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Do I have "Orphan Fever?"

There is a buzz forming right now about a book that investigates the link between the recent wave of Christian adoptions and adoption corruption, calling it "Orphan Fever:  The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession."  I read an article summary yesterday written by the author.  You can read it for yourself here.  We should all read this article because accountability is always good and wrongs, wherever they are discovered, should be righted.  But I hope we will also consider my story, and the thousands of others just like mine that weren't reported.

As you read, I want you to think about me.  Not because I'm eager for attention, but because I'm the case study that's not mentioned in this article.  Most of the motivations the author lists for these horrible adoption cases are things that you could have heard coming out of my mouth....with tears....word for word.  Our words may sound the same but result in actions as different as night and day.  I have read THOUSANDS OF PAGES of adoption blogs, google-searched about every topic I could think of related to adoption and tried to connect with people of any and every adoption persuasion and motivation to educate myself.  I have NEVER encountered these people the article talks about as being a force in the current Christian adoption movement. Their names or ideas haven't come up on a single google search I've done during the last 2 years of my research.   But I have met hundreds of organizations and people just like me who are cautious, thoughtful and almost overly concerned about fighting corruption and championing education and adoption training.  Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here, I'm not saying what the article says is not true....I'm NOT saying that these people are innocent or should be no means.  What I'm saying is that these people or people like them did not cause or shape my motivation and methods for adopting, even though our language may look the same, I had never even heard of them until yesterday.  So read the article and be appalled and convicted to fight corruption and protect children...but also think about me, what you know about me, what you've heard me say and what you've seen me write.....and know that there are infinitely more Christians who look like me adopting than the ones highlighted here.

We all learned it in Psychology 101... "Correlation does not imply causation (cum hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for "with this, therefore because of this") is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that a correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply that one causes the other."  If you study baldness in men you'll find that a high percentage of bald men have been married for a long time.  Does that mean that long marriages cause baldness?  My husband would be more likely to site the study that shows that women perceive men with shaved heads as more manly and strong.... more attractive.  Maybe this second study is the real link between male baldness and long marriages. Does a long marriage cause baldness....or does sexy baldness cause along marriage??  Or the cause could just be the fact that anyone who's been married a long time is getting older and baldness is a sign of aging. If I base my life on either of those first two correlations being the cause I'll likely make some pretty silly judgement calls.  It's the same with adoption and Christians...let's be careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater
My husband and I agonized for months over which adoption agency to use.  I had a stack of information next to my sofa tall enough to need propping up during our research phase.  This decision was the biggest one of our adoption and we felt that pressure right from the start.  Why?  Because of corruption.  Because I heard stories about people finding out their adopted children had not really been orphans after all and that gave me cold sweats at night.  Because bad people exploit any opening they find.  Because our adoption agency would be our biggest line of defense against participating in corruption and truly having our motives match our actions.  And so, we were committed to finding an ethical agency that went above and beyond to double and triple check every step along the way.  We chose Bethany Christian Services, not because they were the cheapest or promised the fewest wait times, but because of their commitment to putting the needs of children first and being known for their  excellence in ethics.  There are many other adoption agencies just like them.  A few points to consider about our personal adoption process:
  • Bethany Christian Services does far more in Ethiopia on family preservation projects than international adoption.  That's important to me.   Orphan prevention is plan A.  But it's too late for orphan prevention to help my girls.  In the meantime, while we work to solve the orphan causing problems, these children are growing up without families.  Bethany's philosophy reflects preservation first, in country resources second, international adoption only for children who's needs haven't been met as all other resources have been exhausted.  That's the case with our girls.
  • That's why I'm part of also part of a program in Ethiopia called Hope+ Sisterhood that supports moms in with a 6 month business start-up program that will enable them to feed and keep their children. While we were in Ethiopia last month for our adoption court date, I was able to visit the woman that my friends and I are sponsoring.  Her name is Tigist and she has 3 beautiful children.  Her husband didn't just leave her alone, he left her with HIV, shame and poverty.  Tigist says the program "has brought a lot of change in my life. I can now care for my kids and work. I am so happy. I had no options before I had this program. I am hopeful now. I led a desperate painful life. I could not send my kids to school. When I learned that I had been selected for the program it was the turning point to hope for me. Thanks to God..."  Family preservation is orphan prevention, you can't be committed to one without the other.
  • You can't read much literature from Bethany without knowing that their mission is to find families for children....not children for families.  There is a big, big difference.  One view sees children as a commodity used to meet someone else's need, the first sees children as valuable individuals who have needs that need to be met by a family.  That philosophy has shown itself in our experience.  As we've asked questions about children on the waiting list, our Bethany social workers'  responses have been to ask extensive questions,  recommend further specific training and then tell us to keep waiting because we were not a good match for the needs of those children.  Children must have adoptive families who have the resources to meet their needs or adoption does more harm than good.
  • We have completed over 40 hours of required training and education and have more left to do before our adoption is complete.  And let me tell you, this training is thorough, pre and post adoption.  Worst case scenarios are explored in depth.  You will not complete Bethany's required training and adopt expecting it to be all unicorns and will be shaking in your boots and be doing it because the needs of a child outweigh your comfort.
  • We have found the layers of checks and balances to be thick.  People often complain to me about how awful it is that our adoption has to take so long and cost so much....but I find security in that.  It takes time and dollars to do proper investigations.  The Ethiopian government investigates and interviews.  Bethany investigates and interviews.  Bethany in Ethiopia actually employs a full-time investigator trained by the US Embassy to investigate the orphan status of each child they work with and the orphanages from which these children come.  And the reason we're waiting to go back and bring our girls home right now is because the US Department of State does their own independent investigation and interviews before they grant a visa.  All three entities have to agree that a child is a true orphan and that no other resources are available in country before I can bring my girls home.  I'm ok with that process and the fact that it takes time and money to accomplish...actually I'm incredibly happy about it.  I can't tell you how many times I've asked experts involved with our girls if the girls really need us, if this is the best option for them, if there's any way they could stay in Ethiopia with a family that loves them.  The answer has always been that we are their only answer.  I needed to be sure of that, for their sake.

I usually don't jump into hot topics like this, particularly in a public forum.  I really prefer that everyone just get along!  But the need for adoption is real, just as real as the need for people to fight for ethical practices and education in adoption.  I'm concerned that this article is likely to cause broad generalizations and misunderstandings that will jeopardize future good adoptions and leave orphans neglected.  Neglect is a form of abuse.  That result will be as harmful to the world's children as corruption in adoption....both must be fought.

My "orphan theology" boils down to this:  "There is a God.  He champions the cause of children.  So will I."  For the sake of my girls, and other kids like them I can't not speak today.


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