Using Christian Adoption Services in Faith-Based Communities

Christian Adoption Services

One day I was sitting and listening to a group of adoptees speak about their journey through adoption. Many of these adoptees that were on the Zoom call were transracially adopted. Most had parents who were Caucasian, and they were of color or from another country. The adoptees began discussing the narrative of their parents when they were choosing to adopt. Many of them brought up the church in this part of the conversation. After this, the conversation turned into an intense one about the flaws in the church in terms of adoption. My heart broke as I heard that many adoptees felt that their adoptive parents put themselves on a pedestal for adopting them. My first thought was why their parents were not properly empowered or trained in the area of adoption. Why do Christian adoption services matter?

I believe there are families and other individuals who have an authentic heart for orphans. Still, the church tends to use internal resources instead of setting their pride aside and reaching out to other Christian adoption services that could help them.

Without research or support, it tends to end badly between the adoptive parents and the adoptive child. In the end, the adoptive families adopt their children without adequate education and support for healing the childhood trauma of the child. As a result, adoptees feel confused, and some parents end the adoption in extreme circumstances. 

My two friends Jenni and Jamallia are my go-to in my adoption community. They are adoptive mothers that have adopted multiple times from multiple countries. They are also people of faith who work with families with various needs. We’ve had conversations about how the church needs to educate its members about the complete picture of adoption. Instead of using guilt to recruit, we believe that if the church paints a picture of practical support such as Christian adoption services, then it would be beneficial as a whole to the adoption community.

Who are Jenni and Jamallia?

Jenni Wolfenbarger is a wife, mother of six, and a trained physical therapist. She and her husband Eric came into the adoption community with the adoption of four of their children. Three of the children are from Ghana, and one is from China. She currently consults with churches regarding families with children with special needs. It is her passion to help the churches meet the needs of the family.

Jamallia Petway is a wife, mother of five, and a Pastor. With her husband Tyvon, she is a Family Life Pastor at Awakening Community Church and Co-Director of 4 Winds International, a non-profit organization that ministers to missionaries nationally and internationally. Jamallia and her family entered the adoption community with the adoption of their two children–one from the Philippines and one from Ghana. 

Choosing Adoption

At the beginning of our adoption, I thought that parents only chose to adopt out of infertility. It made me feel alone in our story because our initial reason for adopting our son was solely out of choice. In reality, adoptive parents choose to adopt for many reasons. Some parents adopt because they have exhausted all of the infertility options, like in the article by Sonia Billadeau called “In His Time: Our Christian Adoption”. Sonia explains how their journey included years of infertility treatments and then countless adoption paperwork. But some people chose to adopt because they were inspired by the church.

In his article, Ed Stetzer says that “Adoption and foster care certainly are choices the public often applauds.” It is seen as very positive regarding the church because, in scripture, God shares that the orphans and the widows must be cared for. Listening to the conversations of the adoptees in the Zoom call, I heard many young adults discuss how their parents came to adoption. Evangelicals adopted most of the adoptees; thus, their parents came to adoption through a divine calling from God. Maybe their parents heard a sermon that day that inspired them to adopt a child. Perhaps their parents were raised in a culture where they found that adoption was the way to take care of orphans. 

My husband and I always had a heart for children, and the thought of a child not having a home pained us. While teaching in the classroom, I had students in the foster care system, living with another relative while their parents were getting on their feet, or who were abandoned. Joining the adoption community through adoption was not a decision that we had overnight. This decision was years in the making. Three years later, we began the adoption process. 

Jamallia and her husband felt they were to adopt internationally. They looked into local groups and felt drawn back to international groups. Their decision to adopt internationally was not influenced by others but was thoughtfully made with careful prayer. Jenni echoed Jamalia in our conversation about choosing adoption. They were open to any child who needed a home and felt drawn to adopt internationally. Jenni looked into sibling groups, older children, and children with special needs. 

While many of our reasons were different, we all felt willing to reach out to various resources to help our children. Some of the resources were Christian adoption services, others were not.

The Misunderstanding about Adoption

While it is seen as a positive thing, the reasons behind adoption can be damaging. As a Family Life Pastor, Jamallia hears some talk about ideas regarding adoption like, “love is enough for the child” or, “that you will be a good Christian if you adopt”. This is a message that you can typically hear regarding orphans, especially on Orphan Sunday.

Orphan Sunday is an awareness day for orphans and is typical of connecting earthly adoption with spiritual adoption. I’ve even seen some children and their families spotlighted on stage during a special ceremony of “Orphan Sunday”. In the Zoom call discussion, the adoptees shared their thoughts about “Orphan Sunday”.  While they understood the awareness factor of “Orphan Sunday,” they hated the unattended message behind it. They felt that it glorified their parents who came and “saved” them. This feeling is an example of a common struggle with adoptees that cause them to face trials of insecurity and identity.  

These hardships of the adoption community are discussed in Kathryn Joyce’s article, “The Trouble With the Christian Adoption Movement.” Joyce explains that in the Christian adoption movement’s rush to do good, they began to refer to adoption as a means of “redeeming orphans”–saving them just as Christians are redeemed when they are born again. Joyce goes on to say that birth mothers are often seen as selfless martyrs or hopeless, promiscuous addicts–bad influences from whom children must be saved.  

In her article, “A Better Way to Talk About Adoption”, Adoptee Kelsi Macklin shares the danger of “over-spiritualizing” adoption. Many times I’ve gone to churches where faith-based leaders share that all believers are adopted. There is confusion with the adoptee that just as Jesus (the Savior) saves us, the families keep the child from being an orphan. The terms “save” or “savior” are used inappropriately and too often for adoption. 

There is this sense that adoptees have to constantly feel grateful, and while feeling grateful, they over internalized their adoption. In our conversation, Jenni discusses the confusion behind an “earthly adoption” vs. “spiritual adoption”. Jenni clarifies that she is no one’s savior and that she wishes to be no one’s savior. There is no need for kids to be placed in that environment when kids are going through their trauma. The expectation to mind their manners and not act out is not fair. It’s damaging that the kids have to feel grateful for the rest of their lives. The adoptive parent(s) struggle with a child with a traumatic background, and they either terminate an adoption or struggle with raising the adoptive child. No question, when Christians care for orphans, it should show the world God’s heart in vibrant, compelling ways. 

Macklin confirms Jenni’s point of view in her article. Macklin placed her family on the same level as God. When her family fell from the pedestal she had put them on, this affected her faith in God. For her, it meant that God would let her down, just as her earthly family let her down. The sad reality is that there is a naivety in going into adoption to help yourself look better or maintain that “savior” mentality. 

As believers and supporters of adoption, it is essential to create an environment where the messaging is clear and there are no misunderstandings that would intensify the number of trials that are in the midst of adoption.

Pride Can Lead to Disruption

In my conversation with Jamallia and Jenni, we touch on adoption disruption. Adoption disruption is when an adoption with one family ends and the child is adopted by hopefully a better-suited family. Jamallia adds that she believes that adoption is disrupted because, at times, the families do not have the resources to meet the needs of the child healing from trauma. In her article about childhood adoption trauma, Morgan Boggess writes that “adoption trauma can have a significant impact on a child’s brain development as well as his emotional development.” She goes on to explain that regions of the brain that are associated with “memory, communication, motor behavior, executive functioning, emotion regulation, learning and responding to social cues, and the fight or flight system can be affected by trauma.” These are things that the church needs to share with their parishioners about adoption. Jenni added that she read an article about the reasons behind disruptions, and they said that the “number one reason behind disruptions was parental expectations.” She added that some kids would have more medical needs and mental needs, and some parents had to put them in facilities.  Sometimes reality hits you, and they do not have the resources to walk through the healing process of trauma.

Karen Springs says from her book Adoption in the Rearview Mirror, “Adoption is a unique call, but the church should do all they can to equip those who are called.” Without help to counter the misunderstanding of adoption, this can lead to pride in the church. The pride of not reaching out to other organizations can lead to what is called disruption. 

I believe that churches do an excellent job of financially supporting a family to bring their adopted child home. However, when the child gets home, the support for the family changes. There are many cases where the child’s needs are more significant than what was on the paperwork. Foster parents encounter multiple unknown conditions, the child leaves, and they discover more with another child that will come and live with their requirements. It makes me wonder if these communities are consulting proper education through reliable Christian adoption services. This misunderstanding in the church about adoption can cause them to be more problematic. 

Tips for Faith-Based Communities

All three of us worked in communities where we worked with children with traumatic backgrounds in our professional life, and we reached out for resources for our adopted children when they came home. Through my conversation with Jenni and Jamallia and Macklin’s article, here are some suggestions for faith-based communities.

1). Don’t negate the painful aspects of adoption. Adoption begins as a loss, and adoption trauma is real. It is essential to get resources to help the family, especially the child, heal from the pain. Jenni comments in our interview that she believes that her kids are well bonded, but they still are dealing with past traumas that led them to be raised by white parents. 

2). Stop glamorizing adoption. As explained, it can be damaging to the adoptee and make the adoptive parents feel as though they should save their child just as Christ saved the church. Adoption starts with a loss, and then your time together is spent healing from the loss. Jamallia and Jenni both feel that NOT everyone is supposed to adopt. 

3). Encourage adoptive families to meet in groups together with a helpful facilitator. Adoptive families need support, but they also need help from a professional that can offer tools and advice navigating an adoption. Jenni consults with other adoptive families with children with special needs. She is experienced in the matter because of her background in Physical therapy in education settings and being a mother.

4). Do more for orphans other than adopt. Various organizations are available that work with orphans that need our resources. While Christians are called to help orphans, they can help them in other ways. Jamallia and her family have gone on mission trips to work with missionaries that minister to orphans through their ministry 4 Winds International. Their work overseas was beneficial to ministry leaders who need support because they care for so many needs. 

5). Remember that while you are dealing with the trauma of your adoption, you may be experiencing your trauma. In her article “Healing from Your Own Trauma To Help them Heal from Yours,” Chrissy Gochnauer, an adoptive mom, discusses the process of adopting her child but feeling like she had trauma just as her child did. She discusses reaching out for resources to help her parent her child while healing from her trauma. 

6). Reach out to resources outside of your church body if necessary. Jamallia shares the humbling truth that churches may not always meet the body’s needs, but it doesn’t mean that someone can not outsource to another church or have a list of places to refer for services. As a staff storyteller with Adoption.com, I’ve interviewed families who adopted through Gladney Adoption Services and learned the various offerings that they have with their agency. They have support for everyone in the adoption community, including Christian adoption services. These services are beneficial for thousands of people in and out of faith-based communities.

Adoption and Faith Are Messy!  

Macklin says that “Adoption is messy, and faith is messy. But I believe God calls us to be a part of the mess, even—and especially—when we don’t have the answers.” Remember that adoption is a loss. With that perspective, there are many trials to overcome to establish healthy bonding between the adoptive parent or parents and adoptive child/children and birth parents.  

Regardless of the type of adoption, many words appear in my mind whenever someone brings up adoption. Love, grace, confusion, anger, frustration, hugs, trauma, and mercy–lots of mercy!  Adoption is a journey, not a single event. It takes preparation to navigate the inevitable twists and turns of parenting. While it’s not always easy, the rewards are great, and you will not be alone if you find community.

Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.