God's heart for orphans and the special call on the Church to care for them

Dr Robert Glover with two orphans in Wuhan.(Photo: Care for Children)

God believes in family. He sent Jesus into this world as a baby and therefore totally reliant on his earthly mother and father and He invites us to be a part of his eternal family, writes Dr Robert Glover, founder and executive director of Care for Children. 

1 June is the Global Day of Parents, and while awareness days are observed in different ways (and many of us are ready for one of the biggest observations in history this week), for me this is an important time to remember the call God has given us all to look after children.

Many child psychoanalysts believe that mental health and behavioural problems can be attributed to early childhood experience. Developmental psychologist John Bowlby's pioneering theory of attachment suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others because this will help them to survive. His findings suggested that where there is maternal deprivation children often developed mental and physical disabilities, and sometimes even die.

What Bowlby didn't explain is how children are pre-programmed. However, we know from Psalm 139 that God knitted us together in our mother's womb; He fearfully and wonderfully made us. The family roles in a child's development are God-ordained; it is His purpose for children to be dependant and reliant on parents in order to survive and thrive into adulthood.

In 1993, at my local church in Guernsey, I was given a prophetic call from God that would shape the rest of my and my family's life. I've since worked for over 20 years with the nation of China and set up Care for Children, trusting God's call to place children into local, loving families.

When I first moved to Shanghai in 1998, there was no word in Mandarin or Cantonese for "family-based care", and millions of children were living in orphanages, deprived of the love of a family.

A Care for Children foster mum.(Photo: Care for Children)

God is passionate about orphans, and God is very clear about our responsibility as Christians to the orphan. Children, the smallest, weakest and most vulnerable, will pay the greatest price for family disruption. Although we might miss their hardship, God does not. God created the family to care for children, and He expects His people the church to defend them in their distress. The eight million children living in some form of institutional care around the world have been impacted by rejection and without a voice, they have no one to speak up for them.

When my family and I moved to China, Care for Children wasn't placing children into Christian families - in China that is quite hard to have any control over - but I was being obedient to God's call over my life which was to put children into families, and establish what God intended for each child. I was just doing my part to build His Kingdom.

Jackie Pullinger once said to me, "If you meet the need of the poor, the influential will become jealous and want to know why." I remember a short trip I took up to the northern region of Baotou in Mongolia. I had been working in China a number of years by this point and built some strong relationships with the Chinese government. Mr Li, a senior government official, knew I was a Christian and had assured me that there were no Christians in the region we were travelling to and that everyone was Muslim, Buddhist or Confucian. My response was that it didn't matter, we were still putting the children in families, because that's where they need to be.

Dr Glover with a foster family.(Photo: Care for Children)

We were going to have a meal with 20 families in the region who had signed up to welcome children into their homes from the Baotou orphanage. Mr Li introduced me to everyone and made a bit of a joke about the fact that I was an Englishman and a Christian, but no one really laughed. So, he repeated the joke. Again, no one laughed. Then this one lady put her hand up shyly and she said, "I'm a Christian." Then another hand went up, "me too," and then the next one and the next one. It turned out all 20 of them were Christians. So, as you can imagine, on the way home, Mr Li was somewhat embarrassed and said, "Look, why is it the Christians who want to care for orphans?" And I said that it was part of who we are. It's in our DNA.

I love this story because it demonstrates that I was just a small part of the puzzle. God does the rest. If I'd gone into China, and said 'we're going to give the gospel to the children' or 'we're going to recruit Christian families', I wouldn't have lasted a week, but here I was six years into working in China. God had clearly gone ahead of these children.

It says in Psalm 68:6, "God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy" (NLT). God knows the sorrow of the child who has been temporarily displaced. He knows the pain, the fear, and the heartache, and working through His people has made a way for it. Our compassion and conviction come from really knowing our Father who passionately cares for the orphan. We love orphans because we love God. And this is the profound underpinning of Care for Children's work: that we know orphanhood, because we were all orphans before being adopted into God's family as His children. If we didn't understand the theological aspect of loving orphans, our care would be commendable but ultimately worthless.

The Christian understanding of orphan care begins with the understanding of the character of God. For years in China, I shared my heart to care for the orphan with house church leaders. It was only when they saw the theological reason, our own adopted state, and the biblical mandate to care for orphans, that they were reduced to tears of compassion.

When I moved to China, there was no word in the Chinese languages for "family-based care". Now 85% of orphans are in families. If we believe in Jesus, we can be a part of God's eternal family, so shouldn't we imitate his heart for orphans? I believe our Father shows us the importance of the family so we can actively champion it here on earth.

Find out more about how you can be a Family Champion here: careforchildren.com/familychampions

Robert Glover and his wife Elizabeth founded Care for Children in 1998, after hearing a call from God to move their family to Shanghai. As a UK social worker Robert wanted to use his professional training to establish family placement in China as a positive alternative to orphanages. This was the first joint venture social welfare project between the British and Chinese governments. Following the success of their work in China, the charity's model of family care has now been replicated in Thailand (2012), Vietnam (2017) and Cambodia (2022), and has seen one million children placed in families. Robert is the author of As Many as the StarsThe Sky documentary Children of Shanghai charts the origins of Care for Children, the founder's call to China, and shows the impact of their work in the lives of thousands of children who found a family. Children of Shanghai is narrated by Bear Grylls and is available on demand.