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The Gospel, science and vulnerable children

Adoption
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Imprinted on the heart of every human being is a need to belong … a deep desire to be seen and heard, to securely know you are loved and accepted just as you are. We see it in the beginning of time with God’s creation story, and for those of us who belong to Christ, we know it more fully when we are joined with Him through faith.

For far too many children, that missing sense of belonging is real, complex, and traumatic. And so, compelled by our family’s adoption journey, we stepped out in faith and asked God to use us to help bring that sense of belonging to children who had been orphaned.

It is not uncommon for children impacted by adoption and foster care to have had exposure to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, trauma, loss, and/or neglect. As these children enter our families and our stories intertwine with theirs, tensions can surface. So we must ask ourselves: How do we effectively communicate the truth of the Gospel to our children who may carry attachment injuries and associate belonging and connection with fear? 

What science is showing us

As scientific research has shown, our understanding of the human brain is only beginning to grasp the fullness and complexities of God’s design. And as only God could design, the human brain is pliable and can be rewired. Developmental psychologist and child advocate Dr. Karyn Purvis once said, “Our children were harmed in relationships, and they will experience healing through nurturing relationships.” When we step into the journey of caring for children who have experienced trauma and early loss, an incredible invitation is extended. We have the opportunity to help rewrite the narrative—to help lead our children to places of emotional, physical, and neurological healing by being the hands and feet of Christ. 

The reality is, the adoption journey doesn’t end the day a child is welcomed home. And this journey is not meant to be traveled alone. For many families impacted by adoption and/or foster care, the local church is an integral entity of needed encouragement and support—a beacon of hope and help for seasons of hardship and celebration.

How we can help build trust and connection

Families impacted by adoption and/or foster care can benefit from Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) methods, developed by Drs. Karyn Purvis and David Cross from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU. TBRI “is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children.” At its core, TBRI works to promote trust and connection between caregivers and children by addressing physical and emotional needs while also disarming fear-based behavior. 

While TBRI may be perceived as clinical in nature as it involves the complexities of science, for us, we believe that at its core, TBRI is an expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In “Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child,” Dr. Purvis, with Michael and Amy Monroe, wrote, “The longing of the human heart is to connect and belong. We long to connect with our Creator, in whose image we have been made, and by God’s grace, such a connection is possible. As relational beings, we also have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human conditions is undoubtedly between a parent and child.” 

Community matters

Another practical step in serving and equipping families and caregivers is launching support or small group for individuals and parents impacted by adoption and/or foster care within your church or faith community. Perhaps you can begin meeting weekly or monthly in prayer, study, and conversation. A great resource to walk through together is “Created to Connect.” This study guide sheds light and goes deeper into the biblical principles that serve as the foundation for the philosophy and intervention detailed in “The Connected Child” by Drs. Purvis and Cross. 

Another idea might include a “Podcast Club.” Similar to a book club, groups can gather together to listen to the Empowered to Connect Podcast and dissect episodes and topics in community. Empowered to Connect (ETC) is an “attachment-rich, community-focused program that exists to support, educate, and resource caregivers.” Among other helpful content and tools, its podcast series is available with multiple weeks' worth of episodes. 

As part of that support network, recruit volunteers who can be on-call to help meet the everyday needs of adoptive and/or foster care families. It can be as simple as setting up a meal train for heavy, busy seasons of life or offering childcare for parents to have a night out for reconnecting. The adoption and/or foster care journey is not meant to be traveled alone, and as a local church, we have the opportunity to come alongside children and families in service and support. 

Hope for the journey 

As stated before, our understanding of the needs of children who have been orphaned has grown over the past several years. Research related to early childhood trauma and its impact on attachment continues to grow, and from that, a number of helpful, practical resources and organizations are now available to come alongside parents and families with informed support and care.

As founders and executive director of Show Hope, a globally recognized voice in adoption advocacy and orphan care support work, we have had the privilege of leading our annual Hope for the Journey Conference. The conference includes training in TBRI, a teaching component designed to connect the truth of the gospel with the science of TBRI, and perspectives from adoptive families as well as adult adoptees and foster care youth alumni. The conference targets parents and caregivers meeting the everyday needs of children impacted by adoption and/or foster care and remains a resource for churches, agencies, and organizations that support and equip the families, caregivers, and communities they serve. From staff members to Sunday school teachers and volunteers, it is an excellent opportunity to educate on the needs of children and families affected by adoption and/or foster care. 

As the Church, we have an amazing privilege to help bring hope and healing to children and families. It’s not always a “one size fits all” model and can be messy and complex, but it’s good, good work nonetheless. So will you join us in showing up and showing hope? 

Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman were married in October of 1984 and have six children—three biological children: Emily Chapman Richards (married to Tanner and mom to three daughters—Eiley, Della, and Verity); Caleb Chapman (married to Julia and dad to son Noble and daughter Olive); and Will Franklin Chapman (married to singer-songwriter indie artist Jillian Edwards and dad to Willow Faye); and three daughters adopted from China: Shaohannah Hope (Shaoey), Stevey Joy, and Maria Sue, who is now with Jesus. The Chapmans live in Franklin, Tennessee. 

Emily Chapman Richards is the Executive Director of Show Hope, a faith-based nonprofit exists to care for orphans by engaging the Church and reducing the barriers of adoption. She is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and happily married to Tanner Richards.

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