Why Focus on the Fatherless?

There is a rapidly spreading concern about an orphan crisis in our day. The most common estimate is that there are 143 million orphans in the world today. Many don’t realize that most of those are paternal orphans, or fatherless children.

If the orphan cause worldwide is first and foremost the cause of the fatherless and widow, there is even more reason to focus on the fatherless in Egypt.

Social Injustice

Most people feel compassion for those in poverty. But the teeth of poverty is social injustice.

This is why when Scripture reveals God’s heart for the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger, it almost always speaks in terms of justice, not need.

Social injustice is much harder to identify or solve than crime or legal injustice, because it’s a matter of wrong relationships in a culture that keep people from rising out of material lack.

The holy synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church has recently spoken about injustices that Christians experience in Egypt after the recent Maspero demonstration went so badly wrong. Under the shadow of this injustice, other injustices especially center around girls and women in Egyptian culture, especially widows. Girls are far less likely to be literate in Egypt or be able to make choices.

When Marina in rural Aswan was left fatherless, her mother decided she couldn’t afford to send Marina to school. “What good is it to educate girls when they’ll just get married, anyway,” Marina’s mother thought. It was tough enough to feed her children with the little money Marina would need to go to school. She also married Marina off as soon as she could — when Marina was only 14. Married to a far older husband in a high-risk occupation, Marina is now a widow herself. And she finds herself alienated in a village that shuns unmarried women.

In Egypt today, just as in the Near East culture of the Scriptures, the orphaned and the widow face particular social injustices. Especially those among the Body of Christ.

Poverty

Many cope with injustice. But poverty takes away many of the ordinary resources that helps cope or rise above injustice.

Fatherlessness pushes poor families over the brink in Egypt. They face the fatal combination of lack of social resources from injustice, and the lack of material resources from poverty.

Potential to Transform Generations

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27b, ESV)

Children from poor families  in Egypt face being pulled out of school for child marriage or exploitative labor, even being sent to an orphanage when a family loses the social protection and financial provision of a father.

But they have tremendous potential to break the cycle of poverty and injustice, and transform the generations to come. All they need is the opportunity.

We often see children and widows in our programs give back to others after we reach them. Once literate, they become passionate literacy tutors. Once reconnected to society, they become eager mentors, eager citizens, eager advocates for justice. Once given the opportunity to discover a vocational talent or start a small business–no small opportunity for a black-clad, shuned widow or fatherless child–they give back in big ways.

Why is there such a strong multiplier effect when we reach the fatherless? It must be something about the work of God after such loss, “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4, ESV)

A graduate of Not Alone, now an adult, told us recently over Facebook, “I wish everyone in Egypt could be a part of Coptic Orphans, not just children who lost a father…” and says he is spreading the comfort he received in Not Alone as far as he can.

Being at the center of these circles of poverty and injustice might be especially challenging for those left fatherless and widowed in Egypt, but focusing on the fatherless makes such an impact.

About Nathan Hollenbeck

Nathan joined Coptic Orphans in 2006. It was his response to a call to help return Egypt’s hospitality to the Holy Family on behalf of Christ Emmanuel and the Theotokos, after they changed his own life as a youth. He has a passion to fulfill God’s command to “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV)