Picture the chaos. A couple of two-year-olds shinny up Dad like squirrels in a six-foot-two-inch tree. Then they head for Mom, herself a good climb at an inch shy of six feet tall.
Now Mom and Dad settle into chairs, and the kids zoom at breakneck speed between their parents’ laps and the floor with the cool toy truck and the lovingly worn hippopotamus named Po, plus the visitor on the sofa with her fascinating doodads—tape recorder, keys, and purse.
When the two-year-olds are satisfied that the visitor didn’t bring toys (memo to self: bring some next time), their attention turns to characters from the Disney/Pixar movie Cars. Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson and Mater soon race around the floor, complete with varoom-varoom sound effects. Now it’s back and forth again to laps and another check inside that purse, just in case … .
Perhaps three minutes have passed. No interview yet, but loads of fun, laughter, and charm.
“Time for the bribes,” announces Dad. With a two-year-old under each arm, he heads for the kitchen. Bribery comes in the form of animal crackers, accompanied by juice, and for awhile the chaos dies down. Mom and Dad speak in rapid-fire sentences, dumping their highly developed and God-honoring theories about adoption into the relative silence. And the visitor hears herself think: The Reyes family is different.
Adoption is not Plan B
Yes, they are different and not just because they’re multicultural. (Dad José was born in Puerto Rico. He was raised in Florida like his wife, Nikolle, who describes herself as “all American”—British heritage with some American Indian thrown in for good measure. Born in Guatemala, their son and daughter are brown like their father. A point of pride is that both Ingles y Espanol are spoken in this home, and a good-natured debate ensues about whether the first word uttered by a sibling was the traditional “mama” or “agua” (Spanish for water.)
But what really sets the Reyes family apart is more than skin deep—it’s in their hearts. And it’s at the heart, so to speak, of the seismic shift in thinking among a God-honoring subset of the adoption community: Christians who view the adoption process as a metaphor for God adopting each of us into His own family.
Many believers like Nikolle and José, who have thought about adoption with a refreshing intentionality about seeking God’s plan for their family, now consider adoption not as Plan B—a second-choice route to having children, a fallback plan for becoming parents, a solution for problems such as infertility. Instead, they see adoption as plain and simply God’s plan for some families.
In fact, they might not even view infertility as a “problem” in the way couples often consider that biological condition to be a crisis. They may see adoption, as José puts it, “as holistic, a part of that family’s obedience to God, a way to understand His greatness and His role as our Father. It’s a cool way to look at being adopted into God’s family, chosen by Him. And it’s a sweeter way to understand His kingdom.”
Adds Nikolle: “I wonder what would happen if believing couples asked God how He wants them to go about having children, rather than the usual process of first trying biologically, and then if that seems to fail, thinking of adoption as Plan B, a poor second choice.”
José and Nikolle Reyes tell how they came to be parents to the rambunctious Alex and Ella. They enthusiastically describe their journey, revealing how mature Christian couples can understand God’s gift of intimacy within marriage and His plan for sometimes adding children.
They met in 1993, both as Christ followers, and wed in 1996. Jose was 23, and Nikolle was 20—too young to think about children, according to Nikolle. Life rocked happily along—college, graduate degrees, careers, friends, church, the whole nine yards. At approximately the seven-year mark, they considered adding to the family. They prayed and noticed some intriguing circumstances God had brought into their lives: Of the eight children whose parents were in their church small group, six were adopted. Was God telling them something?
How are we to think about adoption theologically?
Adoption is the natural result of our redemption—those who are loved lavishly, love lavishly. Those reconciled are given the ministry of reconciliation. Those who have been adopted, adopt. Those who have been the object of God’s great love become the purveyors of the same.
Also, adoption is our heritage—from the early Christians taking in abandoned children, to the Huguenots of Le Chambon during WWII sheltering Jewish children, to Mother Teresa’s charitable work. Taking care of the orphan is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Do most Christians understand this? Do we have a biblical view of adoption?
North American cultural Christianity employs God to provide us with a life of greater ease and affluence. In deciding how many natural children to have, many people say, “We want two or three.” The thinking that should guide our decision–making should be, “What does Jesus want? What will advance the Kingdom of God? What does it mean in our homes to deny ourselves and follow Jesus?”
In what specific ways should Christian thinking on this subject be different from non-Christian thinking?
Non-Christians and Christians alike adopt with altruistic motives—a deep concern for the well-being of the parentless and a longing to have a family, and with flawed motives—“Having a child will yield a more fulfilling life for me.” Only the gospel, however, can set the soul free to selfless sacrificial living for the glory of God. Christians should be motivated to adopt, to participate in the “big story”, the renewal of all things, the advancement of shalom.
Christians naturally have strong opinions about sexual morality. Many children available for adoption are conceived out of wedlock. What’s the proper attitude toward these birth mothers? And what should characterize the relationship through the adoption process?
We should see women who conceive children out of wedlock to be just like us—sinners—although those who choose to give birth to the baby and allow a couple to adopt are perhaps more courageous. All of us try to find life without Jesus, all of us are deeply flawed. When our idolatry comes to light, we are probably more sophisticated in covering it up than these young moms. We should thank God for their courage in giving their children life and enduring what for too long has been the social stigma of “giving away” their child. In our culture, to give one’s child up for adoption invites far more scorn than pursuing an abortion.
Is the church, institutionally, doing what it should to help orphaned children?
We are doing more than ever, but are still woefully in love with our comfort and our stuff. What we spend on Botox, children’s weddings, big screen TVs, and our dogs is shamefully inconsistent with biblical Christianity and mocks the one “who had no place to lay His head.” We should say as Mother Teresa did to a sitting U.S. president—“If America doesn’t want her children, give them to me.”
At minimum, He was opening their eyes to the possibility of adoption as a valid choice, in addition to the extraordinary measures they knew many godly couples pursue in order to have biological children.
The more they prayed, the more they became aware of how adopting earthly children mimics our Father in heaven adopting us. So they bypassed options to have biological children and pursued an adoption through a Christian agency called An Open Door. They also were drawn to the opportunity to adopt Latino children because of José’s heritage. About a year after they began the actual process of adoption, they stepped off a plane in Guatemala and welcomed Alex and Ella into their hearts and home.
“As adoptive parents, we get a glimpse of the heavenly perspective,” says Nikolle. “Children never fully understand the love of a parent until they become one.”
Adds José: “And, as believers, we can’t truly comprehend the miracle of being claimed by God as His own. Yet we are His heirs with all the righteousness and provision and love that come with being His sons and daughters.”
José and Nikolle, members of Church of the Redeemer (PCA) in Atlanta, have a goal of helping the church and others to learn more about and advocate for adoption.
The Church of Christ Steps Forward
Adam Jones shares that goal and sees it coming to fruition. As an assistant pastor at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Lecanto, Fla., he serves a congregation that’s developed what he calls an “adoption culture.” And, as a father, he and his wife adopted Sashi from India, adding her to a family that already included two biological children.
Jones identifies the cradle of Seven Rivers’ adoption culture as dating back to the 1990s when senior pastor Ray Cortese brought a need before the congregation, and the idea of church families adopting children took off. It seems a woman had come to the church seeking help for three sisters who were in foster care and in danger of being isolated into separate homes. The plight of the sisters had been an ongoing problem, and—at her wits’ end—a Jewish woman championing their cause knocked on the door of a Seven Rivers church member, who in turn contacted Cortese.
He spoke about the need from the pulpit. Two days later a church couple responded and began the extensive qualifying process. Finally, the couple united with the girls, and the ABC News program 20/20 arrived to cover a party celebrating the three adoptions into one family.
Cortese attended the party and sat through what he described as people “whining and harping and complaining” about the state adoption system. After an hour and a half of the dialogue, he felt compelled to speak. With the TV cameras rolling, Cortese confronted the crowd with memorable words. They were missing the real story, he said—that after two and a half years of attempting to solve the problem of the three sisters through state agencies and other resources, it was the church of Jesus Christ who stepped forward to help.
Orphans Who’ve Been Rescued
That created a firestorm which continues to spread. Seven Rivers became a go-to place for difficult adoptions. Couples who otherwise thought they already had finished their parenting duties now took in children who had been raped and beaten. Couples without fertility problems added adopted kids to their families of biological children. Couples with a heart for missions viewed international adoptions as an extension of their outreach.
The number of adoptions among Seven Rivers families grew to 20, 30, 40 and more, a huge percentage in a congregation that swells to 1,300–1,500 only when snowbirds flock to the Florida sunshine in winter. The church provided space for adoption family photographs, plus networking and other ways to support the effort.
Adam and Anne Jones caught the vision. As assistant pastor he was caught up in what he calls the “domino effect” of pulpit messages that emphasized the grace of our adoption into the family of God, followed by church families who adopted, which in turn caused other families to consider the process. He knew the families, knew the kids, knew their stories, and knew the hardships—the lifestyle sacrifices.
On a personal level, this helped when the Jones’ beautiful daughter Sashi, whose name means “beloved,” was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Adam found that the support of the church family, in addition to God’s gracious provision, enabled him to overcome what he called the line in the sand he had drawn: “I didn’t think I could handle a child that was broken.” What he realized, of course, is that “we’re all broken, flawed in our own ways. Now I see parenting a child who’s broken like me as an incredible joy.”
Plus, the adoption message as theology appealed to Adam’s pastoral heart. “As a congregation, Seven Rivers people are understanding and showing themselves to be the orphans who’ve been rescued. Now, as we engage our world missionally, we ask: ‘What’s that going to look like?’ Well, it’s going to include taking in the children of the world who are not being cared for by others, rescuing orphans as God rescued us. Biblically, that’s always been at our core but, with our emphasis on adoption, we’re ‘showing’ in addition to ‘telling.’”
Seven Rivers partners with Springs Presbyterian, a sister church in nearby Dunnellon, Fla. The churches share a common long-term goal of establishing a covenant home, which will provide residences for foster children with supervision by house parents. “It will be a huge effort,” said Keeth Staton, pastor of Springs Presbyterian. “Because we’re a debt-free congregation of only 120 members, we won’t be taking government funding.”
A Complex and Expensive Process
Adoption is also a business. In addition to private adoptions in which attorneys may represent the parties, adoption agencies help navigate the process, especially the tricky waters of international contracts.
You hear stories of couples building palm-greasing bribes into their budget for adopting children from particularly corrupt countries.
You also hear stories of caring people writing four- and five-figure checks to help couples raise the money for what easily can be a $10,000 to $30,000 process, going through legitimate and well-trusted intermediaries. One of these is Bethany Christian Services, a PCA-endorsed adoption agency based in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Bill Blacquiere, president for the past three years, is pleased that Bethany is on track to outperform its three-year goal of 48,000 children served, with a record high of 51,000 in that time period. A former social services employee for the state of Michigan, he and his staff of 1,000 operate in 37 states and 10 countries, “doing God’s work, participating with Him in caring for the world’s orphans. At the same time, we’re butting heads with a society that devalues life and a culture that doesn’t understand the gospel, even more so as we move into international adoptions.”
Bethany speaks out against the million abortions per year in the United States. The agency also stands up for values such as sex within the context of marriage and adoptive families being headed by a married couple—“two parents of the opposite sex,” which he says is at issue in today’s politically correct climate.
Bethany’s main work, of course, is placing children. Bethany’s adoptions are in three categories:
1. Private, domestic infant adoptions. These take 12 to 24 months to complete. In most states, the cost is based on a sliding scale from $10,000 to $18,000, depending on the adoptive family’s income, with an average fee being $14,500. These represent about 60 percent of Bethany’s adoptions.
2. International adoptions. Each country sets a different fee based on their requirements. For example, some countries require two visits by the prospective parents. Costs range from $16,000 to $32,000, and tend toward the higher end. Bethany branched into international adoptions in 1982 with Korea, and since then has added a dozen other countries, ranging from Albania to Uzbekistan. The majority of Bethany’s international adoptions come from Korea, China, Guatemala, Russia, and Ukraine. International adoptions account for 30 percent of Bethany’s work.
3. U.S. children removed from their parents and placed in foster care. The first goal is to return these children to their families of origin, but often these cases result in adoption by a new family. Considered “state adoptions,” no fee is involved. These are often older children, 10 years of age and older, and at any given time 150,000 to 160,000 such youngsters are waiting in a state of limbo for a couple who does not have their hearts set on an infant or toddler. Most linger in the foster care system until they are considered adults at age 18. Placing them accounts for 10 percent of Bethany’s work. (For more information, visit www.bethany.org.)
Carolyn Curtis is an author, editor, and speaker living in Ft. Worth, Texas.