My heart breaks for the orphans of the world. Two former orphans live and love in my own home, and gazing into their eyes, I will never forget the children still out there, struggling and hoping for love. I also fall ever deeper in love with a God who could not be more passionate about orphans. Psalm 68:5 says, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
Widows, the fatherless, and orphans can claim about 40 verses that command justice for them. The sheer volume of verses about these people groups convince me that how we treat them is of the utmost importance to God.
The statistics are staggering, with more than 153 million orphans in the world. Why and how are children orphaned? Perhaps like Charles in Kenya, they are passed from aunt to uncle as each caregiver successively dies from AIDS, until one elder remains; and this uncle will soon die as well. Maybe like Sammy in Kenya, they are completely abandoned at birth to an institutional orphanage. The cause for abandonment, as for Yen in Vietnam, can often be traced to mental illness of parents or even complete societal break-down. Or perhaps, like Vanessa in Zimbabwe, they live under the oppression of a corrupt government that drives people into relentless cycles of poverty and death. Sometimes natural disasters, like the massive earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, leave children the most vulnerable. And sometimes children are orphaned by political upheaval, as in Syria and Iraq.
Whatever the cause, the hollowness in an orphan’s eyes transcends culture. I’ve looked these children in the eye in Vietnam, Nepal, and Kenya; and I cannot turn away. Their faces haunt me. Stubborn hope for them grabs hold of my heart. I paint, I pray, I cling to the God who will never stop loving them.
On October 2, Shine Like Stars will open, a collection of some of my artwork expressing both grief and hope in my journey of loving orphans and also a collection of paintings by Sanctuary of Hope kids of Kenya. Recently, I created a piece about Zimbabwe to accompany works I have already painted about Vietnam, Nepal and Kenya – the four countries served by Hope’s Promise.