Sixteen years ago, my wife and I traveled half way around the world to Hanoi, Vietnam and brought home a tiny, beautiful baby boy. Adopting Chien radically transformed our lives and helped align our priorities with God’s heart for orphaned and vulnerable children. Our two subsequent adoptions—one domestic, one international—have been an unmitigated joy for my wife and I, and have worked out pretty well for the kids, too. We are a family that has been profoundly shaped and blessed by adoption.
It might therefore be surprising to find out that I’m deeply concerned that the church in America has over-emphasized the role of international adoption in its efforts to address the global orphan crisis.
There are more than 150, 000, 000 orphaned children in the world today—another child is added to that tragic statistic every single second. Last year, fewer than 30, 000 children were placed for international adoption worldwide. It’s clear that international adoption can’t even keep pace with the orphan crisis, much less solve it.
In itself, international adoption is no more a solution to the global orphan crisis than the NBA draft is a solution to inner city poverty. Of all the possible interventions on behalf of orphaned children, international adoption is the most expensive and least scalable. So why is it front and center in so many Christian churches?
We as Christians should be investing in a wide spectrum of care for orphaned kids: providing community-based solutions for orphans or vulnerable children who can be safely cared for by relatives or neighbors, supporting innovative models of residential care, improving the quality of traditional orphanages, facilitating international and domestic adoption and even ensuring poor families’ access to healthcare, sex education and contraceptives to reduce the number of early parental deaths and unwanted pregnancies.
The good news is that the Western church still has a lot of room to grow in terms of generosity. It seems to me that we lag far behind our brothers and sisters in places like India in the care and support of orphans: nearly every Christian I’ve encountered in the foothills of the Himalayas is giving sacrificially to support the orphans and vulnerable children found in their towns and villages. As an adoptive father, their faithful service to the orphaned kids in their midst is a blessing and an inspiration.
As Western Christians, we’re not even close to achieving the standard the Apostle Paul established in 2 Corinthians 8:14-15. “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” We still have too much, and the orphans in the world have far too little.
By all means, let’s continue to generously fund and enthusiastically support international adoption. But let’s also broaden our focus and deepen our commitment to include solutions that will serve the vast majority of orphaned children who will never be adopted internationally.