There are movements among some Christians to adopt or foster children as a part of service to God.

The Bible makes many calls to care for orphans — or depending on the English translations, the fatherless.

Because of a lack of an adult male in their lives, orphans and widows had a difficult time in ancient societies, so Scripture mentions them along with foreigners (aliens), and the weak, needy and poor as groups who needed protection or someone making sure they received just treatment.

Orphans are mentioned 42 times in the Old Testament or Hebrew part of the Bible. Widows are mentioned alongside them 34 of those times, and this paired phrase continues into the New Testament.

One example is in the Bible book Deuteronomy 27:19: “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Deuteronomy gives many instructions on how to provide for these groups, often by leaving some crops behind.

Deuteronomy 24:19-21 gives a series of instructions to not go back through the grain field or through the olive or grape orchards to get what was missed in the initial harvest. Part of the crop was to be left behind: “Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

An example of this in action in Scripture can be found in the story of Ruth. Ruth traveled to her mother-in-law’s homeland. Both women were widows.

Ruth went to collect food and wound up harvesting grain in the field of a relative, Boaz.

Ruth 2:15-16 says, “Boaz gave orders to his men, ‘Let (Ruth) gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.’”

A famous example

George Müeller (1805-1898), a German who wound up in England, is known for his care of orphans. He lived in the time of Charles Dickens, and cared for many of the kinds of poor children that Dickens wrote about.

A pastor, he raised money for schools and orphanages.

A major principle he held though was that he never asked people for money. Instead he prayed to God. This applied to his personal life as well as his institutions.

He opened his first orphanage in 1865 and would eventually care for more than 10,000 orphans through five orphanages.

Stories say that meals were never missed and rarely delayed. One such story about Müeller is that one morning the housemother of the orphanage told him the 300 children were up for the day, but there was no food.

Müeller told her to have the children head to the dinner tables where he then thanked God for the food they were going to eat.

A baker then knocked on the door and told him that he hadn’t been able to sleep and baked several batches of bread because he knew the orphanage would need it.

This was followed by a milkman whose cart had broken and the milk would spoil before the cart was fixed. He asked if they could use some free milk. And so the children were fed for the morning.

Sources: The Oxford Companion to the Bible; Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions,,,,