Tragically, millions of children all over the globe have become orphaned for many reasons: war, famine, displacement, disease or poverty. Of the more than 132 million children classified as orphans, 13 million have lost both parents.
The first people to officially care for orphaned children were the Romans, who opened the first orphanage in history in around 400 AD. Long before them, however, both Jewish and Athenian law required that orphans be supported until age 18. The philosopher Plato once said, of adopted orphans, “A man should love the unfortunate orphan of whom he is guardian as if he were his own child. He should be as careful and as diligent in the management of the orphan’s property as of his own or even more careful still.”
Generations later Seventh-day Adventists were reminded of their responsibility to care for orphaned children. The way they cared for these children along with others who have “special needs” was presented as a test of their character. Note the following:
“I saw that it is in the providence of God that widows and orphans, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and persons afflicted in a variety of ways, have been placed in close Christian relationship to His church; it is to prove His people and develop their true character. Angels of God are watching to see how we treat these persons who need our sympathy, love, and disinterested benevolence. This is God’s test of our character. If we have the true religion of the Bible, we shall feel that a debt of love, kindness, and interest is due to Christ in behalf of His brethren; and we can do no less than to show our gratitude for His immeasurable love to us while we were sinners unworthy of His grace, by having a deep interest and unselfish love for those who are our brethren, and who are less fortunate than ourselves.”—Ellen G White, Testimonies for the Church 3:511.
Special Needs Ministries supports the many varieties of care provided for orphans. The ultimate goal is to provide for a loving, caring home in which these children will grow up to love and serve Christ as their Friend. It is noteworthy to note the following counsel also given by Ellen White, “Let those who have the love of God open their hearts and homes to take in these children. It is not the best plan to care for the orphans in large institutions. If they have no relatives able to provide for them, the members of our churches should either adopt these little ones into their families or find suitable homes for them in other households.” – Counsels for the Church, p. 286.