Did you know that most children described as orphans actually have living relatives? Or that only a very, very small number of orphans are candidates for adoption? Now Christians worldwide and their churches are realizing how important orphans are to God, as James 1:27 says, and are taking new, creative action.

SURPRISING FACT 1 If all orphans formed a country of their own, it would be among the 10 largest nations in the world

Reliable sources estimate nearly 160 million children are orphaned or abandoned. The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, set the number at 132 million as of 2005. No matter what the precise count, the global total of orphans equals about one-half the population of the United States.

SURPRISING FACT 2 Most orphans are not babies

95% of all orphans are over the age of five according to research by UNICEF. This means most orphans are old enough to know what has happened to them, carrying deep, painful memories of the trauma that left them abandoned, abused, rejected or otherwise at risk.

SURPRISING FACT 3 – Rather than no parents, “orphan” simply means “alone”

Most orphans have living relatives, often a parent, but their families are severely broken. A real life example is the best way to explain.

Photo of the boy described in the storyRajendra, pictured at the right, is 12 years old. He and his brother, Ram, found safety in an orphanage when their father committed suicide after a diagnosis of HIV. Their mother also has the disease. The boys said that men would frequently visit her, giving her money when they left. Two years ago, their mother returned to the orphanage and retrieved Ram. She makes him work in a food stall near their home. Rajendra hid his face and sobbed as he told our staff about his younger brother,

He doesn’t go to school. He washes dishes all day at a roadside stall.

Today, the boys’ mother is very ill and near death. Ram’s future is uncertain. Rajendra tries to make sense of what is happening around him, but his family’s situation is complex, his own pain raw, but, sadly, typical of the difficulties many orphans face.

SURPRISING FACT 4 – Adoption is not an adequate solution

Praise God for those who adopt. When families fail their children, nothing is better than giving them new families. But just how common is that? The reality is that adoption – the new family option – is only available for a tiny, tiny fraction of the world’s orphans. For all practical purposes, orphans living outside the West have virtually no chance of adoption. International adoptions have plummeted to an all-time low over the last 15 years.

Globally, the number of orphans being adopted by foreign parents dropped from a high of 45,000 in 2004 to an estimated 25,000 last year, according to annual statistics compiled by Peter Selman, an expert on international adoptions at Britain’s Newcastle University.

Historically, the U.S. provided about one-half of the world’s annual international adoptions, but the pace has dropped more than 60% since 2004 to only 9,000 adoptions of foreign children last year.

Put another way, if you are an orphan in a foreign country, your odds of adoption are less than one in 6,000, a hopeless situation unless someone comes to where you are and helps.

SURPRISING FACT 5 – Christians at home and abroad are taking up the cause of orphans

Trends show donations to programs for international orphans and other children–at-risk are growing twice as fast as other giving. More and more people realize just how big this crisis is, and are committed to doing something about it. As one woman put it,

Poor kids! It’s our job to go to them, not for them to come to us.

The number of orphans is increasing as the number of foreign adoptions declines. This is not likely to change. One bright spot, however, is that Christians in India, Uganda, Mexico, Brazil, Romania, Bangladesh and other countries are beginning to mobilize on behalf of orphans, although much remains to be done. These are countries where Christians are using the David C Cook J127 orphan program with thousands of children.

SURPRISING FACT 6 – Hidden wounds require inner healing

When children hurt, our first instinct is to rescue and protect them: the right first step. Vulnerable children certainly need nutrition, education and a secure place to live. These alone, however, are not enough to overcome the pain and confusion of children like Rajendra and his brother. Orphan boys and girls need counseling and nurture to heal emotional scars, learn to build a positive future and develop healthy spiritual lives.

SURPRISING FACT 7 – You can change the destinies of orphans

The J127 programs in Inda using David C Cook’s Life on Life curriculum comes alongside Christian orphanages to give children extra emotional and spiritual care. It brings in additional staff from local churches, then trains and equips them with activities that lead the children to wholeness. This way, orphans get personal attention and guidance to move beyond their heartaches.

How does this happen? As a nonprofit, nondenominational ministry, David C Cook takes earnings from products we sell to support this orphan initiative and other international projects. Cook paid all costs of creating the J127 program, continues to donate literally millions of dollars each year and pays all overhead expenses.

How many orphans benefit, however, depends on further giving from people like you. The program is ready and able to expand and reach more orphans with your added support. Your giving, just once, helps. Even better, sponsor an orphan group and you will get to know specific children, pray for them and celebrate as they progress.

So, the best surprising fact about orphans is that, despite their horrible experiences, they can build new lives with a little help from friends like you.

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