“If you’re picturing a cute, feisty redhead Annie embracing a transformed Mr Warbucks, you’re at the wrong conference.” Or so we were forewarned by one of the speakers at the Together for Adoption Conference last week.
No Free Samples
As I left for the flight to attend the “Together for Adoption” conference, one of my pre-school kids casually chirped, “Dad, you can bring home one if you like, just make sure it’s a boy.” I had to explain that this wasn’t going to be an auction or a convention with booths offering free samples; it was a conference of teaching on the topic. When I arrived at the (ironically opulent) venue— a plush church building—I thought for a moment that I had spoken too soon. Booths and exhibits were being set up, manned by representatives from various local orphan homes and foster care organizations. And the number of children seemed to outnumber the adults present. But it turned out that the kids were all accounted for, and the booths were distributing literature.
I wasn’t sure who would be sitting next to me in the pews, but I found a patchwork of theologians, pastors, the curious, the passionate, the prospective adoptive parents, and largely the veteran adoptive parents. These arrived like a U.N. peace-keeping force in a convoy of mini-vans, representing various nations that have been brought together for—and by— adoption.
Cheaper by the Half-Dozen
It was inspiring to see so may families who had “tested” the waters of adoption, then after tasting God’s grace for the challenge, and having reaped the blessings of the experience, they then dived in boots and all, adopting half a dozen orphans at a time. These couples joked about having to resist the temptation to say things like, “Oh, you’ve adopted one? How cute.” Or, “Yours are healthy and emotionally balanced? What an interesting a choice.”
Focus on the Family
The conference was eye-opening about the brutal reality of life for children without caring families. The tune of “It’s a hard-knock life for us” is too chipper for the reality of orphan life. It also highlighted the preferable option of churches helping to place kids with families rather than starting an orphanage. Yes orphan homes care for more children than a single couple can manage (usually), but can anything replace the nuclear family design God established to begin with?
Many churches obey the biblical command to care for orphans by funding— or even establishing and staffing—orphanages. While this is very laudable on many levels, it should be seen as a step in the right direction, not the final destination. Churches supporting families who adopt is another way local congregations can take care of the needy children.
It Takes a Village
One speaker pointed out that Hillary Clinton got something right when she quoted the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Indeed, adoption needs to be a church community project. The finances, counseling, babysitting rosters, encouragement, and other support must come from the church family. Adopting can be a lonely struggle, and it is far too easy to cop out with the conscience soothing balm of “Not everyone is called to adopt.” True, but everyone is called to be part of the solution to the sin-caused problem of this world, especially those commanded by God.
James 1: 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
A major sector of adoption in South Africa occurs cross-culturally (e.g. White couples adopting Black children). Some object that this is not ideal because the children are being” robbed of their heritage,” i.e. their parents’ language and culture. I need to bite my already bleeding tongue at this point, and calmly point out that the kids we are talking about have no parental heritage for which to opt, and that surely we can agree that a child being raised by loving, selfless, caring Christian parents of any color beats life in an overcrowded, under-funded orphanage.
Let me hasten to say that many local orphan homes are very decent, loving environments; after all, the people who choose to work with orphans tend to be of the decent, loving variety. But, most of them would agree that a stable family is still a preferable option. [See 1Hope Ministries for examples of great homes in South Africa]
At the conference we quickly discovered that Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies aside, the reality of adopting orphans is gritty, tenacious work that brings unimaginable blessing and reward… eventually.
The world class line-up of international speakers hosted a day-long theological boot camp on God’s plan of spiritual adoption, multiple plenary sessions on our own “vertical adoption” (Gal 4:5) and the response of “horizontal adoption,” and innumerable break-out workshop options on practical help on the how-to of orphan care.
And the urgency for Christians to act on the biblical mandate to attend to the vulnerable in society was compelling. Many believers put off considering adoption because the are “first having some of our own” or “first becoming financially stable” or whatever. In the meantime, there is a crisis of needs rising like floodwaters. It reminds me of Orphan Annie’s famous song, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll love ya tomorrow, it’s only a day away.”
In South Africa alone there are almost 4 million vulnerable children (South Africa’s population is close to 50 million). Over 2 million of those kids have been deemed legally “adoptable” by the government. Of those, a mere 2,400 are adopted annually. [For up-to-date statistics, see 1Hope4Africa.com]
Interestingly, the Hague Accord stipulated which countries may “send” orphans, and which may “receive.” South Africa may not receive any, but may send to eight countries including USA, France, and some Scandinavian countries. That said, fewer than 250 children are adopted by foreigners annually.
There is no conclusion. This problem will be ongoing until Jesus returns and fixes this world once and for all. But what I learned at the conference is that our heavenly Father predestined our spiritual adoption as the way of fixing what was broken in the world (Eph 1:5). One vivid way for us to participate in His story of redemption is to mirror our Father’s heart for the vulnerable, and to act on that compassion in the most tangible way on earth: getting together with other believers for adoption.
I commend to you Josh Mack’s blog, which contains some of the most informative material on the subject. Josh was instrumental in organizing the conference. He and his wife are living examples of what James 1:27 looks like in practice.