WWO: How did God open your eyes and heart for the orphan?
Wess: I grew up in a tiny, remote village in West Africa. We had very little and saw terrible poverty, but my character and values came out of that village. All I needed to know to lead a worldwide ministry, I learned there. The villagers truly embodied the phrase, “it takes a whole village to raise a child”. Many children lost parents to poverty and disease. In spite of this, there was no word for orphan. A child was never left isolated, but was absorbed into a new family immediately after a loss.
It was not until I came to America as a teenager that I learned about orphanages. I learned that there were warehouses for children, and people hired to keep those children alive. I thought, “Why is that necessary? There is no shortage of money or resources here.” I knew that America needed to learn orphan care from the poor.
WWO: Tell us three things that every Christian leader should know when it comes to caring for orphans.
Wess: The first thing every Christian leader must understand is that orphan care is not an optional, peripheral issue. Orphan care is at the heart of our faith and calling. No one in Christian leadership has the right to say “orphan care is not my thing”. The mandate in James 1:27 makes it very clear. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, orphan care is your thing.
Secondly, Jesus also taught us that we find Him among “the least of these”. You cannot get closer to the heart of God, or anger God more, than how you treat the least of these- the poor, the suffering, the marginalized, the precious orphan. The work we do for the “least” is where we encounter Him.
Lastly, as we want people to know God, there is no more tangible way to do that than to care for orphans. There are orphans in every single community, and caring for them is a living example of the heart of God. It unites every Christian, across theological lines, for a common and essential cause.
WWO: What is your message to the global Church, in one or two sentences?
Wess: Orphan care is our clearest mandate, our universal cause, our greatest need and our greatest opportunity. Don’t miss this.
WWO: What excites you most about being part of the global forum for A World Without Orphans?
Wess: This global forum is a gathering of the very best in the Kingdom of God. It is a gathering of unsung heroes walking straight off the battle field. The forum provides a unity of heart that only those of us who truly grasp God’s love for the orphan can experience. We will encourage and comfort, train and strategize. We will gather to refuel, so that we can be sent out and awaken the global Church. This forum will be very best people, talking about the most important things. We will leave with our hearts burning together.
WWO: What are your hopes for the global orphan care movement beyond the forum?
Wess: My hope is that every church comes alive for orphan care. There should not be an orphan within driving distance of any church that is not being loved on by that church. My hope is that the foster care system need not exist. That those who can take in a child would, and those of us who cannot would support those who do. We each have a role. The Church just needs to know what to do, and who to trust. The forum in Thailand will address that.
WWO: Who would you like to see at the forum?
Wess: I would like to see anyone in the relief or development community represented there. Whether specifically an orphan care program or not, these groups are uniquely positioned to inspire the church on this issue. In fact, anyone with a platform can bring exposure to these issues. I love to see musicians like Steven Curtis Chapman getting involved. So many people in all industries are emerging as champions for the orphan. I want to see people at the forum from all sectors and backgrounds willing to use their life in some way for the orphan. As this conference is happening in Thailand, I also want to see Thai leaders and pastors getting involved and using their local influence.
WWO: What actions would you most like to see happen to address the orphan crisis that are not being done presently?
Wess: We are not mobilizing congregations adequately. The most basic level of awareness is missing in our churches. We must awaken people to the importance of these children. We also need to recognize and make heroes of those who do care for orphans. We need to interview adoptive parents, ask about their greatest needs, and let the church hear those needs and be inspired to carry the load. We have to inspire the uninterested or uninformed person to be involved in some way, within their own role.
WWO: What are the global actions being done today to help orphans that you are most excited about?
Wess: I am excited as I watch people discover that there is a better way than orphanages- that every child needs a loving home. We do not need more orphanages. We need healthy families absorbing orphans into their homes, and those families need to be helped and supported within their own countries and context. We are beginning to think more about the long term needs of these children.
WWO: Why do you think church is not doing more than it is to help the orphan crisis? Is there anything that you feel the church could do that it’s not doing now to help orphans?
Wess: The church is not aware how close the problem is- that there are orphans within walking distance of every Christian’s home. No one disagrees with the mandate to care for orphans, but the vast majority is doing nothing. It’s because they don’t know the issue, or don’t know what to do. It does not take a specialist to make an impact. We may all have different roles, but we all have a role. This is a remarkable opportunity for the Church to be the Church. I know all of this because I saw it done in my own village.