In my American past...
Widows were old ladies from church. When we lost Dad in 1987 mom became one of the rare young widows. I honestly didn't know others her age who had lost a husband. Orphans were also fairly rare. These were few children who'd lost both parents through some freaky accident or horrible diseases. Rarely would a child be abandoned to an orphanage, but would be cared for by relatives. Orphanages were from fairy tales where kids were treated badly and they managed to creatively escape their dismal circumstance through fantastic feats of brave defiance.
In my current world...
Widows are my team-mates and neighbors. They are between the ages of 25 and 50. They live with their kids if they have them... or the children are relocated with the husbands' family who is responsible for them. Women officially have the right to keep their children, but tradition often overrules law. Many opt to keep the peace by not bucking the system too often and resign themselves to a fate of losing husband and rights to raise children and live in the house they built together. "No man's land" is a place of not belonging to anyone (I really mean that in the odd way that belonging gives one a voice in this culture), but also not being independent. Sad things happen here... very sad things.
Orphans are given their status as any child who has lost a parent. He may have loving grandparents to care for him. He may have a mother or father who will keep him fed and clothed and educated. He gets this label and gets some pity and also some privileges: foreigners sponsor orphans... so even those without needs are put on the list and called in at school to receive notebooks and pencils or a chance at breakfast. They are sometimes offered a chance to live at a children's home (though having help at their own home might be preferred) where they are herded through school with other unfortunates and visited by happy foreigners who want to help orphans and bring cake and toys and smiles and selfies.
People aren't all that likely to donate to orphans who live with their mothers or grandmothers... I know ministries that work for this; they are amazing! Both the widows and the orphans are getting needed help and staying together!
In Jesus' world...
Which of our pictures of widows matches Jesus' teaching?
Which picture of orphans is more likely like orphans in Jesus' time?
Next time you read about widows and orphans think about this. She may be perfectly able to care for her kids if she were allowed to keep her house and work. If she had education and a supportive community around her. Jesus asked us to come alongside her and be that community. Same with the orphans. Don't ignore them on the street or dump them in the institution, but support them through a caring community in the church. Foster care is an example of how we can do this in "our world", but I've even seen a FEW people in my world here who have taken that on and are such a blessing!
One of our Little Zebra Books is about the "Persistent Widow" which I thought really odd for a children's book! But they totally get it... they all are too familiar with the real injustice towards widows. Even six-year-olds really feel how the woman is in danger of losing so much if the community doesn't help her out.
This week a new widow walks beside us. Her husband fell ill and the treatment wasn't enough in time. She's not yet 40. Her children are teen age through 3 years. They have a good house. He had a good job. The wife was a modern Mozambican with a real bachelors degree, but not yet a job. She volunteers to help ladies read and children to find joy in books. Their children are studying well and full of promise. We await news of the burial times as I write. In the next week or so her future will be determined by relatives and traditions and laws all mixed up in a complicated jumble that I won't ever really understand.