"Without understanding the connection between poverty, injustice, and the orphan crisis, many Christians are responding with actions that have unintended consequences. Christians are responding to the global orphan crisis primarily by supporting orphanages, going on mission trips to visit orphans, and encouraging adoption. While all of these approaches may be necessary and at times helpful, they do nothing to address the poverty and injustice at the heart of the crisis. We are treating the symptoms rather than the cause of the orphan crisis." (In Defense of the Fatherless, abbreviated later as DF)
Funny thing is that we constantly quote this verse, but we all know that it's really the orphans that are most important. The widows? Well, they are just old ladies living in trailer parks. Sure, it's nice to visit them, but they're okay out there. There's really no widow crisis--just an orphan crisis.
But think about it. In Scripture, what is the synonym for orphan? Fatherless. In fact, the King James version uses the word fatherless instead of orphan in this verse. What does fatherless assume? The kid has a mother. A widow.
I would bet, given the historical context, that James 1:27 wasn't referring to two separate groups of people. James could have put orphan and widow in the same verse because often orphans and widows went together. Back then, widows were not always old ladies living alone. Often they were young, and they were mothers. What we know today as single moms.
The problem is that we often have an infatuation with children.
Children are easy, we often think. We see them as helpless and vulnerable and needing our rescue. We see their small sad faces and our parental instincts kick in. It's easy to have compassion for a child.
Why, then, do we ignore the question of where all these children came from? Behind every poor little child's face is a suffering mother and father. There's a reason why children end up in orphanages, and most of the time, it's not because their parents are evil. It's because their parents are broken. Yet somehow, we would rather just help the child. Orphans are so much easier to care about than widows.
We find ourselves unconsciously communicating that children are more important to us than their mothers. Do we not realize that the "widows"--the mothers of these children--need our help just as much? "According to the Half the Sky Movement, 'women aged 15-45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined." Yet as the American church, we turn our backs on these women and say, "You're on your own; but don't worry, we'll take care of your children."**
"Birth families are not prioritized, adopters are. The system is geared to make us happy; to keep us coming. There is this silent belief that kids are better off with us, period. We say, 'God chose this child for me. She is mine. She was always meant to be mine.' No. Our children were meant for their birth families, the way every child ever born is. God did not intend these children for my wealthy home and accidentally put them in Ethiopian wombs. Does God not weep for birth mothers who were tricked? Who were coerced? Who were so vulnerable? Were their children gifts for us and not them? This perspective insidiously tricks us into overvaluing our 'rights' and devaluing first families or reunification efforts." (Jen Hatmaker)
"When...World Vision tried to shift its child sponsorship program to a family sponsorship model...their donations dropped by half." (Kathryn Joyce) Friends, this should not be! Yes, God loves the orphan. But wouldn't His ultimate goal for orphans be to stay in their families? Shouldn't that be our goal as well? Shouldn't adoption be the very last of all last resorts?***
We can start by shifting our mindset: We are not called to be the rescuers of the world's children. Adoption is not the only answer, or even the primary answer, to the orphan crisis. Ultimately, the Church needs to re-shift its focus to The Family.
How can we do that?
If you want adopt internationally, do it only from countries which have a strong, established, regulated adoption program. In most cases, this will only be countries who have signed to the Hague Convention, and I will write more about this in Part 6. For those countries who do not yet have the infrastructure for international adoption, then be a cheerleader and supporter for other ministries and programs that keep kids in families or promote domestic adoption.
Unfortunately, adoption advocates in the U.S. have a reputation of condemning countries who try to tighten up on their adoption regulations. That should not be us. For example, just last week, I received news that Uganda has just passed a new adoption law. It will close the "guardianship" loophole (see Part 2 of this series), promote domestic adoption, and significantly decrease the number of international adoptions. As an American adoption community, how should we respond? With anger at the Ugandan government, accusing them of a lack of compassion for their children? Or with gratefulness that the government is working hard to prevent corruption and child-trafficking? Of course, my heart hurts for those adoptive families who are now stuck in the middle of the adoption process in Uganda. But ultimately, we should be celebrating, not mourning, Uganda's efforts--and any other country who does the same! This is great news!
In addition, there are lots of ways you can participate in, support, or even start ministries that are working at orphan prevention and family reunification.
- Support poor families as you shop! There are so many great causes you can support this way. Each time you buy from one of these sites, you help vulnerable women and families stay together and raise their standard of living. Here are a few great ones:
- Karama Collection supports women all over Africa and raises money for Young Life camps in the process. Started by a friend of mine.
- Noonday Collection features free-trade items from all over the world.
- Sifa Threads is located right here in Dar es Salaam and is also run by a friend of mine.
- People Tree
- Financially support or volunteer for organizations which focus on not just vulnerable children but also their families. Here are just a few, but there are many more. When considering your support for an organization, look for examples of family preservation and orphan prevention.
In our fervor to fight for the orphan, let us not forget the widow. Let's look to fulfill all of James 1:27.
**I am not insinuating that an adoptive family should be responsible for the well-being of the birth mother of a genuinely relinquished child, as that is usually not a healthy situation for the family or the child. I'm just asking for a change in mindset in the American church to broaden our focus beyond just children.
***I need to add an important note here. There are times, in any country--just as in the U.S.--when a man, woman, or family chooses to relinquish a child for adoption for reasons other than poverty. Though most of the children in Tanzania who are adopted domestically were abandoned, I have friends here who have adopted relinquished children with known mothers. I know their back stories, and I completely support the decision for these children to be adopted, just as I support the decision for birth mothers in America to voluntarily relinquish a child for adoption. However, in each case I know about, the adoptive family was a resident of Tanzania. They knew the culture, and in most cases, had a relationship with the family who was giving up their child. In short, it worked because these were domestic adoptions. Unless a country has strong adoption infrastructure, a U.S. adoption agency is usually not able to make the distinction between a "poverty orphan" and a genuinely relinquished child, especially because money will always be involved. This is why I am advocating for family-based ministry and domestic adoption in developing countries as an alternative to international adoption.
Part 5: God Told Me To...Or Maybe He Didn't
Part 6: What About the Children Who Really Do Need Adoption?
Part 7: Is There Hope In This Mess We've Made?