Going There: Another Take on the Orphan Crisis

It’s been just over two years since a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti, killing more than a quarter of a million people and leaving thousands of children orphaned, overwhelming a nation already in crisis. Kristen Howerton, who has adopted from Haiti and was in the country when the earthquake struck, wrote a great, heartbreaking post on “Rage Against the Mini Van” about the state of adoption in Haiti two years later. Thousands of children are languishing in orphanages, not because no one is willing to adopt them, but because of administrative red tape.

Some of those barriers to adoption exist because Haiti (like many other nations) doesn’t particularly want to give up their children. And honestly, can we blame them? Sure, it’s easy for us to look in from the outside and lambast Haiti for not throwing the escape hatch wide open. Those kids need families, and they need families now. The stories are heartbreaking, the images haunting. The current state of affairs is unconscionable.

On the other hand, I can understand why some people in struggling nations aren’t big fans of international adoption. From their standpoint, wealthy outsiders pluck vulnerable children from the poorest of the poor–people so desperate that they are willing to give up their babies, grandbabies, nieces or nephews–and absorb them so thoroughly into a new life and culture that in all likelihood the child will never look back. Adoption may help one child, may bless one family, but it doesn’t do much to address the systemic problems that created and continue to feed the orphan crisis. It doesn’t do much to bless the ones who are left behind, the ones who now need it most.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that adoption is wonderful, a beautiful expression of God’s heart for the world. I have great respect for adoptive parents, and hope to join their ranks when my children are a little older. But the detractors do have a point, and part of my heart breaks at the thought of taking a child out of their homeland. Leaving your homeland comes at a high price, even when it’s the best option available.

Here’s what occurs to me, especially as I hear about countries tightening the reigns on international adoption, effectively stranding children in orphanages: what if more of us were willing to pay that cost for the children? What if we went there? And stayed there?

We could do more to serve Haitian orphans if we lived in Haiti. We could do more to serve African orphans if we lived in Africa. And maybe, if we were as willing to invest our lives in needy communities as we are to invest our lives in needy individuals, we could prevent many children from being orphaned in the first place.

After all, when God launched his rescue mission, he didn’t pluck us out of our circumstances. He came to us in the person of Jesus, remains with us through the Holy Spirit, and left us here to continue his redemptive work in a broken world.

I realize that not everyone is called to move to a developing nation. It’s not an easy road to walk–I spent much of my childhood in Liberia, and it was undeniably hard for me. But I believe that more of us are called to this sort of long-term relationship with other cultures than we would care to admit.  Our hearts break over what is happening in the world, and we long to engage, but the thought of leaving behind the comfort and stability of American life is terrifying. So we search for options that don’t require that.

I will readily admit that this may be the most hypocritical thing I have ever written. I have no plans to pack up my family and move to another country (although the thought does occur to me from time to time), and while I hope to adopt someday, I haven’t taken any steps in that direction yet. But I do feel compelled to raise the issue, and testify to the fact that while it’s not easy, it is possible for many people to raise a family in a developing nation, and for their kids to turn out just fine.

If you’re called to adopt, adopt! I’ll be cheering you on! But if there’s something else tugging at your spirit? Don’t be afraid to ask the scary questions. It could be that fabled “red thread” is God’s way of pulling you toward a country, not a child–or maybe, to both.

13 Responses to Going There: Another Take on the Orphan Crisis

  1. Monica Selby January 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Good thoughts, Jenny. I like how you raise all kinds of issues with this. What is our responsibility as the wealthiest people in the world? When do we take and when do we go? Thanks for this.

  2. Tim January 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Well done, JR. You’ve done a really good job pointing out the individual needs and the systemic needs inherent in the issue of adoption in developing nations. I think it’s not so much that each of us is called to adopt or move overseas, but that each of us should ask God for wisdom in knowing what to do and then rely on the Holy Spirit to equip and strengthen us to do what God’s wisdom has revealed to us.


  3. Amy Simpson January 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Interesting thoughts, Jenny. This may bounce around in my brain for a while. Thanks for bringing up this and other tough questions!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

      Thanks Amy! These issues are constantly ricocheting around in my brain–total third-culture-kid confusion! I’m just happy the post was mildly coherent. ;-D

  4. Kathy January 18, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I love this! As a child my parents left their home and took me to a developing country. I, in turn, have taken my kids from our home country and have raised them in two different places. I get tired of people saying “Wow, I couldn’t do what you’ve done”. You know what? we’re not special – we just answered the call that God has given to everyone! Definitely “more of us are called to this sort of long-term relationship with other cultures than we would care to admit. ”
    Thanks again Jenny!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      It’s interesting–I think the idea of living in a different country is very intimidating to people who have never done it. I’m still trying to sort out my thoughts on whether short-term missions help or hurt with that–I’m a big fan of short-term missions, and think they’re a great way to raise awareness and get more comfortable with the idea of being overseas, but every once in a while I wonder if people who are called to missions are sating their thirst with little “sips” of international experience, when perhaps they should just dive in head-first. Hmm…

      • Kathy January 19, 2012 at 7:06 am #

        Hmm – interesting thought. I’ve thought a lot about the pros and cons of short term mission as well and I do think sometimes people do it in order to “tick that box” and that’s a real pity.
        The other thing about short term mission is that the pendulum seems to have swung from ‘we from the west are here to bless you’ to the extreme other (going through a sensible centre) of “short term missions will really bless us (western church) and our young people.” So it becomes about the experience that can then feed into making our church better. Not something I’m comfortable with.
        I could talk forever about mission so will stop now! :)


  5. Natasha Robinson January 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    Wow, Jenny! Compelling post. I share your sentiments. This is hard, no way around it. Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do. I sometimes get angry or sad because I wish I can do more and simply can’t right now. What God has been teaching me over the course of the last year, is not to underestimate the power of prayer. Intercessary prayer for situations like this is no small thing. Yet, it is challenging to commit to because we may never see the results. That does not mean however that God does not hear, answer, or that things are not changing. So, I am doing right now exactly what you are doing. Praying and lending my voice to the cause. Compassion.

  6. Kim Van Brunt January 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Really great thoughts, Jenny. We adopted from Uganda last year and I have all kinds of conflicting emotions about international adoption. It seems noble and right from the outside, but once you’re there and you go through it, it’s filled with so much loss it’s hard to hold it up as a shining example. And you’re right — it’s an emergency response to a very complicated problem. Ugandans have very mixed feelings about us “taking” their children. They say ‘we all grew up in poverty — what’s so special about this child that they need something more?’

    Many people who adopt internationally subsequently become passionate about family preservation and preventing children from becoming orphans in the first place. That’s where I am, too. I’m still an adoption advocate, but definitely not an adoption evangelist. It’s important for people to be honest about both the brokenness and the beauty of adoption, and to be committed to solving the orphan crisis with MANY different solutions — including helping on the ground, living there, finding solutions alongside the people it affects most.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Kim (and I’m sorry my spam filter tried to eat your comment)! I really, really appreciate your insights, and look forward to spending some time going through your website!


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