Could God Be Calling You to Board the Spiritual Orphan Train?

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Could God Be Calling You to Board the Spiritual Orphan Train?

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Aimless, homeless and unloved. These words describe the condition of multiple thousands of children living on the streets of New York City in the latter half of the 19th century.

An Oct. 3, 1869, New York Times article described these youngsters as “a multitude … of little orphans or half orphans, or children cast out from their homes or who have been dropped here by the tide of emigration … or who have run away, or are the offspring of drunken parents” (quoted by Leanne Rivlin and Lynne Manzo, “Homeless Children in New York City: A View From the 19th Century,” Children’s Environment Quarterly, Spring 1987, p. 26).

This situation arose because it “was a time of severe financial crises, panics and depressions that swept the nation, creating unemployment, poverty, and homelessness” (ibid.). A further factor was large waves of European immigrants. 

Since a large number of these people had no financial means to travel into the country’s interior, they often remained in the New York City area. There they sought work as unskilled laborers while living in congested tenement housing, which often lacked running water, ventilation and toilets.

Such conditions gave rise to thousands of children who wandered the streets in search of food and shelter. “Many sold matches, rags, or newspapers to survive. For protection against street violence, they banded together and formed gangs. Police, faced with a growing problem, were known to arrest vagrant children … locking them up with adult criminals” ( The American Experience, PBS.org/wgbh/amex/orphan).

Charles Brace and his proposal

Into this situation came Charles Brace, a young minister who had moved to New York from Connecticut in 1853. Shocked by the sight of so many neglected children, he wrote in his memoirs: “When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with a tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him. And yet, you are perplexed what to do” (“The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years’ Work Among Them,” 1872).

Brace soon learned that while some children were true orphans, others were abandoned when one parent died or a family had grown so large that some children could no longer be cared for adequately. He also found that others were runaways from neglect, drunkenness or abuse.

The only alternative to children living on the streets was to place them in almshouses or overcrowded orphanages. Yet Brace argued that doing so stunted their mental and emotional development by perpetuating dependence on charity. He felt that education, work and strong family life were vital keys to helping children mature into self-reliant citizens.

As a result of his perspective and analysis, Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853. His initial efforts focused on job training and placement. However, he soon realized that a better way to help the children was to physically move them “out of their surroundings and to send them away to kind Christian homes in the country” (ibid.).

Brace believed that if these youngsters could be moved to wholesome, peaceful family settings, they would have the chance to escape a lifetime of misery and emptiness. To accomplish his goal of relocating these young people, Brace began raising money and obtaining necessary legal authorizations.

Orphan Train effort begins

His organization made arrangements for children to travel by what became known as “Orphan Trains” to adoptive family homes in farming communities. They journeyed in groups ranging in size from 3 to 35, accompanied by at least two adult representatives.

In the weeks prior to each trip, leading citizens in towns along the railroad route were contacted. Many agreed to serve on local committees to recommend potential adoptive parents. Moreover, notices of the train arrival times were published in local newspapers and on public bulletin boards.

When the train reached a town, the children were brought to assembly halls or other locations for potential families to meet them. Prior to a potential match-up, the adoptive parents had to pledge that they would care for the children as members of their family by housing, clothing and educating them in a morally upright environment. On agreement between the local committee and placing representatives, the children would then leave the group and go to their new homes.

The Orphan Train program was not without obstacles and setbacks. Some children found it difficult to adjust to their new surroundings and had to be moved to other homes. Nevertheless, many were genuinely loved by their new parents and went on to normal lives. For 75 years, from 1854 to 1929, the Children’s Aid Society relocated between 120,000 and 200,000 children through its Orphan Train program to new homes across the United States and Canada.

The spiritual condition of our world

What can you and I learn from this intriguing story? The disturbing circumstances of the New York street children could be equated with the spiritual condition of the citizens of our world. Although most people don’t realize it, they exist in an abysmal state of spiritual poverty, aimlessness and ignorance (Hosea 4:6 Hosea 4:6My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you shall be no priest to me: seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.
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; Luke 9:25 Luke 9:25For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
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; Romans 10:3 Romans 10:3For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.
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). You need to understand how this situation came about.

Long ago the archangel referred to as Lucifer in the Latin rendering of Isaiah 14 persuaded a third of the angels to join him in a violent insurrection against their Creator ( Isaiah 14:13 Isaiah 14:13For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also on the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
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). God quickly ended this attempted coup d’etat by casting the rebellious angels, now demons, back to earth (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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; Isaiah 14:12 Isaiah 14:12How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
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).

The rebellious archangel became known as Satan, denoting an adversary or legal opponent—an accuser. He was not only fiercely antagonistic toward God, but also toward all human beings. In fact, since the creation of Adam and Eve, humanity has been dominated and brutalized by this evil being the Bible identifies as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
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).

Satan is an immensely powerful yet invisible spirit being who “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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). He stealthily hides his vindictive aims by presenting himself as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14 2 Corinthians 11:14And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
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). To carry out his cunning work, he influences human leaders to unwittingly promote his fabrications. This includes religious authorities who naively teach doctrines that wholly contradict biblical instruction. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13 2 Corinthians 11:13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
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). 

The citizens of this world are in fact the devil’s slaves and yet, incredibly, people have no idea this is occurring (Romans 6:16 Romans 6:16Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
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). They blindly accept and believe Satan’s falsehoods and heedlessly embrace his dissolute actions (John 8:44 John 8:44You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
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). They do all this while thinking they are accomplishing what is true and correct (Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
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). Satan’s corrupt attitudes and behaviors saturate human societies completely (1 John 5:19 1 John 5:19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.
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).

The consequence of Satan’s influence

However, as people carelessly follow the devil’s lead they are not without blame. The tendency in man’s corrupted nature is to dishonor and disobey God while exalting the self. This rebellious proclivity is not just a problem for a few individuals but all people.

“As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is good—not even one. No one has real understanding; no one is seeking God. All have turned away from God; all have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one’ ” (Romans 3:10-12 Romans 3:10-12 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one.
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, New Living Translation). The egocentric nature of human beings makes them gullible targets for the devil’s distortions and lies.

What, therefore, is the consequence of Satan’s influence over you, me and every person? Just as the thousands of abandoned street children lived broken, aimless lives, all of humanity is spiritually adrift and destitute (1 Timothy 6:5 1 Timothy 6:5Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw yourself.
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). Furthermore, Satan has succeeded in pitting people against their Creator and each other (Romans 1:30 Romans 1:30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
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). Should there be any wonder, then, that we see incessant conflict, evil, heartache and suffering in every corner of the world?

God is calling some to board His “spiritual orphan train”

What should all this mean to you? God may be opening your eyes to the woeful spiritual condition in which you have been imprisoned. Although this may be hard to take, you have been part of the devil’s nefarious system—and you still are if you have not come to true repentance and conversion through Jesus Christ. But there is great news!

You don’t have to remain in Satan’s grasp (2 Peter 1:4 2 Peter 1:4Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
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). God offers you a way of escape to a new home and a bright, exciting future (2 Timothy 1:9 2 Timothy 1:9Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
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; 1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 2:9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
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). The young people who boarded the Orphan Trains were given the chance to join a new family. Similarly, God might be calling you to, in effect, board His “spiritual orphan train” to begin a transformation to a new life of righteousness in God’s own Church and family (Romans 8:16 Romans 8:16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
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, Romans 8:21 Romans 8:21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
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; 1 John 3:1 1 John 3:1Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not.
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).

Alton Lou Clement was eight years old in 1926 when he rode the Orphan Train. Upon joining the Nailing family in unfamiliar rural Texas, he was apprehensive and even considered running away. However, soon he became at ease in his new home, later explaining, “There was a homeyness here that I’d never known before.” He came to appreciate his new family so much that he willingly changed his name to Lee Nailing.

In a parallel manner, when God calls a person into His Church, He offers him or her the opportunity to transition from an errant way of life to one of true godliness. God may be calling you at this very moment. If so, through repentance, baptism and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Savior, through God’s Spirit you are to become His child and take on His family name, growing in harmony with Him until complete transformation into His likeness (2 Corinthians 6:18 2 Corinthians 6:18And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
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; Psalms 82:6 Psalms 82:6I have said, You are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
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; Ephesians 3:15 Ephesians 3:15Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
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; Luke 13:29 Luke 13:29And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
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; 1 John 3:1-3 1 John 3:1-3 1 Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.
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).

Christ will not leave you orphaned

Although you will stumble at times during your Christian journey, you need to persistently strive through the power of God in overcoming the pulls of the flesh (Romans 3:9 Romans 3:9What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
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). You must change to reflect the actions and attitude of Christ (Ephesians 4:15 Ephesians 4:15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
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). You are to grow in faith, knowing that He will never leave you orphaned or abandoned (1 Timothy 6:12 1 Timothy 6:12Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses.
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; John 14:18 John 14:18I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
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; Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
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).

Charles Brace and his Orphan Train program helped thousands of forsaken, directionless children begin new lives in stable families. In the same way, God is calling a few people at this time out of a world of spiritual darkness and corruption into His Church and family. God’s spiritual orphan train is leaving the station to begin a journey to the greatest, most fulfilling life you could ever imagine! Are you willing to step onboard?