The Importance of Asking Questions

Asking Questions“Actually, we really need bigger size diapers,” the lady at the crisis pregnancy center told me. “A lot of people don’t realize this, but hospitals will send new parents home with the small diapers, and babies grow so fast they’re only in the small sizes for a short time. Mom’s come in and want to trade for bigger diapers and a lot of times, we don’t have any.”

“Is there anything else besides diapers?” I asked.

“Brand new car seats. It’s hard to use old ones because we can’t monitor recalls and we don’t know if they’ve been in car accidents. Pack n plays would be good too. We have plenty cute clothes because people like to shop for those, and women from a nearby assisted living place knit all our blankets for us. We have been running out of winter clothes sometimes, though.”

Asking questions is not something that comes naturally to me. If possible, I prefer to prepare ahead of time by doing research and showing up equipped to sound knowledgeable. A lot of times, that’s a good thing. It can also be a pride problem. Asking questions is an essential aspect of communicating, learning, and forming connections with other people.

When we try to assist people in ministry, questions are so important. People on the front line know the needs better than anyone else, and it isn’t helpful to them when the rest of us assume we know how to help. Several ministries I know of struggle with easily collecting the “fun” resources they need while waiting months for someone to provide more mundane items. People would rather buy baby clothes than diapers. It’s more fun to purchase craft supplies than oatmeal. Sometimes we forget that we’re making donations in order to fill a need for someone else, not entertain ourselves. Asking questions can alleviate that tendency.

When I asked questions at the crisis pregnancy center, I learned some stuff I didn’t know before and got good ideas for effectively choosing further donations. If I want to send something to the orphans I support in India, it helps to message their foster mom ahead of time to find out what they need most from their Amazon wish list.

Asking questions also shows the front line works that you care. Most people in ministry don’t enjoy constantly asking people for things. They don’t want to feel like a burden. Asking them what they need tells them that you’re behind them, thinking of them and caring for their needs and the needs of the people they’re ministering to.

But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. —Hebrews 13:16

My dad recently pointed out to me that the word communicate means both talking and sharing resources. The Greek word that translates “communicate” means partnership, participation, benefaction.

Asking questions, learning how to help, and then using your resources to participate in the work combine to equal effective communication.

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Encountering the Fatherless

Encountering the FatherlessHello everyone! The blog has been running without me for the past week and a half, because I was on my very first missions trip. It wasn’t a trip for orphan care (like I expected my first missions trip to be), but it was an awesome experience, and God gave me a huge open door to work with fatherless kids.

Our team’s main purpose was construction, but the area where we were working has a huge problem with fatherlessness. The kids in the village don’t fit the stereotypical image for orphans. Most of them have a parent or grandparents to feed them and give them a place to sleep. They have homes, clothing, and food to eat. As far as I could understand, most of their father’s were absentee, not dead. But for all practical purposes, these kids were fatherless. They are growing up without the protection and guidance of a father figure. They fit into the category of kids we talked about in Who Are Orphans.

Interacting with these kids for over a week made me think a lot. Two observations stuck out to me most.

1. Orphan care advocates need to look beyond orphanage walls.

IMG_6This concept has been hard for me to embrace. Reading books like Orphan Justice and The Global Orphan Crisis helped open my heart to this reality. Meeting the kiddos on this trip drove it home even more. Especially as Christians, it’s important to realize that helping orphans isn’t limited solely to bringing physical aid to recognized orphans. Orphan care as a Christian covers a much broader spectrum and includes a wide variety of ministries.

For example, evangelism is an important part of carrying for orphans because many cultures won’t value or nurture kids until Christ changes their hearts. Encouraging good work ethic, responsibility, and fidelity can prevent abandonment, disease, and social decay that leads to fatherlessness. My brother and I were talking on the way home about what a difference just a few solid male role models could make in the community we were ministering in. Our entire team was tremendously impressed by the impact being made by one local guy who has a big heart for the kids and people of the village.

Those types ministries don’t specifically target orphan care, but they can profoundly impact the orphan situation. And that’s something we need to be aware of.

2. Ways of Life that Lead to Adoption Hardships

IMG_2275Reading books is a great way to gain a foundational understanding about any subject, but experiences is usually ten times better than book knowledge. I’ve done a lot of reading about what causes behavioral issues in adopted kids. On this trip, I got to observe a very basic cause. The kids that we interacted with had very little adult supervision. Their parents/mother/grandparent expected them to spend the majority of their time out in the village doing their own thing. According to the missionaries and people we were working with, they experience very little discipline or rule enforcement. Those comments made me think of how adopted kids often test boundaries and act surprised when they’re disciplined.

The kids we spent the week with were adorable. Some of them were more demanding and manipulative than others, but for the most part they were very loveable kids. Yet if you transplanted any of them into a typical American home, there would be struggles. Very few of them have been taught obedience, respect of authority, compassion (especially towards animals…house pets beware!), problem solving, or diligence. They’re not bad kids, they just don’t have a working understanding of these things.

So, those were my basic observations from the trip. Or at least my basic observations that apply to this blog.

Have any of you been on missions trips that gave you a better understanding of orphans or orphan care? Do you have personal experiences that deepened your understanding of orphans, adoption, etc.?

3 Positives of International Adoption

3 Positives of International AdoptionThis post is part of a series on International Adoption. Part One was 3 Problems of International Adoption. The introduction and explanation for the series can be found on that post.

1. A Brighter Future

Children raised in institutions around the world face a grim future. Life without a family does little to prepare and equip them to support themselves. The statistics are grim. In many countries 60% of female orphanage graduates end up in prostitution while 70% of boys become hardened criminals. In Orphan Justice, adoptive dad Johnny Carr relates his thoughts when a friend asked what would have happened to his daughter had she not been adopted.

 If we, or someone else, had not adopted Xiaoli, her future prospects would have been no different than Xiao Quing’s–living on the streets, sleeping wherever she could find a dry spot, unable to communicate, and addicted to drugs. More than likely, Xiaoli would have been trafficked–taken into custody against her own will, her body sold for men’s dirty pleasure over and over and over again.

There are many valid concerns about international adoption. It certainly is not a journey safe for the faint of heart. But when people cite a child’s right to maintain their nationality and remain in their country of birth, I can’t help but think what that will mean for the Xiao Quing’s of the world.

In an ideal world, of course, children would stay in their own culture and maintain their birth language. But are those things really more important than a family? I don’t think so.

2. Not All Negatives Are True

International adoption has come under heavy fire for abuses of the adoption process. Many concerns are valid, but there are also many accusations that are not valid. For example,

Supporters of international adoption are quiet about the children who are not adopted and left behind. —International Adoption Problems, minute 2:45

I can’t speak for secular adoption circles, but I know that Christian adoption advocates are most certainly not quiet about the children left behind. Bethany Christian Services, a large adoption agency, runs a sponsorship program designed to keep poverty-stricken, biological families together. Christian Alliance for Orphans offers webinars about international orphan care ministry, malnutrition in residential care, and how to help orphans aging out of the system alongside webinars about both international and domestic adoption. Adoptive father Johnny Carr wrote an entire book of how to care for orphans beyond adoption.

Another common argument cites the UN Rights of a Child statement that the right to,

…preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.  —Convention on the Rights of a Child, Article 8

I tend to cringe at the mention of the UN Rights of a Child, but even under this statement, international adoption is not a violation of a child’s rights. A child living in an institution has already experienced severed family relations (before adoption entered the equation). Above board, rule following adoptions are not unlawful interference. And an adoptive family moving their child to a new country is no more a human rights violation than a biological family moving from one country to another.

3. Demonstrates God’s Love

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father. —Romans 8:15

This overflow of joy is what makes us desire to protect and care for children in need. We want to do a little bit of what God did for us. When we do, we don’t just preach the gospel–we embody it. We give a picture of the fact that we have been adopted by God and that he takes us on as his children. –Francis Chan in Becoming Home, pg 80

Of course, all adoption does this, but International adoption seems to do it in an especially strong way. We were far, far away from God. We could never reach him on our own strength, but he came and rescued us us anyway. Nationality and patriotism means so much to us now, but as Christians our true homeland is heaven, and our goal–in adoption and otherwise–should be to bring others into that homeland, regardless of their earthly nation of origin.

And he came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. —Ephesians 2:17

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on both the problems and positives of international adoption. There’s so much to think about, and there are certainly more than three points in both direction. What are some that aren’t covered in this two posts?

Who Are Orphans?*

Human Question MarkWe spend a lot of time talking about orphans on this blog. No surprise there, right? But who are we talking about when we say “orphans.” As I’ve said before, delving into the world of orphan care is complicated and confusing. Trying to define who orphans are is no exception. Traditionally, the word is understood to mean a child who had lost both parents through death. That’s not the definition assigned to it by people working in orphan care. According to UNICEF, an orphan is any child that has lost one or both parents to death.

You’ve probably heard that there are 153 million orphans in the world today. This is a number confirmed by UNICEF and the American government that includes both single and double orphans. While many of those 153 million children desperately need aid, some of the would resent being called orphans. For example, 40% of babies in the US are born out of wedlock. These children are included in the 153 million orphan statistic. We probably wouldn’t consider these kids orphans if we met them. However, the Bible generally uses the term “fatherless”, rather than orphan, to describe children Christians are supposed to minister to. Single orphans need to stay on the radar, but it’s important to realize that not all of the 153 million orphans are living lives of family-less deprivation.

While the 153 million orphan stat does include some kids we wouldn’t consider orphans, it also excludes some kids we would. Counting single and double orphans fails to take into account children abandoned, surrendered, or trafficked into lives of vulnerability and loneliness. Of course, there’s some overlap. Single orphans often end up fending for themselves when a poverty stricken single parent can no longer provide for them. Single and double orphans fall prey to traffickers more frequently than kids with both parents. However, many kids in orphanages, on the streets, and trapped in human trafficking have two parents. While these kids are not orphans by traditional or UNICEF definition, they’re one of the groups I think of when I talk about orphans.

So, I guess the bottom line is that the “Orphan” in “Teens Interceding for Orphans” refers to vulnerable kids around the world, regardless of how many parents they’ve lost or how they’ve lost them.

Who do you think of when you talk about orphans?

*This post was inspired by the “Who Are Orphans Really?”, chapter 4 in KnowOrphans by Rick Morton.