Religion has always been a dirty word to me. To most of my generation, it speaks of judgment and piety and irrelevance. It is impersonal. Dead. I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion God wasn’t much a fan of the word either … most “religious” things tend to seem devoid of the spark of His favor and presence. I’ve wondered how so many of us could be getting Christianity wrong—how so many Christians could be missing the point. It wasn‘t until this year I realized the answer was already on the page … and that this verse had already shaped the very meaning of my life.
I think I was probably 4 years old the first time I grasped what an orphan was. I remember sitting in front of the TV—maybe I was watching Anne of Green Gables, maybe a child sponsorship infomercial. The memories are cloudy at best. What I will never forget are the tears that streamed down my chubby pre-school cheeks, and the overwhelming emotions that gripped me every time I saw a kid with no parents. What 4-year-old can understand those feelings? The grief and heaviness I felt then was compassion in its purest form—before age and time and living in a selfish world could get to me. I remember those tears well because I want them back. Sure, I still cry every time I watch an orphan’s story, but I don’t cry like that. I’m distracted. Content to feel badly. To say a quick prayer, and to move on.
I’ve spent the last 25 years in an almost constant state of melodrama. Oh to make life mean something, to use my gifts, to find a worthy purpose. And what of orphans? Maybe I’ll adopt … maybe I’ll write something about them. But writing about something I hadn’t personally experienced felt more like that dreaded “religion” than a fulfillment of some sacred calling. I went to journalism school, moved to New York City, lived “the dream.” I wrote about music, I blogged about people I saw on city streets and in dingy music clubs. I temped at a hedge fund. I was happy, but never fulfilled. The “orphan thing” wouldn’t rest. An intense sense of urgency invaded my heart. My next job, my next move, my next leap must be of eternal significance. The call to serve the orphan weighed heavy once again—and this time I couldn’t move on.
I can still see James 1:27 fading in at the end of a YouTube video I was watching that day … sitting alone in my apartment, totally broken. I read it, and read it, and read it again. It hit me like few verses ever have. I was undone. It seemed the answer to all of my trouble with “religion” and to my unfulfilled longings for a clear calling. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” I’d probably read the verse before—it’s a popular one and I’m sure it had been part of so many orphan presentations I’d seen. But as I read this verse, during a time in my life when God was so clearly speaking urgency and purpose to me, my eyes rested on one small word I guess I’d always skimmed over. In. In their affliction.
I wasn’t being called to feel really really badly that this affliction existed. I wasn’t being called to throw money at it, to throw prayer at it, or to even throw Jesus at it. I was being called to enter it. To experience it personally, to move past the dead and impersonal religion of being “affected,” and to be “infected.” I needed to allow God to resurrect the vision He’d given me at the more innocent age of four. Here was His answer to man’s religiosity—and His answer to the plight of the orphan. This verse is so clear. In His purest form, God is a Father. In our purest form, we are to be doing the Father’s business. Remaining unstained by the world means returning to our childlike selves, resistant and free from the world’s great apathy.
And so the mission to reject apathy begins. Through a series of providential twists, I have dedicated at least the next five months to living James 1:27. I quit my job, moved out of the city and back to my parents’ house, called about 50 orphan ministries, and bought a plane ticket to Eastern Europe—my first time leaving the country. I will be working with orphans in Ukraine first—a nation smaller than Texas with more than 100,000 orphans. They live in sewers and overcrowded orphanages, having only a 20 percent chance of being adopted after the age of 5. At 16, they are turned out, 10 percent of them committing suicide before their 18th birthday. A devastating 60 percent of these precious little girls become prostitutes, and 70 percent of the boys live lives of crime. I am sure these statistics will breathe once they have faces. I am so anxious to see them.
I hope reading this blog each month inspires you to embrace pure religion. As I span the ocean separating me from this afflicted world, I really desire that you all come with me, and ultimately that some of you will be called to the same mission. This will be my prayer as I board the plane, and my first thought as I sit down to type.
Lorae French is a freelance writer hailing from the small but beautiful town of Sharon Springs, NY. Most recently living in New York City, she wrote “On That Note,” a music blog for the New York Songwriters Circle. Other freelance credits include the New York Daily News, Syracuse Post-Standard, and Syracuse University Magazine.