Allies for Orphans
Christian Alliance for orphans joins hands to help 143 million orphans worldwide.
Seen from space, planet Earth is a patchwork of azure blue and verdant green. What if from that lofty vantage point you could focus in on a particular country, visit the dusty roads of a remote village, and learn the story of an orphaned child in need?
Christian Alliance for Orphans wants to help you do just that, through a new orphan awareness project called "Faces of the Forgotten." This initiative, developed by Loving Shepherd Ministries (LSM) in partnership with the Christian Alliance for Orphans, will use Google Earth technology and multimedia presentations to highlight the work alliance members do to help orphans in more than 140 countries.
"There are currently 143 million orphans in the world. That is a staggering number, but it still doesn't move us to tears—not until we can connect faces, hearts, and stories with the numbers," said Ed Schwartz, president of LSM. "This is a project that takes you from the outer realms of the universe through Google Earth, down to the dirt floors of huts, to villages, and to the front doors of orphanages."
The project is just one example of the Christian Alliance for Orphans' broad mission. Nearly 100 organizations, including LSM, have joined the nonprofit alliance since it officially launched in November 2007. "I strongly believe that this alliance is the most profound, most strategic thing on the face of the earth that will reach the 143 million orphans of the world," said Schwartz.
The primary goal of the alliance is to help the body of Christ work together to help every orphan experience God's unfailing love and to know Christ as Savior. The alliance's core mission is to motivate and unify the body of Christ to live out God's mandate to care for the orphan. That is done by inspiring believers and the local church to care for orphans, by connecting believers with resources, and by encouraging unity among orphan care providers and advocates.
The alliance also promotes biblical standards of integrity, accountability, and transparency while proclaiming with a unified voice God's mandate to care for the orphan. One way the alliance's leaders encourage these qualities is by working closely with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). All member groups large enough to qualify are encouraged to join ECFA, and smaller groups are evaluated by the alliance for compliance with high standards of integrity in financial accountability and fundraising. The alliance hopes to be a resource for churches and individuals looking to connect with trustworthy orphan ministries.
Maridel Sandberg, president of the alliance's board of directors and director of the MICAH Fund, an adoption funding ministry of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, said the alliance hopes to add at least 1,000 churches actively pursuing a church-based orphan, adoption, or foster-care ministry. Alliance leaders also plan to continue adding members from among Christian nonprofits working in adoption, foster care, orphan care, and advocacy.
"One of the first values that Christian Alliance for Orphans raised was to leave our logos and egos at the door, and to come together with one voice to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves," said Sandberg. "I have personally witnessed the beauty of working together with these organizations and watching them wrestle with what it looks like to leave our logos at the door, to network for the sake of the orphans. As they did that, we came up with our vision."
Paul Pennington, executive vice president of FamilyLife's Hope for Orphans ministry, and former chairman of the steering committee that helped create the alliance, said this collaboration is bearing fruit. "We have adoption agencies that had pretty much been working in an independent and fragmented way that now are joining resources," said Pennington. "On the orphan care side there are wonderful stories. I was with a ministry that had built 2,800 churches in 40 countries, and now the churches are asking to build a children's home in the buildings. Their big concern is who will help them disciple and educate those children. Well, the wonderful answer is that in the alliance we have other ministries that focus on discipleship and education. So as these guys get to know each other and work together, the synergy is tremendous. It is an example of true unity."
Members of the alliance may range from small church-based initiatives to multimillion-dollar ministries. Even the alliance's board of directors reflects this diversity. Ministries represented on the current board include the MICAH Fund, VisionTrust International, the Families of Promise Orphan Care Ministry of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, Shaohannah's Hope, FamilyLife's Hope for Orphans, Bethany Christian Services, Orphan Outreach, LifeSong for Orphans, and America World Adoption.
Alliance board vice president Matthew Storer shared why his organization, VisionTrust International, joined the alliance: "With a partnering concept already, I want to be not about VisionTrust, but about God's work. So the alliance gives us a way to ask, 'How do we think bigger and become more synergistic?' Our organization alone could never solve the problem."
On May 1-3, approximately 650 people attended an alliance summit held at Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale. A notable group of speakers participated, including Dennis Rainey, president and co-founder of FamilyLife, John Fuller, co-host of the Focus on the Family radio program, Kay Warren, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Initiative of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and Jedd Medefind, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
"The groups that seem to be the best at what they do haven't tried to solve every problem in the world," Medefind said in an interview at the summit. "They have focused on a particular calling, a particular niche, have done it very well, and then have drawn on other groups to fill in the other needs to create a continuum of care.
"It is that continuum of care that the alliance is bringing together and continually building that really seems to bring a whole new level of solution to the world's needs," said Medefind.
One sensed that spirit of collaboration at the summit. Parachurch ministries and churches shared best practices and ideas in sessions on topics such as adoption funding, holistic care for orphans, launching a church orphan ministry, how adoption agencies can work together, mobilizing and engaging America's youth in orphan care, and many more.
John Fuller of Focus on the Family shared his perspective on the power of Christian collaboration: "I tend to think of collaboration as a reflection of the body. Every organization has unique strengths that we can bring to the work, but a body with a strong arm doesn't get far down the road unless it has some strong legs to carry it. So in that sense, collaboration in which you take the strengths and abilities of each organization or individual can go distances and places and make an impact that we as individuals and individual ministries can never make."
"We are facing a crisis of 143 million orphans, with needs beyond our wildest comprehension," FamilyLife president Dennis Rainey reminded summit attendees, "a crisis to which God steps out of eternity in James 1:27 and says that religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep one's self unstained from the world.
"I believe this is a crisis that tests our faith, to see if we will be about heavenly good as well as earthly good," said Rainey. "There is a giant in the land, a giant that demands that his people address these complex needs that these children cannot address by themselves."
Momentum for the alliance began in October 2004, when FamilyLife's Hope for Orphans hosted a summit of 38 key leaders of adoption and orphan care ministries to discuss working together. Since then, three more summits have been held with nearly 100 people at the second, more than 300 at the third, and approximately 650 at the most recent summit.
Rainey said collaboration was central from the outset. "When we met together the first time, it was clear that there were a number of powerful organizations that had deep history and great training and great strengths that they brought to the table. But as we looked at the possibility of how we could begin to address the needs of 143 million orphans, we thought that every organization had to come to the table and talk about what it does best—with its hands open, not wanting to get personal credit or to achieve a personal agenda. But to come to the table to talk about how we could unleash the most powerful institution on the planet, which is the church: How could we completely release tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of laypeople around the world to address the needs of orphans?"
The second summit, held March 23-24, 2006, in Little Rock, Arkansas, birthed a partnership of media advocates: FamilyLife, Focus on the Family, and Shaohannah's Hope, an orphan care ministry founded by Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth. The first installment of what's today known as the "Cry of the Orphan" media campaign was aired nationwide in November 2006. Through broadcast, the Web, and e-mail, that campaign was estimated to have reached over 10 million believers nationwide. A second media campaign was launched in November 2007. With a larger coalition—more than 50 ministries—the second Cry of the Orphan campaign possibly reached 20 million.
"In that one week more believers heard about God's heart for the orphan than probably in any other time in 20 centuries of the church," said FamilyLife's Pennington.
"Focus was privileged to be a part of the first summit," said Fuller. "We talked about how we could link arms instead of having separate ministries for helping orphans, to come together and try to do something more substantial. The really fulfilling part was that we had so many people responding, saying, 'I never knew that,' or 'Because I heard your broadcast, I decided to consider involvement or adoption.' What we saw was that there is a power when you work together."
The plan to formally create the alliance was announced at the third summit, held May 9-11, 2007, at Focus of the Family in Colorado Springs. The alliance was officially launched in November.
"I think a lot of exciting momentum built from year to year," said the MICAH Fund's Sandberg. "So this last November after much time, prayer, and effort, the Christian Alliance for Orphans became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the intention that every orphan experience God's unfailing love and have an opportunity to know Jesus as Savior."
Pennington, a motivating influence behind the alliance, best captured its spirit: "The only way I can explain it is that it's kind of like an orchestra. When Yo-Yo Ma plays alone, it is beautiful. But when Yo-Yo Ma plays with the entire Boston symphony and takes front stage, something even more wonderful happens. The vision of the Christian Alliance for Orphans is building an orchestra in which all the pieces work together in harmony, and the sum of their parts is much greater than it would be individually. The ultimate orchestra is the local church."
To explore and interact with Faces of the Forgotten, a new initiative of Loving Shepherd Ministries along with Christian Alliance for Orphans, go to
To learn more about the Christian Alliance for Orphans, visit christianalliancefororphans.org or e-mail the alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Cry of the Orphan media initiative, visit cryoftheorphan.com.
W. Scott Brown is managing editor of Outcomes and vice president of communications for Christian Leadership Alliance.