The courage to ask better questions

My friend Holly is one of the most fearless voices in the adoption blog world. Holly and her family lived and served in Democratic Republic of Congo for four years. During this time, they supported an orphanage in Eastern DRC called Tumaini – or “Reeds of Hope”. While living in DRC, Holly adopted two children and began facilitating international adoptions from DRC. As Holly was working with adoptive families, she was also becoming more aware of the poverty faced by families living in DRC. She began to ask herself some hard questions – and ultimately stopped facilitating adoptions.

Since moving back to the United States, Holly has continued to be outspoken about the truth about adoption from Democratic Republic of Congo. She courageously shares her blog with families who have seen and experienced corruption first-hand. She listens to the stories of families who have been threatened by their adoption agencies. She faces all sorts of criticism from adoption advocates who wish she would just shut up. But she keeps telling the truth.

If you are not familiar with Holly’s blog – Alama ya Kitumaini which means “Signs of Hope” – you need to make yourself a cup of tea and pay her a visit.

I suggest you start with this post about Holly’s journey – her moment of truth. When she began facilitating adoptions from Tumaini, she struggled with the question of whether or not the children were adoptable. All of the babies at Tumaini had living fathers and had experienced the death of their mothers during or after childbirth. After a little more research, Holly discovered that the babies could meet the definition of orphan under United States immigration law as long as their fathers were unable to care for them – and had relinquished their rights in writing. But something about this definition bothered her. In Holly’s words:

Maybe for some of you it isn’t obvious, because it was certainly clear that the fathers in both cases were “unable to care for the child”.  What was bothering me was what was missing from that definition.

It was love.  Love was the missing part of the definition.  Even though extremely poor, those two fathers LOVED their babies.  And had every intention of coming back to get their babies one day.  Most of the fathers and families that drop off their babies have that same intention, it was love that motivated the action to bring the babies to the orphanage in the first place because they were doing the only thing they could to keep them alive.

Yes, they are unable to “care” for their children and yes, if you asked them if they want their babies to go to the U.S. or europe to be adopted (i.e. to be given food, healthcare, education, advantages they would never dream of being able to provide for their children), most would say yes.  If you asked them “can you care for your child?” And then followed that question up with,  “because if you can’t, your child can be raised by a loving family in America.  He/she can be adopted. Do you want this?”.  The answer would be adoption.

The choice was “adoption to the states” or “home with you in desperate poverty”.  When adoption is the only alternative offered to destitute poverty with the family, I began to wonder if there was really a choice at all.  In fact, I began to feel the injustice of such a request…

 Click here to read the rest of Holly’s  post. If you are thinking about adopting from Africa – especially Democratic Republic of Congo – take time to read everything!

The questions that Holly raises in this post are so important. As Christians, asking the question “is it legal?” is not enough.

Sadly I know more than a few Christian families who blatantly disregard the law when it comes to international adoption. They do not care if a child meets the legal definition of “orphan” – and they are willing to do almost anything in order to “save” a child.

But even following the law is not enough. We are called to something higher. We must ask deeper, better questions. I believe there have been thousands of situations in Uganda, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo where desperate mothers or fathers have placed their children for adoption because they felt they had no other choice.

While I believe in principle that a mother, father and extended family should have the right to choose what is best for their children within the boundaries of the law – it is not really a choice if the only alternative to adoption is desperate poverty – or death.

Imagine a family living in a village in rural Africa. The parents are young, poor, struggling to care for their first child. When their second child is born, there is not enough to go around. The mother is starving and her body does not make enough milk to feed the baby. Nearby someone is building an orphanage and a school. When missionaries from the orphanage visit the family’s home and offer to take the baby – who is severely malnourished – the parents say yes. They are desperate. They love their child, but feel they have no other choice.

And then a year later, a couple on a short-term mission trip visit the orphanage where the now one year old girl is living. They meet her – and they fall in love. The assume that because she is living in an orphanage, she must be an orphan who is available for international adoption. They begin the process to adopt her. Somewhere along the way, they discover the child has a family, that she was abandoned because of poverty. Now they face a difficult decision.

What should they do next? Should they fight to bring the child home? Or should they reach out to the child’s biological family? Should they hire an investigator to figure out whether the family would care for the child if they could? What do you think?

Sara Brinton

SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

  • Janette Pepall

    January 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm Reply

    As a professional, foster, adoptive mother of adult children from 4 countries and birth mother, I agree! Let’s ask the hard questions. Yes, we will be accused of being negative, anti adoption, and not thinking of the best interests of the children.But the best interests of the children is for them to remain with birth and extended family members, significant others etc. rather than being placed for adoption. If we were in poverty and asked if we wanted out children to be fed, educated etc. of course we also would agree to the adoption.Instead where ever possible let’s support families to care for their children. There are millions of children who have NO-One, and need a loving permanent family.

  • karly leib

    January 19, 2013 at 11:23 pm Reply

    This question keeps coming to mind as I have been really and truly challenged by your writing, Sara. I keep wondering if the Christians who are completely willing to raise $25,000 to save a child and bring them to the states for a “better” life would be as willing to GIVE that money to save a family if they found out the child wasn’t truly an orphan. That money could change everything for a family in DRC or Ethiopia or Uganda. But do we as Christians really want to sacrifice that much if we won’t bring a sweet little child home with us?
    I am not against adoption AT ALL, when it is necessary, I believe children need and deserve to be in a forever family. But if they have a family who just can’t afford to care for them, why do we think we are saving a child by using our money to take them away?

  • Sara

    January 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm Reply

    Karly, you are right. The $25,000 American families often with the help of their communities or churches spend on an adoption could help many families in Africa. It could pay the salaries for maybe 20 social workers for a year to support vulnerable families and work to get kids out of institutions. It could provide 50 or more microenterprise loans, giving families the opportunity to start businesses. It could pay school fees for like 100 kids for the year, giving families the break they need to stay together.

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