I was strolling through church minding my own business when a friend waved me over to her group of friends. “Hey, are you going to Orphan Sunday this weekend?”
“Orphan Sunday? What’s that? I want to go! I’m an orphan.” I replied.
She told me that, Orphan Sunday is the one Sunday churches all over the world uphold the cause of the orphan. “Our church will be having a gathering this Sunday evening.” She told me.
I couldn’t believe it. How awesome! I walked away deep in thought, realizing there really were people in the world who cared about those of us who are on the fringe. I’ve spent so much of my life being on the fringe I don’t think about it all that much. But that doesn’t mean I never have the desire to be wanted and important…..to be loved.
Sunday morning came and I was ready. I didn’t know how I had missed the announcements leading up to Orphan Sunday, (I pretty much have to be hospitalized to miss church) but whatever. Orphan Sunday arrived and God made sure I knew about it.
I walked into the church locked and loaded for Orphan Sunday. I searched the horizon for signs, people, balloons, anything that would indicate we were celebrating Orphan Sunday. To my surprise I came up empty. Confuzzled, I thought I had made a mistake, it must be a different Sunday. Surely, I was wrong, this couldn’t be Orphan Sunday because there was no celebration to be found. Anywhere. At all.
The church service started like it does most weeks and I anxiously awaited the announcements. The woman doing the announcements got up on stage, reported a few bits of regular family business and then stepped down. My jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true, Willow Creek Community Church whom I had grown to love so very much let me down. They failed to announce Orphan Sunday.
That night I attended a small gathering in the basement of my Mega-church. There were booths set up all round the room representing various organizations that reach out to orphans. Wide eyed I walked around the room soaking in every little bit and morsel I could. I listened to speakers and sat among the attenders most of who also held a booth at the event.
I couldn’t believe my church. My mind could not wrap around why this church that I love so very dearly did not invite its family to Orphan Sunday. But it was true. There I sat In a room that should have been overflowing and my wounded heart sunk as I grieved with God.
Orphan Sunday was only the beginning of my eyes being opened to the elephant in the room. That year I joined the leadership team for The Vulnerable Children’s Ministry at Willow Creek.
The following May, I traveled to Tennessee with The Vulnerable Children’s Ministry Team and attended the Christian Alliance for Orphans Conference (also called CAFO). It was amazing! The church was filled with people who love and care for orphans. Realizing the impact a conference like that could have if we held one at our church blew me away. I immediately began to pray that God would bring CAFO to Willow.
Through a series of meetings and for what I am told miracles, the doors that should not have been opened were opened and the CAFO conference came to Willow. On May 1st and 2nd 2014 the Christian Alliance for Orphans Conference was held at Willow Creek Community Church and to my devastation it was never announced from the main stage.
My church knew that they were going to host a conference for a year, yet somehow the vast majority of the congregation did not. The Christian Alliance for Orphans Conference draws people from all over the United States and even 25 countries world-wide. We are not talking about a little tea party here. CAFO is a massive two-day event.
Leading up to the conference I was frustrated each week that I realized again, and again that the conference was not announced to our congregation. I started to ask why this was and I was told things like,
“Willow can only announce so much from the main stage.”
“They have a lot to announce, they can’t tell you about everything.”
Really? They couldn’t do anything at all at the main church services to let us know? It was a missed opportunity. A sad, sad missed opportunity. In their defense they did put up a short post on their compassion and justice blog telling people about the conference. But to get to the post you really had to dig deep into the churches website. In fairness they also announced the CAFO conference from the stage at midweek two days before the conference started. Unfortunately, most of the congregation doesn’t attend the midweek service.
Thus, the window of opportunity for someone in our church family who might have wanted to attend the conference was barely open. If you happened to have an extra $200 and were able to spontaneously re-arrange your schedule for two days, you could go. But, this was no “easy invite”.
I attended CAFO, jaw dropped and wounded heart. The general sessions for the CAFO conference were not held in the main auditorium. They were held in our lakeside auditorium. I had to stand for the first few hours because our lakeside auditorium didn’t have enough seats for everyone. The main auditorium, which is much bigger sat behind locked doors, large, cold and empty. The Willow Creek family was by and large uninvited.
Our Pastor Bill has continually encouraged our congregation to invite people to church. He has expressed how very important it is to not say someone’s “no” for them. I had personally taken time to pray over every single seat in our main auditorium in anticipation of eyes and hearts being opened in our community to the plight of orphans and vulnerable children. It never occurred to me that the CAFO attendees would never step foot in that room. The thought never once entered my mind that a CAFO conference could be conducted right under the radar with so much of my church family completely unaware.
Adoption is the heart of the gospel. You have to be adopted to get into God’s family. When the church embraces the fatherless in their own community they are reflecting the true nature of God the Father.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12-13
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “ Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:4-7