What does justice have to do with God’s heart for the fatherless in the global village? The answer might show us how to imitate God’s heart toward vulnerable children, orphans, and families in distress. We have a front row seat to God’s heart for the fatherless in the last words of Moses; it is an opportunity to gain insight as to the heart of God for children, the poor, and the fatherless. Deuteronomy 24:17-22 records Moses’ last instructions regarding the fatherless, the widow, and the alien. He issues a call to justice, generosity, and redemption.

One of Moses’ key messages was a plea to those entering the promised land to uphold justice, especially for the fatherless, the widow, and the alien. Moses taught that a citizen of the promised land must have a social and humane attitude towards the economically weak.

Moses was concerned for the poor, the disadvantaged, indentured servants, escaped slaves, resident aliens, orphans, widows, and convicted criminals. He was concerned that the alien would not have rights in a court of law, that the fatherless would not have a father to defend them in court, and that the widow’s reputation would be at stake if her outer cloak was not returned by sundown. Moses points back to their slavery in Egypt. He alludes to the story of Joseph and the unjust treatment by his own brothers and Potiphar’s wife. Do you remember the betrayal of Joseph’s brothers, which let him into slavery? Do you remember how he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and unjustly thrown into prison a second time?

Moses wants the children of slaves entering the promised land to remember where they came from in order to be careful not to repeat what was done to them. In other words, he wanted the pain of their past to serve as the passion for their future. Moses says “Don’t forget the injustice, the abuse, the mistreatment, and the pain of your past, so that when you are well off, when you become an owner, when you come into the land of prosperity, you will passionately insist on justice for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow.”

You may have suffered some type of pain, mistreatment, injustice and maybe even an abuse of some sort. You may have suffered both insult and injury. You may have been slighted, ridiculed, and mocked. Moses reminds us that a call to justice means taking the pain of our past to bless others in the future. The truth is that we find our own healing when we forgive those who have hurt us, and prevent the abuse and injustice intended for others.

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The global village includes vulnerable children and orphans living in your community, in your county, in your state, across our nation, at our borders, and in other countries. Today, there are more than 150 million orphans in the world. Many are true orphans with both parents deceased, others are single orphans with one parent living who is unable to care for them, and some are social orphans whose parents love them but cannot provide for their needs. In the United States, we refer to these children as vulnerable children, vulnerable to abuse, abandonment, and neglect. CAFO, the Christian Alliance for Orphans (www.cafo.org), led by Jedd Medefind, is an outstanding movement that points our attention to serving vulnerable children and orphans.

Dr. Robert Cooke Buckner was born in Madisonville, Tennessee and answered a call to vocational ministry at the age of 17. He began to pastor his first church that year and eventually moved to Albany, Kentucky to pastor the Albany Baptist Church. By 1859 he moved to Paris, Texas to answer a call to serve the First Baptist Church there in 1861. When he crossed the border into Texas, a man by the name of General Sam Houston was running for governor. Buckner came to Texas at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. Over the next twenty years, R.C. Buckner would serve this church, start a printing press called the Religious Messenger and write about the plight of children whose fathers went to fight in the Civil War but never returned. In 1877 Dr. Buckner sold the printing press but not before issuing an invitation to deacons and leaders from across Texas to meet for a Deacon’s convention at his home church, First Baptist Church of Paris, Texas. His goal was to cast a vision for caring for orphans across the state.

Buckner was seized by the vision of God’s heart for the fatherless in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” He raised a vision for caring for orphans by asking the gathered deacons, “What if you were dead, brethren, and your child left behind. How would you want others to respond?” Before the gathering in the church, Dr. Buckner met with a few leaders outside under an old oak tree and said “To get this thing started, I am placing one dollar in the hat.” Up to twenty-seven dollars were placed in the hat and carried into the church. They raised $200 dollars that day, then $2000 dollars two years later, and in 1879 the Buckner Orphan’s Home was begun in Dallas, Texas.

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Buckner was influenced by the vision recorded by James, the half-brother of Jesus. James was influenced by the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus drew the vision for his ministry from the Prophet Isaiah as recorded in the first sermon of Jesus in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). This first sermon outlines Jesus’ vision for ministry: to preach good news to the poor, to give sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed, freedom for the captives, and to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor. I wrote about God’s heart for the fatherless in The Jesus Agenda: Becoming an Agent of Redemption. You can learn more about the book at jesusagenda.org.

Over 137 years after that first dollar was placed into the hat, Buckner International continues to provide foster care and adoption, family transition programs, family preservation services, and senior care. You can learn more about what we do at buckner.org. Our mission is to shine hope into the lives of vulnerable children, their families, and seniors. I invite you to join us as we pursue God’s heart for the fatherless in the global village.

Albert L. Reyes is president and CEO of Buckner International, an international social service ministry focused on transforming the lives of vulnerable children, their families, and seniors based in Dallas, Texas.

[ This article is also available in español. ]