Christian Evangelicals Join Hands to Reach Orphans
Family North Carolina MagazineJan/Feb 2008
by David N. Bass
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction . . . (James 1:27, ESV)
Faced with criticism that evangelical Christians focus too much on defending unborn human life and not enough on the plight of those already born, several pro-family organizations recently joined forces to address the pressing issues of adoption and orphan care in the United States and around the world. The United Nations estimates that 143 million children in the developing world are orphans, including 15 million children orphaned by AIDS alone.1 Amid this worldwide crisis, many in the body of Christ are placing renewed emphasis on defending and protecting life before and after birth.
"There are 300,000 churches in the United States and 118,000 children [in this country] waiting to be adopted," said Mark Andre, director of the newly formed Orphan Care Initiative at Focus on the Family. "It's not even one per church. We want to see Christians rise up to that challenge." Andre joined Focus on the Family in September 2006 to spearhead the orphan care program, which is designed to help every orphan and foster care child in the U.S. find a Christian home.
Two months after beginning its own orphan care outreach, Focus on the Family joined with the ministries Shaohannah's Hope and FamilyLife to launch Cry of the Orphan. The collaborative project serves as a catalyst for uniting Christian families, organizations, and churches in caring for orphans around the world. In contrast to Focus on the Family's initiative, Cry of the Orphan centers on the millions of orphans worldwide, according to Andre. "Our goal with Cry of the Orphan is really to point Christians to where they can get engaged, whether it's through adoption, going into the field and ministering to kids, or even mentoring kids," said Andre.
Cry of the Orphan is gaining momentum, even generating a letter of thanks from Jay Hein, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who called the ministry "faith expressing itself in vibrant love."2 But this joint venture is only one of many ways that Christians are rediscovering the Biblical mandate to open their hearts and homes to orphans.
In addition to nationwide and international orphan care programs, numerous adoption agencies, many of them sponsored by evangelicals, minister to the parentless in local communities. For example, Project 1.27 partners with the State of Colorado to find loving homes for foster care children, while Antioch Adoptions in Washington State offers free adoptions to Christian households. In North Carolina, the Raleigh-based Amazing Grace Adoptions is a non-profit, pro-life child-placing agency licensed by the state. The organization, which offers adoptions at reduced fees, first opened its doors in 1999. The ministry has placed 90 children in adopted families domestically and helped around 250 families travel abroad to adopt.
Donnas Kinton, director of Amazing Grace Adoptions, felt called to the field of adoption because she wanted to see children placed in two-parent, Christian families where a child will learn about the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. "A lot of people believe that an unplanned pregnancy is a nuisance, or that they have the right to decide to terminate the life," she said. "Through my study of God's Word, I know that God has a purpose and plan for every life."
Research shows a positive trend in the number of U.S. families choosing to adopt, at least in recent years. Between 1996 and 2002, adoptions of foreign-born children rose by 86 percent, while domestic adoptions of children by relatives or non-relatives increased by 20 percent, according to the National Council for Adoption. The number of children adopted from foster care rose significantly, although an estimated 114,000 children remain in foster care awaiting adoption.3 Other research, however, shows a significant drop in adoption rates over the last several decades.4 One of the factors influencing this trend is an increasing acceptance of single parenthood in America, according to Kinton. "Obviously, we know that our morals have decreased, and it's not really viewed as a bad thing in society today if a child does not have a father," she said. "It's almost as if having a baby has become a status, but nobody asks anymore whether the mother has a husband or who the father is."
Although domestic adoption has declined since the 1970s, many U.S. families still choose this option. An estimated 22,000 domestic adoptions of non-relative newborns occurred in 2002.5 Comparatively, the federal government's 2000 census showed that 13 percent of adopted children living in the U.S. were foreign born, with 48 percent of these children from Asia, 33 percent from Latin America, and 16 percent from Europe. Korea was the largest single nation source of foreign adopted children for U.S. families. In total, 2.5 percent of all children living in the U.S. in 2000 were adopted, both foreign and domestic.6
Most Americans have a positive opinion of adoption. According to the 2002 National Adoption Attitudes Survey, nearly all Americans have a "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable" view of adoption, and an increasing number of Americans see adopted children no differently than children born biologically into a family.7 Despite widespread support for adoption, however, few Americans actually adopt. One survey found that one-fourth of ever-married women between the ages of 18 and 44 had considered adoption, but only 1.3 percent of all ever-married women completed the process and adopted a child.8
The proportion of couples willing to adopt may be low, but many families still obey the call to open their homes to orphaned children. Daniel and Debbie, an adoptive couple in the Triangle area, already had three biological children, but they felt the Lord's prompting to adopt another five children domestically. Each adopted child came to the couple under special circumstances. The first two children were twins born nine weeks premature, leading to medical complications. In 2005, the couple's adoption of a five-year-old girl and her infant brother resulted in a legal battle. Most recently, the family adopted a newborn male and faced more legal difficulties this past summer with the boy's father, who is incarcerated.
"Initially, everything was overwhelming," Debbie said. "The medical needs, financial needs, and legal parts were daunting. We did not know what we were opening ourselves up to, but the Lord was calling us to adoption, which is a ministry to the birth family, the child, and the adoptive family. Our desire was to glorify Him and we trusted Him to undertake for us every step of the way. He has, and He is always faithful."
An urgent need exists for couples willing to adopt older children or children in minority races. Kinton said that many other adoption agencies in North Carolina tell couples seeking a Caucasian baby that they could wait up to five years to complete the process, while an increasing number of minority infants are available for adoption. "This is true across the board-most adoption agencies will have a waiting list of many families who are accepting of a Caucasian child, but typically they will have not even one percent of their families open to a minority child," Kinton said. She added that fewer couples are willing to adopt older children in the foster care system, so the likelihood of a child being placed in a family declines as he or she matures.
While many couples seek infants or young children for adoption, Jim and Debbie Sineath felt called to welcome older children into their home in Raleigh, N.C. The Sineaths went to Russia in 1997 to adopt three biological sisters between the ages of six and 10 years old. Five years later, the family returned to Russia to adopt a nine-year-old boy. Debbie said her greatest joy was introducing the children to the Gospel and seeing "their eyes and their expressions when they heard about the Lord." Even so, adopting older children poses significant challenges, Debbie said. "Some of these children might have very unique needs," she said. "Some of them might have reactive attachment disorder, adjustment issues, or some pretty serious learning disabilities. If other people who have not adopted could become more familiar with some of these problems, they might be able to help people who are actually going through that journey."
Marty and Angela Bradshaw of Gastonia, N.C., are not daunted by the challenge of raising a foreign-born child. The couple is planning a "rescue trip" to an orphanage in the Ukraine. The Bradshaws already have a five-year-old son of their own, but they felt prompted by the Lord to adopt a child from this particular part of the world. "The girls in Russia are typically not adopted after age three," said Marty, "so most of them end up in prostitution after age 15 since they are put out on the street." The Bradshaws are also stepping up to inform other Christians about orphans by launching an adoption program in their local church. Called Hands of Hope, the initiative is designed to raise awareness of the Biblical mandate for believers to care for and visit the orphan.
Have Christian evangelicals, preoccupied with defending other traditional family values, neglected the plight of orphans? Despite the large number of Christian orphanages and adoption agencies around the world, some critics think so. In her own experience, Kinton said she considers the criticism legitimate. "As the body of Christ, we've offered a lot of lip service, yet in a lot of American churches the needs of women facing unplanned pregnancies are below the radar screen," she said. "We live in a very middle class society where people live in their own world. Most of us simply don't know about the needs of women who live in crisis."
The Bradshaws agree that evangelicals need to do more. "Hopefully the girl won't have an abortion, but the church needs to step up and then adopt children that are born," said Marty. "If the church did, we wouldn't have the crisis of orphans that we do."
Some others see an adoption revival occurring in Christianity. Debbie and her husband Daniel believe the Lord is "awakening and purifying the church" to the needs of orphans. Debbie Sineath sees more churches involved with adoption today than when she and her husband first adopted a decade ago, although she said the church needs to be more involved in offering post-adoptive care to families who choose to welcome orphans into their homes.
Mark Andre, who with his wife adopted three children from the Ukraine in 1998, said there is a dichotomy in the way the world looks at Christian involvement in adoption. "Christianity has placed more churches, more orphanages, more hospitals, and more care-giving places than any other religion or organization, yet the church as a whole has lost sight of her passion for social justice," Andre said. "Evangelization is the most important thing, but Christ's life showed us that it takes two hands to clap-on one side is evangelism, on the other side is caring for the needs of that person."
David N. Bass is a research associate with the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
1 UNICEF. "Who Are the Invisible?" Available online at: http://www.unicef.org/sowc06/press/who.php
2 Cry of the Orphan. "Cry of the Orphan Receives Letter From the White House." November 12, 2007. Available online at: http://cryoftheorphan.org/Display.asp?Page=letter
3 National Council for Adoption. "NCFA's Landmark Adoption Factbook IV Reports Significant Rise in Domestic and International Adoptions, despite Further Decline in Infant Adoptions." Press release. Available online at: http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/FactbookIVRelease.htm
4 The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "Private Domestic Adoption Facts." Available online at: http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview/domestic.html#4
5 Adoptive Families. "Perception & Reality: The Untold Story of Domestic Adoption." Available online at: http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=1618
6 Census 2000 Special Reports. "Adopted Children and Stepchildren 2000." October 2003. Available online at: http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/censr-6.pdf
7 The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "2002 National Adoption Attitudes Survey Highlights." Available online at: http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/survey/survey_summary.html
8 Child Welfare Information Gateway. "Persons Seeking to Adopt." March 2005. Available online at: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/s_seek.pdf
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.