Five things Christians can learn from adoption
Just over five years ago, our idea to try to reduce the foster care rolls was nothing but a big dream and a bigger prayer.
We called the budding program, “Wait No More.”
I knew that, as president of Focus on the Family, I wanted to get the ministry directly involved in adoption and orphan care. Part of that desire was rooted in my own childhood: I was orphaned as a young boy, and spent some time in the foster care system. I knew the life of orphans was neither easy nor ideal.
My motivation went beyond my own experience, however. It was a matter of obedience. When I read the words in the book of James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans…” (1:27) – I knew we had to do something to help.
And so we began. A team at Focus researched how to best help waiting children. We brought in people from all over the country. We asked questions, we listened and we learned.
During this process we learned that, in our home state of Colorado, there were more than 700 orphans in foster care–and about 3,000 churches. If people of faith could be encouraged to step up, these children would all have families. It was then that we realized God wanted us to impact the area of foster care by involving the Church. And that’s when the idea of Wait No More started to take shape.
The concept was simple: Bring together state and local child welfare officials, child placement agencies, churches and ministries to educate families about adoption from foster care. Following this plan, we launched Wait No More in our Colorado Springs backyard. About 1,200 people attended that original 2008 event, with 265 families initiating the adoption process as a result.
This collaborative model has continued to be a huge success. Colorado now has less than 300 kids awaiting adoption, largely because of the ongoing partnership between the state and the faith community. Nationally, our 21 events in 14 states have resulted in at least 2,560 families starting the adoption process. Results like these are why the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute has named Wait No More a national best practice in foster care adoption recruitment.
On this five-year anniversary of our initial Wait No More conference, we are humbled at how God has used our efforts. We rejoice that formerly orphaned children now have hope, love and families. They belong.
We are also thankful for the many things God has taught us during this journey. I’ll share five of those lessons with you, and I think you’ll find them applicable in other endeavors too.
1. Don’t underestimate people’s willingness to help.
As Focus on the Family has partnered with other agencies and organizations to highlight the need for foster care adoption and to clear up misconceptions folks may have, we’ve been amazed at how people have stepped up.
We don’t sugarcoat the reality of adoption at Wait No More, but conference attendees stand in long lines to start the adoption process. With eyes wide open, family after family is willing to open their home to a “messy” child. They know they’re signing up to do the hard work of helping some of these children overcome trauma and abuse. And yet, these families inquire about adopting hard-to-place older children such as sibling groups or those with special needs or troubled pasts.
2. Family ties are stronger than cultural divides.
Turn on the nightly news or check online commentary, and you might think this country is on the verge of breaking apart. There’s story after story of racial division and cultural discord. There seems to be so much that separates us.
And then you see families formed through the gift of adoption. Very often, different races and ethnicities are bound together through a legal commitment, because of love. They’re family, no matter their color or history.
If people can become family despite not sharing the same race or culture, surely we can be better neighbors and co-workers despite any differences we may have. Adoption gives me hope that we can further break down the racial barriers that still exist in our country.
3. It’s good to get out of your bubble.
Wait No More is proof that great things happen when different people rally around a big idea. Liberals with conservatives, government agencies and faith-based organizations–they’ve all worked together to make Wait No More a reality. We’ve cast aside some differences so we can focus on what we do agree on–that our country’s waiting kids deserve forever families.
I’ll be the first to admit that taking the steps to partner with unconventional allies can be a little unnerving at first. It stretched us as an organization. Both sides must take a leap of faith. In the end, though, it’s been worth it. Together, we’ve been more effective. We’ve learned that just because we don’t agree on all points doesn’t mean we can’t work together on some.
4. Adoption needs to be a community effort, and it goes beyond adopting.
Finding homes for children in foster care isn’t the end goal–it’s just the first step. Once a child moves in with his or her new family, they start a long transition process together. These kids often have experienced trauma, and simply being placed in a new home won’t heal that pain. They still need to learn how to trust and how to properly channel emotions. New moms and dads have to learn how to best parent a child they’ve only recently met.
It would be wrong for us to match these kids with their new families and walk away. This is a time for us, as a community, to wrap our arms around these adoptive families and offer them our love and support. After all, we may not all be called to adopt–but we can all provide practical help.
At Focus, we believe that churches can and should have an active role in understanding and providing for the needs of their adoptive families. That’s why part of our orphan care efforts involves post-adoption support. That’s why we encourage other families to provide babysitting, meals and a listening ear to couples who have adopted children. That’s why we strive to equip adoptive families with a wide array of free resources that will help them along their journey.
5. The Bible is right: God redeems our painful pasts.
Many of the kids stuck in the foster care system right now may feel like they have no hope. They might have been abandoned by their birth family. They go to sleep lonely. They wonder what they will do when they age out of the system.
And then “God with skin on” steps into their lives in the form of a family that says, “We don’t care about your past. We’ll help heal your hurts. You’ll belong to us now.” That’s when the promise found in Psalm 68:6 becomes true for them: “God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”
In closing, may I suggest something to you? There will never be a “perfect” time to adopt, and it will take some “doing” to make adoption a reality. But for now, would you please consider searching your heart to see if you might have some room to care for a child in need? If you don’t know where to begin, please visit our website.