Have you ever had a topic that meant so much to you, that to try and put it on paper seems painful and exhausting? Because in order to do so, it means delving into the deepest parts of your heart to pull out and wrestle your emotions and thoughts so they are more simple and clear in an attempt to communicate them with others. Well, this blog post is one of those. When I have strong feelings like this, I tend to avoid the conversations that elicit them. I hate defending the way I think or feel or ever trying to convince others of anything. I like to leave that job up to God. Let Him be the Defender. Let Him convince or change others to see things the way He does. I don’t want to enter into arguments or competition. This blog post, though is about the controversy that seems to be erupting and even being fueled by other Christians regarding short term missions to “visit orphans”.
My very first response to this when it started happening was, “Obviously they truly do not know the scriptures or this would not be a controversy. They would not be questioning it. They would know the answers to the questions they are putting out there which are causing others who don’t know scripture to respond and react to.” Yes, we can all know scripture, but do we take the time to really dive deep into them? Have we used a concordance and dissected a scripture that is on our heart? That is one of my favorite things to do and always God will reveal so much through this time of study.
So let’s dissect James 1:27 together in this way. Most of us reading this scripture knows what it “says” on the surface. We’ve memorized it and most of us know it by heart. A deeper study, however, will reveal the following: Vis-it (1980) (episkeptomai - see study of episkopeo from epí = upon or intensifying already existing idea in verb + skopeo = regard, give attention to, look at, contemplate) literally means to look upon, to GO to see, to examine closely, to inspect, to examine the state of affairs of something, to look after or to oversee. The idea of visiting is more than just making a social call. As Hiebert writes, “In classical Greek, it was commonly used of visiting the sick, whether by a doctor or a friend.” In Jewish usage, it commonly denoted to visit with the aim of caring for and supplying the needs of those visited (Job 2:11; Jer. 23:2; Ezek. 34:11; Zech. 11:16; Mt. 25:36, 43). The term implies concern and personal contact with the needy; it involves more than a matter of charity by proxy. This verb expresses careful regard of those in position of responsibility. It depicts one going to see another with the intent to render help. In some context it means to have regard for, care for or be concerned about (Acts 15:14, He 2:6-note). It is often used of visiting the sick. In the Septuagint it speaks of a visitation from God, most often a visitation for good. So, when God inspired James to write this, He was using the word, “episkeptomai” which means SO much more than just our word “visit”.
In English the word “visit” sounds like we are just coming to see a friend, have coffee, hang out for awhile, but that is not what James means. He means to search out, find, meet those in distress (and in this case he means orphans and widows), talk to them, find out their needs and pains AND DO something about them. Short term mission trips to visit orphans, like we do at America World, are intended to do just that. Our staff at AW prays, asking God to show us those ministries on the other side of the world, orphanages, hurting communities which are hidden. Those places which need to be found and visited so that we can see what they need and with future teams, come back to make a difference. This difference can be made by future teams bringing donations or financial help, or what I love even more is when a past team member visits those in distress and feels a call from God because of that visit, and thus sacrifices current comforts to go help them long term. Or, they return home to adopt a child, or they return home and help promote a cause so that more sponsorships can happen for those in distress. So, what is the controversy all about? When you ask God “are short term trips really Your will? Will I really make a difference visiting an orphan?” You now KNOW that scripture is defining this for you. God is saying, “YES”. Go VISIT an orphan… Be my hands and feet to them here on earth. Find them, meet them, “check in” on them and make a difference in their lives.
If you share this passion then please consider joining an ACT Mission trip (or any mission trip) this year and let’s go be God’s hands and feet to the world’s children. You can find out more by visiting the ACT website or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Amanda Lawrence, ACT Missions Director