How did we end up here?
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.