Abba’s Hands & Heart: Sharing God’s Love Through Orphan Care
For Heath and Erin Runkles, getting involved in orphan care was like wading into water—one deliberate step at a time. First they waded in personally by adding to their family. The Runkles have two biological sons (eleven and nine), and then they decided to adopt two daughters (seven and five) from China. After their second daughter joined the family, they realized they wanted to be more active in orphan care. But how could they do that?
Erin needed a bigger perspective, so she attended a conference and picked up a book on how to implement orphan care. The couple then spent six months exploring the idea of launching an orphan care ministry at their church, Mountain View Community, in Frederick, Maryland. For them, James 1:27 became foundational: Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune…. (New English Translation)
Care, Not Adoption
“Orphan care is never heard about,” says Heath. He admits that “even as a Bible major the scriptures about orphans didn’t jump out.” Numbers aren’t necessarily helpful, either. “When we hear statistics like 153 million orphans globally, we get lost in the numbers.”
As the Runkles got deeper into plans for an orphan care ministry, their vision became clear. Today Abba’s Hands & Heart exists primarily to increase awareness about orphans and their needs. The ministry focuses on three areas: international orphan care, local foster care, and support for adopting families.
After two years the congregation is still adjusting to the ministry. “We have to keep saying to those who ask about the ministry, ‘It’s not adoption. It’s orphan care,’” says Heath. In fact, he insists that nowhere in the Bible are Christians commanded to adopt. They are told to care for orphans.
Far and Near
Abba’s Hands & Heart does international outreach in a couple of ways. Teams go to La Providencia, a “family-based community of care for orphans and at-risk children in Honduras,” to serve and help. From Heath’s perspective the Honduran model is “a refreshing breath of air,” and is even becoming a model for replication.
For those who want to be involved with international orphans but aren’t able to travel, hosting is a possibility. Through New Horizons for Children and Living Hope International, which offer orphan hosting programs, children come to visit families at Mountain View Community Church for four to six weeks during either summer or winter holidays.
While it may seem unusual to bring orphans here for a brief few weeks, Heath is quick to share the advantages a visit offers a child. When the Runkles adopted their second daughter, she had been in a facility and was one of dozens of children cared for by a single care provider. Because their daughter received little more care than the fulfillment of her basic needs, she came to her adopted family with developmental deficiencies. Children who visit benefit from one-on-one interaction and being a part of a family, Heath says. Even a few weeks can help brain development.
Recently Abba’s Hands & Heart gained the confidence of the local Department of Social Services. Initially, the department held Mountain View Community at arm’s length, saying they needed no help. “Now we have an open door with Social Services,” says Heath. “We want to take time to do it right so we don’t make the church look bad. We are educating our people. Few kids are going to behave like angels, but we want to treat them with love and respect.”
Adoption can be a long and overwhelming process, so support and celebrations are important. Although Abba’s Hands and Heart is about orphan care and raising awareness, adoptions do take place. When they do, the congregation celebrates.
Making a Difference
Heath says people are “coming up right and left,” asking for information about Hew Horizons for Children and Living Hope International. Church members Mike and Robin Hourigan, who have been inspirational to Heath, are good examples of couples who have raised their own children, hosted orphans in their home, and even adopted Vita, one of the children they had previously hosted.
Recently Heath and Erin Runkles have pushed out to their deepest point yet in orphan care. Although neither knew it, at the time, they now believe God has been speaking to each of them about moving their family to La Providencia, the Honduran orphan care facility. They leave August 1 for a year of service, during which Heath will offer his construction skills and Erin will teach music. “So many things have come together,” reflects Heath, “particularly after the adoption of our second daughter. We are waiting to see what God wants us to do.”
Whether it’s here or there, for the Runkles it’s all about sharing God’s love through orphan care and being the hands and heart of Abba.
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