“You know,” I said, “Many families that are adopting from China have kind of taken the ladybug on as their symbol.”
“Who knows? Maybe that’ll have some meaning for us here in a few years,” she said as she turned around with a smile.
That would be a wonderful thing!
Sunday’s sermon, in case you hadn’t heard, was one that was very near and dear to my heart because of the way our family has been touched adoption.
Through my study of Scripture and my own experiences, I’m convinced that orphan care and adoption are close to the heartbeat of God.
I’m sorry there’s no audio of this sermon for the time being. If I’m able, I might try to make a “studio” recording of it later this week. But I’m not making any promises at this point. 😉
Before you read the manuscript, you might want to watch this video from Sara Groves. I reference it later in the sermon.
What’s the Big Deal? about Adoption
May 16, 2010
In September of last year, Christy and I embarked on a journey halfway around the world to bring Mihret home as our daughter. And now we can’t imagine our family without her. Some of you have already been touched by adoption because someone in your family has been adopted. Or maybe even you, yourself, have been adopted. Of course, I realize our story has bumped up against your stories and now all of us have been touched by the miracle of adoption.
I must say from the beginning that this is probably one of the most personal messages I’ve ever had to prepare. It is my prayer that in our conversation this today that I don’t turn the spotlight on our family, but that we will be able to move out of the spotlight and keep Christ on the pedestal. Many of you have asked about our story and our endeavor to bring Mihret home with us. And some pretty negative stories about international adoption have made sensational headlines over the past few months, including the shocking story of an adoptive mother sending her child back to Russia and giving up on him and the news that was reported late this week that Haitian prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence for the missionary accused of attempting to traffic children out of the country. And at the same time, there is a worldwide movement amongst churches to become a voice for the voiceless when it comes to orphans and orphan care. So as I set about charting the course for this series of What’s the Big Deal? sermons we’ve been doing, it just makes sense to ask the question, “What’s the big deal about adoption?”
If you have your Bibles with you, go ahead and turn with me to the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians is found around the middle of the New Testament, found between Galatians and Philippians. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Ephesians 1 is found on page 1017 in those Red Bibles.
Early on in our dating relationship, Christy made it very clear that it was her dream to adopt a child. I kind of chalked that up there with her desire to visit Japan someday and to own a house with a wraparound porch. You know – a lot of those things that you’d say “OK” so she’ll keep going out with you and eventually marry you. Maybe someday that’ll happen, but not any time in the foreseeable future, I thought to myself. J
I came to find out she was pretty serious about that. And the more I got to know her and fall in love with her, the more serious I became about it, too. Although, I wasn’t quite ready to completely admit that yet. Besides, it was still many, many years down the road, in my opinion.
And so we continued on with our life together. Our family grew. And even as God blessed us with two beautiful, wonderful children, there was always this part of our hearts that knew the Todd family was incomplete. We would one day have another addition to our family, but in the meantime, there was part of us that still felt empty. It’s kind of like we had an extra chair sitting at our dinner table. One day it would be filled.
And so we continued to pray for our child whom we’d never met. And we longed for the day when that empty chair would be filled at our dining room table.
There are different adoption advocacy groups and agencies that try to provide resources for prospective adopting parents. Some of these provide pictures of children who are waiting for someone to bring them home into their forever families. Christy would look at some of these sites over the years. Aiden and Alyson would climb into her lap and ask questions about these children. They even began to get a sense that our family was incomplete. They started to long for that empty seat to be filled with a new brother or sister.
We formally filed the paperwork that begins the adoption process back in the Fall of 2008. We had no idea how long it would take, but we knew we were excited that our family was finally beginning to take formal steps in the journey towards filling the empty seat at our table…the empty seat in our hearts.
And everything changed on January 30, 2009. I’ll let Christy’s words from her journal tell you about that day:
It was a normal day, getting home from school, making dinner, putting Aiden and Alyson to bed, looking over what we still needed to get finished for our adoption homestudy. There was no anticipation, no expectation that this was THE night. I sat down in front of the computer to look something up in our agency’s handbook, and thought, “I’ll just take a quick look at the Waiting Child page.” I typed in the password, scanned for any new postings, and gasped. Seriously, my breath was taken away. I was staring into the deep, soulful, glorious dark brown eyes of my new daughter. I knew it, I truly did. I stared, and I stared, and I stared. I cried. I tried to talk myself out of it. I cried some more. I tried to get up the nerve to go tell Matt about her. All the while, he thinks I’m just goofing around on the computer. J
Finally, I got up the nerve to walk into the living room. I don’t really remember what exactly I said to Matt-something like, “So, uh, I was just kind of looking around and just happened upon this picture of this little girl, and uh….so, I wonder if maybe we should just maybe, uh… ask our agency for some more information?????”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, those deep, soulful, dark brown eyes were Mihret’s. From that moment, we knew our empty chair wasn’t going to be empty for very much longer.
From my study of Scripture and my own personal experience, I firmly believe that adoption is close to the heartbeat of God. And you’ll see why in just a moment. But don’t read too much into that statement. I’m not saying that everyone should adopt. Because I don’t believe that. And I’m not saying that adoption is easy. Because it isn’t. Adoption can only occur because of some type of tragedy and loss. And with loss comes pain.
The greatest tragedy in human history, of course, was the loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden. And because sin stained all of creation with that simple act of rebellion, it has spilled over onto all of us, as well. Because of the choices we ourselves made to disobey God’s commands and follow a self-centered instead of a God-centered life, we were once separated from God. We were Fatherless. We were without a home. We were stuck in the pit, unable to pull ourselves out.
But because of God’s unending love for us, He did not want us to remain helpless, hopeless, and homeless. We were on the outside looking in. But God provided a way.
In the Roman world, adoption was a common practice. The person adopted (at any age) was taken out of his previous condition, all old debts were cancelled, and he started a new life as a full-fledged son in his new family, whose family name he took and to whose inheritance he was entitled. The new father now owned the adoptee’s property, controlled his personal relationships, and had the right to discipline, while assuming responsibility for his support and ability for his actions – all just as with natural children born into the home. And in that same way, God has provided a way for us, sinners who owed a debt we could not pay, to become His children and heirs to His kingdom. Like I said two weeks ago when we asked the question, “What’s the big deal about the Church?” if you are a follower of Christ, you have been adopted into His family. You are part of the family of God. That, friends, is the good news of the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.
The salvation of humanity was no afterthought. Even when Adam and Eve took that bite of that forbidden fruit, God knew that this was not the end of the story. He knew that He would provide a way for us to be united with Him. And at the proper time, He provided a way for sin to be removed and for our records to be cleansed. He prepared the way for us almost 2,000 years ago. Our family only had to travel half a world away to bring Mihret home. God went to the ends of the earth to pull us from the depths and bring us into His family. Our adoption is God’s response to the tragedy of our own sinful choices.
God has always been an advocate for the helpless and the defenseless, hasn’t He? He was our champion by providing a way of redemption for us while we were still enslaved to sin. He told the nation of Israel that He chose them, not because they were the biggest and strongest…but for the very fact that they were weak and small. And all throughout history, God calls on His people to care for orphans and for widows. Remember that widows could not provide for themselves during biblical times. They could not find employment. There was no Social Security or life insurance to help sustain them. They had to rely on the generosity of others and the support of their remaining family. And with orphans? They were and are just as helpless. They are just as powerless. Following the heart of the Father who has adopted us means that we take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. That’s what James says in the first chapter of his letter. In James 1:27, he tells us “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted in the world.” The word translated here as “religion” literally means “an outward practice” and “service to God.” In one other place, in the New Testament, this Greek word is translated as “worship.” In other words, pure religion has nothing to do with ceremonies, temples, or special days. Pure religion means practicing God’s Word. James tells us to put our money where our mouths are – to put our words into practice. And looking after widows and orphans implies a commitment to fully meet a person’s needs. Some versions translate the word as “visit,” but it’s much more than that. It means to take care of; to invest in those who have nothing. That’s our response to the grace God showed us when He adopted us. He wants us to give a voice to the voiceless. He wants us to give power to the oppressed and powerless. He wants us to give value to those the world might call worthless. Because He has done the exact same thing for us as His children.
Our eyes were opened and our hearts broke as we encountered the orphans in Ethiopia. We got to play with some of the children in our agency’s care center. They are such beautiful children. The first thing everyone, without fail, mentions about Mihret’s beauty is how absolutely stunning her eyes are. That’s the first thing that drew us to her, honestly. Now, imagine an entire country filled with children with eyes very similar to hers. They just suck you in.
The day before we left Indianapolis for Ethiopia, we received an email from a friend who was also adopting from Ethiopia. They were adopting two young boys. And our hope was that we’d be traveling together. Unfortunately, we didn’t. So they sent us this email with a description of their boys and asked us to hug on them and love on them a little bit for them. As I was sitting in the Center, these two very energetic young boys came over and plopped into my lap. I immediately recognized them as the two brothers our friends were adopting. I played with them and tickled them and finally whispered in their ears. I know they didn’t understand what I was saying because of the language barrier, but I whispered, “Mommy and Daddy will be here soon. They’ll be here to get you very soon. They love you so much.” These children were blessed. Their Mommy and Daddy would be there to meet them for the very first time a short two weeks after we were there. That was a powerful moment for me. One that has helped changed my life forever.
The nannies in our agency’s care centers obviously love these children with every fiber of their being, but they still need homes. They need families that will love them for a lifetime. And there aren’t enough families in the country willing and able to step in. This is a tragedy of immense proportions. The region has been devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. An entire generation has nearly been wiped out due to this disease. And diseases that have been virtually eliminated here in the States, like malaria, continue to sweep through the area. And it’s deadly – claiming victim upon victim upon victim. Sadly, many parents have died, leaving an estimated 5-6 million orphans in Ethiopia alone.
And that’s just Ethiopia. They join the growing number of orphans around the world. There’s currently approximately 143 orphans worldwide. That’s such a large number that it’s rather difficult to wrap your mind around. So imagine this: If we were able to take pictures of each and every orphan and then show their pictures up on the screen individually, it would take over 4 years and 3 months to show each child’s picture at the rate of one photo per second. That’s a lot of kids! Because of war, disease, genocide, and extreme poverty, we are seeing numbers of orphans like this world has never known before.
And orphans aren’t found just half a world away. They’re also found right here in our communities. There are 122,000 children right here in the United States who are waiting to be adopted by a family. Many of them are older and some are with Special Needs and some are rough around the edges. But they need a Mom and a Dad, just like the rest of us.
Christian musician, Sara Groves, took a trip to an African a few years ago. And part of her journey included a visit to an orphanage in one of the villages that has been ravaged by AIDS. And after that experience, she penned a song called I Saw What I Saw. After seeing what I have seen and experiencing what I have experienced, I can relate. I think you’ll be able to, as well. In the song she says:
I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it; I heard what I heard and I can’t go back. I know what I know and I can’t deny it.
Something on the road, cut me to the soul.
Your pain has changed me; Your dream inspires; Your face a memory; Your hope a fire; Your courage asks me what I’m afraid of; And what I know of love…
I say what I say with no hesitation; I have what I have and I’m giving it up; I do what I do with deep conviction.
Something on the road, cut me to the soul
When we act on behalf of the fatherless in our communities and around the world, we are reenacting the gospel. We are fleshing out what God did for us through Jesus Christ. But how can we care for the orphan from right here in Cowan?
Like I said before, I don’t believe everyone is called to adopt a child. And caring for an orphan doesn’t always mean adoption. Sometimes it means doing what we can to keep the child’s family intact.
While in Ethiopia, Christy and I had the opportunity to travel to Mihret’s birth village. It was a six-hour trip by van. In addition to the beautiful countryside, one thing we saw really struck us. Groups of people lined the streets, walking for miles and miles along the hilly countryside carrying these large containers. They were on their way to a well to get clean water. Clean water is such a basic need and there are many people around the world who don’t have easy access to it. And something as basic and as simple as water can help keep a family together. That’s why I’m so happy we continue to partner with Hope 2 Liberia, formerly known as the Amazing 80. They have a God-sized vision to bring clean drinking water to the entire nation of Liberia. There are other organizations that are making an impact in Africa, too. Charities like blood: water mission and charity:water are building wells in the remote regions and making an impact by giving the simple gift of clean water. What better way to care for orphans than by intervening on their behalf before they even become orphans?
Although they are not orphans without any parents at all, there is a growing amount of children growing up fatherless right here in our own community. That is a tragedy. In response to this tragedy, we can flesh out the gospel in their lives and in the lives of their children. We can become more intentional about caring for single mothers in our community. Use your God-given creativity to discover how you can best be a blessing to the fatherless that surround us right here. It can begin by just tossing the football around or bringing over a plate of cookies or offering to provide childcare at some point. Many of these children have been abandoned by one parent. And we can be a voice and stand in the gap for them in our own neighborhoods.
Of course, we can also serve as supporters and advocates for adoption and orphan care. Like I said earlier and I’ll keep saying because I don’t want you to think I’m saying otherwise – I don’t believe everyone is called to adopt. But I do believe that there are people who have been called to adopt and yet have not acted upon it. If just 7% of the world’s Christians would care for the orphan through adoption, there wouldn’t be an orphan crisis anymore because the orphanages would be empty. We need to continue to pray that God will raise up adoptive parents and that they will respond to His calling.
Maybe someone in your family or one of your friends is sensing that their family hasn’t stopped growing. Maybe they’re sensing there’s an empty chair at the dinner table. I hope you encourage them to consider adoption. And for those who are beginning the journey towards adoption, we need to be there for them. We need to do whatever we can to support them and encourage them and pray for them while they prepare and wait. And believe me; we know that waiting is tough. It’s also quite expensive. There are other families right here in the Muncie area who are in the process of adopting. Ask yourself what you can do to bless them as they wait and prepare.
Adoption is a beautiful illustration of what God has done for us. While we were spiritually fatherless, God sent His son to die for us and to bring us into His family. Now we can sit at His table like a child of the Father in Heaven. But that table has empty chairs, too. There are people, maybe even in this room, who have not accepted the invitation to join God’s family. If that’s you, there’s an empty chair you’re your name on it. God is waiting for you to join Him at His table. Why not accept that invitation today?
 Ferguson – Backgrounds of Early Christianity pp 62-63
 Wiersbe, Be Series NT Commentary p. 860