Faith-Based Organizations Sit at the Intersection of Criminal Justice and Immigration Reform [Part 2 of 2]


These articles are meant to strengthen the capacity of all faith-based organizations to live out their faith-based missions. If you are already a Sacred Sector participant, log into the Participant Portal to access the toolbox resources. If your organization is interested in becoming a Sacred Sector participant, click here.

The scriptural basis for caring for the orphan is clear: passages on the subject span the Old and New Testament and leave no room for interpretive error. Perhaps because of this, the Christian community has a history of caring for orphans through adoption agencies, foster programs, orphanages and other ministries. Yet while Christian communities are often generous toward orphans, caring for youths may be less enticing when they are behind bars.

Orphan Helpers, a faith-based organization and Sacred Sector participant that operates in Honduras and El Salvador, believes that the biblical call to serve “the least of these” includes those who have committed crimes. They come alongside those society has rejected and empower them to envision and achieve successful futures.

This article is the second in a two-part series featuring Orphan Helpers on the role of faith-based organizations in creating innovative solutions to immigration and criminal justice issues. By serving an often overlooked population, Orphan Helpers demonstrates that faith-based organizations have an essential role in meeting needs unmet by governments, individuals and other organizations. A key component of Orphan Helpers’ successful ministry is its ability to embody its sacred mission in its organizational practices and public positioning.

Organizational Practices

Faith-based organizations such as Orphan Helpers have a protected right to make staffing decisions based on religion. How they use this right, however, can be of critical importance.  As the Religious Staffing Organization Practices Toolbox says,

Employment practices that are strategically and comprehensively aligned to its sacred mission can help prevent claims of employment discrimination and can help the public better understand the importance of staffing based on mission. Each organization must decide what employment practices will reflect and further its faith-based mission.

Orphan Helpers creates a faith-shaped organizational ethos by consistently integrating its sacred mission throughout its practices, including its employment decisions. Not only is Orphan Helpers committed to finding Christian staff to carry out its mission; it is also interested in contributing to their spiritual flourishing by equipping them through trainings in Christian leadership and counseling.

“The staff are going into these tough situations everyday so they do need to be fed and encouraged,” said Greg Harris, Executive Director of Orphan Helpers. “We have monthly video conferences with our staff to encourage them in their faith. We are also going to do a Central American staff retreat in May for a week of rejuvenation, reflection and encouragement.”

One reason Orphan Helpers emphasizes the need to consider religion in employment decisions is because it sees faith as vital to its daily work. Harris explained that the success academies teach spiritual formation which fosters students’ ability to connect with God, discover their self-worth and restore their relationships with those they’ve hurt. Teaching forgiveness is a core component of students’ spiritual training.

“Ultimately, our relationships with them reflect a basis for the relationships we want them to build with Christ,” Harris said.

By nurturing the spiritual lives of staff members, Orphan Helpers establishes faith as the source of the restoration its programs promote. For more information on how faith-based organizations can align their sacred mission with their organizational practices, see the Religious Staffing Organizational Practices Toolbox.

Public Positioning

Orphan Helpers is the only nonprofit organization that works full-time in detention centers in Honduras or El Salvador, and its unconventional approach to restoration has been noticed by other non-government organizations and the government.

Harris explained, “Many ask us why are we going to help these kids who have been arrested and who have committed offenses. But when the governments look at us, they see we are a shining light in dark places. We are transparent in sharing with them that our mission reflects who we are in Christ.”

By doing successful ministry in places that were formerly overlooked, Orphan Helpers testifies to the transformational nature of faith-based work. Because of its accomplishments, the U.S. government and grantees have come to recognize the usefulness of not only delinquency prevention, but also working with youths who have already offended.

“Our success is reflected in the stories of impact in the lives of the youth we serve,” said Harris. “Our motto is: today’s orphans, tomorrow’s helpers.”

Orphan Helpers publicly communicates that its success is a result of its sacred mission. In doing so, it demonstrates that faith-based organizations play crucial roles in addressing issues that governments and individuals are not equipped to confront. To learn more about how faith-based organizations can publicly position themselves effectively, see the Religious Staffing Public Positioning Toolbox.


Orphan Helpers’ innovative approach to serving neglected children and youths in Central America shows how faith-based organizations can use their unique positions to provide solutions unavailable to other institutions. Its work enables at-risk youth to live and thrive in their own communities rather than seeking success in the United States. Its public policy engagement informs the U.S. government of restorative practices, and it also leads to partnerships that widen its ministry’s impact. Its faith-rooted organizational practices exemplify how an organization’s sacred mission can contribute to its success. Finally, Orphan Helpers’ public engagement indicates how its accomplishments are consequences of its faith identity. Orphan Helpers’ ability to enact its sacred mission in its public policy, organizational practices and public positioning demonstrates the irreplaceable contributions faith-based organizations make to society.  

If you are not a Sacred Sector participant and would like access to resources on public policy, organizational practices and public positioning for faith-based organizations, sign up to become a Sacred Sector participant here.

Kathryn Mae Post is an intern with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ). She contributes to two different initiatives at CPJ: Sacred Sector and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA). She is graduating from Calvin College in May of 2018 with a BA in both political science and English.