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.
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?
I have never met an adoptive parent who began the time-consuming, heart-wrenching, wallet-emptying process of international adoption with a desire to traffic a child.
Our family adopted for a few simple reasons. We wanted one more child and could not get pregnant again. We believed we had been adopted by God and that adoption was a demonstration of the gospel. We thought there was an orphan crisis that was particularly acute in Africa - our hearts were broken for the millions of orphans in Uganda.
Nearly every adoptive family I know had similar motivations. We love children, we want to help a child in need.
But something ugly often happens in the adoption process. The sincere desire to adopt in order to help an orphan morphs into a consuming need to adopt – to bring a child home at almost any cost.
There is a growing movement among Evangelicals in America challenging every Christian family and church to do something about the orphan crisis. Thousands of churches are launching orphan care ministries. Millions of Christians are going on short-term mission trips. And a growing number of families are considering adoption.
Sadly year after year the number of international adoptions is decreasing. More countries are closing their borders to international adoption in response to corruption or political pressure. Fewer countries are open to international adoption just as more families are beginning the adoption process.
As a result, there is intense, growing pressure on countries such as Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Adoption agencies scramble to start new programs. On the ground they fight to partner with orphanages – and to find adoptable children. In many African countries, corruption is the status quo. It is difficult to get anything done without paying a bribe here or there. Money talks. Soon lawyers, orphanages and government officials involved in adoption realize that it is a lucrative business.
They see no harm in talking a desperately poor family out of a child. They give in to corruption, rationalizing that the child would have died in Africa, that their life will be so much better in America.
Imagine a naive family walking into this mess, completely unaware of the ends to which many adoption agencies will go to place a child for adoption. Somewhere in the adoption process, they begin to notice a few inconsistencies.
They realize the lawyer working on their case has a reputation for being corrupt.
They hear that the orphanage where their child is living has been neglecting the children while the orphanage director is living comfortably.
The day before they go to court, they discover the child who they believe is an orphan has a mother and father, siblings and grandparents.
In court, they hear the only reason the family cannot care for the child is poverty.
They begin to wonder if the family even understands what adoption means.
But at this point, they are too deep in. For months, they have been falling in love with a child they believed was an orphan. And now he or she is with them, in their arms. They cannot imagine letting the child go.
And on top of this, everyone at home is behind their adoption. Friends and family have prayed and given generously. There have been baby showers and there will be a big welcome at the airport. Their church supports the orphanage where the little girl was living. The family cannot imagine disappointing everyone at home.
And so they ignore their consciences. They rationalize the corruption. They come up with Christian-sounding excuses for trafficking a child. When United States officials investigate and discover the child was never an orphan, the family fights back. They hire lawyers and vow fight to the bitter end.
They rally the support of their friends and family, church and community. People write their senators and tell the media. Soon their story is everywhere. They call the Embassy evil, argue the United States government hates orphans. They call the laws designed to protect children from trafficking “red tape”.
And now they are in too deep. They have walked down a path of escalating commitment. They began the process to adopt full of love, faith and a sincere desire to welcome an orphan into their family. But somewhere along the road, they lost sight of what is truly important.
Sadly, this is not just an imaginary story. This is a true story – a story that is repeated with slightly different details over and over again. Many families who adopt from Uganda, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo have walked down a similar path. Somewhere in the adoption process they noticed corruption – and they closed their eyes.
Out of fear or pride they looked the other way. Out of cowardice or arrogance they trafficked a child and destroyed a vulnerable family.
It takes courage to ask the hard questions – and to walk away if you discover that the child you love does not need a new family. It is brave to tell the truth, especially when adoption agencies who profit from corruption will go to great lengths to silence families.
Friends, I will keep beating this drum as long as it takes. It is time for the Christian adoption and orphan care movement to wake up to the reality of corruption – and the truth of Scripture. The Bible is crystal clear that exploiting the poor, destroying families, paying bribes and denying justice are sin. The Bible is also clear that we are called to protect and provide for orphans and widows - and the reality in the world today as in the world when the Bible was penned is that most orphans are living with widows and that these families are vulnerable to exploitation. Protecting and providing for these families – preventing children from being abandoned - must become a priority. It is time for change.
Today I wanted to share a link to a Mark and Keren Riley’s blog. They have allowed an adoptive mother of a Ugandan son to share her story. It’s long and it’s hard, but it’s good.
“This is the truth. The messy, hard, ugly truth. The truth about how a well intended mother’s heart, messed it all up. Admitting that I might have been wrong is not easy. Admitting that all those feelings, you know, those feelings you have that God is guiding you to do something, may not have actually been God at all, but rather a women’s tender heart that was naive. A stubborn women who would move heaven and earth when she thought a child was given a dose of injustice.
This is the truth. The messy, hard, ugly truth. If you don’t want to hear it, stop here..
The story is told in three parts. First there’s the story of a child being rescued through adoption. Then there’s the story of a family struggling to adjust to this child being home. And finally, the story of the family learning the truth and finding a way to move forward.
Click here to read The Messy, Hard, Hugly Truth.
After I read the story, two really important things stood out to me.
The first is that adopting out of birth order is hard. There are really good reasons why most social workers and adoption experts tell families not to disrupt birth order. We all know families for whom adopting out of birth order has worked – but these families are the exception not the norm. We all want to be the exception. But the truth is most of us are not!
But what about the fact that most of the world’s orphans are older or have special needs? I know I’ve challenged my readers on this point over and over again. It is true that most of the children who need adoption – whether they are orphans or have lost their families for other reasons – are not healthy babies. And the demand for healthy babies is what drives corruption in adoption. But many families who are considering adoption have other young children. And often these families are not in the best position to adopt kids who are older or who have experienced abuse, neglect or loss.
Those of us in our twenties and thirties have responded to God’s heart for orphans. Many of us feel called to adopt. But many of us also have other young children in our families. We have to carefully consider whether God is calling us to adopt now. Or whether we should wait until our children are old enough that we can aodpt a child who is truly in need without disrupting birth order.
The second is to not let the adopted child – or any child – come before your spouse. A strong marriage really is the foundation for a healthy family. We know from experience that adoption has a way of turning any cracks in your marriage into canyons. And with adoption, there are some unique challenges that make keeping a marriage healthy hard. To stay strong as a couple, husbands and wives need time together. Think date night. But when a family has newly adopted children, there’s this intense focus on attachment. We often feel we cannot leave our adopted children with a grandparent or a babysitter for even a few hours until weeks, months or even years have passed after the adoption. We don’t want to mess attachment up. But what about the marriage?
I’m so thankful for the family that had the courage to share their story. I look forward to more people being transparent. You all know that at the end of the day, I still love adoption. It can be beautiful and redemptive. It can be a miracle for children who truly need new families. But it is also hard and heartbreaking.
Our children are not our own.
This was the hard truth we learned over the last four years.
Early in the process of praying, learning, discerning God’s will. Were we called to adopt? We knew we could not have any more babies the old-fashioned way. My pregnancies were too high risk. Just one year earlier, our son Zephaniah was born more than two months after I had been on months of bed rest. That Zephaniah was born as big and healthy as he was? A small miracle.
We decided on the name Zephaniah Isaac just moments before he was born. My labor with Zephaniah was fast. And traffic was horrible the morning he was born. At about 11 am, I was sitting in the hospital room with two sweet friends. My husband was still stuck in traffic. The doctor had just checked me and I was at 3 cm. She said she would come back in a few hours and to relax. At around 11:30, Mark finally arrived. My friend Megan asked, so have you decided on a name? I looked at Mark. I had wanted the name Zephaniah Isaac for months. Do we have a name?
The name Zephaniah Isaac means “God has protected” and “he laughs”. It was not my plan to have a third little boy in four years. That was all God. When I found out I was pregnant I burst into laughter before I burst into tears. My pregnancy with our second son Micah was high risk and we had experienced a few miscarriages. If our third child was to be born healthy, that was all God too.
Moments later I began to feel a little dizzy. And then a little pressure. The nurse checked me and then lept across the room to the phone. We heard the sound of running in the hall. Our doctor arrived, stuck one gloved hand into a gown and reached out to hold Zephaniah’s head through a few contractions. Meanwhile the team from the NICU scrambled to get ready. And then he was born. I heard the tiniest of cries before they put on a mask to help him breathe. One month later, on a cold snowy day, we would take Zeph – who still weighed less than 5 pounds – home from the hospital. God in his sovereign will chose to bless us with the unexpected gift of a third son and protected him through everything. Zephaniah Isaac belongs to God.
God set adoption in our hearts. But as God was filling our hearts with love for orphans, we were also facing a new fear. We thought through our options. Should we adopt a baby domestically, internationally, or do foster to adopt?
The very real fear of loving a child and then having to let go left us paralyzed. We could not imagine caring for a child for weeks, months, years – and then having to let that child go.
And then on Zephaniah’s first birthday, we got a phone call I will never forget. A young couple from our church was in the hospital. Their daughter had been stillborn. They wanted us to come to take pictures of their daughter before they said goodbye.
We left our children at school and went to the hospital where we sat with our friends as they cried. We prayed over them and took pictures of their beautiful baby girl. There is something deep in our souls that screams this is not how it should be. We know that God did not create us for death, but for life. That death is a symptom of the brokenness around us, in us.
Our children are not our own.
Somehow through watching our friends grieve, through witnessing the peace that surpasses understanding poured out in their lives, we had the courage to move forward with adoption.
We decided on adopting internationally, thinking that this was more certain that foster to adopt, forgetting that our children are not our own. We had no idea that our international adoption journey would involve the loss of three little girls whom we loved.
One of the most intense things that happens when a child is adopted by a family is belonging. When a parent holds a child who was an orphan in their arms and proclaims you are mine, it reflects – if dimly – the God who makes us his own:
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
But in a real way, our children are on loan. We are not owners. We are simply stewards. Given the high honor of loving the children He puts in our hearts, in our arms, in our homes. Whether for a few days or for the rest of our lives. Our children are not our own. When we get this truth deep in our souls we are free to love without fear.
Jut two weeks ago, we said goodbye to a little girl in Latvia - from this point forward we’ll call her Grace. For most of the last year, we believed God was calling us to adopt Grace. We could not wait to hold her in our arms, to tell her that she was ours. But as we held Grace in our arms and prayed for her the night before we knew we would have to say goodbye forever, God filled us with a deep peace.
He is the Father of the Fatherless. He made her. She belongs to Him.
What about you?
Have you experienced the loss of a child? How has this changed you? What lessons have you learned?
Do you struggle to remember that your children are not your own?
This is the second post in a series about the hard stuff in adoption. Click here to read the first post, The Story of Truth: A little girl who still waits.
Today the New York Times published an article about orphan care and adoption in Haiti. The article by Nicole Brennan, Campaign in Haiti to Close Orphanages Where Many Aren’t Orphans At All, highlights an important issue. The article also raises some challenging questions. But in many ways, the article does not dig deep enough into what is a very complicated issue.
What is the important issue?
Most children living in orphanages in Haiti are not orphans. They have families. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Most families in Haiti are poor – often desperately poor. Nearly 80% of families live on less than $2 a day. Families struggle to afford the basics: food, shelter, medical care and school fees.
When parents are struggling to care for their children, they may place these children in an orphanage.These children are not truly orphans because they have families that love them – who would love to be able to welcome them home.
The article claims that there are 30,000 children living in orphanages in Haiti. This sounds like a very conservative estimate. In talking with people living and working in Haiti, I’ve heard estimates of up to a half million children who are separated from their families – living in orphanages, on the streets or as restaveks (essentially child slaves).
What questions does the article raise?
Haiti is in the process of implementing the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. To comply with the Convention, the Haitian government will need to do more to regulate orphan care and adoption. In particular, the government will need to ensure that poverty is not the only reason children are placed for international adoption.
But many in Haiti and around the world are asking whether Haiti is ready to close orphanages. How do you close the worst orphanages when all the other orphanages are full? How do you reunite children to families who cannot afford to care for them?
The article ends with a quote from the director of an orphanage in Haiti who believes the country is not ready for orphanages to close: “When there are not kids sitting on the street dying, we’ll stop having an orphanage,” he said. “Right now, the reality is that there has to be orphanages in Haiti.”
But to make a lasting difference in Haiti, there are deeper questions we need to ask. Here are a few places to start.
- How can we address the poverty and injustice at the root of the orphan crisis in Haiti? If most children living in orphanages, on the streets or as restaveks in Haiti have families, what would empower these families to remain together? There are many issues to think through, from education to health care for mothers to sustainable development.
- How do we change a culture that exploits vulnerable children? Haiti has a culture of exploiting children. When a family is struggling with poverty, it is common for the family to sell one of their children to a wealthier family. Traditionally the child – called a restavek - would work for the wealthier family, in return receiving shelter, food and an education. But in many cases, restaveks are treated like child slaves. They are exploited. Many children living in orphanages are likewise exploited. Orphanages sometimes use children to raise funds, but spend the money they raise on their own families. What must happen for this culture to change?
- Why do Christians continue to build, support and visit orphanages in Haiti? This is so important. There is a movement across the Evangelical Church encouraging every Christian to get involved in caring for orphans. A rapidly growing number of churches are starting orphan care ministries often focused on building, supporting and visiting orphanages. More and more Christian churches and families are involved in orphan care in Haiti. Why are we investing resources in an orphanage system that are harmful to children – and that does nothing to address the root causes of the crisis in Haiti?
Want to learn more?
I am not an expert in the issues in Haiti, but I’ve been challenged and encouraged by a few people who are. To learn more, visit Tara Livesay, a blogger living and working in Haiti. She’s wise and fearless in sharing the truth.
What to do something to help?
Check out Heartline Ministries. Among many things, Heartline works to support vulnerable mothers and babies.
Check out Loving Shepherd Ministries. This ministry has a vision to place orphans with loving Christian families instead of institutions in Haiti. They are focused on sustainable development. They also have an innovative approach to fighting the restavek system in Haiti by working with and through the local church.
What do you think?I’d love to know what you think so plese comment. If you have links to other resources or you know anyone making a difference in Haiti, please share in the comments.
Two years ago God called Mark and I to go to Uganda. On paper, we were ready to adopt. We had been working with an adoption agency and waiting for a referral. And then one day in January 2011, God told us to go to Uganda.
We bought plane tickets, packed our suitcases and said goodbye to our three little boys. Specifically, God called us to visit orphanages, churches, hospitals and ministries caring for children affected by HIV and AIDS. We had a heart to tell the truth: these kids can be adopted. We were among a growing number of families open to adopting positive children. We were hopeful that the journey would lead us to our child. But more than anything, we just wanted to share our hearts. The trip led us to our daughter Gabrielle – you can read her story here.
Truth was living at an orphanage in Uganda. She was four years old and HIV positive. She had been living at the orphanage since she was a baby, when she lost her mother to AIDS. When we visited Truth’s orphanage for the first time, we were blown away. Compared to the orphanages we had visited in Kampala, it seemed like paradise. It was surrounded by farms, tea plantations and small villages. The children lived in relative comfort. They attended school, had plenty to eat, received excellent medical care and enjoyed many of the extras typical of American childhood: movies, soda, swimming, horseback riding. The orphanage had placed many of its youngest children for international adoption. We were the first family to ask about adopting a child with a special need.
We visited this orphanage because someone had told us there was a little girl there who was HIV positive who was adoptable. When we visited the orphanage the first time, the staff carefully protected the children. We were impressed by the character of the leaders as well as the quality of the care the children received. We decided to move forward to adopting from this orphanage. A few weeks later, we were given a referral for the little girl we had heard about: Truth.
We submit paperwork to the Ugandan courts for both Gabrielle and Truth the same week. We assumed we would receive a court date for both girls around the same time. We traveled to Uganda and went to court for Gabrielle quickly, but we continued to wait for a court date for Truth. After two months of waiting in Uganda as a family of six, Mark took our boys home. He had to return to work in Seattle. Gabrielle and I continued to wait for a court date to adopt Truth in Uganda.
As we were waiting, I wrote the following about my experience:
I have been in Africa for six weeks. Six weeks of watching the sun rise over the lush green hills dotted with acacia and mango trees. Six weeks of listening to rain pound on metal roofs. Six weeks of scrubbing red mud off my feet at night. Six weeks of eating ripe banana, mango and pineapple every day. Six weeks of mostly cold showers that actually feel good at the end of hot, humid days.
I am still waiting for the news that we have a court hearing for this little girl whose name means Truth…
Now my mom, Nancy, and I are staying at the orphanage where Truth is living. We are living in a simple but well stocked guest house at the edge of the property. The house has a giant front porch that looks out over a beautiful jungle. We can watch monkeys and birds in the giant trees as we drink coffee in the morning.
Today is cloudy. Last night there was a wild storm, with rain, lightening, thunder and wind. This morning is calm and quiet. From our house we can see the children who live at the orphanage do their morning chores. Girls mop the red dirt from the floors. Boys use machetes to cut the grass. Bigger children hold smaller children’s hands. Girls and boys as young as four years do their own laundry. When the chores are done, the children will go play. There is no school this month as the kids are on a spring holiday. The kids climb trees with incredible skill. There are small fruits that grow high in the tops of trees in front of their homes and the little girls, sometimes just five or six years old, will climb to the top of the trees, wiggle out on the branches until they bend towards the ground, pick fruit and jump to the ground.
Older children play soccer and basketball. Sometimes there is an organized game of capture the flag. Occasionally the kids are allowed to go play in the mud after it rains. The return covered from head to toe in dust and clay. On hot afternoons, the children rest, read books or occasionally watch a movie. Our little Truth loves to swing.
After nearly three months of visiting Truth and then staying with her at the orphanage, we were still waiting for a court date. With no good news, we made the decision to return to Seattle and to wait at home. Saying goodbye to Truth is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Here is what I wrote shortly after I left her at the orphanage:
Truth will stay here in Uganda, surrounded by jungles full of monkeys and birds, fields growing sugar cane and lush tea plantations. Life here is simple and peaceful. Every morning the children wake up and do their chores: washing laundry, sweeping and mopping the floors, cutting the grass with long-handled machetes. When chores are done, the children play games and read books in the shade. Once or twice a week, they gather together to watch a movie. Around one the children have lunch: beans, greens with ground nut sauce or cabbage with tomato, avocado and posho, a staple food made from ground corn. After lunch the little ones take a nap while the older kids play. Late in the afternoon, when the sun begins to melt into the western horizon, the children gather on the soccer field, basketball court and playground. They dance and sing, run and climb trees. They build houses out of sheets and kitchens out of sticks, pretending to have mothers and fathers and homes. When it gets dark, the children bathe in cold showers, eat dinner, do devotions with the house mamas and then go to bed.
Here our little one’s needs will be met, although in her little eyes I see sadness and longing. As we have spent time together over the last two months, Truth has slowly warmed up to me. About two weeks ago, she was sick and in pain. I sat with her for about an hour. She would not talk with me; she would not even look at me. But I sat with her, holding her hand, rubbing her back and her head, telling her that she was special and I wanted her to feel better. I imagine this felt a little like having a mother. For a little girl who lost her mom to AIDS when she was a baby, I imagine my presence felt both comforting and terrifying. I suppose even her desire to be loved and nurtured was overwhelming. As I watched her silently cry, thankful that we were alone and it was quiet for maybe an hour, I prayed that somehow God would knit our hearts together.
Since that day, Truth has started to talk with me. She asks me to take her photo. She lets me paint her fingernails and holds my hand. She smiles at me and seems to understand that what we have is growing to be special. But sometimes I see the same fear. When we drive away from the orphanage, the look on her face breaks my heart. Every time we drive into town, she wonders if I will come back. Or if I will leave her forever, as most visitors do. And as her mother did.
In just a few days I will leave. When we leave, however, I will promise her to come back and I will keep that promise. I don’t know if I will come back in a few weeks or a few months, but I will come back. Though she doesn’t know what it means, she will have a mother. She will have a family.
This time of leaving Truth is giving me a deeper understanding of what it was like for Jesus to leave his people. Jesus’ heart was broken for his followers, knowing how they would struggle to believe in him after he was gone, knowing they would suffer and feel alone, knowing they would wonder if he was really coming back. I feel the same way about Truth. As hard as it is for me to leave her, my heart is broken knowing she will feel sad, lonely, afraid and uncertain if I will keep my promise to return. But I am determined to keep my promise. And God – much more so – is determined to keep his. What a blessing that God would use this painful time to teach me about his heart.
To make a long story short, we never received a court date for Truth. In the months after we returned home, our relationship with the orphanage fell apart. We discovered the orphanage was lying about their relationship with our lawyer. We began to wonder why the orphanage was full of children who were not orphans – most of the children had biological families living in the nearby villages. As we realized that the orphanage had not made much of an effort to reunite Truth with her family, we began to ask more questions about the little girl’s history . When we asked them about these things, they responded in anger. They said our questions revealed a lack of trust. They threatened that unless we could trust how they were handling the adoption, we could not adopt Truth – and we realized that we could not in good conscience move forward.
It took seven weeks for Truth to give me a hug. On the day I said goodbye – the day I promised I would come back – she did not want to let go.
As far as I know, Truth still waits.
We were left with a suitcase still packed. With a closet full of clothes and shoes. With a bed neatly made and her pictures on our walls. And we were left with broken hearts – and many questions.
A year and a half later, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Truth. I don’t know that I will ever totally at peace with what happened. The injustice of this experience has compelled me to learn everything I can about adoption and orphan care. In a sense, I believe that God is redeeming what we lost through this. But at the same time, I know that Truth is still growing up in an orphanage. The orphanage where she is living is about as good as orphanages can be – and yet she doesn’t have a mother and a father. She is growing up without the love, affection, security and identity provided by a family.
If I have learned one thing over the last 18 months of research, it is this: kids need families. To deprive a child the opportunity to grow up in a family is an injustice. And I am not just talking about international adoption. Most of the world’s can be cared for in their own families and communities – and in many ways orphanages create orphans.
I don’t know why God has allowed our family to experience the loss of three children we hoped to adopt over the last few years – but I do know that our family will never be the same.
This post is the first in a series about the hard stuff with adoption. I’m going to be courageous in sharing my heart. As I wrote last week about our experience saying goodbye to Lana – the little girl we were hoping to adopt in Latvia – I received many emails from families who had experienced some sort of adoption loss or disruption. I also received emails from families who were struggling with their adopted children. I think it’s time to be real – adoption is hard. It’s time to tell the truth.
In the next few posts, I will write about the lessons we’ve learned – and how we’ve been transformed – but the hard stuff in adoption. If you are an adoptive or foster family and you want to share your story or what you have learned, I would love to share your story here. I am happy to let you blog annonymously if you prefer. I would also love to link up with other bloggers on this topic. Please comment contact me if you want to join the conversation!
When we began our Latvian adoption journey earlier this year, we found very few blogs about adopting from Latvia. I am hoping to write a series of posts that will be helpful to families who are in the process – or who are considering – adopting from Latvia. This is the first post in this series. To learn more about our Latvian adoption experience, click here.
Today was lovely. We spent the day wandering around Riga. Exploring a city with Mark - with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and a camera in the other - is the best. We wandered through Riga’s beautiful parks and the streets of Old Town. We fed ducks. We ate sushi for lunch and bought pastry at the historic Central Market as the sun was drifting low in the sky.
Before we traveled to Latvia, we did not know much about the country or what to expect. We read a little about what to shop for in Riga: amber jewelry, honey, wool socks. To be honest, that did not sound all that exciting. But actually exploring Riga is brilliant. Latvia is a small country situated on the Baltic Sea that shares a border with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. Latvia is across the Baltic Sea from Sweden. The culture is also influenced by Germany.
All of this means that Riga has a unique blend of old and new, traditional and modern. In the city you can shop for modern Scandinavian design alongside Soviet and Art Deco antiques. There are clothing shops from Eastern, Western and Northern Europe - and quite a few stores that sell beautiful sweaters, dresses and coats crafted here in Latvia. The Latvian people take great pride in things made in Latvia – from honey and apples produced in the countryside to wool handbags knit and felted right here in Riga. There is also a growing eco movement and many stores feature natural and organic products. The winter in Latvia is long, grey and cold. To balance this, the Latvian people love flowers and bright, colorful wooly accessories. The markets are full of handknit and woven hats, scarves, gloves and socks.
Bring together the modern, antique, crafty, organic and a love for things that are local and unique? Riga is great for shopping – and not just for Amber jewelry. We did not expect such great shopping – and we’re glad we will be back two Riga at least two more times this year.
If you are in the process of adopting from Latvia, I would plan to do a little shopping for things that will be meaninful to your family and adopted child! Enjoy the photos!
Are you thinking about adoption or wondering how to respond to the orphan crisis?
November is national adoption month. This Sunday, churches across the United States and around the world will celebrate Orphan Sunday. This month there will be dozens of articles and stories in the media about adoption and the global orphan crisis. Lots of these stories will tell you there is an orphan crisis and challenge you to respond by going on a mission trip, starting an orphan care ministry or adopting. A few of the stories will dig deeper into the controversies around international adoption.
On one hand, adoption advocates will argue that red tape makes adoption too difficult and expensive – keeping thousands of orphans from forever families. On the other hand, adoption critics will argue that international adoption destroys poor families around the world. But what is the truth?
Adoption should be about finding families for children. Not finding children for families.
But the truth is many countries popular for international adoption have long lists of families waiting to adopt healthy, babies. Meanwhiles, there are long lists of children who are waiting for families because they are older or have special needs.
If you have read Family Hope Love for long, you know I am passionate about reforming international adoption.
This is one reason I am really excited to share a little more about what it’s like to adopt from Latvia. Latvia has one of the most child-centered, ethical international adoption programs in the world.
What makes adopting from Latvia different from adopting from other countries?
There are three things that stand out for me as reasons why Latvia has a stable, ethical adoption program that does a good job of finding families for children. Latvia is a part of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption – the Hague provides ground rules that protect children and families from corruption in the adoption process. Here’s a little snapshot of what makes Latvian adoptions unique:
1. When does a child need international adoption? In Latvia, the children who are eligible for international adoption are older, part of sibling groups or have special needs. Furthermore, children are not referred for matched with adoptive parents until the courts have decided the child needs international adoption. This means that children are not eligible for international adoption until after their biological parent’s rights have been termianted and the courts have determined there are no families willing to adopt the child in Latvia. In other words, the courts decide whether a child needs adoption before adoptive parents enter the picture.
2. Money does not influence the decision of whether a child is adoptable. Most corruption in international adoption is ultimately about money. In Latvia the officials responsible for deciding what is best for a child have nothing to gain. The country does not require a large adoption fee or orphanage donation. Lawyer fees are reasonable. The process is transparent and not influenced by money.
3. The process focuses on the bond between the child and adoptive family. In many countries, it is possible to adopt a child without first making sure that there is a bond between the child and family. There are some countries – like Democratic Republic of Congo – where families are able to adopt children without meeting them first. In many other countries, the children and parents have only known each other for a few days when the adoption is completed. Latvia takes a different approach.
Latvia requires adoptive families to develop a bond with a child before the adoption process is completed. As a result, families have to travel to Latvia three times. All of this happens after the courts have decided the child needs international adoption, approved the adoptive family’s dossier, and made the official referral.
On the first trip, the family meets the child and if the first meeting goes well, the child is placed with the adoptive family for a bonding period. During this time, the family is observed by the social workers or judges from the courts to make sure the child is attaching securely to the family – and that the match is a good fit.
If all is well, at the end of the three weeks the family is allowed to take the child home to the United States for a few more months of a bonding period. During these months at home, the family is monitored by social workers from their adoption agency. After the child has had several months to bond with the family and for everyone to make sure it is a good fit, the family travels back to Latvia to finalize the adoption and then returns again a month later to obtain an immigration visa.
While this process can be expensive and time consuming, it is about doing what is best for children who need families.
One of the biggest challenges in international adoption is gathering accurate information. As I have researched my book, I have talked with many families who brought children home only to discover nearly everything they were told by their adoption agency was false. Often adoption agencies have false or misleading information about a child’s history or eligibility for international adoption. Sometimes adoption agencies also have incomplete or inaccurate information about a child’s medical, behavioral or emotional issues.Without accurate information about a child, it is difficult for everyone to make sure adoption – and the specific adoptive family – are right for the child.
The Latvian adoption process addresses this issue by requiring the three week care and supervision period in Latvia. During this time, everyone is able to gather enough information about the child to make sure the adoption is going to work. Our family tried to adopt a little girl from Latvia. In our experience, we discovered during this time that our family could not meet the needs of this child without putting our other children’s emotional and physical safety at risk. When the courts determined that adoption by our family was not in this child’s best interest, we were heart broken, but we were also peaceful. We are confident that our experience with this child will help the Latvian authorities to find the right family for her.
If you are thinking about international adoption, I would absolutely encourage you to learn more about adopting a waiting child from Latvia.