taking the words of Jesus seriously

It’s been just over two years since a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti, killing more than a quarter of a million people and leaving thousands of children orphaned, overwhelming a nation already in crisis. Kristen Howerton, who has adopted from Haiti and was in the country when the earthquake struck, wrote a great,  heartbreaking post on “Rage Against the Mini Van” about the state of adoption in Haiti two years later. Thousands of children are languishing in orphanages, not because no one is willing to adopt them, but because of administrative red tape.

Some of those barriers to adoption exist because Haiti (like many other nations) doesn’t particularly want to give up their children. And honestly, can we blame them? Sure, it’s easy for us to look in from the outside and lambast Haiti for not throwing the escape hatch wide open. Those kids need families, and they need families now. The stories are heartbreaking, the images haunting. The current state of affairs is unconscionable.

On the other hand, I can understand why some people in struggling nations aren’t big fans of international adoption. From their standpoint, wealthy outsiders pluck vulnerable children from the poorest of the poor–people so desperate that they are willing to give up their babies, grandbabies, nieces or nephews–and absorb them so thoroughly into a new life and culture that in all likelihood the child will never look back. Adoption may help one child, may bless one family, but it doesn’t do much to address the systemic problems that created and continue to feed the orphan crisis. It doesn’t do much to bless the ones who are left behind, the ones who now need it most.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that adoption is wonderful, a beautiful expression of God’s heart for the world. I have great respect for adoptive parents, and hope to join their ranks when my children are a little older. But the detractors do have a point, and part of my heart breaks at the thought of taking a child out of their homeland. Leaving your homeland comes at a high price, even when it’s the best option available.

Here’s what occurs to me, especially as I hear about countries tightening the reigns on international adoption, effectively stranding children in orphanages: what if more of us were willing to pay that cost for the children? What if we went there? And stayed there?

We could do more to serve Haitian orphans if we lived in Haiti. We could do more to serve African orphans if we lived in Africa. And maybe, if we were as willing to invest our lives in needy communities as we are to invest our lives in needy individuals, we could prevent many children from being orphaned in the first place.

After all, when God launched his rescue mission, he didn’t pluck us out of our circumstances. He came to us in the person of Jesus, remains with us through the Holy Spirit, and left us here to continue his redemptive work in a broken world.

I realize that not everyone is called to move their family to a developing nation. It’s not an easy road to walk–I spent much of my childhood in Liberia, and it was undeniably hard for me. But I believe that more of us are called to this sort of long-term relationship with other cultures than we would care to admit. Our hearts break over what is happening in the world, and we long to engage, but the thought of leaving behind the comfort and stability of American life is terrifying. So we search for options that don’t require that.

I will readily admit that this may be the most hypocritical thing I have ever written. I have no plans to pack up my family and move to another country (although the thought does occur to me from time to time), and while I hope to adopt someday, I haven’t taken any steps in that direction. But I do feel compelled to raise the issue, and testify to the fact that while it’s not easy, it is possible for many people to raise a family in a developing nation, and for their kids to turn out just fine.

If you’re called to adopt, adopt! I’ll be cheering you on! But if there’s something else tugging at your spirit? Don’t be afraid to ask the scary questions. It could be that fabled “red thread” is God’s way of pulling you toward a country, not a child–or maybe, to both.

Jenny Rae Armstrong is an award-winning freelance journalist who blogs about faith, social justice, and women’s issues at http://www.jennyraearmstrong.com/. She is passionate about building up the body of Christ by building up women, in her rural community and around the world. She loves making new friends, so drop by her blog and say hi, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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