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Orphan Train
Photo: Kevin Brown
My eyes filled with tears as I read about the thousands of children between the years of 1850 and 1930 who rode the “Orphan Trains.” These trains were filled with children (mostly from Northeast cities) who needed a family and a new start.

A majority of the children came from cities where parents had either died or abandoned them. In an effort to give them better opportunities, a variety of organizations put more than 100,000 on trains that chugged west in search of a better life. The locomotives with their precious cargo would stop periodically along a westerly route where local families looked for a child who would suit their needs. Some of the children were welcomed into loving homes, while others were forced into a life of servitude and unending work on a farm or in a local mill.

A number of personal stories still exist from adults who lived through these experiences and came away with a wide gamut of emotions. Some recall fond memories of Sunday dinners and close ties with families they were fortunate enough to be chosen by. Others recount the abuse and hostility in an environment where they were never treated like family, but more as a material possession.

Fact is, personal choice wasn’t really an option for these youngsters who boarded the massive steel railroad cars. They were often separated from their siblings and carted off into a life of the unknown without the luxury of choosing where they went, or who they went with.

They Didn't Choose

Although the experiences of the Orphan Trains are long since passed, my heart still aches for these frightened and bewildered children. Their story reminds me that every child in my own community wasn’t given a choice of which family they would want to grow up in. Many children have wonderful, nurturing families, and I’m thankful for that. Many however, were born into dysfunctional, hostile, and abusive environments. They didn’t choose their situation, but they got it anyway.

When it comes to adding real value to the lives of children in dysfunctional homes, I must confess that I feel woefully inadequate. I don’t have what it takes to make a lasting difference in every child’s life who resides in my community. I can however, choose to become involved in some of their lives, and that can have an eternal impact.I can read a nurturing story at the library to a group of children who enjoy listening. I can volunteer at a local shelter that serves meals to displaced families. I can be a big brother to a young person who desperately needs a positive adult role model. I can’t do everything, but I can do something!

Jesus gave more than just lip service to the idea that children are incredibly important to Him. He demonstrated this truth through His actions (See Matthew 19:13 and 14). If I claim to be a follower of Christ, my love for Him constrains me to follow in His footsteps.

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By Michael Temple. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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