Video of the Week: "Gotcha Day"

If you aren’t too familiar with adoption, “Gotcha Day” is often used to refer to the day an adopted child is given over to his or her new parents. Many families celebrate the day each year like you would a birthday. Check out this video of one family’s Gotcha Day…better grab a tissue:

Video of the Week: The Drop Box

This is a trailer for a documentary about Pastor Lee Jong-rak, who came up with an incredible way to care for Korean orphans who would otherwise be abandoned. The documentary’s website states, “In December 2009, a Korean pastor named Lee Jong-rak built a wooden “drop box” on the outer wall of his home. But the box wasn’t intended for clothing, food, or school supplies, it was meant to collect unwanted babies.”

I can’t wait to see the entire film.

“The Drop Box” – Documentary PROMO from Brian Ivie on Vimeo.

Guest Post: Twenty-One Ways Churches Can Support Adopting Parents

Credit: Creative Commons (The Wolf)

Today I’m pleased to have a guest post from Christine Niles. I’ve been following Christine’s blog for a few months now, and she’s been a great help as my wife and I begin our adoption journey. She is a writer and project manager with a heart for orphans, and a mother of two girls adopted from Ukraine at ages 12 and 14. Christine blogs about adoption, parenting, and writing at www.riverofthoughts.com. Follow her on Twitter @croyseniles.

When we set out to adopt, we didn’t really know anyone else in our church who had adopted, or who was adopting, or who wanted to adopt.

We thought we were the only ones.

We were wrong.

Our church has become more intentional since then about supporting adoptive families. We’ve recently kicked off a community initiative to connect churches in our area to work together to support the many different aspects of the adoptive, foster, and orphan care efforts in our community.

But we still see families feeling alone.

We still hear church leaders asking “What can we do?”

The answer to that, as with so many others related to adoption is: It depends.

Whether or not your church offers a formal adoption ministry, it’s critical that the principles of community, safety, and grace are priorities within your church for adoptive families to feel supported. Sure, families often need practical help, but most importantly, they need to feel that the community around them will be supportive and encouraging.

Here are twenty-one ways that churches can be supportive for parents who are considering adopting one or more children, or already have:

Getting Started

Beginning an adoption journey is overwhelming. Families often need help navigating all the conflicting information and decisions they need to make.

Once a decision to adopt has been made, the family launches into a maelstrom of paperwork and bureaucracy. During this time, it’s important for the church community to encourage the adopting family through every step.

How to support:

1) Register one of your church’s staff as a notary, and offer flexible and convenient notary services at no charge to your church body.
2) If the family wants to talk, listen sympathetically. Don’t try to judge the process or fix it. Just listen.

Waiting

Once a family’s home study is done and their dossier or life book is submitted, it becomes a waiting game. From this point, it could be a couple of months or it could be YEARS. Adopting parents can easily get discouraged.

This is a tricky time for supporters. Adopting parents want to know that people care and are praying, but too many of the same questions from too many people can become frustrating. The best thing to do is ask, “How can we continue to encourage you and keep up with your progress without being irritating?”

How to support:

3) Encourage the family’s small group to do a study together about parenting adopted kids and to understand how this differs from parenting kids born “the old fashioned way.”
4) Learn about how to support the family’s attachment efforts in the early months.
5) Encourage your kids’ ministry workers to learn about how trauma affects children and how some children–including adopted children who have experienced trauma–might react in unexpected ways, and how to respond when they do.
6) Teach parents to avoid doling out advice based on experience with bio-kids–it’s just different.

Waiting Part II – Money Matters

With only a few exceptions, Adoption. Is. Really. Expensive.

But in reality no one is getting rich off this deal. There’s just a lot more to it than you realize until you’re in the middle of it. It’s often very difficult and sometimes even embarrassing for a family to ask others for money. Just find ways to support or help the family that are consistent with your church’s mission and culture.

How to support:

7) Small churches, promote fundraisers for adopting parents in the bulletin, announcements, and on your website.
8) Encourage gifted event-planners to organize an event on behalf of the family.
9) Larger churches, consider setting up a matching grant program that can be supported through an annual church-wide fundraiser. Shameless plug: Lifesong for Orphans administers our matching grant program, and they’re great!

At the Adoption – Travel

Most adoptions, even domestic ones, start somewhere else, and the parents are usually required to travel to the child’s hometown. In the case of international adoptions, it’s more complex and often longer. And most adopting parents aren’t seasoned road warriors.

How to support:

Before they go:

10) Help them prepare for travel. If someone in your church is well-traveled, connect them up.
11) Collect a stockpile of travel accessories like power converters and money belts that families can borrow.
12) Find someone that understands international cell phone plans to help them set expectations about in-country communications and how to stay in touch with home inexpensively.

While they are gone:

13) Offer to house-sit, pet-sit, pick up mail, water the plants, etc. during their trip.
14) Prepare their house for their return by cleaning for them (fresh sheets and clean toilets are amazing after a long trip), stocking their freezer with a month’s worth of ready to thaw and pop in the oven meals, and filling their fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables.

After They Are Home

Give them some space.

Email them, pray for them, but give them time and space to recover from jet lag and to connect as a family. The new child will be very confused, scared, frustrated, and overwhelmed. A steady stream of people stopping by the house because they want to meet this child they’ve all been so excited about and praying over for so long…BAD idea.

Overstimulation and fear lead to meltdowns, and this slows the trust-building process.

Follow the family’s lead. They will let you know when their new child is ready to be introduced. This time frame is very personal and varies widely from child to child.

Understand sometimes the transition can be really tough on the other kids in the family, too. They sometimes need a break from the drama. Invite them over for a special night to put the attention back on them…they will miss that. Just make sure you check with the parents first!

How to support:

15) Run errands for the family.
16) Offer rides to and from school and church activities.
17) If your kids are friends, invite their other kids over for dinner, playdates, or sleepovers.

As Time Goes By

Once you support a family or two in your church through an adoption, chances are you’ll realize just how many steps and details go into an adoption. Even after the family seems settled and months go by after an adoption, there is still a lot a church can do to support the family, or even prepare to support other families in your church who might adopt in the future.

How to support:

18) Find or start an adoptive parents’ support group in your area. Created To Connect: The Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child is downloadable for free at empoweredtoconnect.org.
19) Consider starting a lending library of adoption-related resources.
20) Encourage accountants and tax advisors in your church body to help adoptive parents file their taxes for the adoption year at no charge. Adopting parents often need help to file and provide all appropriate documentation to support the adoption tax credit.
21) Encourage an attorney in your church body to help families with the process of local re-adoption (the legal process of adopting a child again in the United States according to local laws after the child has been legally adopted in another country).

Adoption is contagious.

Warning: as people within your church see and support adoptive families, hearts open. More families will consider adoption. The trailblazer becomes the mentor. As more families go through the process, they, too can become guides, and before you know it, you might have a whole “adoption community.”

Above all, keep praying.

Pray for God to draw the new family close to one another, to their church community, and most importantly to Him. Pray that they can rest in His timing and His provision, and that His heart and sprit will fill their home and guide each decision they make and each step they take toward their new family.

Remember that every one of us was a lost, fatherless child, and every one of us struggles to understand the grace and love and forgiveness that He shows us every day.

Praise God for this family’s faithfulness and all-in commitment to serve the forgotten, the abandoned, the hurt children who have suffered loss and pain. Praise Him for bringing healing and hope, and thank Him for the new life and grace that He provides each one of us through Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Adopting in a Broken System

Note: Every weekend we’ll (Jennifer and Benjer) share a bit of our journey to adopting a child. This post is by Benjer. To read more posts on adoption, visit our adoption page.

“Do for one, what you wish you could do for many.”

Those words are from Andy Stanley, the pastor of North Point Community Church outside of Atlanta, GA. And as we continue our journey to adopt a child, they are very important words to me. Because when it comes to adoption–like so many other things people do in the world to help others–the issues that are involved are far more complicated than we wish they were. We live in a broken world, and there are a lot of hurting people in all cultures that need help. It’s easy for one person to look at all that could be done and feel overwhelmed.

When it comes to international adoption, the issue is definitely complicated. It’s not just that there are so many millions of children in the world that don’t have parents. UNICEF estimates that there are currently 18 million children in the world who have lost both parents, and an additional 135 million who have lost one parent. Those statistics alone are overwhelming. What makes the issue so difficult is that broken, sinful systems make it almost impossible to bring about positive, lasting change.

As Jennifer and I spent time considering whether to begin the adoption process this past fall, we consulted people who had adopted, both here locally and on adoption blogs. We came across several arguments against international adoption–some well-formulated and some that were simply thinly veiled racism. One of the most popular arguments is that the amount of money that an international adoption costs would be better spent as a charitable contribution to the country we hope to adopt from. After all, wouldn’t it be better to write a check to support infrastructure in that country or pay for programs that would prevent the very circumstances that creates so many orphans in the first place?

On the surface, that seems like a valid point. But it doesn’t take much to realize that money alone doesn’t solve problems. If it did, there would be far fewer homeless people in Haiti today. Billions have been pledged or given to relief support, much of which at best was wasted and at worst went straight to people’s pockets who needed the money least. In addition, the why-not-send-money-instead-of-adopting argument is as silly as saying, “Why not stop hiring firefighters, and instead put that money into fire prevention education and techniques?” The answer: because a lot more people would die in fires, that’s why.

The orphan crisis is complicated. There isn’t a clear-cut, one-size-fits-all solution to the fact that millions of kids don’t have parents. But the worst thing we can do when faced with a daunting, complicated, and much-bigger-than-we-can-handle problem is to assume that there’s nothing that we can do.

The reality is that right now, there are millions of children without parents. In many countries, orphanages are overflowing because culturally, people simply don’t adopt children from outside their family. You don’t need to visit too many orphanages or hear a lot of stories to understand that things are very broken. And it all seems so overwhelming to me, because I’m a fixer. I love to problem solve, and it drives me nuts when there’s not an achievable solution. So, I’m going to take Andy Stanley’s advice. There’s one boy in Bulgaria who needs a home, a family, and a father to say, “I will always be your Daddy, and you will always be my boy.” We will do for one what we wish we could do for all.

To read more adoption posts and to sign up for email updates, visit our adoption page.

Our child waits…

Note: Every weekend we’ll (Jennifer and Benjer) share a bit of our journey to adopting a child. This week’s post is by Jennifer. To read more posts on adoption, visit our adoption page.

This past Christmas morning was very traditional for our family: wake-up, get excited about presents, go open presents, take lots of pictures, have a breakfast casserole and caramel rolls, and then get ready for church. But there was one thing about this past Christmas that was very different, at least for me. We were missing one of our children.

As I was watching my two little girls, Samantha (2) and Bethany (almost 4), opening their presents with joy in a warm house, I suddenly found myself thinking about the child we are in the process of adopting. You see, we are looking to adopt a young boy (not an infant) from Bulgaria. Depending on our adoption timeline, chances are that he has already been born. He was not with us. He was not in a warm house, by a Christmas tree, opening a pile of Christmas presents with his family. As best as we know, he was in an orphanage.

I was able to still enjoy my other children at that moment, and was able to enjoy the rest of the morning. After the Christmas morning service, we all loaded into our packed car to make the 7+ hour drive from Ogden to Denver. There were several hours during that trip that I did not have the opportunity to chat with my husband or my children (they were either sleeping or watching a show without headphones), and so I needed to be silent. I used some of that time to pray. Mostly I was praying for our son. I was praying for provision and for God’s leading in this crazy-long-complicated-emotional process. As I spent more time thinking about and praying for our new son, I was reminded again of our Christmas morning. As I just said, most likely he was in an orphanage that morning. We do not know if he had any presents to open. We do not know if he knows what Jesus did for him, coming to earth to save him, or if he was given an opportunity to worship him. We do not know if he was given any love on that day. I just know he wasn’t with me, his new Mama. This broke my heart.

As some tears were flowing out of me I texted a friend of mine who is a foster parent, waiting for a certain foster child to be placed with her. She told me “I feel so similar about our foster son. I know God is preparing him and our family for it. I feel the same way about your son. God is holding him in His hands. He will be so blessed when he joins your family.” This was a great reminder to me that while we know almost nothing about when or how or even what the adoption will be, we know that God is sovereign, in control and loves our son where he is as much as he loved anyone. And is is in control of all of it.

To read more adoption posts and to sign up for email updates, visit our adoption page.

Why Are We Adopting Now?

Note: Every weekend we’ll (Jennifer and Benjer) share a bit of our journey to adopting a child. This post is by Jennifer. To read more posts on adoption, visit our adoption page.

Why Are We Adopting Now (or in three-plus years when all is said an done)?
As I (Jennifer) sat down to write this post I became aware of some anxiety that wells up in me when I know I am going to talk to an unknown audience about our new and growing adoption story. It turns out there is no small number of people out there who have an emotional reaction when you tell them you are going to adopt internationally, and sometimes it is a negative emotional reaction. This has been somewhat difficult for me because I never know what someone I am talking to will think or how they will react. It has left me feeling defensive and reluctant to share. When talking to another mother with both biological and adopted children recently she said, “When you tell people you are pregnant, everyone congratulates you. When you tell them you are going to adopt, they seem to think that their approval is needed.” Interesting point, isn’t it? Although, even when you give birth biologically, if there is a perceived moral issue involved, then people also tend to think their approval is needed. For example, the Duggars of the 19 Kids and Counting show has had their share of disapproval.

While there are moral arguments both for and against international adoption, we did not decide to move forward with this international adoption at this time because of these arguments. Actually we never thought we would be adopting this way at all.

When I was 7 years old I learned what “adoption” was because I had a friend who was adopted. When I learned that their were babies and little kids out there who did not have any mothers or fathers, I was sold out to the idea of adopting them. Since then, and especially as an adult, I have researched and learned about adoption whenever an opportunity presented itself. I even went to an adoption expo as a single 24 year old woman. My husband and I have talked about this since we first met. When I was 8 months pregnant with my first child Benjer came home from a meeting he had where he met a father who had just brought home his adopted son and, even though I was about ready to have my own child in one month, I nearly jumped out of my seat with anticipation and excitement for when we could adopt. I have literally felt called to adopt for 25 years, and have been being waiting that long for the “go ahead” from our situation and from God to adopt.

Our plan was to have two biological children and then wait until they were older to adopt children that were younger from them through foster care. We thought it was a good plan, financially, because children who are older and in the system do not require the same money as babies or international adoption do, and also with family dynamics. Then God showed us He had a different plan for us these past few months.

I started to feel an urge, a deep desire, to have more children… but not another baby. I was really confused by this at first because I knew I did not want to be pregnant and have another biological baby again. But, I felt this almost disturbing nagging inside that we needed to consider having more children now. I asked Benjer to pray about this, because, who knows? Maybe it was just my hormones. He prayed and he felt, to some disappointment, that it really wasn’t the Lord’s prompting to have another biological baby. So I kept on praying and seeking the Lord in all of this because the feeling did not go away. Then I realized this feeling for more children might be my go-ahead to adopt. So, we prayed some more. Then we asked some of our close friends and family who have a good prayer life to pray for discernment for us. One friend who serves as a missionary right now on the other side of the world said that when she was praying she felt she was given a very clear message to us that we should proceed with adoption, internationally from Easter Europe. A child with special needs. That seemed quite specific! Then I talked with my mother, who lives in Colorado, and she said that she also had a specific feeling in her prayer life that we should adopt from Eastern Europe. I, too, in my prayer life had felt led to Eastern Europe. It just seemed to be one confirmation after another.

Obviously, this is a little unusual to say the least. This kind of spiritual confirmation isn’t something that Benjer and I have experienced on a regular basis, and it’s certainly not an expected daily occurrence for followers of Jesus. But it is quite exciting, too! I am very thankful that we were blessed with these specific experiences of people feeling led through their prayers to tell us to adopt internationally now, because when I have faced opposition to our decision I have had these experiences to give me strength. I do not need to win moral arguments or even have it make sense. Because it doesn’t make sense at all. We don’t have the money to finance this kind of adoption and our children are significantly younger (2 and almost 4) than would be recommended for this, depending on how long our wait is. But God does have a history of asking his followers to do things that don’t seem to make sense to show how His ways are so much better, and He also has a history of asking his followers to do things that they couldn’t possibly do on their own to show His power and glory.

We are so excited (and scared at times) to see God continue to show up in this to show His plan and His power and His glory. Because that is all that really matters in this whole endeavor anyway.

To read more adoption posts and to sign up for email updates, visit our adoption page.

Changes to the blog, changes for our family

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ve noticed a new look this week. Most notably, name (but not the address) of the blog has changed from “Jesus and Teenagers” to “Discipleship Family Ministry.” While most of the ministry posts will continue to center around youth ministry, I’ve found myself writing more on parenting and marriage, as well as being a follower of Jesus while serving in ministry. Hopefully the new name reflects that.

In addition to the new look, there are now advertisements around here, as well as in the blog feed. This blog has always been a hobby and costs only a few dollars a year to maintain (for the domain name), so I’ve never really sought to advertise. The reason for the change is this: my wife Jennifer and I have submitted an application to adopt internationally (from eastern Europe), and we will soon begin the process of raising funds to help pay for the adoption.

While any income from this blog will be only a tiny fraction of the entire adoption cost, Jennifer and I feel that to be good stewards of the money we are asking God to provide for the adoption, we should do our best to scrimp and save as much as possible in our own budget and look for simple ways we can earn extra income. Within a short while, we hope to have a way for people to give tax-deductible donations online toward the adoption, if God so leads them to offer financial support. Of course, if you’d like to give before we get that set up, just let us know via the “contact Benjer” page.

I’ve also set up a separate page for people to easily find posts about adoption on this blog. Every Saturday, we’ll put up a new post to chronicle how the process is going. We’ve found that there’s a LOT of information to wade through in the adoption process, and we hope that the weekly posts will help others who are considering adopting one or more children. In addition, writing about our experience may keep us from going crazy during the long (at least two years, if not longer) process of bringing a child home.

Here is our biggest request for you: please pray for our family during this process, especially for the child we adopt, should God bless us in that way. You see, we feel very strongly led to adopt an older boy from Bulgaria who may be physically or mentally disabled. If that’s what God allows us to do, by his grace, that means that our son could be living in an orphanage in Bulgaria even as I write this. And that is a heart-breaking and emotionally confusing thought. We will certainly soon be asking friends and family for financial support. Yet what would bless us the most is to know that people are committed to praying for our family on a daily or weekly basis until we bring our son home. If you would be willing to commit to praying for us on a regular basis, we would love to hear from you. We have no idea what we’ve gotten ourselves into, and perhaps that’s the way God has meant it to be.

Video of the Week: Isaiah’s Story

My wife pointed me towards this video this week, and I had to share it:

Isaiah’s Story from 31Films on Vimeo.