Theory of Change – Engage the Fatherless

(The following blog post by Man Up and Go CEO Jeff Ford is the first in a series of six highlighting our Theory of Change. )

Over the next few months we will be highlighting our Theory of Change at Man Up and Go, which is a fancy way of explaining how we implement our why. That is, what are the actions we take in response to the problem we’ve identified and what we inherently believe about it.

As a brief refresher, we believe that children benefit in every measurable way by the presence of a loving, committed father in the home. However, 1 in 3 children around the world do not have that loving, committed father under his or her roof. This poses a tremendous threat to the emotional and physical well-being of the child, which has a proportionately negative impact on society. We have measureables to validate this claim, but some of the most troubling are anecdotal comments we hear in the space occupied by those who, like us, are fighting for the fatherless.

I recently was talking with Eric Porter, Vice President of The Keep, a Texas-based non-profit also dedicated to decreasing the number of fatherless in the world, but especially in the U.S.  He mentioned that in Texas, the State takes count of how many teenagers age out of the foster care system to predict the number of new beds they’ll need in the prison system. This should wreck us in every way possible.

Another ministry leader I spoke with recently was talking to someone on a plane who revealed he made pornographic films. He explained that they make it a habit to look for new “talent” among girls who have clear “daddy issues.” Again, our hearts should be breaking.

It’s stories like these that require us to pay immediate attention to the needs of the current fatherless.  This brings us to our first strategy in our Theory of Change, which is simply this:

Engage the Fatherless

I suppose there are lots of ways to do this, but the primary way Man Up and Go has chosen to engage is by following the admonition found in James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this – to visit orphans…in their distress.” There is some kickback in the missions community about visiting orphans on temporary overseas mission trips, and in part, I share this concern. Missions can be desperately myopic and narcissistic. Perhaps many people serve orphans because of how it makes them feel, rather than in the purity demanded by James 1:27.

But to castigate all attempts to visit orphans throws the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, and it isn’t helpful for understanding the complexities and nuances of mission work. Make no mistake – visiting orphans in their distress is absolutely biblical. Just note the caveats found in the command:

  • Visiting orphans means just that: to visit. The Greek word for “visit” is episkeptomai, which means “to examine with the eyes, to go and see,” especially as it relates to the poor and afflicted. It’s the same word Jesus used in Matthew 25:36 when He exclaimed that when He was sick, believers “visited” Him (referring to the least of these). The idea is that when we hear about the condition of orphans and widows – those who traditionally lack much standing in a community – that we take time out of our normal schedule and GO and examine their status with our own eyes. The implication, since the word is used in similar passages throughout the New Testament, is that we not only GO, but we minister and meet a need while we’re there.
  • Visiting orphans must be “pure.” Here is where we run into a problem. What is our motivation for visiting orphans? Is there a hint of selfish pride, or a “hey look at me” attitude when we go? Are we trying to assuage our guilt for unconfessed sin? Many and sundry reasons exist for going with a tainted motivation. Certainly not every person who goes on a mission trip has a genuine concern for orphans at the top of their list. Such a person may not get credit for his or her good works in front of God (1 Cor 3:15), but have orphans been visited? Have good works been done, even with a poor motivation? Has Jesus received the credit, at least outwardly? Thus, while we strive for purity in heart as a motivation for going, God can still move even when we’re uncooperative.
  • Orphans must be in “distress.” This one’s pretty easily actually, for who among us isn’t in distress on some level? Who among us couldn’t use encouragement, love, a kind word, a big hug? Yes, there are different levels of distress, and perhaps an argument could be made that a lack in material goods is the distress of which James speak. Either way, ministering to these kiddos in their condition – whether spiritually, emotionally, or materially distressed – qualifies.

We don’t deny that truly one of the greatest feelings in the world happens when a young fatherless child from a developing nation runs and joyfully jumps unbridled and unencumbered into your waiting arms. But if we’re in love with Jesus, we don’t do it for the feeling – we do it out of obedience to the One whom we love. The feeling should be the byproduct of our loyalty to Christ, a loyalty that exists regardless of the benefit received in return.

Visiting orphans in their distress should emotionally bankrupt us into a new perspective about God’s great big world. But if it isn’t doing the same in the recipients of the mission, then the mission must be diluted in some way. At Man Up and Go, we strive with absolutely humility to be cognizant of this reality. I don’t want to spend another dime on a $1500 flight to Africa if all we do is satisfy some felt-need to palliate our affluent guilt.

And yet, we will. We will absolutely take a short-term missionary at some point in the future (should the Lord tarry) who will go with impure motives. Not because we want to, but because even saints live in bodies of sin (Romans 7:17). So I ask – should we stop going? Does the tare among the wheat prohibit us from obeying Christ, or do we trust that He can competently do the separating on judgment day? Does the ministry of reconciliation to which Christ has called us (2 Cor 5:21) require us to be perfect in our methods or trust in His perfection?

I’m certain we have made critical mistakes with the best of intentions. I don’t ever want to convey that good intentions make up for bad policy. But when the policy aligns with the message of the Gospel, the message of Hope, the message of James 1:27, doesn’t it behoove us to move expediently forward in faith that God will work all things together for His good (Romans 8:28)?

Clearly we believe it does. As such, we humbly, with prayer and petition, press on to visit orphans and widows in their distress, knowing that the highest Kingdom benefit in such an ordeal comes from those who are pure and “unstained in the world.”