God’s kingdom, you may have heard, is an upside-down one. It’s the place where the first are last and the beggars sit at the head of the table. It’s the place where we love our enemies and where no one is left behind. Our mission in the pursuit of this kingdom is likewise to understand the paradox of faith. Why, for instance, would someone care about another person half a world away whom they have never met? Why would a family open their doors to a stranger who, by this world’s standards, has nothing to offer?
And yet this is what is happening every year as orphaned and forgotten children are placed in families. Although its numbers have decreased in recent years due to government regulations, and an increase in adoptions within countries, every year thousands of families welcome children into their homes whose countries are not their own.
For the past year this movement of God’s upside-down kingdom has, on the surface, slowed—halted at times—as families and children have waited to be brought together for the first time. For months, COVID-19 shut down international adoptions completely. As most countries have begun to open their borders again, more than 400 families across the United States are still waiting to be united with their adopted children in China—the only country still not open to international adoptions.
Here at Lifeline, we have always seen an ebb and flow of countries temporarily closing their borders because of various reasons. But we have never seen it happen all at once.
In the blink of an eye, it seems, adopted children were unable to find their way to their forever homes. Stop and think about the physical and emotional toll this takes on both parties. The process of international adoption was halted. Families waited. Children waited. Care workers waited.
And yet this is where God’s kingdom might appear to not make sense. Because “waiting” for God means something entirely different than what it may mean for so many of us. It is not remaining “inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens,” as the dictionary would have us believe. Waiting, in God’s upside-down kingdom, is not idle; instead, it is this: “…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Waiting = forward movement. For the families seeking to adopt, waiting has meant a renewal of a commitment, an active seeking to work together in creative ways even as they have waited upon the Lord to move mountains (i.e., open borders). Since we began doing international adoptions in 1999, we have never seen the orphanages, group homes, and foster homes that we work with care for the kids so well. We have never seen the waiting families support the children so well, jumping in to help the caregivers financially, sending care packages, writing letters of support, and of course, praying. Waiting in this new world looks like going above and beyond for the sake of the children.
Families who adopt internationally, in fact, are heroes, and heroes that, as the church, we have the opportunity to support. They model the upside-down world of Jesus in how they love the forgotten and wait expectantly. And yet how often do we forget that we have this opportunity to care well for our adopting families? Thirty percent of our churches in this country have orphan care ministries, but all of us are called to support the families who feel called to adopt.
But how do we do this well? How do we set our hearts on the path to this type of compassionate care? Let me offer three ideas.
First, consider your own adoption journey.
The process of international adoption directly reflects our own adoption story. These families open up their homes to a child who, from a worldly perspective, has nothing to offer—no wealth, no notoriety. But these families are compelled by something larger than what they can see. So too we were adopted into God’s family when we had nothing to offer. Romans 5:8 reminds us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The first step in caring for families seeking to adopt is to recognize we have much to learn from them as it relates to God’s adopting us. The model God’s heart for the world.
Second, be about the church’s mission.
Scripture is clear that we are here to seek and save the lost, not to defend ourselves and reject the other. Our churches exist to glorify God, and the only way we can do that well is to care for those in our midst and to love those not yet under our care. Families who adopt remind us of our core mission—discipleship and evangelism, personal care and committed outreach. Too often, we believe that we define our own mission. However, when we realize that as the church we are to reflect the bigger mission of God, we begin to see things we could not see. In the case of families seeking to adopt, this means we allow ourselves to enter their world. We must walk alongside them in good times, and in bad.
Third, love in tangible ways.
Words are powerful, but words are never enough. As we support families seeking to adopt, we speak words of hope and connection to them. But once we (1) consider our own adoption journey and (2) seek to be about God’s mission, we will want to go above and beyond simple verbal platitudes. Our churches can be places where we tangibly step into partnership with these families. We pray with them, spend time with them, hear their stories, offer financial support, and assist with immigration processes and administrative needs. We provide support groups and allow space for them to share their stories. In short, we seek every way possible to walk alongside them.
As the world opens up again and international adoption allows waiting families and children to finally come together, let’s not miss the upside-down work God is doing in our day. God is asking His church in every part of the world to look beyond what we can see and imagine a world where no children are without a forever home. That kind of dream begins with you and me caring well for those who have already begun to make that dream a reality.
Herbie Newell (MBA, Samford University) is the President and Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms including (un)adopted, Crossings, Families Count and Lifeline Village. Under Newell’s leadership, Lifeline has significantly increased its international and statewide outreach, attained membership with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and achieved international accreditation under The Hague Treaty, begun an extensive foster care ministry, and started its (un)adopted strategic orphan care ministries in more than 10 countries. Herbie speaks nationally at conferences and events, and regularly preaches throughout the world on gospel-driven justice. He and his wife, Ashley, live in Birmingham, Alabama and are parents to a son, Caleb, and daughters Adelynn and Emily. His first book Image Bearers: Shifting from Pro-Birth to Pro-Life, released on January 21, 2020.