It’s hard to comprehend what 143 million orphans really means, beyond this really big number. Cognitively the number is simply bigger than my brain can handle. So 143 million just sits there, as this incredibly staggering number.
But it’s more than a number. It represents each child that lives without a mother, father, or both. It represents the children who are left parentless as the result of the AIDS epidemic. It represents children who have no parents as a result of poverty or human atrocities. Even knowing that the number represents human lives, it still doesn’t change how hard it is to comprehend a number that large. So here are some ways to consider just how big that number really is. According to one source:
If the 143 million orphans in the world stood shoulder-to-shoulder, they would wrap around the 10,913-mile perimeter of the U.S. nearly four times. And if that number is still too hard to comprehend, consider adding the number of people who live in the 50 largest U.S. cities plus the entire populations of Ireland, Nicaragua, and Norway, plus all the people from Denmark and Costa Rica plus the entire population of Greece plus the people who live in France to equal 143 million.
To give you another way to try to consider the size of the problem, the U.S. population is about 300 million. So the orphan population is a little less than half of our country’s population. Crazy right? But it’s still too hard to imagine number that big.
143 million is just too big.
That’s what David Platt found until he and his wife started their adoption. He writes (emphasis added),
But everything changed when we made our first trip to the orphanage in Kazakhstan. We saw children playing outside. We walked past their rooms inside. Suddenly those numbers on a page came alive in our hearts. We realized that it was Caleb who was sleeping in one of those cribs, and it was Caleb who was included in those numbers. All at once the numbers became real…and personal.
We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.
That was my experience. I could think of the cold number, 143 million, as “a lot” but I didn’t really “get it” until I met this girl.
She’s beautiful. I believe she was ten years-old. She was a sweetheart, but she will likely grow up in the orphanage in which I met her. She will likely never live with a family, with a mother and father. She will likely never have the same opportunities as other children. She, like many of the other 600 children who were at the orphanage, will grow up there. And she is well cared for at this particular orphanage, but I think God longs for these children to have families. For the two days we were in Gisenyi, Rwanda, she held my hand.
But she actually stole my heart.
She showed opened my eyes to the orphan crisis. She was more than a number. She was a little girl who lived with hundreds of little girls who didn’t live with their families. This was her life. It was somehow beautiful and sad to me all at the same time.
Since our heart has been pulled toward adoption, I have spent a lot of time thinking about orphans. I think about who they are and how they got to their place. I think about what more I can do. As I was reading David Platt’s Radical, I realized that someday our child will be an orphan. Somewhere in that 143 million is a child who will call our son (or daughter). Somewhere in that insanely large number is our family.
I continue to wrestle with all of this. 143 million is simply too big. It’s too big to make a difference, right? But I hope that we can make 1/143 million difference…