"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:27 (ESV)Earlier this week I came across this testimony from the Haines family who, in the process of adopting a young girl from Ethiopia, began to wonder if there was something else they should be doing to care for orphans in parts of the world stricken by poverty. I was thankful they shared their story. Adoption is a loving and often necessary way to intervene on behalf of abandoned and vulnerable children. In adopting, parents model God's adoptive love that takes us from our sin and self-destruction to make us his children. Adoption is one way to reenact the gospel. It is one solution for orphaned children. However, as Seth and Amber Haines demonstrate, it is not the only solution.
My closest friend in Vietnam is not able to have children. Instead, she and her husband have been blessed with an ever growing ministry among the poor. A few years ago, my friend called one evening and told me that something completely unexpected had happened. They had just brought home a newborn baby. The baby boy had been born prematurely to drug-addicted parents who were living on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A mutual acquaintance asked our friends if they would intervene and care for the baby at least for a little while.
When I first met him, Binh was so tiny I could barely hold him against my shoulder. With one hand under his bottom and the other patting his back, my elbows stuck out perpendicular to the floor as if I were playing the violin. He was small and wrinkled and his chest sometimes sucked inward indicating that his lungs were not functioning exactly as they should. My friend and her husband cared for him around the clock. They got what medical help they could without a birth certificate or any form of identification. They fed Binh and bathed him and loved him and prayed for him. Without even meaning to, they became his parents.
Every week they met Binh's birth parents at a local shopping center so the couple could see the baby and play with him. Some weeks they seemed to be really taken with their child. Other times they were barely interested. At some point, the dad disappeared and was later arrested and jailed for drug trafficking. Binh's mother admitted that she was never entirely sure who the real father was. Our friends tentatively began to suggest the possibility of adoption.
Binh's mother moved back in with her parents who encouraged her to give the baby up. Instead, she entered a drug-rehab program and found a job. In spite of several failed attempts to stay off drugs and months of ups and downs, she eventually made progress. She even began to get involved in a church near her home and was later baptized. During all of this, our friends kept Binh and cared for him. They desperately wanted to adopt the baby who had become in so many ways their own, but they also recognized that this mother loved her son.
At one point, they stopped suggesting adoption. They began to leave Binh with his mother for longer periods of time and shifted their energy to helping the mother learn how to care for her child. My friend spent countless afternoons in the tiny, ramshackle house where Binh's mother lived helping her play with her son and understand his needs. I remember many conversations with my friend as she went back and forth about what would be best for Binh. In the end, they made the very hard decision to give him back to his mother.
Adoption is one way to rescue orphans and children whose parents can not or will not care for them. It is one way to live out the gospel. Intervening in a desperate situation to lovingly restore a broken family is another way. I do not want to minimize the important role of adoption, but I think the American church can benefit from stories like Binh's and that of the Haines family. Orphans around the world are not always parent-less, but they are powerless. They need our wise and loving care demonstrated in myriad ways.