By Matthew Hanks | Project Manager: Africa The first time I participated in the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit (CAFO), the number of amazing groups fighting on behalf of the orphan astounded me. There were more groups present at this adoption/foster care/orphan focused event than one could take in (I know this because of all the apparel my wife procured that I would have to do some post-event research on before donning). After three days of teaching, preaching, and seeking God on behalf of the fatherless, I left inspired, equipped and with a sense of hope that there was about to be a dent put in the apparent impenetrable barrier of the Global Orphan Crisis. From those doing international orphan care similarly to the World Orphans model, to very different, but also effective and needed models of care; from the adoption agencies focused specifically here at home, to others working in countries open to adoption, the diversity of needs being met was as great as the unifying purpose in the hearts of those attending: To find homes for all these precious children.
Just a few days before attending this event we were anxiously boarding an airplane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with our 5 month old, newly adopted son, Kaleb. My wife Amelia and I were both still processing all that the Lord had done to bring us to that place. The way He had used the body of Christ to water the seeds of desire placed in us years earlier; to come along side us and help us overcome any barriers (mainly financial) in our way; to challenge and call us forward in faith. All these realities were still very fresh. So much had transpired that was clearly from the hand of God, yet in many ways He had only taken us to the starting line. Within a few short months I would begin preparing to come on staff with World Orphans to begin the current race.
Fast forward two plus years. Currently we are quickly moving up the list toward our second Ethiopian adoption. We feel great anticipation regarding meeting our next child and yet are also aware of the tangible challenges that come with not only adding another child to the mix but one who will most likely have some attachment related obstacles to overcome. My work with World Orphans has been extremely rewarding but the complexities of orphan care and church partnership can at times seem daunting and prohibitive. Amelia’s opportunities to minister to moms of adoptive and foster families have brought many stories of a similar dichotomy of joy and heartache. And so I’ve found that the fatigues of life in ministry - life in general really - are constantly trying to rob us of the vision and calling the Lord has given us for a purpose greater than ourselves. The enemy is trying to prevent the Kingdom from coming to those places He has given you to take.
One of my favorite past-times is riding my bike on the roads in and near the Colorado Rockies where I live. However, the place I first mounted a bike as an official rider in spandex and with shoes that locked into my pedals was in the low flat lands of Texas. My first time out was with a group of 30-50 strangers. It was on this ride that I discovered something known in the cycling world as ‘drafting’. A concept that one can see in nature with geese, what seems so graceful and effortless as they fly in a V-formation all the way from Mexico to Canada, did not seem so natural to me when in a fast-moving pace-line with only inches between our tires. If it wasn’t clear how green I was from my borrowed, 20 year old, loose fitting shorts (if you can call spandex ‘shorts’) or my rented bike that had a large ‘rental’ sticker on it, once that pace-line started to rotate positions there was no mistaking that I was a rookie. Though the mistakes I made over the next dozen or so miles until I finally slipped off the back could fill another blog post, the lessons I learned were invaluable to my understanding of interdependence.
Before this point in my life I’d have told you that cycling was an individual sport as opposed to a team sport. I’d have been wrong. Any one who has caught even a few minutes of the Tour de France knows that not only are the teams dependent on each member but each member is also dependent on the entire Peloton (French for little ball, but also a term used to describe the main group of riders in a cycling event). Without each other it would be impossible to go the distance they all want at the speed they’re able to go together. This is all possible because of drafting. When in the sweet spot of the draft a rider can save up to 40% of their energy. An average rider can ride well beyond their own ability when in an experienced pace line so long as they don’t bonk when it’s their turn to pull (lead).
The parallels to adoption, foster care, and international orphan care are many. We all must not only be prepared to take the lead when it’s our turn but we must also be willing to let others take over when we realize we’re slowing the entire pack down because we’re exhausted. We must build trust and comfort with those we’re riding with so that we can ride close enough to create a draft, but also realize that if we wreck we might take out other members of our team or large portions of the Peloton.
There will be times when you rotate to the front and you’re so eager to lead that without knowing it you run off and leave those riding with you in your tracks. There will be times that you feel like slowing down to rest but then remember that if you slip off the back, out of reach of the draft, you’ll more than likely never get back. There will be times when you are called to ride your hardest just so someone else can go further than you know you’ll probably ever go. And then there will be times when you find yourself at the front of the line with nothing left in the tank, right on the verge of hitting the wall or cramping up, and all the sudden you feel a wind at your back, the Mighty winds of Grace gathering to carry you a bit further down the road.
Yes, may the winds of Grace carry you further than you thought possible.