As quickly as Russia declared a ban on adoptions by Americans, it announced that the ban wouldn't go into effect until 2014. Even still, Teri and Ryan Froman have abandoned hope of bringing a second Russian child home to Spring Hill, Tennessee.
"It's very disappointing and discouraging," says Teri, who recently halted the process she and her husband initiated last summer. "We're not one of the families who will be considered. Everything they're saying right now is very confusing."
The Fromans are among nearly 1,000 prospective parents dismayed by the ban passed by the Russian parliament in December.
The latest vote came just five months after Russia ratified an agreement with the United States. The terms of that agreement were prompted in 2010, when a Tennessee woman sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Russia with a note on his bag, citing behavioral problems. Now the Kremlin has reversed course, saying it will hold off until next January, because of a one-year notification required under the agreement.
Adoption advocates have reacted with both cautious optimism and disbelief that any adoptions from Russia will proceed this year.
Some observers blame politics, specifically new U.S. sanctions related to the 2009 prison death of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who alleged widespread government corruption.
"It's an inhuman decision," says Sergey Rakhuba, president of Russian Ministries in Wheaton, Illinois. "It tells you about the Russian administration, using innocent kids as pawns in a big game."
The ban prompted uproar in Russia, with thousands turning out for protest marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg. An anti-ban online petition quickly included over 135,000 Russian signers.
Russell Moore, dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an adoption advocate, also calls the ban political maneuvering. Without international adoption, he says, many children will age out of the system to lives of chaos (an estimated 80 percent later turn to alcohol or drugs, and 10 percent commit suicide).
"The best solution for children is to be welcomed into families, with the love of a mother and a father," says Moore, who adopted two sons from Russia 10 years ago. "That ought to transcend international politics."
What concerns so many is the staggering number of children involved. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that at the end of 2010, just over 736,000 Russian children were living in orphanages or foster care; of some 11,000 U.S. adoptions that year, about 3,300 were international. (Worldwide, UNICEF estimates 151 million children are orphans.)
It's understandable why many agencies remain anxious and uncertain about the future.
Wait and See
For now, officials advise a "wait and see" attitude. That includes one of the largest faith-based U.S. agencies, Bethany Christian Services, which last year helped four families complete adoptions from Russia and has another 21 in various pre-placement stages.
President Bill Blacquiere says only those in a final 30-day waiting period after securing court approval can expect to proceed. About 50 American couples had reached that stage by January 1; up to half a dozen Bethany-affiliated families may fit that definition, depending on pending Russian action.
Families who paid up to $2,500 for a study reviewing the suitability of their home may have to turn elsewhere to avoid losing the funds. The status of other fees is unclear.
"With Russia things are always uncertain," Blacquiere says. "But we are not looking to sign up any new families or say to families, 'We think there's a chance.' I have the feeling this could be it."
Even though some Russian officials allowed a few adoptions to proceed in January, Paul Pennington, executive director of Hope for Orphans, says there is some evidence of the Russian government delaying finalizing adoptions.
"Russia is really significant," says Pennington. "There are agencies in the United States that are so heavily invested in Russia that they may have to shut down for lack of income."
In turn, Pennington says, the collapse of agencies that provide aftercare support for adopted teens and others suffering from personal problems could leave many American families searching for help.
Others cling to hope that further negotiations may scuttle the ban. The U.S. State Department has been seeking information on those who initiated proceedings before January 1, 2013; the number recently reached 950 families. An official says the department remains "actively engaged" with the Russian government to determine the impact on resolving pending adoptions.
"Our hope and prayer is that we'll be able to continue to help children in Russia," says Debbie Wynne, director of adoption and maternity services for Buckner International. The Dallas-based agency helped 41 American families adopt from Russia in the past two years and has supported foster parenting and adoption programs there.
"In doing international ministry, you never know if you can work [in a nation] forever," Wynne says. "Sometimes we see doors close in one place and other doors open elsewhere."
More Difficult Than Ever
A larger question is the possible impact of the cutoff. American parents have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children in the past two decades. But after peaking at nearly 5,900 in 2004, adoptions dropped to 748 in 2012.
The decline parallels other international adoptions by Americans, which plummeted from nearly 23,000 in 2004 to just over 8,600 in the 2012 fiscal year.
"That's the $100,000 question," Phillip Wurster, director of the National Association of Christian Child and Family Agencies, says of the ban's impact. "It's become a lot more difficult in various countries to [adopt] internationally, and Russia has been one of the more popular places. I think more people who were interested in international adoptions may look [domestically]. If somebody is absolutely sure they want to go internationally, there are still other countries that do international adoptions. God has to lead folks."
Domestic adoptions dwarf international ones. Intra-U.S. adoptions reached nearly 69,000 in 2011, including more than 50,000 children adopted out of foster care.
Yet domestic adoptions pose their own hazards, says the mother of a 3-year-old Russian boy. Ann-Marie and Brent Bowden, parents of a son and a daughter, didn't want to expose them to the risk of bonding with a prospective adoptee, only to see a U.S. judge order the child returned to a biological parent.
After educating themselves about the worldwide problem, the Bowdens decided to look internationally.
"We sponsored a child in Russia through Children's Hope Chest and prayed for [orphans]," says Ann-Marie, whose family attends a Southern Baptist church in Plano, Texas. "Ultimately we felt a call to provide a home for a child who otherwise wouldn't have one."
Russian adoptions are costly and reportedly more complex than those from other countries. Even with an adoption tax credit of up to $13,000, expenses can run $50,000 or more, including travel costs for three required visits and court appearances.
Yet there are rewards that can't be measured in dollars and cents, says the father of a 16-year-old Russian girl who arrived in Wyoming, Michigan, in late December. With the youngest of their four children in college, John Nautus and his wife, Sheryl, hadn't planned to adopt until a friend went to Russia in 2010 and sent back dozens of photos. John felt drawn to pray for a girl in one photo, Elya, who had been taken from her home after her parents neglected her.
Later John learned that Elya had given her life to Christ during a mission team's visit. When the team returned a year later, the girl asked his friend, who led the mission, if he would adopt her. John's friend promised to let the Nautuses know about her.
When their friend relayed the conversation, the family felt overwhelmed—especially John, who intended to retire from the fire department that fall.
"God had other plans," John says.
Not only did Elya's age require special permission from both countries, his wife also had to leave her job with a shipping company to stay home with her for at least six months.
But John says none of the demands they faced can compare to watching God work powerfully amid their journey, which included wading through a bureaucratic maze, sending a special appeal to their congressman, and submitting 14 documents in the month before a judge approved the adoption.
"There were times when we struggled [and] I was down about it," he says. "But God showed his faithfulness throughout the process."
A Silver Lining
Russia's move could prompt some soul-searching in the American adoption movement: Besides the 7-year-old sent back alone, 19 Russian children have died of abuse or neglect by American parents, including the orphan whose name was attached to December's legislation.
Pennington says the ban may force closer pre- and post-adoption assessments, since parents can be motivated to take older and special-needs children more out of narcissism (the desire to impress others with their sacrifice) than selfless love.
Still, he says, critics of international adoption have to maintain a balanced perspective. The 19 Russian children who died in America are 1 percent of the Russian children who died in 2008 alone at the hands of biological parents or caregivers.
"Because we don't have accountability and assessment strategies for all the agencies involved, should we have not let those 60,000 kids come to the United States?" Pennington says. "We don't hear great news stories about special-needs kids who had almost no hope in Russia who came to the United States, got college educations, and are professionals."
The action may prove somewhat of a divine blessing as well, according to those who are part of Home for Every Orphan (HEO). The network is working to increase adoption in Russia and other former Soviet nations.
Karmen Friesen of the CoMission for Children at Risk recalls that the church in China exploded after its government drove out Western missionaries. He is praying for exponential adoption growth among Russian Christians. He noted that a Russian partner said the ban has catapulted the plight of orphans into the national spotlight.
Russian culture has tended to minimize adoption, and the Soviet Union did little to encourage it, says HEO coordinator Anita Deyneka.
However, over the past two years, she says, Christians in Russia and Ukraine have adopted 1,500 Russian children, and one-third of Ukraine's 30,000 churches participated in the most recent global day of prayer for orphans.
In addition, a 92-member alliance created Ukraine Without Orphans in 2010, and sparked companion organizations in Russia and Belarus, as well as World Without Orphans.
"I don't think many Americans know how many people are doing something," says Deyneka, who cofounded Russian Ministries with her late husband, Peter. "For a long-term, mass solution, it's glorious what is happening with Christians [elsewhere] moving forward."
Even if the ban becomes permanent in 2014, Deyneka says there is much Americans can do to encourage adoption. She pointed out that monthly sponsorships can enable families overseas to bear special expenses, and at just a fraction of the cost of an international adoption.
Americans can also pray for and support groups that provide materials or counseling, and form partnerships with churches in Russia and elsewhere that are promoting intracountry adoptions.
The Fromans still plan to adopt a sibling for Maxim, age 2. They are praying for doors to open in Colombia, where they have family ties.
"My heart and my husband's heart are for the orphans of the world," Teri says. "We do a lot of education and advocacy for people to get involved. Growing up in an institution is not a good thing."
Ken Walker is a freelance writer and editor from Huntington, West Virginia, and a regular contributor to Christianity Today.
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