Caring for Orphans: An Interview with Johnny Carr


The American Christian Church is at the cusp of an orphan care and adoption movement, and Johnny Carr is one of its most outspoken proponents. In his new book, Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting, Carr tells readers that caring for orphans may look different than they assumed. He shares practical ways for Christians to get involved beyond simply adoption, and he urges everyone to move from simply talking about caring for orphans to actually doing something. Johnny Carr serves as Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, America's largest adoption and orphan care agency. He and his wife, Beth, reside outside of Pittsburgh with their five children, three of which are adopted.  JM: You say the orphan care movement has been "reduced" to a focus on adoption. In what way is the growth of adoption non-desirable?

JC: Honestly, that was some copy that I had not actually approved - but it does make for some good areas of discussion. For many, they have equated James 1:27 with adoption. My point is, it's only one part of the solution. The definition of orphan is the key here. When you hear the number 153 million orphaned and vulnerable children in the world, it doesn't mean that all of them have lost both parents. The actual statistic is based on this definition: all children that have lost one or both parents. So there are children in that number still living with a parent. Two thirds of the time the father is the one that has died. In many cultures the mother and children then lose all rights (land, education, etc.) leaving them extremely vulnerable to the social ills discussed in the book. For children that need a family, adoption is always desirable but some of them don't need to be adopted.

JM: What are practical ways every Christian should play an active role in caring for orphans?

JC: One easy way is supporting families that are adopting. Most every international adoption is now considered a special needs adoption due to the age, traumatic experiences or physical handicap of the children. It is difficult adopting children that fit in these categories. Families will need the support of their church.

Another way is starting an HIV/AIDS ministry in your church. You may not be actually working with orphans, but by making this ministry part of your church culture, you will help break the stigma that still persists that AIDS is "God's judgment on homosexuals." There are many orphaned children that are HIV positive and need a family. If your church is active in breaking the negative stigma, it will encourage families who are considering HIV adoption because they know that their church has a heart for this area of ministry. Other ways include recruiting foster families or Safe Families.

Internationally, there are children living in orphanages because they don't have a birth certificate. They need it for the legal process of adoption. Our mission teams can work with local congregations to teach them how to do searches for these certificates and how to advocate for these children to make them legally adoptable.

JM: What do you say to those who feel that Americans should adopt orphans in the U.S. before adopting overseas?

JC: When someone asks me why we adopted internationally before domestically I always ask them a question before I answer: How many have YOU adopted domestically? You know, I have never had anyone ask me that question that had actually adopted a child in need here in the States. People who are in the "adoption culture" understand this. Biblically, I see this as part of our missional lifestyle. Adoption is gospel centered living. Jesus told us to go into all the world - here in our neighborhoods and to the uttermost parts of the earth. For us, we didn't care where our child was living. We were looking for a deaf child to adopt because we are uniquely equipped to adopt deaf children (my wife is a deaf educator). It just so happens that the first two children we found available for adoption that were deaf happened to live in China. Our youngest, also deaf, was adopted through the foster care system here in the States.