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Project Open Arms: bringing the church closer to the orphan

By December 20, 2010

USA (MNN) — Older children who
are adopted defy the statistics. Most
of the time they are placed in foster care and eventually ‘age out' of the
system when they turn 18.

Prospective adoptive parents tend
to shy away from older kids (non-infants) because the children often have deep psychological
wounds that need healing.   

It's a double whammy and one
that Bethany Christian Services is tackling head on. Project Open Arms is a joint initiative
between Bethany Christian Services and the Michigan Family Forum with the goal
that no Michigan child will have to wait for an adoptive home.

Project Coordinator Kim Offutt says
their biggest job is to educate people about adoption and foster care. "When
people think about adoption, they think about infants. Then other people think about
international adoptions. I call our children here who are in foster care–older kids that are available for adoption– the ‘forgotten' kids."

Foster care has its own mythology
that Offutt works hard to dispel. "Foster care
is supposed to be a temporary solution to a temporary problem. It's not
supposed to raise kids. Unfortunately, many children end up being raised by the
foster care system."

Most people aren't even aware of
the orphan crisis in the United States, specifically in Michigan. Offutt
says being one of the forgotten kids just adds to their emotional abandonment. "These children experience trauma in their
homes. For whatever reason, they cannot return to their biological families,
and they need a permanent home."

But where can you find a
community stable enough to follow the idea of "it takes a village to raise a
child?" You find it in the Church. Offutt explains that "as Christians, we are
mandated to care for the orphan. It's amazing when I see churches who are
opening their arms to our children and to our families, and who are helping us
stand side-by-side and being the hands and feet of Christ."

Project Open Arms is not without
precedent. It was inspired by Project
1:27, an orphan ministries program in Colorado, and it could grow fast because
the needs are so overwhelming. "I see this program expanding. I see that when
you look around many states, there are many programs just like this, where we're
calling out the body of Christ and saying, ‘We are all called to be a part of
this.'"

Commitment from a church may
range from praying for waiting children or a specific child, to distributing
information on adoption to their congregation, to hosting a guest speaker on
the subject, to providing wrap-around support services to an adoptive family in
the congregation.

"We have about 467 churches now
that are partnering with us in this effort, and many of them have also launched
orphan care ministries," says Offutt. She adds, "Those are the wrap-around ministries that
support foster and adoptive families from their congregation."

Project Open Arms hopes to place
at least 400 Michigan children into loving, Christian homes in four years: one
church, one family, and one child at time. "[God] cares about our families, and He
wants our children to be safe, to be in permanent homes, and to know Him."

With over 10,000 churches in
Michigan, there seems to be a lot of untapped potential families for waiting
children. There are more details for
Project Open Arms here.

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