Everyone Dreams (A Help One Now Post)

Yesterday morning I woke in Addis Ababa to the sounds of jackhammers and drills, to the roosters crowing, to the call of prayer. Construction crews, roosters, payers, they awaken Addis before the sun. Mornings here are such an experience. By seven, a group of boys were playing an early morning soccer match in the dusty streets. I stood sipping coffee and watching from the balcony. They were a sight to see. They passed the ball with the skill of children who have only ever known one game. On one occasion, they stopped, and a shorter boy shouted at another, pointed to his hands. On other occasion, a taller boy scored a goal and both teams cheered.

These boys dream of representing the Ethiopian football team one day. I know it.

From the guesthouse balcony, I also saw a young girl washing clothes. She is no more than six and I wondered what dreams she holds. I suspect she hopes to be a doctor, teacher, or engineer.

Every child dreams. It’s the thing I’ve taken from this trip.

Earlier this week, a group from Help One Now visited Gunchire, a backwater Ethiopian town with a dirt road for a spine. On either side of the spine, the businessmen peddled their wares to passers by. One pointed to our van. “Chat! Chat!” he called from a booth. Another held a handful of used toothbrushes out from a store window. Further down the spine, a woman leaned against a sign with a large English subtitle, which read “Crowing Nature for Food Security.” I reckon there is a typo in there somewhere.

The capital of the district, Gunchire is a hub of commerce for the Gurage people, poor hub though it may be. There is a local bank, which is rarely open, a micro-lending institution, which charges high interest, and a hotel, which boasts no visitors. There is the palpable feeling of disadvantage hanging with the dust in the air, but the Gurage people went about their days; they didn't seem to notice the lack of prosperity.

We came to a small home where an HIV positive mother sat with her two children. She lost her husband some time ago, and is making a way for her family through small trade. In an effort to help her maintain economic viability so that her children aren’t forced into the orphan care system, Kidmia provided her with modest in-kind support, brought her clothes that were hand-made by the prisoners at Welkite. She sold the clothes at the market in Gunchire. Turned the profit into support for her family, and reinvested the rest by purchasing more clothes to sell on the next market day.

The children were in the yard; the daughter was grinning ear-to-ear. She seemed to be a happy child, a grateful light. Her brother was only three, a shy boy who cuddled close to his mother.

“What would you like to be when you grow up?” my new friend Lamar asked the girl.

She smiled. “A doctor,” she said.

“Good, good,” Lamar smiled in return, and told her through the translator to continue her studies.

She is a wonder to me, this little girl from an impoverished family in backwater Ethiopia. She dreams big, dreams like little girls from the United States, girls with better education, better food security, more stable structures. She dreams like girls with dolls, with opportunity, with health care.

Lack does not inhibit the human capacity for dreaming, it seems. At the end of the day, we all dream the same–in color, in hope, in shades of future prosperity.

The next day, we asked Aschalew Abebe, the in-country director for Kidmia, what this little girl’s life would look like without additional support, without access to education and health care. He said, “child prostitution, early marriage, forced labor, trafficking, polygamy–these are all realities for the girls of Gunchire without the proper support.”

Today, sitting in the airport and waiting for my connecting flight home, I consider the girls of Gunchire. They have dreams, yes. They have potential practical futures, too. The odds are not in their favor. It is a sobering thought.

*****

This week, I've been traveling with Help One Now in Ethiopia. Help One Now has entered into a strategic partnership with Kidmia, and will be providing a child-sponsorship component to Kidmia's already robust programs. Kidmia works within a local community to improve the prospects for vulnerable and at-risk Ethiopian children.

I'd sure be honored if you'd consider joining with Help in sponsoring one of these at-risk children. Each sponsorship helps provide these children with food security, education, and health care.

Sovereignly Adopted

I've slowly been unpacking some issues with respect to adoptions ethics, and the trends I'm observing within the evangelical orphan care movement. Today, I'm unpacking the an argument I've heard a great deal as of late, namely, that we need not worry about the ethics of completed adoptions because they fall under the banner of God's sovereignty. You can read an excerpt below, but the full piece is at A Deeper Church.

***

A shy hand raised in the corner of the room. “I’ve adopted internationally,” she said, “and I’ve wrestled with whether it was all above board. The paperwork for my children has gone missing, the orphanage has shut down, and my adoption agency has been closed.” She broke, then paused, then regrouped. I prepared myself to console her, to offer a gentle word, and that’s when she dropped the theological nuclear bomb.

“But here’s what I’d like to know from you: who are we to question the ethics of my childrens’ adoption? Who are we to question the sovereignty of God?”

***

The sovereignty of God–ah, that grand Ace of Spades. In full disclosure, I’ve spent the majority of my Christian life in reformed circles, and if I’m painfully honest, I often still interpret scripture through this lens. Yes, I believe that we are God’s handiwork, that we’ve been created in Christ to do works prepared for us long ago. Yes, I believe that God, in his sovereignty, works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Here’s something I’ve always thought and never said, though–invoking God’s sovereignty to avoid tough questions is a misapplication of the doctrine.

Continue reading at A Deeper Church.

Adoption Ethics - A Guest Post by J.R. Goudeau

On Friday, I'll be joining a good crew of folks this week in Austin to discuss "Human Care," including issues relating to the ethics of international adoption. Among the wonderful people with whom I hope to spend time is J.R. Goudeau. Today, she's guest posting here and sharing her view on adoption ethics. Read this, y'all. It's so good.

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The question of the ethics of international adoption has become very, very personal to me. A few days ago, in a Chinese orphanage in a very large city, our third child celebrated her half-birthday. She is now two and a half; we go get her in a few short weeks. Her videos and pictures, her fat cheeks, shy smile and her sweet clapping hands, have changed this debate for me. This is no longer theory. This is real, as real as the grief we are about to enter and navigate together as we start over as a family of five.

The week after Jen Hatmaker began her series of adoption ethics in June, no less than six people in my life asked me whether our adoption was ethical. Part of that is because I live in Austin, where Jen lives, and a lot of us really like her. Part of that is because her series of posts prompted many people to begin thinking about these issues in new ways. We had just been matched with our little girl a few weeks before, and I mentioned to a friend at the time that one of my greatest comforts was the deep sense of peace we felt about the ethics of our adoption.

I was happy to answer those friends’ questions (and the ones that have come up since) and I’m grateful to the people who are helping to change the scope of this debate—we should be asking if adoptions are ethical with the same ease that people ask why we picked one country or a particular special need. I can say with a lot of love that I realize that for some people, the issue of adoption ethics is one that they only realize late into the process as they really begin to understand the ramifications of changing the course of a child’s life forever. But for me that was not the case; this has been the guiding issue of our adoption process.

An ethical adoption was the only option for us.

There are several reasons for my commitment to ethical adoption, but the most important is my experience doing community development in Brazil, where I taught English at a children’s home, and in Austin, where I co-founded a non-profit working with Burmese refugee artisans. The work we’ve done for the last several years in Austin with Hill Country Hill Tribers, helping young mothers and old grandmothers care for their small children and grandchildren by selling their handmade products so they can remain at home, has especially impacted my desire to adopt.

The stance we have learned to take in relation to the Burmese refugees we work is the same stance that we are using in our adoption: I want to flexibly adjust my life around their needs. That means for the refugees, we have learned how to order yarn because they weave. We have researched jewelry designs to help make marketable necklaces and earrings and bracelets. We have taught basic English classes because that is what they wanted to learn. We have learned how to manage MAP and Medicare and the food stamp program because those are the needs our friends have. We have stretched ourselves and turned our lives inside out to pour ourselves into each day as it came. We have learned to listen rather than talk, come alongside rather than instruct, make friends rather than “help” people. And the measure of our success is the strength of the solidarity in our small community.

In the same way, we didn’t want to find a baby that fit our family so much as adjust our family around a child. That means being open to the special needs and developmental delays of a child who has been in an institution. That means holding our plans loosely for the next several years until we understand the full extent of the therapies and surgeries and complexities we will face. Life with our Burmese friends has sometimes been glorious and beautiful, but often it has been heartbreaking and backbreaking. I assume this adoption will be perfect and flawed, difficult and painful and breathtakingly wonderful. I’ll let you know how it’s going a few months in, but right now we are preparing ourselves and our biological children to walk into grief and hardship together.

I didn’t want to adopt a child who was in an orphanage simply because her mother or father could not afford to care for her, what are sometimes called “poverty orphans.” The simple truth is that I felt it would be better for me to go and begin an economic development project or, better yet, support already existing community development works than to participate in a system that makes it seem better for children to be raised in the West than cared for in their home cultures. The complex truth is those are very broad ideas and that each adoption situation is different--there are a variety of reasons why children are relinquished every day--but in general, most Christians I know are much more excited about adoption than they are community development and women’s empowerment and I want to see a major shift in our larger conversation that supports women’s rights and mother’s rights first.

That being said, there are places and programs where ethical adoptions can and should be used as one of many tools in the arsenal to help children. Finding those programs and agencies can be difficult, but doing the research is crucially important. I have asked every person in my life over the last ten years who has adopted why they chose the programs and agencies they did, domestic or international, private or foster. I have read articles and blog posts and scholarly journals. By the time we were ready to adopt, I had a map in my head of where I thought the ethical adoptions were taking place, but then I called and personally spoke with people in 45 different agencies before settling on ours (I’m a nerd who loves research, let’s be honest). The answers I got from day one at our agency privileged birth mothers first, whether foreign or domestic. They care for special needs kids whether or not they are adopted. They work with other agencies happily and openly to advocate for kids. They are choosy and slow and very, very candid about their process. I have asked repeatedly, both generally in terms of their approach and now specifically about our child, for them to show me why it was ethical and they have, over and over again. No question has been too probing or too thorough. This is very different from what other friends have told me about their agencies and I’m so grateful we picked ours.*

Adoption is complicated and specific and tricky. The most challenging thing is knowing when adoption is appropriate and when it is not. The only way to know is by educating ourselves about the complexities of a country or a region or a village or a family. We need to listen hard and well; despite the fact that we lived in Brazil, when we asked good questions, we realized that the Brazilian relatives and friends around our kids were in a better position to adopt and support them than we were. This isn’t always the case, but it was for the three kids I wanted to adopt. I would love if we lived in a world in which every child had a supportive, loving larger family, but we do not. And while Christians are debating the ethics of adoptions (which we MUST do), adoptions overall have slowed down in the last decade and my agency, among others, is advocating daily for special needs and older kids who are hard to place. I don’t think every family should bring home just any kid, but matching the kids who need homes with families equipped to take care of them is an ongoing struggle for our agency and others. While adoption is not the answer from many, many countries and we need to reevaluate entire programs and approaches, we have to be careful not to be so extreme in our response that we discount adoption altogether.

Adoption and community development are two sides of the same coin. With one hand my husband and I are committed to supporting women and men in a variety of places so that they are never faced with the gut-wrenching decision to give up a child and with the other hand we’re bringing home a little one who would spend a life in an orphanage if adoption didn’t exist. Both community development and adoption are extremely important tools; it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

The problems that lead to children being placed for adoption are many and complex. The solutions to those problems are equally complex and can only be understood by the community on the ground in a specific region, not Westerners who come in with all the answers. But, by listening to the people who live in a region, it is possible to come up with a variety of creative and beautiful responses: It could be maternity care in Haiti or water wells in Burundi or reunification in Uganda or educational development in the Dominican Republic or a refugee artisans’ cooperative in Austin.

And sometimes, it is adoption. Our child will be coming home to our house sometime in November. Until then, we’re living breathlessly in prayer that she and the twenty other children who share her room who haven’t yet been matched and the hundreds of other children who live in her institution know, somehow, that they are loved and worthwhile and precious.

*I’m happy to talk about the specifics of our adoption agency and the choices we made about our country program in the comments, but I wanted to generally advocate for a stance toward ethical adoption that could apply toward any thorough agency or program, not just write a commercial for mine. But if you have questions, I’d love to share anything online or by email.

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 J. R. Goudeau is the Executive Director and co-founder of Hill Country Hill Tribers, as well as a grad student in English literature. When she’s supposed to be working on her dissertation, she can usually be found blogging about books, babies and Burmese refugees at loveiswhatyoudo.wordpress.com.
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Adoption Ethics -- Modeling Hospitable Conversation

This week I shared the lens through which Amber and I view orphan-care. I shared our story, declared our biases. I realize that our thoughts can be polarizing (I've developed thick skin over this fact, see). When we are discussing adoption ethics, there is a tendency to divide along two sides of a hard line–-those who are pro-adoption and those who take a more pro-development, rehabilitative approach. And the fact is, even though some would classify themselves in both camps, there is a tendency to allow the line to act like a high wall, a barrier to productive conversation. The result? We find ourselves at odds with one another and before long the conversation turns base, accusational in nature (sometimes unwittingly).

This week Mike Rusch sent me a note--"the conversation of adoption ethics is going to need a referee." He's felt the sting of bright-line arguments from each camp. His story is not mine to tell, but he has dogs in both sides of the fight. In addition to the note, Mike forwarded a keynote address by Jedd Medifind at Christian Alliance for Orphans. In the address, Medefind touched on the burgeoning conversation relating to adoption ethics, and spoke about how to bridge the gaps in the conversation. Speaking to a decidedly Christian audience, Medifind posited that there should be certain defining characteristics of any discussion of orphan care. He stated (and this is my paraphrase) that all conversations should be couched in Christian love and understanding, said that we should give grace to one another as we attempt to work out the myriad of issues confronting orphan care. He next said that the discussion should be covered in hospitality, that it should be a conversation that gathers all to the table and listens with (see above) love and respect. He realized, of course, that there will be differing opinions, and at times things might get tense. But he concluded that if we move forward with this kind of dialogue, we're more prone to find some appropriate common ground.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some things I've learned through careful and studied investigation. Some of the information will be hard to swallow (although not surprising), and some of it will further draw out why Amber and I have chosen a different path than many. But hear me say this: there is room this table for your insights, your constructive criticism, and your story. We may not agree on everything (potentially a whole host of things), but there is room at the table.

It may be difficult to have these conversations on the internet. Often we forget that there are people on the other side of the screen. But I'd like to try and model constructive dialogue here in the coming days. Today, I'd like to practice hospitality.

(And this may go over like a lead balloon, but here goes...)

Tell us: What brought you to the orphan care conversation? How have you engaged it? Have you adopted? Have you been intimately involved in rehabilitative development work? Do you adopt a UNICEF approach to adoption? Do you know about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? Do you care? Do you see it as helpful? Harmful?

I'd like to give you an opportunity here in this space to practice the art of hospitable discussion. Can you air grievances? Sure. But let's try to model love and respect.

So, if you're willing to engage by answering any of the above questions (or sharing part of your story), use the comment box below.

Adoption Ethics - An Introduction

In 2010, Amber and I were somewhere around three reams of paper into an international adoption. We had chosen the country of origin, completed the application with our prospective adoption agency, and begun the process compiling our dossier--a group of legal documents required by our would-be child's country of origin. We had begun the process of figuring exactly how we would manage the over $20,000.00 in expenses that we would incur in the process. We had chosen the name of our little girl, purchased a few pink dresses and the like, and re-familiarized ourselves with the soundtracks of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But in the process of preparing for the coming adoption, I ran across this video. (Warning: Examples of Adoption Fraud.)

I am well aware that investigative journalism can be biased, that it sometimes sensationalizes for the sake of making a story more compelling. But after I watched the "Fly Away Home," a few questions continued to nag.

I devoured journal articles on the topics of international adoption. Questions still nagged.

I reviewed reports of previously closed countries such as Guatemala and Cambodia. Questions still nagged.

And Chief among the nagging question was this: how can I be sure that my little girl wasn't being trafficked from a family unit that could provide for her needs within the social context of her birth?

And here's where it gets sort of mucky. Amber and I discussed the concerns, and I called our prospective adoption agency. I asked the question--how do I know that my daughter was not trafficked into the adoption care system?--and the answer I received lacked nuance, was impractical, and dismissive. The answer? "It's the duty of the local government to make sure that children aren't trafficked into the system," we were told.

We wrestled with the response. When you are dealing with a country where known corruption exists within the orphan care system, how can you turn a blind eye to potential abuses in the name of trust and duty shifting?

We raised our concerns with others in our community. "Don't worry," some said, "you are doing God's work. Your child will have a better life than they ever will in their home country."

"Better by what standards?" I asked.

In the end, Amber and I were unsatisfied with the answers we received from the agency and those in the adoption community. And after a good bit of soul-searching, a long lot of prayer, and many nights of lost sleep (not to mention a few lost pennies), we withdrew from the adoption process.

We still count it as a miscarriage of sorts.

****

Our story is essential in understanding my view of international adoption. I'm an advocate of ethical adoption, and I am no stranger to the spiritual metaphors that can be drawn. I am also a lawyer by trade, a policy geek, and a strong believer in the idea that discrete people groups need less paternalistic oversight that we Westerners might think. These are my biases. I am unashamed of them. I wear them in the open so that those who would criticize my views do not feel as if they are trying to draw a bead on a moving target. This, as my friend Mike Rusch might say, is the first step to authentic conversation.

I have been loathe to discuss this topic much publicly. As a preliminary matter, we have many children adopted from international contexts in our local community, and to dispel any rumors, I love these kids and their parents. I do not cast sideways glances, or speculate as to the legitimacy of the adoption. They are members of my community, and I love my community. I do not discuss adoption ethics with them unless asked.

That being said, I've watched as an evangelical movement has fomented a theology of adoption based in part upon Biblical metaphor and extrapolation. It seems, at times, as if this theology is reactionary theology du jour--there is a crisis, after all, and there are some children that need adopting, right? No doubt. But what if the theology does harm to native peoples, what if it strips others of common dignity? What if it removes an opportunity from the local body of believers? What if that theology places us in the position of savior? What if it undermines the basic dignity of other tongues, tribes, and nations?  Does theology that values the theologian over the dignities of others make good sense? I'd like to offer my reservations on that last one.

And so you know, I am open to criticism and take it in stride so long as it does not contain profane language. I'll take it in the comments. I'll take it in emails. I'll even take it on the phone if you happen to know how to ring me.

Finally, I realize that this series will not be for everyone. To that end, I'll likely post only once a week on the topic. So, if you are interested, pop in from time to time. I'll keep this all under the category "Adoption."

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To get us started, let's have a discussion. Does your church, peer group, or community promote international adoption? What are the rationales given? Do they discuss alternative in-country community development plans so that children can stay with their families or extended families?