Churches Adopt Adoption
In 1962, my parents picked up a 3-month-old boy from a Minneapolis children's home. Instead of a shower or welcoming committee, they came home to silence and sideways looks. They were adopting at a time when the decision was considered a response to an epic reproductive failure, something not discussed in polite company.
And then there was the baby. At just three months, my older brother showed signs of institutionalization. My mother remembers how he lay in her arms like a board, never able to snuggle. Psychologists were only beginning to form theories on attachment disorder, and no one, including my parents, fully understood how even a few months without parental nurture can impact a child.
Thank God that attitudes about adoption are changing.
The Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAO) held its sixth annual summit on orphan care this April at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Featuring keynote addresses from John Piper, Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman, and Al Mohler, the summit drew more than 1,200 attendees, most of them ministering to orphans through their home churches. Watching those gathered, I knew this was not my parents' generation.
What the State Can't Do
Jedd Medefind, president of the Virginia-based CAO, says his organization wants to encourage care for orphans worldwide through adoption, foster care, and orphan care. A nebulous term, orphan care includes everything from funding children's homes in countries with large numbers of orphans to holding shoe drives for children in orphanages. CAO, with over 100 member ministries, is also starting to advocate "in-country" solutions where churches in countries with many orphans encourage and help families in their midst to adopt. "We want to build communities that are committed to families who are committed to orphans," says Medefind.
From megachurches like Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, and Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, to small congregations like First Baptist Church in Cambridge, Minnesota, U.S. churches are launching orphan care ministries, most of them lay-led. One such ministry, Tapestry, began in 2000 when a few adoption-hopeful couples at Irving Bible Church in North Texas began meeting. Launched by Michael and Amy Monroe, Tapestry has become a cultural juggernaut at Irving Bible and in the wider community. It helps adoptive families wade through the endless amounts of paperwork, home visits, and assessments, and, after a child arrives, provides education and connects families to support groups.
Ministries like the Denver-based Project 1:27 work with government agencies to place children with families and support them before and after adoption. Taking its name from James 1:27, the project, together with the Colorado Department of Human Services, is credited with helping to shrink the number of the state's children waiting to be adopted from 800 to 365 in just two years.
Tapestry's Michael Monroe notes that while local and state foster care agencies do many things efficiently, they leave gaps.
"State agencies are well-equipped to help if you have decided to move forward, but less so if you have questions about adoption," the adoptive father of four says. "Church-based ministries are best positioned to come alongside families and help them prayerfully make the best decision."
Still other ministries train foster parents, find families who can provide respite care, and keep free childcare supplies on hand for foster families. And that's just ministry to children in the U.S.