we need to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and then do whatever we can. Not one of us can do everything; but all of us can do something.
We can start by getting to know the children in vulnerable situations - instead of thinking that somebody else will look after them. According to God's word - we, the Christians, have this responsibility. If God puts it on your heart to consider adopting a child - or teenager - by all means - consider it. If God puts it on your heart to visit an orphanage and offer support - by all means - do it. They need prayer support. They need financial support. They may need an extra pair of hands. Maybe you can offer some support to a local family who has taken in some vulnerable children.
Stephanie Fast was saved because somebody listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. That's all God wants you to do. Listen and obey.
I want to encourage you to look for ways to care for the children. Find an organization that you can support. Consider adoption. Consider foster care. Consider sponsoring a child through one of many organizations (Nazarene Child Sponsorship is one of them). Maybe make it a goal to visit an orphanage somewhere in the world. Give financial support to those who are on the front lines of care.
While we can't do everything; we can do something. Ask the Lord what that something is for you.
Psalm 100 reminds us, "we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3). We have a sense of belonging. Not everyone does. Perhaps through you, you can bring that sense of belonging to someone else.