Just Be the Church
The church doesn't need to do anything. That is to say, the local church most helps adoptive families when it simply pursues its unchanging calling to be what it will be in eternity: a gathering of the redeemed from every language and people, united in worship by a common identity and purpose in Christ.
Sure, churches could set up grants and seminars and support groups. But ultimately, adoptive families don't need resources that are adoption-focused as much as they need a community that is Christ-focused.
Adoption is scary. Twice now, my husband and I have heard a judge tell us, "Congratulations. He's yours." With a bureaucratic monotone and a literal rubber stamp, we were finally and completely joined to another human being. One who did not come from my womb, or even our country, and who looks nothing like us.
In the ensuing months of panic—Who is this child? Am I really his mother?—I needed my local church to do exactly what it has always done and will always do.
The church uniquely values children. The rest of the world loves them for their future potential; the church affirms the image-bearers that kids are right now.
In those frightening days following our adoptions, my church—elders, Sunday school teachers, and self-appointed surrogate grandparents—stood around me, reminding me that this kicking, hitting, spitting, screaming child (my child) has a soul that will never die and is precious to our Lord.
My family is transracial and we live in the Deep South. People on the street, in the grocery store, and at the mall frequently question my competency to raise my ethnically different children. But the church encourages me to seek a common identity with my kids in the only place it can be found: Christ.
On a recent Sunday morning, I watched a Korean graduate student talking with an African American grandmother as two blond toddlers cruised between pews. When the local church welcomes people of all backgrounds, it fulfills the Christ-given mandate to make disciples in the nations. The church lives as if our earthly differences are secondary to our new identity in Christ and creates an adoption-friendly culture around this truth.
My husband and I have mentored many couples considering adoption. Invariably, they are most concerned about their ability to become a true family with a child who seems so different. The international adoption process—the mountain of paperwork, the weeks of travel, and the bank-draining payment schedule—eventually ends. But the new family is forever. What gives couples the confidence to adopt, and adoptive families the strength to continue, is that they have an enduring community around them—a community that is looking unto Jesus and doing its best to simply be the local church.
Megan Hill is mother to three children (two of whom were adopted), and a regular contributor to Her.meneutics, Christianity Today's women's blog.
Every orphan's journey begins with a tragedy, and usually, it gets worse from there. This is true for the orphans of hiv/aids, abandonment, and civil war, as well as for the child entering foster care due to severe neglect or abuse. They have tasted the world at its most broken. If we the church open our lives and hearts to them, we will taste some of that pain as well.
But the orphan—whether literally parentless or simply bereft of the nurture parents should provide—also comes with an invitation. He or she offers the church the chance to grow a culture of hospitality that receives all in the same way we would welcome Christ himself.
Not every Christian is called to adopt or foster or mentor. But every Christian community is called to embody the "pure and faultless religion" that embraces the orphan and the widow in their distress (James 1:27). How do Christian communities do this? By practicing a winsome, sacrificial vision for redemptive hospitality.
Redemptive hospitality is first a matter of the heart. The vulnerable child represents the presence of Christ among us in a special way (Matt. 18:5). Yet often he or she arrives in the distressing disguise of special needs, deep emotional and psychological wounds, and behavioral problems that require uncommon patience. He or she may bring these hurts to Sunday school, youth group, and gatherings with friends.
Complaints from teachers or an annoyed glance from down the pew can wither an adoptive parent's heart. But patience, grace, and words of encouragement to parent and child give new life.
When my wife and I were adopting, several families helped us bear the financial costs. Our community of faith celebrated and gave gifts. A retired woman did most of our grocery shopping to help carry our happy load of five young children.
Through my work with the Christian Alliance for Orphans, I get to see church communities across the country and beyond living out redemptive hospitality in creative ways. Young adults offer babysitting to give adoptive and foster parents a break. Empty nesters run errands and help with yard work. An orthodontist provides free services to the children in adoptive and foster families. At times, this is as simple as inviting over for barbeque the "extra-large family" or one with special needs that seems to require too much support for typical social gatherings.
All these acts convey something supremely valuable to both parent and child: You are most welcome here. Redemptive hospitality affirms that the responsibility of loving and healing the wounded child is not the task of one family alone, but of the entire church community.
As we do this together, we offer a compelling witness to the world—and to each other—of unparalleled beauty: the redemptive hospitality that declares the true presence of Christ and his kingdom.
Jedd Medefind is president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. His most recent book is Upended: How Following Jesus Remakes Your Words and World.
Think Like an Orphan
Imake a living meeting with pastors to discuss orphan care and adoption. When I first started the work six years ago, many pastors were open to orphan care, but generally more resistant to the idea of adoption. When I first started setting my booth up at church leadership conferences, we had to pull people in to start a conversation.
These days, we can't get the booth set up before attendees begin asking questions and telling stories.
When it comes to supporting families who adopt from overseas, there are two important and practical things any church can do. One is to help financially. Adopting internationally is expensive. The costs typically add up to nearly $30,000, depending on the country and agency, requiring a huge investment for any single family.
I see much resistance in local churches to helping families financially. I will never forget overhearing a pastor tell a family, "Our church doesn't help with optional things like adoption." The family was hoping to adopt three siblings from Russia. The pastor was looking at adoption from the viewpoint of the family and not the three children. For them, adoption was not an option—they needed a family.
We must try to see adoption from the vantage of the orphaned child. Local churches won't begin to do so until their leaders do.
The second area where churches can help is in caring for the needs of children once they arrive home. There are wonderful stories of children who have transitioned into their new families and environments without problems. Other families and children struggle, especially as international adoption has evolved over the past 10 years.
These days, most children who are adopted from outside the United States are older or have physical handicaps. In the adoption world, we would consider these "special placement needs" adoptions. Older children process things differently, and adoption can be a traumatic experience for them. The transition can also be tough on families. Likewise, children who are adopted at a young age are entering a culture where most people don't look like them, eat like them, smell like them, or speak their language. So don't be surprised when they don't act like the other 4-year-olds in Sunday school. They might need individual attention and one-on-one care.
Families with "special-needs" adoptive children can feel like a burden to their church. They know it's difficult enough just getting volunteers to staff the preschool, children's, and youth areas. However, if your church has a special-needs ministry, you will be communicating to these families, " You are not a burden—you are a blessing." Just think: your church gets the privilege of caring for formerly orphaned children and families who are living out the gospel of Christ.
Johnny Carr is the coauthor of Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting and the national director of church partnership at Bethany Christian Services.
Go to ChristianBibleStudies.com for "Adoption and the Local Church," a Bible study based on this article.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.