Do you feel the tide turning?
When I began to speak boldly about corruption in international adoption a year ago, I faced a lot of opposition. The adoption and orphan care movement was growing quickly within the Christian community, as thousands of families and churches where embracing God’s heart for orphans. At the same time, there was a lot of fear that talking about corruption in countries like Uganda or Ethiopia would lead to these countries closing to international adoption.
But I believe something is changing.
More families are telling the truth about their adoption experiences. Leaders in the Christian adoption and orphan care movement are calling us to question what we’re doing and to consider what will make a lasting difference. While I still see the adoption movement as a bit of a flood that has the potential to devastate vulnerable communities in the developing world, I think the tide is changing. I think a growing number of us who take seriously what the Bible has to say about orphans and widows are questioning whether what we are doing is helping without hurting.
I believe we still have a long way to go.
Every time I see a 147 million shirt or read an adoption agency website about 163 million orphans or listen to a sermon about the orphan crisis, I want to scream wait! There are millions of orphans in the world today – but roughly 9 out of 10 of them are living with their families. These families are often at risk of poverty and injustice. As Christians, we’re called to orphans and widows – to vulnerable families. When Christians think “orphan crisis” their first response should be supporting kids with their mothers and fathers. Empowering these families to have a path out of poverty. Fighting for justice and against corruption. Protecting and providing for the least of these in response to the grace and mercy we have received from our adopted Father.
So until every Christian grasps that living out James 1:27 means supporting families first, I will keep speaking the truth.
I am thankful that I am not alone on this journey. So for the rest of this post, I wanted to share with you a few things I have read and watched. I hope you will find these as helpful, thought-provoking and heart-breaking as I have.
- Mercy, Mercy. A heartbreaking story of an Ethiopian family and a Danish family connected by adoption. Please, please, please if you are considering international adoption, watch this documentary. Nearly every family that has adopted from Africa can see something of their own story in this film. It is raw and transparent and hard. It should lead us all to question deeply when adoption is truly the best choice for a child.
- Red flags wave over Uganda’s adoption boom. Article and news report about international adoption in Uganda from CNN
- Lots of helpful posts from The Rileys. This week alone, Mark and Keren have shared a thoughtful story from an adult adoptee, a painful story from an adoption that failed as a result of corruption, and their reflections on the Pepperdine Conference about Intercountry Adoption: Orphan Rescue or Child Trafficking?
- A Place of Mercy: The OTHER side of orphan care. I met blogger Erika while we were both “stuck” in Uganda in 2011. We both spent months in Uganda living in orphanages with the children we were hoping to adopt. For both of us, this meant seeing a side of adoption and orphan care that is invisible when you go on a short-term mission trip or a quick adoption trip. Erika’s experience has compelled her to ask some terrific questions:
What if poverty did not decide whether or not a child became an orphan?
What if parents who love their children are able to raise them and watch them grow into adult hood?
What if parents were able to feed and clothe their kids and able to send them to school?
What if we could keep kids from becoming orphans!
Wherever you are at in your journey, I hope these resources will be helpful. For those of you who share my passion for reforming international adoption, keep up the good fight. For others who are consider adoption for the first time, I hope you will not be overwhelmed. I am not against international adoption. I love adoption and I feel incredibly blessed to be an adoptive mother. My hope is that all this spilled ink will empower you with information to make the best decision for your family – and to do what is just and good.
If you are wondering why things have been quiet here at Family Hope Love, it is because I started a new job in January. I am leading Online Marketing for People Tree, an ethical fashion brand based in London. Between learning my new job and caring for my family, I have not had as much time as usual to devote to this space. But going forward, I am ready to engage more deeply with the growing tribe of Christians who are passionate about adoption and orphan care.
Thank you for reading and joining me on this journey.
At about 6:30 on Friday night, it’s like someone pushes a button and the London Underground changes.
The work week is over and everyone sighs a collective sigh of relief.
People look one another in the eye. They might smile or even say hello. Off to dinner with friend or drinks at the pub or home to family, the men loosen their ties.
I am sitting next to a drunk toothless man playing the violin. He began with Summer from Vivaldi’s four seasons. Now he’s playing familiar fiddle tunes.
My fingers are tapping along. Knowing, remembering a common language. A common passion.
Now he’s passing the hat, collecting a few pence – most likely to pay for his next drink.
But it is curious. How did he end up playing violin on the London Underground – not in a symphony? He’s quite good but also way off his rocker.
You never know what you will see on the London Underground.
I miss driving a car.
It has taken me more than six months of life without a car to get to this point. And honestly I wouldn’t be missing a car now if it weren’t for my knee.
Last night I was chasing my kids upstairs after dinner after an extended dance party inspired by an African rendition of Gagnam Style. I missed the door at the top of the stairs and slammed me knee directly into the wooden door frame.
The door frame won. My knee is swollen and walking extremely painful.
I have mad more than a few knee injuries over the years. As a runner, skier and cyclist I have not been kind to my joints. Generally I push through the pain, running miles further than I should.
But at the end of the day we always had a car. I could kill my legs on the weekend because Monday meant getting back in the driver seat.
How am I supposed to get to work (or take my kids to school or buy food or anything else for that matter) if I can’t walk?
Last night as I felt my knee swelling up I was not sure how I would feel in the morning – or whether I could make the 3 mile walk to and from work.
I woke up with my knee feeling slightly better and decided to go to work. An hour later as I am sitting on the train, it hurts a lot.
And I miss my car.
Life without a car requires learning how to walk – in a whole new way. It has taken us months to figure out shoes that are durable and comfortable (and fashionable) for life in the city.
Walking miles every day, day after day, on cobblestones and tarmac, in rain and snow, through the general grit of city life is hard on our shoes. When life involved driving to everything in Seattle, cleaning and polishing shoes seemed cute and old fashioned. Like who actually gets their shoes polished at Nordstrom? But living here one of the first things I had to figure out was how to clean, polish and protect shoes.
Walking everywhere is hard in the feet too. Especially at first. I thought I was in pretty good shape when we moved, but going to the gym a few times a week has nothing on living without a car.
Last summer I learned this the hard way. With four little kids in tow, I took the bus from Kennigton where we were staying to Hyde park to go to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. The playground and park are magical. After playing for a few hours we ate lunch in the grass and then wandered through Hyde Park. The older boys were on scooters and Ella fell fast asleep in the buggy. It was sunny and beautiful. We were surrounded by Londoners enjoying the glorious summer sun…
To be continued…off to work!
Ahhh. Life in London. Where was I?
Walking and riding public transport everywhere is both terrible and wonderful.
I mean on one hand, I am blogging on my commute home. I could not write a blog post while driving a minivan. I certainly thought of a million things to write whilst driving from home to school to shopping and back again.
But on the flip side I have blisters on my feet. And yes – I’ve lived here for seven months. This is long enough to learn to wear comfortable shoes. I foolishly ran out my office door and a mile to the train station in my cute work shoes. The ones that are supposed to live in my desk at the office so I can wear my wellies or trainers for the walk home. And then I left 15 minutes late so I had to run.
When we first arrived in London I thought people on the train were awfully rude. Why not smile, say hello, at least make eye contact?
After joining the crowd on the daily commute into the heart of the city, I get it. The heat, noise, pressing crowds, frantic pace, everything about life in this city is intense. The only way to cope with being squished together like a tin full of sardines on a train more than 200 feet underground for an hour or more everyday is to carve out your own little place of silence.
Quiet time or me time or whatever you call it.
I have a simple little routine on my commute. In the morning I pray while I walk to the train. And then on the train I listen to a helpful podcast, often something on intentional leadership from Michael Hyatt or a sermon from Tim Keller. On the walk into work I review my goals for the day. I try to walk I to the office ready to give it my complete focus.
On the way home, I reverse. I pray as I walk to the train, I read or blog on the way home, and then on that last 10 walk I prepare to be fully present with my kids the moment I walk in the door.
I think finding a way to cope with the stress of a city commute is the only way to survive. The whole pretending you are alone – even if it means ignoring others who are sometime in need – is just life.
I hope I never am too comfortable with this. I hope I never tune others out to the point I miss a chance to help someone in need.
And so our adventure began. We arrived in London the second week of July. I thought July meant summer.
I thought I could get by with flats and sandals, with summer dresses and lightweight sweaters. I was wrong.
The day we arrived we had nothing to eat. We had no idea how to order takeout. Not even pizza.
Our phones didn’t work.
And our ATM cards didn’t work.
We didn’t realise we had moved into a a neighbourhood where we could find fried chicken and beer, but not much green or healthy.
We went out to look for something to eat. We were weary after a sleepless night and our children were whining constantly. And them it started to rain. Not just a shower either.
The rain fell down, up and sideways in heavy droplets and we didn’t even have an umbrella, not that it would have made much of a difference. We found a bit of shelter under an awning and huddled next to a man smoking and drinking a can of beer.
What had we done? We’re we complete lunatics for having sold our house, our cars and most of our stuff? For leaving the clean, safe suburbs of Seattle where we surrounded by friends and family?
For this? A city where it rains even in July and there is no food other than greasy chicken and chips and everyone is rude and nothing works…
Not my most rational moment.
But the truth is culture shock is hard. It was much worse than we thought it would be. The cumulative stress of not being surrounded by the unfamiliar was exhausting.
We spent the first two weeks in London exploring our new home. Everything was hard at first. Navigating the city with four small children was scary. I always worried they would fall on the steep escalator into the Underground or run in front of a moving bus or trip off the train platform.
And then there was the walking. My life without a car in London involves walking miles everyday. This is totally normal now. But at first it felt impossible. My poor feet didn’t know what hit them. I went from 20 hours a week driving a minivan to 20 hours a week pounding the pavement, carrying children, groceries, everything for life.
To make matters worse, Londoners seem rude, especially to newcomers who do not understand the culture.
There are a few simple rules – or call them survival strategies – for enduring life in a city where you are one of millions on the public transportation everyday.
First, do not talk on the tube. If you must talk, whisper. Under no circumstances should you talk to a stranger,
Second, no matter now tightly packed your train car is, pretend no one else exists. Never make eye contact with anyone. Ever.
Third, even if you have nothing better to do, appear busy. Play angry birds on your iPhone if you must.
Fourth, Whatever you do, do not let the other passengers notice you are reading their tabloid newspapers.
Thats my stop…more next time I am on the tube.
So where was I? If I do not begin to write the story of our time in London, I fear I will forget the feeling of walking out of Heathrow airport with 13 suitcases, 4 children, two bicycles and somehow a cup of coffee.
We crossed the lanes of traffic busy with buses whisking weary passengers to hotels and rental cars and to the long que for a black cab.
There are two types of black cabs in London – those that sit four and those that seat 5. We were six plus three trolleys of luggage.
One driver sizes up our lot and decided we could fit in his black cab.
One hour and £200 later, we were home – at least home for a few weeks. Our first flat in London was a 600 square foot apartment at the top of a narrow staircase. The apartment was in an old Victorian row house surrounded by blocks of council housing – what Americans might call the projects.
The neighbourhood was full of immigrants, but we were the ones who felt like foreigners…
Liberty is one of my favourite places in the world. The stationary. The chocolate. The shoes. The fabric. The scarves. There is nothing like it in the whole world.
Making a short stop tonight to get a little surprise for my favourite guy.
So I have this crazy idea to start blogging on the tube. With my new job I have about an hour a day on the London Underground. I have an iPhone. Why not write?
I am have two more stops. So here goes.
I love this city. I really do. At first the culture shock was much worse than I expected. Having traveled to London a half dozen times in the last two years I thought I knew what to expect. More or less. I was wrong.
We arrived in London on July 10. Our first challenge? Fitting our family of six along with 13 suitcases, 2 strollers and 2 bicycles in a taxi.
And doing it without loosing our minds or our children after a sleepless night on the red eye from Seattle.
Time to get off the train…
My friend Holly is one of the few fearless voices in the adoption blog world. Holly and her family lived and served in Democratic Republic of Congo for four years. During this time, they supported an orphanage in Eastern DRC called Tumaini – or “Reeds of Hope”. While living in DRC, Holly adopted two children and began facilitating international adoptions from DRC. As Holly was working with adoptive families, she was also becoming more aware of the poverty faced by families living in DRC. She began to ask herself some hard questions – and ultimately stopped facilitating adoptions.
Since moving back to the United States, Holly has continued to be outspoken about the truth about adoption from Democratic Republic of Congo. She courageously shares her blog with families who have seen and experienced corruption first-hand. She listens to the stories of families who have been threatened by their adoption agencies. She faces all sorts of criticism from adoption advocates who wish she would just shut up. But she keeps telling the truth.
If you are not familiar with Holly’s blog – Alama ya Kitumaini which means “Signs of Hope” – you need to make yourself a cup of tea and pay her a visit.
I suggest you start with this post about Holly’s journey – her moment of truth. When she began facilitating adoptions from Tumaini, she struggled with the question of whether or not the children were adoptable. All of the babies at Tumaini had living fathers and had experienced the death of their mothers during or after childbirth. After a little more research, Holly discovered that the babies could meet the definition of orphan under United States immigration law as long as their fathers were unable to care for them – and had relinquished their rights in writing. But something about this definition bothered her. In Holly’s words:
Maybe for some of you it isn’t obvious, because it was certainly clear that the fathers in both cases were “unable to care for the child”. What was bothering me was what was missing from that definition.
It was love. Love was the missing part of the definition. Even though extremely poor, those two fathers LOVED their babies. And had every intention of coming back to get their babies one day. Most of the fathers and families that drop off their babies have that same intention, it was love that motivated the action to bring the babies to the orphanage in the first place because they were doing the only thing they could to keep them alive.
Yes, they are unable to “care” for their children and yes, if you asked them if they want their babies to go to the U.S. or europe to be adopted (i.e. to be given food, healthcare, education, advantages they would never dream of being able to provide for their children), most would say yes. If you asked them “can you care for your child?” And then followed that question up with, “because if you can’t, your child can be raised by a loving family in America. He/she can be adopted. Do you want this?”. The answer would be adoption.
The choice was “adoption to the states” or “home with you in desperate poverty”. When adoption is the only alternative offered to destitute poverty with the family, I began to wonder if there was really a choice at all. In fact, I began to feel the injustice of such a request…
Click here to read the rest of Holly’s post. If you are thinking about adopting from Africa – especially Democratic Republic of Congo – take time to read everything!
The questions that Holly raises in this post are so important. As Christians, asking the question “is it legal?” is not enough.
Sadly I know more than a few Christian families who blatently disgregard the law when it comes to international adoption. They do not care if a child meets the legal definition of “orphan” – and they are willing to do almost anything in order to “save” a child.
But even following the law is not enough. We are called to something higher. We must ask deeper, better questions. I believe there have been thousands of situations in Uganda, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo where desperate mothers or fathers have placed their children for adoption because they felt they had no other choice.
While I believe in principle that a mother, father and extended family should have the right to choose what is best for their children within the boundaries of the law - it is not really a choice if the only alternative to adoption is desperate poverty – or death.
Imagine a family living in a village in rural Africa. The parents are young, poor, struggling to care for their first child. When their second child is born, there is not enough to go around. The mother is starving and her body does not make enough milk to feed the baby. Nearby someone is building an orphanage and a school. When missionaries from the orphanage visit the family’s home and offer to take the baby – who is severely malnourished – the parents say yes. They are desperate. They love their child, but feel they have no other choice.
And then a year later, a couple on a short-term mission trip visit the orphanage where the now one year old girl is living. They meet her – and they fall in love. The assume that because she is living in an orphanage, she must be an orphan who is available for international adoption. They begin the process to adopt her. Somewhere along the way, they discover the child has a family, that she was abandoned because of poverty. Now they face a difficult decision.
What should they do next? Should they fight to bring the child home? Or should they reach out to the child’s biological family? Should they hire an investigator to figure out whether the family would care for the child if they could? What do you think?
My last post has definitely struck a nerve.I am thankful to see more and more families truly wrestling through the issues with international adoption. Many of you have said something very important – this is not all black and white. Sometimes it is hard to know what is best for a child, even when we are willing to surrender our own desires.
As I am writing about some hard issues, can I begin with a bit of a disclaimer? Please do not to judgment as you look at other people’s adoption cases. There is often more than meets the eye – and often adoptive families choose not to tell the whole story because they are protecting their child’s privacy. More than anything my hope is that as you read this blog you would examine your own heart. If you are in the adoption process, I hope that you would strive to be in a place emotionally and spiritually that you can sacrifice your own desires to do what is best for a child or family. At the same time, when you see injustice, do not be quiet. If you know of an adoption agency, lawyer, ministry, orphanage or leader involved in corruption, speak up. As far as I am concerned, if you have accurate information and especially if it’s your personal experience, proclaim it from the mountain tops. The culture of silence in the adoptive community is like a cancer.
If you see a family that may be heading down the path of escalating commitment I wrote about this weekend, find a way to speak the truth in love. How should you respond if you see a family doing something unethical, corrupt or even illegal in their adoption? The Bible calls us to first examine our own hearts and then to go to one another – in humility, love and grace – to point out wrongdoing. If the person will not listen to us, we should go with two or three witnesses. If they still will not listen, then we should consider taking steps to hold them accountable – be speaking publically or this contacting authorities in the United States or Uganda. Some of you may disagree with me on this. There is a ton of fear in the adoption community – a worry that if we talk about corruption more countries will close. But if we are never honest about the corruption, how will we ever fight for justice and change?
With my little disclaimer out of the way, I want to introduce a new series of posts on Family Hope Love. In this series, I will be linking to other bloggers who have shared Moments of Truth in their adoptions. I’d also love to open up this space if you want to share your story.
What is a moment of truth? It is that point in the adoption process where the adoptive family realizes there is more to the story. Often adoption agencies, orphanages, lawyers and government officials don’t tell the whole truth – and adoptive parents are left picking up the pieces. Sometimes we discover the truth about our child’s history before we travel – other times it is not until we’re already home. No matter when we discover the truth, we have critically important decisions to make. Do we continue trying to adopt a child? Do we switch to a different adoption agency? Do we stay connected to the biological family? Do we contact the authorities about the corruption we experienced?
Our first moment of truth happened more than two years ago. We had a referal for a baby girl in Uganda. When we first heard about the child, we had been told her mother and father were married and dying of AIDS and that she was living in an orphanage. Our hearts were broken for her. We fell in love with a picture of a beautiful baby girl – and the idea that she would join our family. As we rushed to finish our dossier, we received horrible news. The little girl had died of an infection from a small burn on her hand. We were devastated. Once the orphanage had nothing more to lose, however, we heard the rest of the story. The little girl had never been living in an orphanage. We had been given a referal for her while she was still living with her mother. The mother was not married – nor was she dying. She was young and had been raped. She was scared, poor, vulnerable. This moment of truth allowed our family to see that our adoption agency was too inexperienced. We switched to adopting independently – a better choice in Uganda at the time (though not anymore). We have had several other moments of truth over the last few years. But for now,
I want to share this space with my friend Marci who blogs at She Can Laugh. Marci just wrote up the story of how they chose to walk away from a little boy they hoped to adopt after they found out he had a family:
Can I share a little story with you?