by Julia Cheung
More than a decade ago, film star Angelina Jolie made gossip headlines as a new adoptive single mom of Maddox, a Cambodian orphan. Not long after, I remember walking past a magazine picture of Jolie with yet another international orphan, Pax. “Angelina’s New Son,” heralded the cover. I was a young mom of two, gazing longingly at the gloss and silently praying, “God, let that be me one day. One day, Lord, please let me adopt.”
“Why have more children of our own?” I would ask my husband, “Orphans all over the world are suffering from malnutrition and poverty. We already have two biological kids. Let’s adopt.” But our plans quickly changed course.
My friend died and her husband was charged with her murder. From behind bars, the man phoned my husband and asked us to take care of their children, two beautiful toddler boys. We decided to make room for the boys in a flurry, over one sleepless night. Perhaps these two boys were God’s answer to our prayer to grow our family.
This was late in 2011, just when Focus on the Family Canada launched their End the Wait campaign, a movement to help the more than 30,000 kids in Canada who are waiting to be adopted. We were on the cusp of a Christian cultural tidal wave. Attitudes toward adoption had been opening up in society at large, and the church had caught the message and was on the vanguard, trumpeting adoption as God’s call to Christians.
Little did we realize that one year before that, in 2010, Tennessee nurse Torry Hansen had made headlines too, but towards deep controversy. Hansen had put her 7 year old adoptive son, Justin Hansen, on a direct flight from Washington DC back to Moscow. He carried nothing but a backpack and a note saying that he had major psychological problems, asking that he be returned to his orphanage of origin. The public, both Russian and American, were enraged.
Reuters’ investigative journalism followed suit with a five-part series highlighting the horrors of disrupted adoption. Reuters implicated parents who make poor adoptive decisions as ignorant and irresponsible. Attitudes toward adoption were changing.
How should Christians respond?
I was initially enraptured by the beauty of my two new toddler boys. Their perfection in toddler-hood, their big eyes and adorable toddler limbs wooed me. I thought my fierce mother-love would protect them from anything, that Christ would heal their wounds through me and that His love would ultimately triumph in their lives.
Then came hours of lost sleep, swaths of paperwork, endless visits with psychologists, doctors, dentists and counsellors, the constant influx of people into our home, social workers, lawyers, a new nanny, visitors, grandparents.
The entire church body rallied behind us. God provided financially (and miraculously) above and beyond what we could have hoped. We saw answered prayers every day. But even with all this support, the struggles were great.
When the dust cleared, we knew it would have been wonderful for the boys to be raised by a young, Christian surrogate family like ours. But we also saw the wisdom in returning them to their biological grandparents, who desperately wanted the boys back. Our possible adoption story became a foster care story.
Healthy infants a commodity
The tumult we experienced echoes a bit of the tumult we see in our society—think of rising infertility rates and of couples waiting longer and longer to have children. Healthy infants are now a commodity. International adoption is something only the wealthy can afford. Countries like Russia and China have now tightened their international adoption policies in the name of safety and in reaction to stories like Torry Hansen’s.
God’s call to care for orphans
Regardless, it remains clear to me that God’s call to care for orphans is not something that only celebrities can do. We just need to know what we are facing when we do pick up that gauntlet. I pray that the church will continue to arise and followers of Christ will be known as warriors who fought for the orphans, who endured pain and rejection on behalf of the marginalized, who had mercy on the downtrodden and never balked at sharing its wealth.
The picture of Angelina Jolie collides with the picture of 7-year-old Justin Hansen walking off the plane alone into Moscow international airport. But neither of these pictures encapsulates the full truth. As Christians who love the truth above all things, whose God is the truth, may we react with both sobriety and enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm for orphan care. Sobriety in what that looks like. And in all likelihood, this might look like foster care, as I have now experienced and continue to live out once again as a new foster mom. Or it may look like more openness to local adoption, and to the adoption of older, more troubled and mentally unstable children. The dream of the perfect, four-limbed, beautiful brown baby from across the seas may not be God’s path for all of us, after all. But His love spans greater than the oceans, goes around the world and back….and probably lands right on our front door.
It’s a love that calls us from Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth. Because really, we need to start in Judea—and that is here, in your front yard, in the inner-city neighborhood down the street, or in your own church with the adoptive and foster parents among us.
Julia Cheung moonlights as a freelance journalist when she’s not teaching macaron-making to anyone with a pulse, or when she’s not tending to the motley crew of her pastor husband and preteen children. She is also on staff at Tenth Church in Vancouver