How can Australian Churches help orphans more?

Adoption has been practiced in almost every country and culture throughout history. Still today there are millions of children all over the world needing shelter, health services, education and a primary carer/family. However, you could be forgiven if you thought there was an anti-adoption culture within Australia. The use of adoption in jokes are still commonplace – Why is your brother so strange/odd/etc? He’s adopted! When couples cannot have children by natural conception, they are encouraged vigorously to pursue IVF and GIFT programs and in some cases can get government funding to aid them. Adoption is usually regarded as a last, desperate resort to have or extend a family. When some notice that an adopted child was adopted into a friends family it is spoken of in hushed embarrassed tones as though it is a dreaded, shameful sin that dare not speak its name. Adoptive couples are often bailed up by strangers with rude, intrusive questions and comments, like: Oh! So, you couldn’t have your own then?! For some reason, there are some people that assume normal social decorum and decency no longer apply. In the case of an interracial family strangers behave even bolder: Where were they born? What happened to the mother? Did they suffer in the orphanage? Adoptive parents soon learn how to deflect these novice paparazzi, mostly with gentle humor, but sometimes it gets a little much and the reply might be as curt and rude as the original question.

Historically, Australia’s involvement in adoption and orphan care (particularly interracial) hasn’t always had a healthy or positive outcome for the children, their biological families or the adoptive families. Recent moves at federal level, supported by private initiatives such as National Adoption Awareness Week are seeking to improve upon this by promoting a positive approach to adoption. This not only provides education to adoptive parents to help them learn about the factors of abandonment, attachment and identity of the child but also extends to, where possible, support for the biological families of the children. We have a long way to go, but as they say, you have to start somewhere.

Adoption and orphan care is far to complex to resolve in a simple blog post. However, what I would like you to consider is, how can Australian Christians and Churches become more interested, involved and committed to orphan care. Adoption is an wonderful and amazing picture of how God has brought us into his family. If anyone can understand the beauty of adoption, surely it is the bible believing evangelical Christian? Perhaps it is an education and awareness issue. Perhaps, in part, it stems from a reaction to the efforts of various social and welfare groups, that due to their focus on serving the community by way of providing aid, comfort and help to ease temporal suffering, the gospel message of Jesus has been diluted and in many cases dissolved completely. After all, they reason, what good is accomplished if you give a homeless person a bed for the night if they later die anyway and spend eternity in the torments of hell? I once had this exact attitude. When working in Africa as a Bible Teacher and Church Planter I became callous and cynical to the requests for medical aid, touting that, “I’d rather preach the gospel to them than give them chloroquine so they can be relieved of malaria symptoms and die later and go to hell.” Yet, as a wiser, older Christian pointed out to me when making my progress (!) reports later, “If you had given them medicine they might have lived longer to hear and respond to the gospel.” I had completely missed the point of mercy and welfare. I was no different to the arrogant, unloving priest and Levite, that crossed to the other side of the road so I wouldn’t be tainted by those I esteemed worse off than I.

Attitudes like this deaden our concern for children at risk, vulnerable to illness and disease and the orphaned in need of compassion, care, love, nurture, healing and restoration. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if you preach the gospel correctly you are going to be accused of heresy, licentiousness and lawlessness. (Commentary on Romans 6, ch1) Likewise, I would contend that a proper proclamation and application of the gospel by living a life of extravagant service and generosity, such as poverty relief and care of children, will result in accusations of diluting or neglecting the gospel in favour of social action.

If you have a genuine commitment to the gospel wouldn’t you will relish the opportunity to reenact the redemption and reconciliation found in Jesus Christ even it meant taking the risk that some might accuse you of wrong motives?

Mistreatment of vulnerable children was tantamount to the grossest of sins in the Old Testament. It belied a selfish, hateful cruelty that contradicted God’s character, justice, mercy, love and compassion. Describing genuine faith in Christ in the New Testament, James says:

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 ~ James 1:27

A fair-dinkum commitment to the gospel, one that is theologically robust and historically orthodox, will be evident in our Churches when we have Christians, who are confident in God’s love for them and are compelled to love others. This is no more evident than when that love is manifest in the protection and nurture of orphans and vulnerable children. Our response needs to go well beyond a token Child Sponsorship or putting Christmas Gifts in a shoebox once a year. Don’t stop doing those things, but do realise that genuine orphan care goes considerably beyond that. How would your Church react, for instance, if a couple who were active members shared their wish to extend or start their family via adoption? Could you conceive that family being supported and prayed for in the same way as your favourite missionary couple off to New Guinea or Vanuatu? Could you see how assisting that couple with the exorbitant fees associated with adoption is an investment in not only caring for an orphan but also serving your brother and sister in Christ for the sake of the gospel? Adopting parents do not get any subsidy from the Government nor can they claim any fees or costs through Health Insurance. What a great way to start.

If you’re a pastor, how often do you talk about adoption? Would you consider doing a series on the doctrine of adoption that concluded with a challenge and call for families in your Church to adopt a child? There are some excellent resources to help you get started. Reclaiming Adoption (free Study Guide) and Adopted for Life are two very good ones.

Please, lets not sit back any longer, lets step forward and lead by example. How, where and when can you respond?

Note: Albert is a husband, adoptive Dad and Pastor of an independent non-denominational Church in Sydney. He has previously served as a volunteer in association with National Adoption Awareness in Australia supporting and promoting adoption awareness and education programs in the Sydney region.

Post Edit Comment: This article was written before the proposal for an Australian Royal Commission into Child Abuse amongst the Catholic Church. That is something that should be welcomed by any Church & Faith Community as an opportunity to protect our children. The Church should lead the way in the care, nurture and flourishing of our children. It is abominable to think she has not. All Christians and Churches should be on the front foot and take steps to cooperate with the Commission and put all possible processes in place for the flourishing of all children.

Maybe Because by Aimee Garcia-Tice

A new Australian Children’s book about adoption from the perspective of “the best boy in the whole wide world” was launched in Sydney in 2010 at the same time as National Adoption Awareness Week that year.

There is a huge gap in positive adoption stories here in Australia so Aimee Garcia-Tice and Serena Geddes have provided a great resource for kids and families to start and encourage the adoption conversation. But it need not be restricted to adoptive families as it is, simply, a great little kids book full of adventure and imagination. Grab a copy from The Book Depository or Amazon for your kids!

NB: illustration linked from best little boys website.

An Adoptee Investing in Champions

Troy Matthews, or Dr. Matthews as he is better known today, was Dean of Students at my Bible College and was also Associate Pastor at my church in 1989/90. Troy was adopted at birth and always spoke openly, positively and generously about his experience. Although I was only 17/18 years old when I was one of his students and not really thinking about my future family too much at the time, his example influenced me significantly when the time came that my wife and I were considering adopting.

There are some heart-breaking stories of cases where adoption hasn’t been approached sensitively or lovingly (towards both the child and the birth parents). Unfortunately, some of those stories get a little more air time than the great majority of ones where children and families flourish through their experience with adoption. Troy is a fantastic example of a man who not only flourished, but is now helping others flourish also.

Together for Adoption recently published Troy’s story:

Troy was born to a young mother in Snyder, Texas, and because of the closed adoption he doesn’t know much more than that about his fraternal parents. Simultaneously to this woman’s pregnancy, a young couple had battled several miscarriages and were urged by a local pastor in Snyder to consider adoption – particularly the adoption of Troy. They quickly realized that this was their “gift from God.”

Today, Troy puts it in his own words, “They were his gift from God.” …

Dr. Matthews is now a professor of “Contemporary Issues”, a course required by all majors at Liberty. The subject matter directly approaches one’s world view – affirming a Biblical world view and also applying it. Topics such as adoption, abortion, and a Christian’s moral responsibility to such topics and understanding of absolute truth’s found in Scripture. These courses are designed to affirm a believers responsibility to the world around them.

Troy is “a champion, … reinvesting in others to be young champions as well. – just as (he) was invested in.”

If you’re in Australia and considering investing in adoption, National Adoption Awareness Week can provide you with the starting point. Click on the link for your state to find out more. If you have already been involved with Adoption there are many opportunities for networking and support with other families and adoptees.

In the USA check out the links on the Together for Adoption site.

Karen’s Adoption Links has information for other countries.

Do orphans need saving?

This question is complex and volatile. There is a tendency to be over simplistic when talking about adoption using terms and phrases like “saving” the orphans. However it is important to distinguish between advocating adoption as a vital means to helping and serving children in need of a permanent family and “saving” them. Lets be clear about this, there’s only ONE saviourand it’s not me nor is it any other adoptive parent, advocate or ambassador.

Kawale Orphan Care in Lilongwe, Malawi

Kristen Howerton has a lengthy blog post about this and she deals with the issue with substance and sensitivity.

I don’t like the savior narratives applied to adoptive parents.  I don’t like people telling me I’m amazing just because I’ve adopted.  Because I’m not.  I am a very human mom who is sometimes shrill and selfish and impatient and just plain mean.  I did not “save” my adopted kids.

I am very careful to never give my adopted children the feeling that there is some extra gratitude required from them.  They are a part of my family just like my daughters.  They have every right to be ungrateful, or resent me, or wish that they had never been adopted.  I don’t talk to them about where they came from as if they needed to be saved.  So on the one hand, I do take care to avoid the savior meme.

Citing a detailed example from Haiti arising from the recent turmoil caused the earthquakes she urges readers, it’s time to sit up and take notice:

This is a long post.  I hope you will read the whole thing, and I hope you will read it without judgment of the people involved.  People who serve in Haiti face the awful task, every day, of how many people they can help.  Orphanages are overcrowded simply because some very good people have a hard time turning away one more helpless child.  If this outrages you, then think about what part YOU can play.  There can be no outrage at people who serve in Haiti, as we sit at our computer screens in our comfortable homes in America.  But you need to know that this is real.

Please, read the full post

An adoption connection with the tribes of Israel

In reading the Old Testament, when a geographic region is mentioned, it is usually referred to in terms of its tribal allocation. Depending on your attention to detail, you might get a bit confused when you try to line up these tribal allocations with the original sons or family heads of Jacob (later renamed, Israel). For the majority of us, the most familiar son of Jacob is probably Joseph (i.e. the owner of the multi-coloured coat). Yet, there is no ‘tribe of Joseph‘ so to speak. Instead, Joseph’s two son’s, Manasseh and Ephraim, form two new family tribes and receive a land allocation along with ten of Jacob’s other sons. K. A. Matthews in The New American Commentary on Genesis offers the explanation that Jacob adopted Manasseh and Ephraim and gave them the same legal recognition and inheritance of his other (direct biological) sons.

Jacob claims the sons of Joseph as his own, making them full recipients of his inheritance on the same order as Jacob’s other sons (Gen 48:5–6). … Ephraim and Manasseh will have full status as Jacob’s sons (not merely grandsons), receiving their rightful legacy. The [text] reinforces the new standing that Ephraim and Manasseh receive. This adoption extends to Joseph’s first two sons only, not those Joseph may produce subsequently; future offspring will not have their brothers’ elevated status, meaning that their inheritance will fall under the territorial designations of Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:6; Josh 14:4). …

… the sons of Joseph also receive firstborn rights as the adopted sons of Israel (1 Chr 5:1–2). … The adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh as the “sons of Jacob/Israel” also had implications for the configuration of the “twelve tribes of Israel.” … the Blessing of Moses counts twelve tribes by deleting Simeon and dividing the house of Joseph into Ephraim and Manasseh (Deut 33:17). In the idealized count presented by Ezekiel (Ezk 47:13–14), the land divides into twelve equal allotments with two going to Joseph, since the tribe of Levi receives no portion (Ezk 44:28). ~ (Mathews, K. A. 2007. Genesis 11:27-50:26 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. Vol. 1B (874–876). Broadman & Holman Publishers: Nashville)