“ I wanted something to live and die for. I wanted something to breathe and to bleed for.
I’m not interested in trying to figure out ways to make my life safe and preserve my comfort.” Derek Loux
I wanted to make an impact. God had put a desire in my heart that needed to be expressed.
I studied the facts. Over 163,000,000 million orphans in the world, and over 400,000 in the U.S. foster care system. The facts were too monumental to even be able to picture in my mind. While the figures overwhelmed me, the Lord gave me a command. It was clear that He wanted me to take care of the orphan, based on His Word.
Starting in 2007, I made it my aim to bring justice to the orphan, but I quickly found that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. There were many gaps and holes in my understanding of God as a Father, which were displayed in all of my insecurities—in victories and failures alike.
Though by Christ I am fully adopted as a son in His family, I demonstrate many “orphan” tendencies. These are seen in manifold broken, inward places common to humanity. For example, sometimes I find myself thinking I need to prove my worth and value to Him through excessive work, and often I try to gain the approval of others. With all of this in my own life, how can I possibly think that I have the ability to carry out God’s desire to care for the orphan?
A few years ago, I acted as the primary caregiver for a young handicapped child named Sasha who had just been adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage. After fulfilling my agreement for this position, which was to give care for about 15 months, I still remain an active role model in his life. It’s as if I have become a big brother to this little boy. Sasha and I connect much better now, but when we first met, I didn’t understand how to interact with his orphan mentality.
My cluelessness had much to do with Sasha’s difficult past. Sasha’s parents adopted him and two other boys from the Ukrainian orphanage when he was six years old. Fresh off the plane in the U.S., Sasha didn’t know how to speak English. He was grossly underweight for his age, and because he has a severe case of spina bifida, he was a paraplegic, a condition that remains now. It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t understand his condition or his lack of life experience that made caring for him so challenging. The much greater challenge, more than teaching him new life skills and physically carrying him around, was the understanding he lived with—the ugly orphan mentality—and it was deeply ingrained in the fabric of his mind.
Day after day, I worked with Sasha to learn the alphabet by tracing letters. There were countless times that we would spend fifteen or twenty minutes at a time struggling to trace a single letter on the page! In my frustration, I felt that I was not cut out for this kind of work. What confronted me were Sasha’s inward struggles—I faced them right along with him. The thought of giving up came to me repeatedly. Why should I keep doing this work? It seemed hopeless—why not let the boy go to special education classes to deal with his illiteracy? I would daydream of moving on to more “glorious” justice initiatives, like going back to Africa to work at an orphanage with 100 children, all playing djembes on the beach.
Orphan care often felt mundane and ordinary. I felt God had put me on the sidelines of important work because I wasn’t good enough for the A-team.
But it was the drudgery of orphan care that brought about the greatest shifts in my heart, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. In hindsight, it is much easier to see how God took my attempt to carry out His work, and through it He revealed and changed my orphan mindset about who He is and how He relates to me. He wasn’t concerned about me making sure every child in Africa was adopted. He wanted me to go after just the one.
It may not be glamorous in the eyes of your peers, friends, and family; but God will use it to show you who you really are and who He really is. The pressure of taking care of the fatherless will press your current false beliefs about the Father’s goodness and refine them into something that is weighty and eternal. While fathering others, we find ourselves being fathered.
– Peter Kiiskila
Peter Kiiskila obtained his B.A. from North Central University in Minneapolis, MN, majoring in cross cultural studies with a international business focus. In 2004 and 2005, he completed an internship in Uganda, Africa, working with two non-profit organizations that exist to create holistic development in the local villages and to restore and reunite street children with living family members. In 2010, he went to Zimbabwe to work with community-based orphan care outside of the capital city, Harare. Later that year he completed the Orphan Justice Center’s Fellowship, a three-month intensive to gain understanding in the issues surrounding the orphan. He currently serves with the Orphan Justice Center as the Director of Mentoring, as well as serving with a non-profit organization to rescue, adopt, and restore orphans in the US.