How Do You Go On?

How Do You Go On?

Two days after the earthquake, the entire board of the orphanage got together by phone to discuss the question that no one likes to ask……

How do you go on? How do you go on when you’ve never been this way before?

How do you go on when you don’t even know what questions to ask?

How do you go on when you don’t know what you can rely on?

How do go on when everyone is struggling with grief and loss. I can’t verify that it’s true but I’ve been told that everyone in the Port Au Prince area either loss a family member or friend or they are close friends with someone who lost a family member or close friend.

How do you go on? I don’t know how we did. Those of us in Canada and the US who were on the board had the easy part. We had more busy, more planning, more worry, more phone calls, more anxious parents. We didn’t have to worry about running out of water, about whether the roof is going to cave in, about whether our co-worker who isn’t scheduled to work for 2 more days yet will show up or not. We knew our government was still there, that there were rescue teams attempting to rescue and recover the missing. Our people in Haiti didn’t know that.

But the urgency of the situation in Haiti translated to urgency here in the first world. We decided to send an emergency medical team and to set a goal that the whole team be in Miami on Monday (6 days after) and we would work to get them on a charter plane on Tuesday or Wednesday. My wife was on that team. So for 2 1/2 days, we had people dropping off medical donations at our house and we tried to pack in as much as we could. We didn’t really know what we would need, but we knew that there would probably be someone who could use them.

Examples of the “urgency” that we all felt in that first bit…..
– Getting an instant message from my boss asking me if I was working right then – at 3:35 in the morning.
– Waking up an adoptive parent at 1:30 in the morning telling him he needed to be on a plane by 10:00 the next morning.
– Having a fundraising conference call at 11:00 PM Pacific Time (2:00 AM Eastern Time)
– Getting 3 hours of sleep the night before my wife left for Haiti and having that be 50% more than my shortest night for the week.
– Getting e-mails from very nervous adoptive parents that they couldn’t get through on my phone and my voice mail was full. E-mailing them back telling them I was attempting to do that but the e-mails were coming in faster than I could answer them and then the voice mails too……

I want to make something very clear. While I was the only one “officially” involved located in Michigan, I was in no manner unique. Everyone on staff and all of the friends that I know who were working with organizations in Haiti said that it was encouraging how many people wanted to help.

A friend of mine runs an organization that advocates on behalf of orphans with HIV/AIDS. They have a slogan which became very apropos during the first part of the, well, I’m going to use the word recovery, but the case could be made that it hasn’t gotten there yet.

That slogan? “It’s Not About Me.” I keep telling her that I think the back of their t-shirts should say, “It’s Not About You Either.”

How do you go on in light of the worst natural disaster in the Western Hemisphere?

How do you not go on?

You go on because you have to. You go on because that’s what God wants. You go on because you can.

Unfortunately, not everyone who could and said they would help did. But we’ll get into that later.

TV

It’s Messy And It Hurts

My thinking on this subject has evolved and changed quite a bit over the years.    I used to be ignorant – blissfully ignorant.

But unfortunately, I’ve seen too much over the last 12 years.   Too many mistakes, too many well intentioned efforts gone wrong, too many times where families were hurt rather than helped, too many situations where children will bear scars for their entire life because of what happened.

What am I talking about?   Orphan care and the National Adoption Month celebrations.   I used to get excited about these and I used to be a strong advocate for doing events like this which raise awareness.

Not so much any more.

Am I still pro-adoption?   I absolutely am.    There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful that God has seen fit to allow me to be the parent to all five of my children.  Becoming an adoptive parent has allowed me to get to know some incredibly awesome people.    It has stretched me, taught me, broken me, molded me and totally reshaped my priorities.

But this year, I have gotten to the point that I don’t like the Orphan Sunday celebrations any more – at least not the way most of them are done.    Probably one of the most common “orphan sunday” posts I’ve seen on Facebook has the statistics of how many children in the US are in foster homes waiting for adoptive families.    It then says something like, 

There are 101,000 children in foster care waiting for families.  There are over 300,000 churches in the United States.   If one out of every 3 churches would adopt a child from foster care, there would be no orphan crisis.”

This statement is true in a couple of ways and false in some other very important ways.

It’s true – if one family from 1 out of every three churches adopted from the foster care system, every single one of the children in foster care would have a permanent home.   That would be wonderful.

But this is not a true statement for a couple of reasons:

  • It would not end the orphan crisis.   Because today there are more children being put in foster care.    And tomorrow there are more children being put in the system.   So, a year from now, there won’t be zero orphans in foster care, there would be a totally new “batch of orphans.”
  • Churches don’t adopt children, families do.   From personal experience and from talking to many adoptive parents, I think that most people could describe the situation in these terms,  “There are people at my church who want to help but don’t know how.   Most people don’t want anything to do with us and some of them are outright hostile because we make them uncomfortable”     I know that they are saying “churches” because it’s a way to represent the problem – but let’s be honest, most churches don’t do well with helping raise adopted children who come with battle scars.   (See previous blog series on “Not Okay’”)

I could go on in greater detail on the messy sides of adoption (and later I will).   But let’s just that there is a growing feeling that the positive feeling about adoption is being overshadowed by an acknowledgement of the pain that comes with adoption:

Pain for the adopted child – for what they lost to get to this point, for the changes they have to adjust to, for the unanswered questions about the who, why, what of their past.

Pain for the birth parents – no matter what the situation, giving up or losing a child raises questions and causes pain.

Pain for the adoptive parents – while usually the least, the pain that adoptive parents go through is real also.   Changes to their parenting styles, constant struggles, helping a wounded child try to heal, losing friends and family who don’t understand, it all hurts.

And then there’s the system, I could write a book on that, and the way that it pits one part of the system against another and rather than working together  they continue to make life more challenging for everyone.

Adoption is messy.    It’s painful.   It is necessary.

But it’s not the complete answer on how to care for children who are struggling.   There’s more that can be done to help children, but it’s not as clean, not as clear cut but it reduces the number of orphans who need families.

Join me as we work on examining the options and alternatives.

But remember,  James 1:27 says,  “True Religion is to care for orphans and widows in their distress. “

NOT

“True religion is to adopt an orphan.”

Everyone can do something and everyone must do something.

But it’s not an adopt or else scenario…….

TJV

Support and Encourage the “Called”

Previously I wrote about how the church needs to “Take Care of Itself” as part of its efforts in orphan care.   

Today, we’re going to focus on a different aspect of the role that the church can play.   I’m going to call it, “encouraging the called.”  

The Called?   Yes, I firmly believe, as an adoptive parent, that you don’t choose to adopt for fun.   You don’t choose to adopt because you have a spare bedroom.    You don’t choose to adopt because…….

You choose to adopt because God told you to.   God called you to step out and help a child who needed help.    God called you to do “this.”

And the church (and the members of the church) should do everything in their power to encourage those who are called.  Beaver Creek Church in Virginia Encourage those who want to be foster parents.    Encourage those who are taking in the their cousin’s daughter because the cousin has trouble with the law and with drugs.   Encourage those who feel called to go “over there” and welcome a child into their family.

Don’t be judgmental and say things like, “What are you thinking?”   Or when things are taking too long,  “I wondered why you……..”    Or when things aren’t going well,  “You know, that’s what happens…….”

Don’t.   Just don’t go there.

But also, don’t lay guilt trips on people if they don’t adopt or foster.   NOT everyone is cut out for this journey.   I cringe when I read blogs or hear sermons about how God is calling everyone to adopt or if every church in the first world would adopt ______ children, then the problem would be over.    Don’t make people feel guilty for not adopting.

James 1:27 says that true religion is to care for orphans.    It doesn’t say that true religion is to become an adoptive parent.    Everyone should do something, but not everyone should adopt.

What should a church do?    They should encourage anyone who is feeling called to make a difference for the orphans of the world.

Are you feeling called to adopt? – then your church should encourage that.

Are you feeling called to become a foster parent?   – then your church should encourage that.

Are you feeling called to support an adoption agency?  – then your church should encourage that.

There are too many churches and too many people who are saying, “the problem is too big and too wide” and sitting there doing nothing.

Instead of doing that, if you see someone who wants to or is doing something for the orphans of the world, encourage them!

It will make their lives better and it will probably make you feel better too.

TJV

Church and the Orphan Crisis–“Take Care of Yourself”

Now wait a minute – take care of yourself?

How is that supposed to be a way for the church to make a difference in the orphan crisis.  Let me tell you a couple things:

  • I have yet to hear of a church that doesn’t have at least one family that has adopted, is fostering, is thinking about adopting  or is somewhere in the process of doing so.
  • Adopting is hard work.   It’s different.   I was talking to an adoptive grandma yesterday and we both agreed that while biological kids don’t come with any guarantees, adopted kids almost always come with more “baggage” so there is a greater chance that things will be different, more challenging and harder.
  • Parenting adopted children, due to the special challenges they have and the things they have been through, often requires parenting techniques and mindsets that are totally different from parenting “bio” kids.    Most people won’t understand that last sentence.   Most people won’t get the concept.

Because of those things, being an adoptive parent is very often a lonely journey.    It’s hard because your friends want to understand but they don’t.    Your family wants to understand but it’s too complex for them to get “it.”    Your friends drift away because you can’t do some of the same things you used to be able to do.  

So, church, take care of your own.   Reach out to adoptive parents.   make a concerted effort to understand.   Help them feel comfortable in expressing their needs.   

Give them a break.    Ask them what sort of break works best.    Take their kids out for ice cream?   Order pizza for them some night?  Jet's Pizza(works best if you let them know it’s coming).  

Think outside the box.   Ask questions – virtually all of the adoptive parents that I know are very passionate about adoption and are very willing to talk about the struggles and the beautiful things that are happening in their children.  

Take care of yourself.    Take care of all of the members of your church – but especially take care of those who have felt God calling them to extend an open arm of love to an often hurting and challenged child.

It’s God’s call to the church.    It’s one way that you can follow God’s call to care for the orphans and the widows (James  1:27).

TJV

P.S. I’m in the beginning stages of writing a series of e-books about adoption, particularly international adoption and things various parts and parties to an adoption should know – parents, siblings, church, grandparents and aunts and uncles and more.   Stay tuned for more info and the first book – hopefully before Christmas.

First Rule About Church and The Orphan Crisis

19th century Physician, Dr. Thomas Inman said it well,  “First do no harm.”

AMAHe meant it about medicine, but it applies well to the orphan crisis too.    Let me explain what I mean by offering real life examples of good efforts, well intentioned efforts that brought harm rather than good.

First do no harm – don’t show up with T-shirts that say, “Bringing Jesus to ________.”    I have a feeling He was there before you were born and will be there long after you leave.

First do no harm – don’t bring in supplies that could be purchased locally.   By bringing them in, you deprive local people who desperately need an income the ability to provide that income.

First do no harm – treat the local people with dignity.  Don’t take their pictures without asking.    Treat them with respect.    Follow their customs whenever possible.   Respect their local traditions and honor their efforts.

First do no harm – “Don’t ever make a child “love” you more than they love their parents.”    If you want to give a kid a gift (a soccer ball?) give it to their parent and let them be seen as the provider.

First do no harm – don’t give a child a bike if by doing that, you  are setting them up for being beaten, robbed from, traumatized and felt to be even more needy and vulnerable than before.

First do no harm – take your lead from the long term people as to what is best and what is needed.   You don’t know better in one day than what someone else learned in 10 years.

First do no harm – demand transparency from the organizations you are going to support.    Make sure that they are doing what they say they are.   Make sure they have policies and actual practices in place that protect those they are attempting to serve.

First do no harm – ask questions about the methods that the organization uses to help orphans.    Educate yourself and your church about the dynamics of institutional living.   Realize and react to the fact that spending time “loving on orphans” can actually be harmful to their long term emotional health.

First do no harm – a team of 12 construction workers can come in and get a lot done – but if it could be done by locals, you are depriving many people of the opportunity to feed their children.

First do no harm – don’t foster a spirit of dependency but instead foster a spirit of assistance and a spirit of a hand “up” during a rough time.

First do no harm – a church can make a big difference in the orphan crisis – but they need to know and understand the dynamics of what they are walking in to and how they could be doing harm rather than good.

There’s a lot of good that a church can do to battle the orphan crisis.   But there’s also a lot of well intentioned good that can end badly.

Tom