"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…”
James 1:27a New King James
Recently, as I gave the Sunday morning message at Elmira Correctional Facility, I came to this verse in James. As I had prepared the sermon I thought that some of the men might exempt themselves from this part of James’ definition of pure religion because they believed they had no access to orphans and widows with whom to practice Christian charity. As I meditated on this I realized that every verse of God’s Word has application to every believer (2 Timothy 3:16-17), so soon the Holy Spirit brought something to my awareness: many incarcerated men and women are actual orphans or “functional orphans” living without benefit of loving parents. The statistics for individuals incarcerated in our state and local prisons are heartbreaking when it comes to positive parental involvement in their lives. The numbers reach to 90% of male and female prisoners who had no loving relationship with a father. Some do not even know their fathers. Relationships with mothers are divided between those who had some positive input, to those who hardly ever saw a mother who worked more than one job to support her children, and those whose mothers were practicing addicts. Life was troubled for many prisoners who grew up largely living on the streets and learning survival from other kids.
When I was a teenager, my parents divorced and my mother left us kids with our father. Try as he could, there was no way he could fill the gap left by a missing mom in our lives. Even as an adult, I missed the input of a mother in my life when I married and became a father myself. I challenged the men at Elmira to seek out the “functional orphans”, those individuals who had never had someone to build them up and to speak grace into their lives (Ephesians 4:29). We are surrounded by hurting “orphans” who need spiritual fathers and mothers to nurture and cultivate Christian character in their lives (1 Corinthians 4:15).