Adoption & the Church (Part 1)

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Most of us have some kind of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” connection with adoption. Maybe a childhood friend was adopted, a family member went through the adoption process, or a family friend is adopting right now. But at times, it seems as if Christians view orphan care as a bit of an abstract responsibility — it’s well and good, but it takes a specific calling, sort of like becoming an overseas missionary. While we don’t believe every person is called to adopt, we do believe that orphan care is a crucial part of expressing Christian faith, and Christ’s love, in action.

Throughout the Old Testament, God makes the importance of orphan care clear. Orphans are a protected class, to be cared for in specific and intentional ways.  Later, James makes things even more explicit: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

What, then, is the Church’s modern role in orphan care? We write this from Korea on the tail-end of a 13-month journey to bring home our first child, a little boy we just met 3 days ago and who has already changed the course of our entire lives. Here are six things we’ve learned so far.

  1. Orphan care originates from brokenness. Broken families, infertility, poverty, hunger, abandonment. Adoption and foster care are beautiful and redemptive, but the loss is very real, no matter how young the child or how good it feels to celebrate “gotcha day.” Biological families, foster families, and adoptive families will all have losses to grieve, and they will forever be connected. Jesus loves the birth mother who lost custody of her children as much as he loves the family fostering or adopting her baby, and it is vitally important that we honor and respect everyone involved with our words, support, and encouragement. We must always remember that these kiddos had an identify before they came to their forever family and will carry a deep loss for the rest of their lives. In a tangible way, orphan care embodies the “now and not yet” of Christian faith – it is brokenness and redemption.
  2. Church leaders need to understand the various types of adoption and orphan care. One of the pitfalls of addressing adoption from the pulpit or even engaging with orphan care on a conceptual level is not understanding the practical differences and options. Orphan care is more than just adoption, more than just finding parents for children who have lost one or both of theirs. Orphan Care includes things like international adoption (varies widely by country), domestic adoption, foster-to-adopt, kinship placement, embryo adoption, respite care, and foster care. It also includes caring for children at risk of losing their families, as well as caring for those families on the “front lines” of adoption and foster care. Churches being able to effectively share what opportunities are available can help families find a role to fit their skills and life circumstances.
  3. Orphan care doesn’t end when a child comes home. We have been extremely blessed throughout our adoption process so far. Relatives, friends, and complete strangers have poured out prayers and support so generously, and they have made the uncertainties and waiting much more bearable. However, much like marriages, churches tend to front-load support (pre-marriage counseling, young married couple small groups, etc.) and pull back once things are “settled.” The deep needs of these children and their families don’t go away when they get home, and once out of the “spotlight,” these new families may feel as if they are going through the trenches on their own. It is vitally important to help adoptive families find one another and form community, to help children’s staff understand the meaning behind behaviors and respond therapeutically, to host an Empowered To Connect conference simulcast and read up on Trust-Based Relational Intervention. “Kids from hard places” have healing to do, and that healing should start within the church.

This article was written by Brian & Callie Troyer. Look for part two of this piece on Thursday.

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Brian Troyer is a marriage and family therapist working primarily with Department of Child Services and Juvenile Probation clients. Troyer and his wife Callie live outside of Louisville, KY, and are currently on the adoption journey. You can follow their journey at forgideon.com

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