Addressing the root of the orphan crisis: the three-fold crisis of the soul

By Timothy Goropevsek |
Alexandru Ilie at the World Without Orphans Global Forum
Alexandru Ilie speaking at the World Without Orphans Global Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand. | Christian Daily International

“We are facing three major crises today,” he said. But the crises he was referring to were not the outward contributors to orphanhood and vulnerability among children, such as war, drug abuse, climate change or pandemics – all very relevant and important to understand in the context of a global event that seeks to address them.

Yet, the crises that Alexandru Ilie talked about in his address to the more than 500 participants at World Without Orphan’s global forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand, were the ones deep in the human heart. The crises that are at the root of the human failure to care for the orphan and vulnerable in their midst.

An adoptive father of seven, Ilie shared the story how he and his wife experienced a lot of difficulty and struggles after each adoption. The children who had experienced abuse in their past needed to heal from the trauma and the path to healing was not easy. Yet each time after the situation got better, they went on to adopt more children.

The youngest one was the most extreme case as he needed countless surgeries due to severe medical issues and he continues to suffer of various disabilities. His name is Eric.

But today, the family of nine – plus dogs and cats, as Ilie made sure to add – is a family filled with thankfulness towards God.

He cautioned participants not to misunderstand. “People think we are spiritual people. But it's about an extraordinary God using ordinary people.”

“I am not passionate about children or orphans, but I am passionate about the gospel,” he added.

As the Executive Director of the Romania Without Orphans Alliance (ARFO), Ilie has been involved in the orphan movement for many years and had an opportunity to experience many issues surrounding orphans first-hand. His reflection? At the root, there is a three-fold crisis in the soul.

The crisis of “othering” the orphans

Referring to Mark 12:30-31 where Jesus famously quotes the two greatest commandments from the Old Testament – to love God and to love one’s neighbor – Ilie said the first issue is our selfishness. “We should love, but we are so selfish, so it’s a crisis,” he said.

He went on to tell the anecdote of some religious scholars who tried to come up with a definition of “who is not our neighbor”, in order to define who may be excluded from that commandment of love.

The result was that anyone who was sufficiently different, whether because of social status or race or education or any other social criteria, should not be considered a neighbor. They became the “others.”

While it would seem ridiculous to try to manipulate God’s commandment in this way, this is exactly how humanity has acted on many occasions where people who were different were stigmatized and dehumanized. And one such group is orphans.

Ilie showed a picture of dozens of orphaned children crammed into a room, which was taken at the time when the communist regime in Romania fell, and the horrific conditions of the nation’s orphanages became public.

“The reason why anyone could treat children in this way is because they looked at orphans as ‘others’,” Ilie said. “There were not seen as part of ‘us’.”

“Othering” is a big issue and it something entirely incompatible with the Bible that teaches that every human being is God’s creation and that we are all “neighbors.”

The crisis of the weakest link

When talking about the second crisis, Ilie brought up 1 Corinthians 12 that speaks about the unity of the body of Christ and how each believer is a member of the body.

The world likes to think in terms of who is the weakest link and how to remove them. In human society, orphans and vulnerable children are among the weakest and therefore often scorned or neglected.

The Word of God, however, teaches a very different perspective, Ilia pointed out. He highlighted verse 22 that says, On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

“I cannot help thinking about Eric, the nights that we spent up, the days we spent with him at the hospital,” he said. “The second crisis today is generated by the thinking of the weakest link. But the Bible says everyone is important. And the weakest is indispensable.”

The crisis of the “why”

Finally, Ilie referenced the story in John 9 where Jesus and the disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The disciples see the man and ask Jesus who was responsible for his mysery, whether it was his sin or the sin of the parents. Jesus rebukes their thinking saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

“When terrible things happen, we start to ask ‘why?’” Ilie said. “We want an explanation. And we ourselves come with all kinds of strange explanations.”

Just like the disciples’ question implied the legalistic thinking of cause and punishment, there is a human tendency to look for guilt and blame someone for the misery in the life of the vulnerable.

But Jesus’ perspective is different. Referring to his youngest son, Ilie said, “Why is someone born blind? Why does Eric suffer so much? The reason is, so that the works of God may be displayed.”

Encouraging participants to overcome the crises to experience new hope, Ilie reminded them that “we don't have to force ourselves to do it out of our own strength. We cannot do it alone. I am not sufficient for my children but with God’s help we can overcome. They are indispensable. We love them and we need them, and they bring glory to God. And they are good for our souls, they bring hope to our souls.”