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Global Village: Filling the Gap

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Global Village: Filling the Gap

"I never loved you and everything is your fault. Don't expect anyone to love you if your own mother can't."

Those were the last words out of his mother's mouth before David was launched into the foster care system. It was a couple days after his 10th birthday and, to say the least, he'd had a difficult first decade.

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When Everything Is Terrible: Hope for Adoptive & Foster Parents

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When Everything Is Terrible: Hope for Adoptive & Foster Parents

World Orphans is not an adoption agency; however, we love the foster and adoptive families represented through our staff, donors, and communities. We rally behind your efforts to champion the cause of vulnerable and orphaned children. Sometimes it's hard though, isn't it? Sometimes it looks like this:

"I hate you. You're not even my real mom. You can't tell me what to do."

She wanted to pick up the explosive words that had seemingly shattered the fragile air into splintering shards of glass, but she couldn't. She'd welcomed him into their home over a year ago, with high hopes that they would be laughing, playing, and enjoying one another's company by now. But, they weren't.

When Jonathan wasn't throwing words like jujitsu knives at Elaine, he was lost in a meltdown with the crocodile tears, kicking, screaming – the whole deal. This had become the new "normal" for the Smith family and it was taking a toll on everyone.

Elaine and her husband, Jim, were not new to parenting. They had three older children that were – until Jonathan came into the house – doing relatively well. When Jim and Elaine announced their decision to adopt, their biological children were ecstatic about the prospect of having a younger brother or sister.

Jonathan, the six-year-old little boy with the messy mop of brown curls and the deep blue eyes, seemed to capture their hearts immediately. When the Smiths looked at the pictures from the adoption agency, they didn't see the brokenness in that sweet little face. He was a smart, handsome, and jovial little man and the Smiths looked forward to calling him "son".

It’s not you against this child. It’s you AND this child against this child’s history. It is not a personal attack on you.
— Dr. Karyn Purvis

Adoption wasn't what the Smiths thought it would be, though. The pictures didn't tell them about the lingering effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), or the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Maybe the agency rattled off those things at one point in the process, but how difficult could those things be? The Smiths had friends whose children were diagnosed with ADD and assumed it would all work out just fine. After all, Jonathan would be their fourth child.

The Smiths had no idea how difficult it would be to parent Jonathan. Adoption is beautiful, but it's also messy.

What happens next? What happens when all the things your parents did with you don't work? What happens when the way you parented your other children only leads to more tantrums, crying, and shouting? What happens when you find yourself at the end of your rope?

For some of our children, their “histories” are known, at least in part. For many others, however, their “histories” are unknown, even though we know there is a high likelihood that their past involves some degree of harm, deprivation or loss. Whether it is abuse, neglect or some other known harm, or whether it is the likelihood of a difficult or stressful pregnancy, difficult labor or birth, early medical trauma or a ruptured attachment to an early caregiver, the impacts for our children can be significant. You’ve heard it said, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Unfortunately, it is often what we don’t know (and may never know) that is in fact hurting our children, and therefore hurting us as well. As a result, adoptive and foster parents must be particularly insightful about the reality of their child’s history and the lingering effects it can have.
— Dr. Karyn Purvis

The Smiths' story is not uncommon. It's the story of many adoptive and foster families. It's the story of parents that truly care, but cannot seem to communicate with their new family member. It's the story that's being written over and over and over again, not only by adoptive families, but by foster and temporary placement families as well. What if the story could be different?

Mothers and fathers, allow us to introduce you to Empowered to Connect and the late Dr. Karyn Purvis. As Director of the TCU Institute of Child Development, Dr. Purvis focused the last decade of her life on researching and developing interventions for at-risk children. She co-authored The Connected Child with Dr. David Cross, and her wisdom has been ground-breaking for adoptive and foster families, social workers, and a variety of people working in childcare.

Empowered to Connect uses the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)® model developed by Dr. Purvis. "TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection."

Connection. We all crave it and were created for it.

As relational beings we [...] have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human connections is undoubtedly between a parent and a child. -Dr. Karyn Purvis

Connecting isn't always easy, though, and we've found the TBRI and Empowered to Connect principles helpful in the Wholistic Care training we offer to our church partners across the globe. Families like the Smiths have found hope in these principles as well. Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) President Jedd Medefind says Empowered to Connect "brings together some of the nation’s very best experts on what adopted children and their families experience, and how parents can forge deep and lasting bonds with their children, even in the face of great difficulty."

Education is important. Medical care is important. A bed. A family. A house. But, a home – a place for love, redemption and healing – that's really the goal.

It looks so simple on paper or on a screen, but in those difficult moments when the tears are flowing and the screaming is only getting louder, it's hard, isn't it? If you're fostering or you've adopted, we know the struggle you've felt, and we'd love to remind you that God's grace is abundant, his mercies are new every morning, and his love is endless.

Let's tackle one day at a time . . . until they all have HOMES.

Download the FREE full-length Empowered to Connect Study Guide.

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5 Ways to Care for Orphaned & Vulnerable Children

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Tacy Layne | Writer/Editor Some of my favorite childhood memories smell like salt water and sound like the wind. Most summers included one week at the beach, and I began dreaming about the next beach trip before the tan faded from the previous trip.

"Next year I'll swim further or build a bigger sand castle or get up earlier to see the sunrise," I'd think. I had 1,000 plans by the time my toes felt the scorching heat of the sun-baked sand once again, but each year would be the same. Breathlessly, I'd run onto the beach after the obligatory 30 minutes of unpacking everything, and despite my well-mapped plans for the week, I'd find myself overwhelmed.

I'd stand and stare in awe at the vast expanse of blues and greens unfolding before my eyes, as the seagulls echoed the waves, while the wind chimed in with its harmonies. Suddenly faced with the reality of my own smallness that so starkly contrasted the vast ocean before me, I found myself immovable. All I could do was stand there feeling small.

That child who stood cemented into the sandy beaches of a North Carolina shore has much in common with us as adults. We often consider how we'll tackle a dream or a problem, and perhaps even create a plan, but when we arrive at our destination, we're suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of the circumstance and we freeze. We stand immovable. Our plans are gone and we've lost the ability to think.

The church has been commanded to care for orphans. It's pretty straight-forward. Care for orphans. But, here we are with 153 million pairs of eyes staring us - the church - in the face. Are we frozen? Are we afraid to make a move? Have we forgotten that we are to care for the orphaned? So, now what?

Orphan care is far more than a humanitarian effort or an issue of social justice. This is war. When you care for orphaned and vulnerable children, when you work to reverse the vicious cycle that Satan has so masterfully orchestrated, you are fighting against the devil himself.
— Johnny Carr

If the command to care for orphans wasn't specifically for those families that are brave enough to adopt, then does that really mean God is asking every single one of us to get our hands dirty on this? If God meant what he said when he told us to care for the orphaned, where can we begin? What can we do if we don't want to adopt?

Drawing from the creative wisdom outlined in Johnny Carr's Orphan Justice, here are five ways to begin addressing the orphan crisis:

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Haiti_15 087
  1. Either collectively with a group or individually, begin an adoption fund to support adoptive families. Perhaps adoption isn't something you are ready or able to pursue, but I'd be willing to bet you know an adoptive family. A variety of factors will affect the cost of adoption, particularly geographic location. My friend and her husband have committed to financially supporting every adoptive family they meet. It’s a familial commitment they’ve made. Would you consider doing the same? Wouldn't it be beautiful if the families burdened to take in orphaned children knew that finances would not be a barrier? Wouldn't it be incredible if they could look at the list of costs in front of them and be confident in the fact that their family, friends, and community would help make this adoption a reality?
  2. Foster a child. In 2014, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 264,746 children entered into the foster care system in the US. Read that statistic carefully. Those are just the children that entered into the system during 2014. This number does not include those already in the system. Fostering is difficult. Foster care has been designed to ultimately reunite the family when possible, thus providing opportunities for grace to abound and for reconciliation to become tangible; however, for the families that take on the commitment to foster a child and temporarily step into the role of a caregiver, this is hard. As hard as it may be for a fostering family, though, please consider how invaluable fostering is for the children involved. Foster families have the opportunity to pour into the life of a vulnerable child in a way that can eternally impact the life of that child. C.S. Lewis said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and you will be wrung and possibly broken."
  3. Become a respite worker for fostering families. Carr explains that "respite workers are retained and screened to help care for [children] with physical and emotional special needs." These workers will provide anywhere from an hour to a few weeks of care for children whose foster families must be away from the child. This can be an extraordinary blessing to foster families and another opportunity to impact a vulnerable child with God's grace.
  4. Support a pregnancy resource center either financially or through volunteer hours. This kind of community involvement may not be the first thing on your radar when you consider orphaned or vulnerable children; however, one is closely linked to the other. The women who may walk into a pregnancy resource center are - no surprise - seeking out resources. These women may be facing unplanned pregnancies or may simply feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood, and, instead of going to an abortion clinic, they turned to a resource center. Many (though certainly not all) are single mothers. Carr notes that we, the church, "are called to support, encourage, and equip her as she learns how to parent." A well-equipped, well-resourced, and connected mother is far less likely to have a child that ends up in the foster care system. By empowering and equipping mothers, we ensure that there are fewer orphaned and vulnerable children in the world.
  5. Begin an outreach program within your church or community that ministers to the needs of fostering and adoptive families. While the financial needs are often first to come to mind, not enough can be said about engaging with fostering and adoptive families to provide educational and emotional support. These families are facing questions, trials, and fears that no other family is combating. We were designed for community, and these families need community in a tangible way that recognizes their efforts, celebrates their victories, and grieves alongside them when they face defeat.

This list of opportunities for involvement merely skims the surface. For more ways to get involved and for a better understanding of the global orphan crisis we are facing, please consider reading Orphan Justice  by Johnny Carr.

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Death's Alternative & Unwanted Children

by David Martin | Communications Specialist

The difficulty that characterized life in Europe during the Middle Ages is rarely lost on anyone, but how often do we reflect the ways in which this played out for the marginalized of society? How, for instance, did mass poverty and a very high mortality rate affect the youngest and most vulnerable members of civilization?

Many children born during this period of history were, for varying reasons, either unwanted or unable to be cared for by their parent(s), and these newborns were often abandoned. Reasons leading to abandonment included (though certainly were not limited to):

  • Poverty/lack of ability to care
  • Illnesses or deformities in the child
  • Undesired gender of child
  • Extramarital affairs
  • Wars and famines

No class of society was exempt from this propensity to abandon children. A poor family may have felt the pressure of provision and abandoned a child whose needs could not be met. An aristocratic child born out of an extramarital affair would not only have brought shame upon the families involved, but would have complicated inheritance issues. The prevalence of casting off children spread to every corner of the culture. Reasons for child abandonment in the Middle Ages did not differ altogether from leading causes today, though. The same human issues transcend periods of time.

In the early Middle Ages, in Europe, unwanted children were often sold into slavery; however, this lessened with the growth of the church, as Christians did not characteristically buy and sell one another as slaves. In addition, because of the reach and influence of Christianity, infanticide came to be gravely looked down upon in the culture, to the point that abandonment became the preferred alternative, so long as the child was abandoned in such a way as to likely receive needed care.

The first group to offer this needed care was, in fact, the church. Both handicapped and healthy children were often left at the doors of monasteries and churches. The church was considered the only institution that would legitimately take care of these vulnerable children. It was not, however, equipped with the means to provide long-term care for children, and this deficiency led to the cropping up of homes for foundlings. These homes were often religiously-based, but not directly tied institutionally to the church. These homes were able to help in several arenas where other solutions were falling short, but many children still did not live, and being placed in a home was not a guarantee of survival for an infant.

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Still, a much greater chance of survival was allotted to those children who remained in families. Recognizing this, there was a strong advocacy on the part of clergy to place unwanted children in families. Much of the legal red tape of modern society was not present in those times, and a family would often simply take an abandoned child into their home and raise the child as part of the family.

Adoption was the best hope for a child to have a happy and healthy future, and it was notably the church that did the bulk of the labor promoting this.

Records of inheritances show that a significant bond would often develop between these adopted children and their caregivers. Contrary to what some historical fiction suggests, these children were not seen as sub-par. Adoption was the best hope for a child to have a happy and healthy future, and it was most notably the church which did the bulk of the labor in promoting this.

Also, if not for the church, infanticide would have been much more prevalent. Clergy knew that they had to go farther than simply condemning the killing of unwanted children and walking away. The church knew that its duty was to provide the systems and means to care for these children.

Acts clearly communicates the early church's belief that caring for orphans was one of its central mandates, and hundreds of years later, though still struggling with the severe dynamics of a fallen world, the church is persistently hearing and heeding that call to care for the helpless, and moving forward to do all in its power to remember the least of these. May we do the same today.

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Much insight for this article taken from the book:

Growing Up In The Middle Ages | Paul B. Newman

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Aging Out

By Becky Hoffman | Director of Rescue Teams Growing up. Leaving the nest. It is something most of us have done or will do. The time comes when we leave our parents behind and set out on our own. Free. Independent. Terrified. Some will attend college, while others join the workforce. Many will rent apartments or buy houses. Bills are now addressed to self, not parent or guardian. Though the process of entering adulthood is daunting, it is also exhilarating. Well, it should be.

Others experience a different story: aging out. An 18th birthday means it is time to go. You are out of the system. Out of the orphanage. Out on your own. Whether you are leaving foster care or an institutional orphanage, the process is abrupt and final. No one is required to care for you anymore. Your bed will be filled by another.

In an interview with Neal Conan on NPR, Dr. Mark Courtney, Research and Development Director of Partnerships for Our Children, describes the status of the former foster children he has been following into young adulthood. He says, “…less than half of them are employed at 23, very high rates of involvement with the criminal justice system, lots of struggling parents, rely on public assistance…”

Not a pretty picture. If that is what happens in the United States, imagine what it must be like for children in impoverished nations. The fear of being left to fend for oneself must plague the minds of many 17-year-old youths.

This does not have to be the case. In fact, it is not the case for the six young women in India who are cared for by the local church in partnership with World Orphans. These young women have a different story.

After losing their parents to tragedies, including accidents, abandonment, and illness, these women were brought into the loving home of a pastor’s daughter and son-in-law. There they grew up as sisters and formed a tight bond with each other and their guardians. Now, at 18, 19, and 20 years old, they have not “aged out". Instead, there has been a gradual, natural transition.

Each young woman attends university and they share an apartment above the church. After nursing school, Ujala comes home to help her new mother sew beautiful wedding gowns and sarees to sell. Aalia and Mahla have taken on many of the church’s administrative responsibilities. Each one has her role.

What is even more special is that Ujala, Mahla, Aalia, Heli, Prema, and Aahna* were recently baptized. Not only are they growing in independence, but in faith. They are truly blossoming.

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None of this would have happened without the local church stepping up to care for the fatherless. It would not have happened without the US church providing finances for food, school fees, medical care, and other necessities. It would not have happened without three-fold partnership between these churches and World Orphans.

We love our church partners and praise God for all they are doing to show Christ’s love to orphans. We invite you and your church to jump in and be part of changing the story for orphans who otherwise would have aged out of the system.

 

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125729965

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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I Was an Orphan

By Tacy Layne | Guest Blogger Tacy

The majority of us do not understand what it means to be orphaned, experience homelessness, or be without the comforts of a family, but as believers we know something about the heart of an orphan because we were once orphaned as well. It's our story.

Adoption has been around for centuries as an integral part of many societies, but it has not always held the modern-day connotation of starry-eyed parents waiting and anticipating that sweet little life for months or even years. When Paul wrote to the early Roman church, he knew their paradigm, and in an effort to remind them of their identity in Christ, he shattered the current cultural perception of adoption to make way for something much bigger:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:14-17).

The Romans would have understood Paul’s analogy of adoption because the practice was common in Rome. People of high class would often adopt to gain power. More often than not, Romans would adopt adults into their family simply to spread the expansion of their kingdoms. Adopted children would be given the same rights as the biologically-born children and be in line for a portion of the inheritance; however, these adoptions were fueled by a lust for power. Paul writes to the Romans and turns adoption on its head, saying we can cry, "Abba, Father." "Abba" was a warm, affectionate term for a father and the only relatively comparable term we have today is "daddy." It conveys a revolutionary kind of trust and closeness.

Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church Andy Stanley, in expanding on this analogy, said that sin trapped us in an orphanage where we could not be free. Jesus walked up to the door and knocked loudly until the door was finally answered. He sought us out and he adopted us. Regardless of what sin did to us before, when we came under the care of God, sin lost all authority. Sin treated us badly, but God offered us love. And when sin decides it’s going to drive the many miles or cross the ocean to come find us where we live under His care, it will knock on the door and God will remind it once more, "You have no authority over this child anymore."

We don’t love orphans merely because we’re commanded to do so. [tweet]We love orphans because their cry for a father echoes deeply in our own once-orphaned soul and our response is surprising, profound empathy.[/tweet] In the fibers of my being, I was the child who didn’t have a place to lay his head at night, didn’t know the comfort of a warm meal, and couldn’t fathom the love found in a mother’s arms. But, I was adopted. We were adopted. We were given a home. We’re going to keep on loving, keep on striving, and keep on dreaming until every single one of the 153 million orphans in the world has a home.

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Finding Heroes

Written by Kevin Squires | Senior Director of Church Partnerships for World Orphans

Every night around 10 o’clock the sky lights up around my house as explosions go off left and right.  But before you jump to any… ahem… rational conclusions, you should realize that I don’t live in the war-torn areas of the Middle East.  Matter of fact, I live in an area that, in many ways, is just the opposite, a place that is widely considered the most magical place on earth – an enchanted place where castles stand tall and a talking mouse started it all.  I live a short hop, skip, and jump from Disney World.  The explosions you ask… just the nightly fireworks.

Source: disneypictures.net
Source: disneypictures.net

Like most children, I grew up fascinated by the Wonderful World of Disney. As I’ve grown up (well, loosely speaking… according to my wife, perhaps “aged” is a more appropriate word), I’ve begun to notice things in these Disney stories that never stuck out to me as a child.  Maybe it’s because I work for an international orphan ministry, which obviously raises my antenna to things like this, but over the past few years, I can’t help but notice a common theme running in Disney stories, comic books, and other fictional genres… the story of the orphan overcoming tragedy.

A quick search finds heroic orphans along every spectrum of entertainment.  Scouring through Disney movies, there’s Cinderella, Snow White, Anna & Elsa, Peter Pan, Tarzan, Mowgli, Aladdin, Simba, Bambi, Dumbo, and a cast of others.  Flipping through comic books, we find Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Robin, Wolverine, Catwoman, Daredevil, Storm, Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, and many more.  Pick up a book and read about orphans such as Harry Potter, Frodo, Prince Caspian, Jane Eyre, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Hansel and Gretel, and the pages go on and on.  Head to the theater and watch James Bond, Dorothy (Wizard of Oz), Cosette (Les Miserables), little orphan Annie, and just about the entire cast of Star Wars (Luke, Leia, and Han).

Dumbo - Source: cartoonimages.net
Dumbo - Source: cartoonimages.net

Anyway, you get the picture.  Our hearts are captivated by stories of orphans overcoming tragedy and finding success in life.  But as we step away from the heroic faces of the fictional orphans mentioned above, it can be difficult to face the reality of the world that we live in.  UNICEF reports that there are 17.8 million children throughout the world who have lost both parents.  The same report shows that there are 153 million children who have lost at least one supportive parent, if not both.  Now, it’s no secret that statistics often paint blurry pictures, so it should be noted that UNICEF’s report omitted children who live on the streets or in orphanages.  Needless to say, the reality of our world suggests we have a growing orphan crisis on our hands, and in turn, a growing need for heroes.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our fictional orphans, it’s that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.  Whereas some fictional orphans were able to escape tragedy on their own, most realized the only way out was through the discovery and support of some sense of family… family structures that helped transform orphans into the heroic forces they became.

Cinderella found a fairy godmother. Snow White found some dwarfs.  Peter Pan found a fairy.  Mowgli found a bear.  Aladdin found a genie.  And if you haven’t heard yet, Anna and Elsa built a snowman.

Superman was raised by farmers.  Spiderman had Aunt May.  Batman had a butler.  And Wolverine found an entire team.

Annie - Source: ew.com
Annie - Source: ew.com

Frodo found a tall wizard. James Bond found Q.  Dorothy found a happy witch.  Cosette found an ex-convict.  Annie found a bald billionaire. And Luke, Leia, and Han found each other.

In summary, they either found family or family found them.  Family is what made our childhood heroes heroic.  Family is what gave them a chance.  So in today’s world of reality, where can real life orphans turn to to find family?

First, let’s look into adoption.  In the September 2014 issue of Time magazine, we see a disturbing trend in orphans finding families through international adoptions.  In 1999, American families adopted 15,720 children from around the globe.  In 2013, that number dropped to 7,021, largely due to restrictions from countries such as China, Russia, South Korea, and Guatemala to name a few.  Some of those restrictions were bad (Russia reportedly banned American adoptions due to political retribution), while other restrictions were done to allegedly halt corruption within the system (Guatemala halted international adoptions after allegations of baby buying, resulting in overflowing orphanages).   Despite the decreasing numbers of adoptions, it still remains a strong force in helping orphans find family.  And although many adoptive parents (domestic and international) might disagree out of humility, their love and sacrifice are nothing short of heroic and are paving the way for future heroic and “happily ever after’s” for children all throughout the world.

Unfortunately, having to deal with the increased restrictions, length of process, and the high costs often associated with many adoptions, the numbers reported by Time are reflecting a trend that is going to be difficult to reverse.  Do more people need to adopt? Absolutely.  We should never stop promoting adoption!  But are there other effective ways that can place or keep vulnerable children in families and bring hope to the hopeless?

Thankfully, a growing focus in the global church over the past decade has been in the area of family.  As the orphan crisis grows, the global church is stepping up to counter the swing by promoting the needs to preserve, reunite, and expand the sense of family all throughout the world.

With encouragement from alliances such as the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) and smaller ministries like World Orphans, global churches are feeling more empowered to care for orphans in their own communities.  More and more at-risk families are being preserved and empowered by the care of their local churches.  Families are being reunited as some temporary institutional homes are beginning to reunite children with their families. And churches are casting large enough visions within their own congregations where we are seeing a rise in expanded families where extended family members or even non-relatives are opening their homes to children in need.

World Orphans Haiti
World Orphans Haiti

World Orphans desires to empower the church to care for orphans – until they all homes!  The best way we know to do that is by partnering with churches on the front lines of the orphan crisis.  And the beautiful thing is, we’re not the heroes in all of this!  We are constantly looking for American churches to join us in the pursuit to empower international churches through partnership. The tragic darkness of the orphan crisis is providing an opportunity for the global church to become what it was created to be… the driving force of the Kingdom of God.  When the church, the very Bride of Christ, symbolically walked down the aisle, it became the hero for generations to come!

So, will you join us in our pursuit to find heroic churches willing to care for orphaned and vulnerable children through family based care?  For more information, go to www.worldorphans.org.

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Oh, Hi Daddy.

By Matthew Hanks | Africa Projects Manager

Though World Orphans is not an adoption ministry, our hearts open wide when it comes to adoption.  Several of our staff members have adopted and we know it is a primary way the Church is getting involved in orphan care.  As such, we want to host an adoption discussion with you every couple of months as Matthew Hanks shares stories and insights about his own journey.

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I’m always amazed at how natural and easy it seems for my adopted son of two to call me Daddy.  I know, I know… I shouldn’t be surprised, as that is what I’ve told him to call me.  That’s what his siblings call me.  That’s how his mama refers to me in front of him.  And most importantly, that’s how I see myself.  But there’s something that happens in my heart every time I hear him acknowledge me in this role, every time those little dark brown, smiling eyes say, “Oh, hi Daddy.”

Kaleb Hanks, one who knows his Daddy

The circles that my wife and I run in are chock-full of adopted children.  I’ve notice the same phenomenon of shock arises in me when I hear “Mama” or “Daddy” come out of the mouths of these children towards their respective parents.  I’m pretty sure I’m not entirely alone in feeling this way.  It’s somewhat natural that a baby of a different skin color than its parent might catch one off guard when using these words.  All the same, I’m also confident that many others who are reading this are thinking, “What were you expecting him to call you?  Hanks?!?”

I think about the way Jesus taught His disciples to pray.  “Our Father in heaven.”  Not one of the other 100+ names given to God in the Bible, but Father.  He also didn’t say, “Pray, ‘Heavenly Father of Jesus’,” but rather “Our Father.”  This intimate label is extended to all of us regardless of religious background, ethnicity, or biology – all we have to do is claim it.  Warm and fuzzy or painful and aggrieved, hearing the word ‘Father’ invokes strong feelings; none are indifferent, because for many of us the emotion wrapped in this title taints the entirety of how we view life, God, and family.  That reality drives me to my knees, asking for mercy for my five children to whom I bear this designation.  And though I cannot personally speak to the title ‘Mama’, it is typically every bit as emotionally charged.

For us, the adoption journey has been a constant means of discovering greater depths of the Lord’s heart for us, His children whom He’s adopted into the eternal family.  The parallels to this gospel Truth are both obvious and profoundly simple (Romans 8:14) as well as mysteriously deep and hard to express in words - in that “groaning-too-deep-for-words-prayer” kind of way.  I’ve found that where words sometimes lack the ability to convey feeling, story has a powerful way of filling in the margins.  And you don’t have to think very long to recall an inspiring or moving adoption story.  Les Miserables, The Blind Side, Superman, Bella.  These stories are all tales that convey the heart of a parent toward an adopted child is no different than it is towards a biological child.  But it’s the other direction that I’m talking about: that of a child being so fully embraced by a parent that they have no doubt to whom they belong.  In my mind it’s a tie for the story that conveys this powerful truth:  Elf and Kung Fu Panda 2.  Though these two hysterical scenes mildly portray this truth -- one of a full size panda discovering that his father, a goose, is not his real dad and the other where a large man is sitting on the lap of his pint-sized elf father -- there is one that does it better yet.

Philomena is the story, recently nominated for Best Picture in the 2014 Academy Awards, portrays an Irish woman in her late sixties who attempts to reunite with the son she gave to adoption 50 years earlier.  Based on the true story of an Irish teen, Philomena was sent by her father to live at a Catholic convent after she became pregnant.  While there she was greatly shamed by the nuns who convinced her that it was her penance to sign over her parental rights so that they could sell her child to wealthy Americans who at the time were coming to Ireland in search of children to adopt.  Though just a teenager, Philomena spent the first 3-4 years of her son’s life as his mother while she worked at the convent.  The bond formed in those early years left a mom fearing for the wellbeing of her son for the next fifty and a son who longed to return ‘home’ his entire life.

You’re probably thinking, “How does this relate to what you’re talking about with adoption?  It sounds like you’re building a case for all children to be returned to their bio-parent(s)?”  I’ll explain.  My respect and appreciation for the biological mother of my son was fairly profound before watching this movie, but now I’m even more astounded by the abundant gift and sacrifice that Kaleb’s bio-mom gave us all through adoption.  That said, this movie highlights the reality that we all have a foundational place in our hearts that can only be filled by a mother and father, regardless of the biology or genetics involved.  Once a heart has staked its claim as a daughter or son of another, whether that’s at birth or in one’s late teens, it is virtually irrevocable.  So you see why those two little syllables still wreck me after two years of Kaleb becoming ours.  He has claimed my unwavering love for him as a son.  And I’m convinced that even if he’d spent his first four years with his bio-dad and didn’t become ours until he was older in age, though it may be more difficult, it would still be possible for him to offer me the honor of that title.  For me, this beautifully miraculous fact sums up the core of adoption and in a lot of ways reflects the pure essence of the gospel.  Likewise, this too explains why our Father in heaven greatly desires us to claim Him as Abba…Daddy.

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” – Galatians 4:6

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That Adoption Ministry

By Matthew Hanks | Projects Manager Africa

This challenging reality became obvious to me when I began the ‘support raising’ process to work for World Orphans.  No matter how clearly I thought I was casting the vision of this amazing ministry - a ministry which strives to keep children in families in their own countries - at the end of my presentation, most people still referred to World Orphans as that "adoption ministry”.  In defense of these precious people, we had just returned from Ethiopia with a baby boy that was (and still is) transforming our family in so many wonderful ways through the gift of adoption.  And I'm sure that we couldn't stop talking about it.  Still can't.  

Matthew serves World Orphans as our Projects Manager over Africa.  He is pictured here with Kaleb, his adopted son of two years.  He and his wife Amelia have four other children and are currently in the process of their second international adoption.

In fact, it was through Kaleb's adoption that The Lord led us to World Orphans.  It was seeing World Orphans Home Based Care model in Ethiopia, which in part encourages the church to find families for the orphans in their midst, that confirmed in me that this was a ministry with whom I wanted to partner.  The pull to work with this dynamic grass roots ministry only grew when I started meeting the families of our fairly small staff and began to recognize that many others had also been drawn into occupational orphan care ministry as a result of adopting internationally.  However, these dozen or so kids that have been grafted into the families in our ranks only confuses the matter worse of whether or not World Orphans is an international adoption ministry.  Though we aren’t, the reality is adoption and orphan care go hand-in-hand and should be hard to separate.  One adopted child in this world means one less orphan. Adoption = family, to the lonely heart of the orphan (Ps. 68:6, paraphrased).  Ok, here’s where I’m going with this.  You ready?  Our Father in heaven desires us to share in the blessing of caring for orphaned children so that we can know Him better by identifying with how He cares for us as spiritual orphans.  Make sense?  No, not clear enough??  Well, ok, I guess it’s not the first time I’ve heard this.  I'm pretty clear to myself, but apparently maybe not as clear as I’d like to think.  You know what I'm talking about, right?  I say what I mean and I mean what I say and still... You already have no idea what I'm talking about do you?  NOT COMMUNICATING CLEARLY! …Did you hear that?

4.4.14_ethiopia1I wonder if God ever feels like I do about communicating.  Not that He’s disillusioned with it actually taking place or not, but if He feels like He couldn’t have been more clear, and yet confusion remains.  With the Scriptures mentioning caring for “orphans” and the “fatherless” forty-one times, how is it that there are over 150 million orphans in the world?  Is He not being clear when He says, “Do not deny justice to a foreigner or fatherless child” (Deut. 24:17)?  Or, simplified further, “…Defend the cause of the orphans” (Is. 1:17).   His heart is unmistakably for orphans.  He is even given the name in the Psalms as the “Father to the Fatherless” (Ps. 68:5 and 27:10).  The entirety of the gospel is built on this reality, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).  He uses the adoption stories of Moses, Esther, Samuel, even Jesus himself, to communicate his “father-heart” for not only the physical orphans in this world, but also the spiritual orphans that we all are without the knowledge of His saving grace.  God, the Father, wants us to participate in caring for orphans so that we can more completely receive His care for us as spiritual orphans.  We get insight into the Father’s heart for us as we fellowship with Him through the shared experience of embracing orphaned children as our own.  This reality has transformed my life and has fueled a passion in me to share this blessing of orphan care.

As I write this I'm returning from a trip to Ethiopia where I had the privilege of hanging out with our World Orphans Ethiopia Country Directors, the LaBranches, who have been in various parts of Africa for going on 9 years.  They adopted their youngest from Ethiopia back in 1999 when the in-country fee, their only fee as they were living there, was $99 (insert personal commentary over exuberant costs of international adoption here).  While there, they invited us to attend their small group.  We showed up early to help grill some burgers as we were told the children in the group out number the adults about 3-to-1 and that we would need to start early to be prepared for the onslaught of children that were soon to commence upon the compound.  We’d just put the last few patties on the grill when we heard a van pull up to the solid gate at the top of the steep driveway. We were prepared with the food but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next.  At 5pm sharp in strolled the families through the gate.  Each one a similar make up: a couple kids clearly born on US soil, a couple kids clearly born in Ethiopia, and a couple of parents.  One, after another, after another.  Adoption had not only transformed these families, but God had used it to work in their hearts to lead them to the mission field.  I don't know why I was shocked to see this, as in many ways this is the same story as mine.  Through adoption we not only discovered how incomplete our family was before Kaleb, but we also discovered a much deeper understanding of our role in the Kingdom as a response to more completely receiving what Jesus paid for - our adoption into the eternal family of God.

4.4.14_ethiopia2Though World Orphans does not do international adoption, we do strongly support it as an option in fighting the orphan crisis.  Though we believe that orphaned children will thrive the most in families in their own communities and cultures -- and as a ministry we strive to that end -- we recognize that for many children the alternative to international adoption is life in institutional care.  And though the issues and controversies surrounding international adoption are many and are extremely complex we believe that at the end of the day, to that one, or those two, or that sibling group, all they care about is that they are in a loving home.

Until They All Have Homes is our tag line at World Orphans.  In my opinion, this is the clearest, least complicated answer to the global orphan crisis; finding homes (i.e. families) for these kids.  There are many great ways to that end, but that end is fundamental in caring for orphaned children in a way that’s in line with the Lord’s heart.  So whether it’s through international adoption or helping us find families in the communities in the developing countries in which we work, God’s plan for orphan care is pretty simple: “Father to the fatherless, defender of the widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy.  God places the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5-6a).

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Care here and abroad

By Kate Borders | Director of Holistic Care

Our northern New Jersey newspaper reported that a 4-year old girl was found dead in her Brooklyn, New York home. Her mother was arrested on charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a child. The mother called 911 herself after finding her daughter unconscious, but the medical examiner said the child was under-nourished and that marks on her ankles indicated she had been tied up...probably to a small bed in the corner of the mother's room. The mother was also charged with the possession of crack cocaine and marijuana. The little girl had two brothers, 5 years old and nine months. The last sentence of the small article that reported on this tragedy reads: "The other children were placed in foster care."

My heart is broken for the little girl whose life just slipped away. In a city of such affluence, she simply wasn't well-cared for and she died. And my heart breaks for her brothers. Their young lives, lives that will never be the same again as their world was just shattered, their lives were summed up in one sentence. "

The other children were placed in foster care."

One sentence, a paragraph all by itself. Grammatically it reads like an afterthought. The words haunt me and I can't stop thinking about those little boys.

One of the (many) reasons the words are haunting... in theory I could do something to directly care for those boys.

One of the things that I most appreciate learning through my work with World Orphans, and that I find most challenging, is that you don't need to have a lot and you don't need to have all your ducks in a row to care for children in need.  I am humbled, challenged, and inspired by my brothers and sisters I have met around the world through World Orphans partnerships who are spending themselves to care for orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children.  And I want to follow their example.

Some of our partners are young parents giving up the privacy of their own home and time alone with their biological children in order to raise orphans in a church-based children's home.  Others are families who are living very sacrificially to bring children into their already-full home.    Then there are the pastors who have grown children, work full-time jobs, and spend the rest of their time shepherding small churches and caring for orphans.  Those are just a few examples of people living lives of servant leadership so that children are cared for and their communities are impacted by the love of Christ.

These individuals seem to be some of the most sacrificial and at the same time most joyful people I have ever met.  And I believe they are setting an example for us.

I know there are differences between America and the developing world.  I know there is a lot of red tape and paperwork involved with caring for children who are not your own in America...but I don't think that should stop us.

Often times when I tell people about World Orphans the response is something like, "it's great that you are concerned about children around the world, but what about the children here in America?"  And to that I say, "amen!"  Through my work with World Orphans I feel increasingly passionate that it's a both/and situation.  I believe God desires for us to have a heart for the nations, to be a part of what He is doing around the world. AND...I believe He desires for us to reflect His love and the truth of the Gospel right where we live.  We can do both.

And for those of us who live in America, the reality is that children die because people neglect them or because people beat them.  There are children who need homes and we can do something about that.  I know the foster care system is messy, I know it's hard...but I find myself drawn to it.  I want my home to be the home those little boys go to when their sister dies and their mom goes to jail and their dad is not around.

I know it will be hard. I know they will have issues. I know I don't know what I'm getting myself into. I know I don't really know what I'm talking about because we haven't done it yet. But I am excited! I'm excited for the day when I can join my brothers and sisters around the world in sacrificially opening my home to care for orphaned and abandoned children.

And I'm asking you to consider it. Consider what it looks like to be aware of and involved in what God is doing around the world, and right in your community.  It won't be glamorous, it will be hard. It won't be easy, it will be risky. But as a Christian living in America I can't think of anything I would rather do than be in relationship with brothers and sisters around the world - supporting and encouraging them, and take care of children who don't have a family.

So just consider it. I know God calls people to different things, so I know it's not what EVERYONE is called to, but I think more of us are called to foster care and/or adoption than dare to consider it.  And if you don't bring children into your home you can still be supportive and encouraging to those who are.  What does it look like for you as an individual and your church as a community?

So as you are drawn to be a part of the work God is doing around the world to care for orphaned and abandoned children...let us know. I can tell you that the World Orphans Church-to-Church model is an awesome and exciting way to be involved and would love to tell you stories of how the Gospel is transforming lives. And I hope in a few years we are doing foster care and I can tell you about the ups and downs of caring for orphaned and abandoned children in America and tell you more stories of God's great love and faithfulness.

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