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. James 1:27
What does it mean to visit orphans and widows? While the Bible does command Christians to care for the physical needs widows and orphans, this verse commands us to take this to the next step: God wants Christians to be relationally involved in the lives of widows and orphans.
Coming from a Western mindset, most of us see poverty in terms of material things: poor people don't have stuff (clothes, food, etc) so the solution to the problem is to give them stuff. This belief is the basis for welfare, medicaid, food stamps, food banks, health clinics and many non-profit organizations in America to help the poor.
The problem is that many poor people suffer not just from physical/material poverty, but also relational and spiritual poverty as well. The later two are often the cause of the former, and addressing relational and spiritual poverty often results in resolution of material poverty. God wants Christians to minister to the whole person: relationally, materially, and spiritually. This is the basis for his command to visit widows and orphans. Its one thing to give money to a homeless person or a poverty-relief organization, but its a completely different thing to be relationally involved in the life of someone in need.
1. Invest into kids without a Dad (or a Mom).
When the Bible often refers to orphans as the "fatherless". This is because a child without a father is missing a significant part of his or her life. Furthermore, a child without a father is likely to grow up in poverty (that was definitely true in Biblical times, but studies show that is still true, even in when fatherlessness is caused by divorce and not just death). In our day, missing fathers are epidemic, and missing mothers are becoming an increasing problem as well.
Children (of both genders) growing up with a single parent still need the influence of the absent opposite sex parent. The Church has an important duty to provide that influence and close adult relationship in the lives of children with a missing parent. Being regularly involved in the life of a child without a mother or father is a blessing beyond measure to them (and to their single parent!).
It is important to note too, that consistent, long-term investment is what is needed in the lives of fatherless (or motherless) children. Making up for the deficit of a parent is not a task that can be done with a spare few hours per year.
2. Come alongside a foster family, love on their children.
Being a foster family is hard. Foster families are faced with a litany of uncertainties and injustices in the foster care system. Foster children often need more time and attention than typical kids, and parents can use all the help they can get in order to make this happen. Coming along side a foster family, whether by babysitting, making them meals, helping with housework or even just being a listening ear when things get hard is a blessing to both the foster parents and the children in need in their care.
3. Help regularly at an orphanage.
I say regularly, because like I noted above orphans need relationships, not just handouts. There is a group of people from our church who visit several orphanages in Mexico on a monthly basis. I have heard of other people who "adopt" an overseas orphanage and make it a point to visit once or twice a year for an extended period. When doing short-term missions trips like these, it is important that you make sure you are helping without hurting.
4. Adopt or do foster care.
This is becoming a popular avenue for orphan care in the US, and I thank God for that. Many orphans have found life long homes and families through adoption, and many foster children find great second families in their foster families (or, if things go that direction, they could eventually be adopted by their foster family).
Foster children are an invisible, hurting population in our country. Currently, there are a half million foster children in the US, most of whom have already experienced more pain than you or I could imagine. Legally, they might have parents, but unless they are in a good foster home, in all practical senses of the word they probably don't have parents. These children are faced with instability (often changing homes several times per year) and a litany of injustices inflicted on them in a system that sometimes does more harm than good. While changing the system is hard, you can change lives by being a stable, loving home in the midst of the chaos of their world.
Adoption is bar-none the best and deepest way to care for the whole orphan (physical, relational and spiritual needs). In this sense, it far outshines all the other types of orphan care.