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No confirmed news today, but plenty of speculation. There are some indications that there is an internal conflict over what is seen as too heavy a workload. Driven by the popularity of the international adoption program, many offices are overwhelmed with cases to review and approve.

On the one hand, those concerned with cleaning up corruption may be appealing to the desire to decrease the volume of cases and reduce workload. On the other hand, those who feel that workloads are too high may be seizing on the corruption and ethics arguments to advance their case.

In reality, I am guessing that each group is advancing their own interest, and that is why I want to again call readers to prayer today. Since we don’t know what’s going on truly, let’s transform our speculations into prayers. It is fun to speculate–but let’s not linger there at the expense of true prayer on behalf of the kids of Ethiopia.

One topic I’ve been digging into lately is the viewpoints around adoption as part of a child’s human rights. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16.3 states:

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

It would truly be best if every child was raised in adequate and safe conditions by their birth family. I believe this is “Plan A.” And I also believe that child poverty grows when families are not protected and supported in their society. We intuit that the failure to protect the family fuels the rise of child
poverty, child labor, child soldiers, and child prostitutes. These dots
are not incredibly difficult to connect.

When Plan A is not possible, the prevailing idea is that a child should be placed as close to the birth family as possible. Think of them as degrees of separation from the birth parents.

  • Birth Parents: Plan A
  • 1st degree: Relative adoption by family members
  • 2nd degree: Non-relative adoption within the child’s birth country
  • 3rd degree: In-country foster care
  • 4th degree: International non-relative adoption
  • 5th degree: Institutionalization in an orphanage
  • 6th degree: Child-headed households
  • 7th degree: Homelessness / street children

There may be variations of those degrees, but the further out on that spectrum you go, the farther away from “Plan A” you get.

Since we’re talking about international adoption in Ethiopia, let’s look at one part of the controversy. I would recommend this entire article for your reading: International Adoption: Thoughts on Human Rights Issues. In it, the author offers this insightful observation:

By contrast [to relative adoption], in international adoption adoptive parents and children meet across lines of difference involving not just biology, but also socioeconomic class, race, ethnic and cultural heritage, and nationality. Typically the adoptive parents are relatively privileged white people from one of the richer countries of the world, and typically they will be adopting a child born to a desperately poor birth mother belonging to one of the less privileged racial and ethnic groups in one of the poorer countries of the world. International adoption is characterized by controversy. Some see it as an extraordinarily positive form of adoption. It serves the fundamental need for family of some of the world’s neediest children. The families formed demonstrate our human capacity to love those who are, in many senses, “other,” in a world which is regularly torn apart by the hatred of alien others. But many see international adoption as one of the ultimate forms of human exploitation, with the rich, powerful and white taking children from poor, powerless members of racial and other minority groups, thus imposing on those who have little what many of us might think of as the ultimate loss.

As both an adoptive father and an orphan care advocate, I appreciate the truth on both sides of this observation. On the one hand, you have children who are at “Degree 4” and higher, for whom international adoption may be their best option for preserving their rights as a child to grow up in a safe and loving family environment.

Yet, with only about 12,000 international adoptions processed in the United States, we must remain honest with ourselves. Remember the story of the boy who walks the shoreline and sees thousands of washed up starfish? He begins throwing them back one by one. An “old man” says, “You’ll never make a difference, the problem is too big!” The boy tosses in another starfish and says, “It made a difference to that one.”

True. But many more died on the shoreline. The boy gave the ultimate solution to as many starfish as he could, but his solution did not match the enormity of the problem.

There are millions of children languishing in extreme poverty. If the average cost of international adoption was estimated at $25,000–it would represent the ultimate “starfish” solution. That $25,000 made a difference to that one.

Melissa Fay Greene, author of There is No Me Without You likened international adoption to one family throwing a lifeline to another family. She indicates–and I share this opinion–that international adoption cannot represent the whole solution for children suffering from poverty and disease. Much more must be done to meet current needs–and to address the root causes of systemic poverty faced by children and families.

We must work on all sides of this issue, and I see it in three parts:

  1. Supporting in-country solutions that reduce poverty and increase the stability and self-sufficiency of the family.
  2. Meeting needs where they are found through food, education, and health care programs (and so many others).
  3. When appropriate, when led by God, when hearing clearly from the Holy Spirit, we throw the lifeline of international adoption.

The question is not whether one is better than the other, or more effective, or more biblical. The question is, which of those three are you currently engaged in?

Knowing there is a problem and having the resources to help–but withholding them anyway–is the real problem. We will always need all three of these solutions. And sometimes countries like Ethiopia will have adoption programs, and other times they won’t. The needs will still be there if Ethiopia restricts their adoptions.

But if we–Christ-followers–are not present and fully active in all three realms, then we are doing a disservice to the least of these, which is in fact a disservice directly to the Christ we claim to follow.

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