This time a year ago I was prepping and packing for a mission trip to Ethiopia. Many of you supported and helped send me and my team, and while I had every intent of posting my thoughts and reactions from that trip, I never really did. Pace of life, I guess. But then I read something today that took me right back to my emotions and feelings last year after my mission trip, a stirring reminder of what God taught me about adoption.
Our church took a team of about 10 people to Addis Ababa last February. We had a dual purpose: training for indigenous church planters and serving with widow & orphan care ministries.
When I went on my first mission trip to Ethiopia in 2010, I was in the middle of our adoption process. I had never been to a third world country. Truthfully, I had never been on a mission trip anywhere. I was broken, in a good way, but I can't help but think everything I processed was seen by me, at least in part, through the filter of our adoption. Of course I was motivated to share the love of Jesus with all those sweet children and to see the face of Jesus in the beautiful people of Ethiopia. But it was also another layer to our story, to understanding the why of our decision to adopt internationally, seeing first hand the great need, and falling in love with a country that is now a big part of our life.
And I felt confirmed in our decision to adopt, and to adopt from Ethiopia. I love adoption so much. I love the gospel so clearly on display. I love kids without families being fought for, being loved, and being pursued so intensely and sacrificially so they can have a forever home and a forever family. "One less." It didn't seem like much of an impact after witnessing such great need, but it was something.
Fast forward to last year. This trip was my fourth to Ethiopia, traveling with my husband and dear friends, excited to see my Ethiopian friends and serve with ministries I knew were awesome. Abby had been home for a little over a year, everything as smooth as one could ever hope for. I wasn't such a newbie anymore. I didn't know what God had to teach me on this trip, but I was ready.
No sooner had we landed and were loading up in the van at the Bole airport, that our dear Ethiopian friend told us he had news for us about Abby's birth family. While we've never gone into great detail about Abby's backstory publicly, suffice is to say our agency was, at best-- not helpful, and at worst--dishonest about the truth of Abby's background. We felt, though, that we had a general understanding. But we had asked our friend to do an investigation for us anyway, because we wanted to know about the area she was from, get any details from surviving relatives, etc. And while I won't go into details here, for the sake of Abby's privacy (since she hasn't really processed it all herself yet), suffice is to say what he uncovered was not the story we were told, and it was not as tidy as we'd have liked it to be.
And I will say this. It forced us to deal with the truth that adoption is a messy business. Worth the mess, and a wonderful answer to a great need--but it is only ONE answer. And what hit me hard on that trip last year was, is it the best answer?
Hear me out. In some cases, yes, it is. But perhaps in other cases, it's not addressing the systemic problem. And--here's where it got tough for me personally to swallow--it might even be perpetuating unethical practices because we are so focused on working hard to get kids into our families that we don't even see the opportunity to prevent them from needing to be there in the first place.
I think of all the time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, and CASH poured into bringing Abby home. Was it worth it? Would I do it again? Abso-friggin-lutely!! In a heartbeat. She's worth it. And God is soverign--no doubt in my mind He brought her to our family.
But--here's the rub. Am I willing to pour as much energy, time, resources, and passion into fighting to keep children with their birth families? Because I believe--and my eyes were opened to--many situations where mothers and fathers are giving up children for adoption because they do not have the means or ability to meet their basic needs. No parent should have to make that kind of decision. It's a harder problem to solve, and often waaayyyy messier to deal with. But as beautiful a picture as adoption displays of the gospel, isn't equipping a family to stay together and seeing it thrive also a beautiful picture of redemption and restoration?
And God knew my heart was ready to learn this. The timing of learning about Abby's family prepped my heart in an incredible way, to see with new eyes ministries I was familiar with but never really fully appreciated. He couldn't have orchestrated our time any better. We served with three ministries last year.
Bring Love In works to create new families in Ethiopia by pairing a single mom and her children with other orphans in a home unit, providing a family structure and support for a lifetime.
Compassion Families Intl provides drop-in centers for kids who need schooling, and/or after school care, also helping with needs like uniforms and school supplies and clothing and shoes. Making it a little easier for those families who are struggling to provide basic needs for their children.
And Embracing Hope, a little girl's genius idea to provide a free day care for single moms so they can go to work without a child strapped to their back. Providing food each week, and supporting the moms with micro-loans and saving plans so they can look ahead with hope to a future being able to provide for their family without having to beg or prostitute.
I could go on and on about these three ministries, how much I love the vision of each of these, how much I respect and admire the people who run them, and how amazingly effective the work they are doing is to support mothers and their kids, as well as caring for orphans within their own country. How beautiful it was to me for God to show me three very different ministries, all meeting a need in some way that helps---well, helps remove the need for adoption. At least in these cases. (If you're not familiar with them, you really should go visit their websites and pray about how you can be involved.)
Adoption is a great response. I'm just not sure it should be our first response.
What I read today was this blogpost. Oh please. Go read it. THIS is what I'm talking about. THIS is my heart, laid out way better than I just did on my own above.
And I am convicted all over again. I want to be mobilized and advocating for the adoption of true orphans, particularly those who are overlooked or considered unwanted. And, with the same passion and fervor, I want to fight for kids to stay in their families. I want to support and advocate for ministries that share the love of Jesus and offer much needed help to women who just need a hand so they can care for their children. And I want to serve firsthand women facing these kinds of decisions and let them know they are not alone, that someone cares for them and for their children.
It's a both/and. The Walsers may or may not adopt again--we don't know. God hasn't led us clearly on that yet. But what He has clearly led us to do, both here in Pinellas County, Florida and in Ethiopia, is to seek out ways to support efforts to keep families together.
(pictures by Jessica and Erica)