Two years ago, a Christian couple from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, fell in love with an abandoned toddler, born with a disability and living in an orphanage in rural Haiti. Already adoptive parents of a Liberian child, Katy and Josh Manges decided to adopt the toddler, Malachi, who has a treatable bone disorder.
Then the January 12 earthquake that crushed so much of Port-au-Prince, costing an estimated 230,000 lives, put the prayerful plans of the Manges family in limbo. It also laid bare before the world how badly orphans and vulnerable children may be treated when they get caught up in red tape, corruption, and political correctness.
For the Manges family, the outcome was success. In late February, Malachi arrived in Miami into the welcoming arms of his new family. Yet the adoption required two years of effort, delayed by local politics and requiring a personal signature from Haiti’s prime minister. At the last minute, rioters at Port-au-Prince’s airport derailed Malachi’s departure, falsely alleging that he and other adoptees had phony paperwork.
This episode stands alongside another, the still-unfolding saga of the Idaho Baptists who were arrested on suspect charges of child trafficking. The latter may have a long-lasting chilling effect on inter-country adoption just when adoptive parents are needed more than ever. There are 210 million orphans worldwide, and adoptions to the U. S. have dropped 45 percent since 2004.
The greater problem isn’t with potential adopting parents. It’s with a system that is severely broken. Christian leaders and churches have much to offer in advocating for the reform of confusing adoption laws, stronger enforcement of international norms, and making adoption more affordable, more visible, and a more honored practice.
Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, recently told Christianity Today that immediately after Haiti’s quake, many agencies fielded waves of calls from people with a strong impulse to take Haitian orphans into their homes. Rather than dismiss or belittle this impulse, Medefind encouraged them to consider the many ways of supporting the children, recognizing that adoption is a long and uncertain process. Family reunification, orphanages, extended family care, and child sponsorship all have a role to play in meeting the needs of vulnerable children in crisis or chronic need.
But Medefind is quick to note that powerful political and cultural barriers often make adoption an arduous process that takes too long and costs too much. “The reality is that there are thousands of children, before and after the earthquake, who are genuinely in need of parents,” he says. “To the extent that parents can’t be found, we should not relegate children to living on the streets or [in] orphanages. The political and cultural factors often become unspoken reasons why children are forced to remain in institutional care or on the streets, which is a profound tragedy.”
The political and cultural barriers stem from warped ideas about what is in a poor child’s best interest. It isn’t in the best interest of abandoned children to grow up destitute and barely literate, regardless of the imagined cultural benefit of remaining in their home country. Haiti itself is a vivid example of injustice. The government tolerates a modern form of child slavery by allowing 225,000 children ages 6-14 to work as restavecs (unpaid, indentured domestics).
Adoption, domestic or inter-country, should not be looked down upon as inferior at best or as a last resort. The 150,000 South Korean orphans adopted worldwide (99,000 to the U.S.) since the 1950s testify well to the durable difference a loving adoptive family can make.
For Christians, the biblical basis for adoption bears repeating. The Book of James beckons every true follower of Christ to become involved in the lives of orphans (and widows). It’s not for married couples only. Godly, never-married singles have successfully adopted, and most readily affirm the ideal that each child should live with a mother and father—whenever possible. So, Christian singles should not be automatically excluded from the pool of possibilities for adoption.
Adoption experts provided CT with four ways churches can increase their involvement:
- give adoptive families space to tell their stories in church;
- find ways to give small starter grants to people interested in adopting;
- encourage the adoption of children with special needs; and
- develop a full spectrum of responses, from child sponsorship to adoption.
CT recently talked with a never-married woman who adopted a young girl from Kazakhstan into her home (at a personal initial cost of $36,000). For her, the question was, “Are we talking about live souls?” Not mere “victims” or “political symbols” or “the needy,” but children for whom Christ died, who need a home where the love of God is lived and shared with the least of these.