The Face of the Orphan

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Her picture haunts me every time I think of it. I had gotten to know Caroline as a beautiful, outgoing teenager, full of life and joy. Then one day I made the (perhaps) mistake of asking a staff member for her intake story and picture. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. It is one thing to meet a child in despair and then watch the transformation when she is placed in a loving home, given the kind of support she needs to thrive. It is an altogether different situation when you come to know and love someone and then discover that her past is a dark story of horror.

The eyes of the then eight-year-old looking up at the camera in that picture were perhaps the most pleading I have ever seen—“help me, care for me, love me,” with perhaps just a bit of “don’t hurt me like everyone else has.” And then her story—abandoned to the streets by her mother about the time she was six, raising her three-year-old brother, easy prey for the predators of the slums.

A mother who could care for her but instead abandoned a little girl to filthy streets. Absolute abrogation of her most important task in life: Take care of your child!

So Caroline is really not my responsibility. She has a biological parent to take care of her. Like 82% of the 163 million orphans worldwide, Caroline is what we call a social—rather than biological—orphan.

Not my problem. There is something a bit disconcerting about saying we need to take care of a child who is someone else’s responsibility. “You take care of yours, and I’ll take care of mine.”

Caroline not only had a mother who should have been caring for her. She also lived in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with plenty of resources there to meet her needs. No need for a foreigner to step in and change her life.

But Proverbs 31:8-9 says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

I’ll let you tell Caroline she’s not our concern. Tell her she can stay on the streets because she is someone else’s problem. Tell her she doesn’t need you. Go ahead. YOU tell her…

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