Rescuing Orphans

orphansWar is a terrible thing. It should be avoided at (nearly) all costs. As C.S. Lewis wrote during Hitler’s atrocities, “If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful” (“The Conditions for a Just War”).

I was writing this weekend about one of the sad consequences of war—the creation of orphans. As an adopted child of God, I possess deep compassion for children without parents in this world. Over a decade ago I was privileged to represent the United States Air Force at the dedication of the Korean War Children’s Memorial.

When I contacted the coordinator of that event, Dr. George Drake, he provided me with the photograph above, which shows the speakers that day. Drake appears to the left, and yours truly is in uniform, to the right. The primary speaker was Chaplain Russell Blaisdell, center, who saved the lives of at least a thousand Korean orphans during the war, delivering them from almost certain death as Seoul fell to the Communists. (My next post will reflect on his heroism and humility.)

The war in Korea was horrific. The frontlines swept across the peninsula, leaving desolation and tragedy in their wake. The number of orphans created by the violence was legion. In the cruel ebb and flow of the conflict, many perished. Still, even in the crimson terror there were expressions of mercy and grace.

Chaplains often led the way in reaching out to the children, but their efforts would have accomplished little if the compassion of the common Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Airman had not moved them as well to make sacrifices to care for the children.

Chaplains who serve in Korea today have maintained the strong bonds of support for orphanages that was so vital to the wartime chaplains represented by Blaisdell.

During my year in Taegu (Daegu), I coordinated the ministry of the airmen at Taegu Air Base in partnership with Love and Hope Orphanage. Love and Hope has a unique role, caring for the least of the least . . . children with serious physical and/or mental handicaps. There is little room for them in most societies, and Korea is no exception.

Orphans are made not by war alone, of course, but by a variety of tragic confluences of suffering. Some lose parents to accident or disease. Today, we find the greatest number of orphaned children in various parts of Africa where AIDS has devastated local adult populations. Similarly, following natural disasters such as major earthquakes and tsunamis, many orphans are left alone in the rubble or receding waters.

Some children flee abusive homes, or are rescued from dangerous environments; in one sense these were orphans even before their legal bonds with cruel predators were severed.

Many causes account for the existence of orphans. And, as long as we live in this fallen world, orphans will be among us. This is why we must never forget that, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV).

C.S. Lewis was well acquainted with the sorrow of wartime violence and the shattering of families. A veteran of World War I, he saw many friends perish just as they were embarking on adulthood. After World War II, one of his many correspondents was Don Giovanni Calabria, who operated an orphanage in devastated Italy

In 1951, Lewis sent his friend a newly translated copy of the first book in his Chronicles of Narnia. He invited the priest (who would be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church less than fifty years later) to pass the book on to one of the orphans in his care.

I am sending you my tale recently translated into Italian in which, frankly, I have rather played than worked. I have given my imagination free rein yet not, I hope, without regard for edification—for building up both my neighbour and myself. I do not know whether you will like this kind of trifle. But if you do not, perhaps some boy or girl will like it from among your “good children.”

While I imagine the volume remained close to the future “saint,” I trust that Lewis’ powerful tale delighted many of the young children in his care.

As Chaplain Blaisdell says about caring for innocent children, the act itself provides more than sufficient reward. Formal recognition is not required, and may in fact detract from the intrinsic satisfaction that accompanies the giving of oneself in service. Ninety-nine percent of those who sacrifice for the widow and orphan remain essentially anonymous to all but God, and this is just fine. (You can read more about the Kiddy Car Airlift and who received credit for it here.)

17 thoughts on “Rescuing Orphans

  1. So little has been taught about Korean War, few even know about it. Something of a disgrace and so difficult for those who were there.
    As you say, in most wars, there are many small acts of kindness that made big differences. As my grandmother said, those who quietly do good works will be given stars on their crowns in Heaven. While probably not true, those kind selfless acts are noted.
    Enjoyable read – waiting for the continuing conversation

    1. Your grandma may well have been right. Not stars per se, but an awareness on all of the redeemed’s part that they accomplished these great deeds. And they’ll be no possibility that it will provoke envy, because when we are in the presence of God, we’ll fully experience that “if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

  2. I appreciate your posting about this subject.

    My siblings and I lived in two different orphanages as a child, although we were not orphans. I suppose we were in the category of “fatherless.” Those feelings of abandonment can never be erased, but there were a few really kind people there. The foster care system to me was worse in many ways, because abusers can get by with more in the privacy of the foster home. In America, people are taking a second look at orphanages as opposed to foster homes because the system is breaking down in so many ways.

    I admire people anywhere on this planet who are trying to find solutions for the children you mention in your article. Thank you for writing about it.

    Peace be with you,
    “Sister Olive”

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I were just discussing the very topic you raise about good orphanages where children can be nurtured without the risks accompanying a foster parenting system which provides insufficient oversight. Also, I hate to say this, I’ve known some foster parents for whom it is a mercenary endeavor rather than a compassionate calling.

      1. For some of them it is merely a monetary endeavor. We were also used for child labor (farming). Only a handful of people seemed to really care when we were growing up…

        Thanks for your note.

        “Sister Olive”

      2. That reminds me of the nineteenth century “Orphan Trains” that crossed the American West. The children disembarked at each train stop and were paraded before potential adopters. Doubtless many found loving homes, but perhaps most were taken simply to serve as laborers or (God have mercy) worse…

  3. I think it’s interesting that really caring for orphans is almost intrinsically a position of anonymity. Because what children need is time, and time is costly, and if you’re spending enough time on the fatherless to make a real difference to them, that’s time you can’t spend anywhere else.

    And we need more anonymity in the church, don’t we? Less standing on pedestals, and more work that shows up on the “other side of the tapestry,” as Chesterton’s Father Brown would say. :)

    1. You’re right. It’s much more “rewarding” though, to receive the praise of our peers for our “selfless” work. I do, though, think that for those who are unable to give sacrificially of their time (e.g. parents with a number of charges of their own) their financial assistance can make a world of difference in the care orphans are able to receive (especially in lands without social service networks).

  4. ragingrepublican

    Thank you for sharing so passionately about this topic. I come from a very diverse family, with much of my extended family adopted – 3 of of my cousins were actually adopted from Korea. They suffered from horrendous abuse before adoption and eventual escape to the US. But despite what they endured, we praise God for delivering them from the suffering and ultimately drawing them to him. However, they would likely have never found Christ without people who truly believed and practiced the words of James 1:27. Your article serves as a humbling reminder as to why we as Christians should seek to care for the orphans and widows.

    1. Yes, we Christians can introduce the children to the love of their heavenly Father, who will never disappoint them. At the same time, it’s important for nonChristians to know that we do not adopt them to convert them. We offer all of our children unconditional love… but we hope that they will experience the joy we find in our relationships with Christ.

      For an example of people using adoption as a primary proselytism tool, you would have to turn to cults or bizarre sects like the Shakers. Because of their peculiar take on mandatory celibacy for all members, they required a continuing influx from outside their dying community. Theirs in an interesting story, but it reveals a motivation far different from that of Christians who adopt.

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  6. I will be able to go to this orphanage next week. We are starting our tour here in Daegu so perhaps we will be able to serve regularly there. Thank you for serving them for the time you were here.

    1. Wow, Sejana, this is wonderful. Love and Hope is so graciously welcoming that I’m sure you will find a joyous opportunity for ministry. Those children are so precious. Likewise their caregivers, who will be encouraged by your presence.

      I originally posted this more than four years, ago, and I’m pleased to see it’s still being read. More importantly, my visits to the orphanage took place more than 29 years ago, and I’m pleased Americans continue share God’s love with the people of the ROK.

      Enjoy your time there, the Korean peninsula and it’s people will make your days there precious and memorable!

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