First an explanation--you can skip this part if you want to and just skip to the article below.
A few months ago I wrote an article that I hoped would be published in our denominational weekly magazine. (didn't happen--bummer) The Assemblies of God as a movement has been incredibly missions-minded since its inception in 1914. Our emphasis has been on winning people to Jesus and then building Bible schools and training national leaders to lead and pastor their own congregations in a biblically-sound manner. I have no problem with that at all. God has blessed these efforts in phenomenal ways. We as a denomination are also involved in a variety of childcare ministries around the globe and have a children's home and home for women in crisis pregnancy here in the U.S. as well. So please don't think that we as a denomination are uninvolved in caring for orphans or other vulnerable children. But when it comes to adopting one of those orphans . . . well, I would love for our people to see that Christian adoption IS missions and therefore is worthy of supporting with encouragement, prayer and even finances.
A Different Kind of Missions
I clung desperately to my husband Kevin's hand as our plane began its initial descent into Kyiv, Ukraine on January 24, 2008. Feelings of sheer terror and utter exhilaration jostled for the upper hand. There was no turning back now.
As a kid, I'd been called to the mission field at a Wednesday night Bible study; as a young adult I had gone to Northwest College in Kirkland to pursue a major in missions. When at the close of my junior year it became time for my required practicum I had told the MAPS representative I wanted to "work in an orphanage and hug babies." There'd been no ministry openings fitting that description but I had participated in several other short-term missions projects both before and after graduation in 1984. All those years, all those dreams, all that preparation and paperwork were finally reaching a wonderful but different-than-expected culmination as that jumbo jet dropped in altitude. You see, I was not entering foreign soil as a conventional career missionary but as a mom.
I was following the call of an out-dated picture—an adorable blond-headed, blue-eyed toddler nicknamed Sasha. As far as my heart was concerned, that little boy already belonged to me. He was now 3 ½ and resided in a Baby House near Ukraine's capital. As most kids with Down syndrome, he would be transferred from the Baby House to a mental institution at approximately age 4. I was told that many children did not survive their first year after making that move. I could not get away from Proverbs 24:11 (NIV) “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” and verse 12 (Message) “If you say, ‘that’s none of my business,’ will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know--Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”
I was following my passion. According to UNICEF there are an estimated 163 million orphans.(1) It's nearly impossible for me to comprehend such a huge number but this helps me: if a person were to read the names of each of these precious children at the rate of one per second, it would take over 5 years to read them all. Yet each of these children is uniquely created in the image of Almighty God; each is dearly loved and valiantly defended by our Abba Father; and each is personally included in the "world" that Jesus Christ died to save. James 1:27 (NIV) says "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
What better way to "look after orphans" than to adopt? It's not that Kevin and I were childless—we already had two sons and two daughters at home. Nor were we wealthy—Kevin was a City Driver for a major freight carrier and I was a stay-at-home Mom. We were simply striving to be obedient to God's call and example. Think about what God has done for us as Christians. "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son . . . that we might receive the adoption of sons (emphasis added), and because ye are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." Galatians 4: 4-7 KJV. God could have remained aloof and sterile up in Heaven and just dropped money and food and clothes on our miserable heads from time to time. He could even have gathered those necessities into a beautiful gift box, tied a fancy bow on top and had angels personally deliver the package to our doorsteps. But instead God sent his Son so that through the cross we might receive forgiveness of our sins and be brought into his family.
A bazillion fears knotted in my stomach as the tarmac approached. "What if our son doesn't like me?" "What if no one shows up to meet us?" "Can we really do this?" After clearing customs and piled down with luggage, I was so relieved to see a gentleman dressed in a black coat and matching hat holding up a sign with our misspelled last name in big letters. Trustingly we followed him to his dark gray Audi. Though communication was decidedly limited, he was hired by our adoption facilitator and I knew we were in good hands.
As we sped from the airport across the Dniepro River and into the city of Kyiv I swiveled my head from side to side trying to take in all the sights. I was enthralled with trying to decipher the road signs printed in the Cyrillic alphabet as well as viewing the gorgeous and varied architecture of historic buildings that flashed by my back seat window. I was amazed at cars driving and parking on the sidewalks and by young ladies traipsing along in their brief skirts and stiletto boots on the treacherous ice and snow. The predominance of dark clothing for both men and women blended well with the gray wintry skies.
Eventually we arrived at the furnished apartment we'd booked over the internet. The security entrance was at the rear of the multi-storied building and first impressions were none too inviting: the outside steps were crumbling, the inside stairwell was unlit except for whatever muted light could make its way through a single cloudy window, and the rickety elevator was very tiny. However, the apartment itself was quite spacious and bright with lots of windows, an enclosed balcony, an adorable miniature washing machine (with fabric types written in Cyrillic, water levels in cc's and temperatures in Celsius), a fantastic pot that could heat water to boiling in about a minute, rectangular bottom sheets for the bed that were exactly the same size as the top of the mattress (we never could figure out how to tuck them in) and a strong security door which we were reminded over and over again to keep locked and dead-bolted at all times. For me, the main selling point of the whole place was that it had a computer connected to high-speed internet. That one feature far offset the fact that the stench of much of the building's sewer system seemed to vent in our bathroom.
Two needs that surfaced rather quickly were food and water. Our bottled water and sodas—still sealed and purchased inside an airport security area had been confiscated at the last border crossing. Granola bars I'd purchased for the trip had inadvertently been left at home because Kevin thought they were for our other children to snack on in our absence. Thankfully there was a market right across the street. It's funny that as I'm writing this two years later my heart begins to pound faster and I feel panic rising up inside my chest. That market, though handy, scared the daylights out of me.
OK, at first the market was interesting. On the outside were rows and rows of shops shaped very similarly to storage units with overhead doors that could be pulled down at the close of business. This cubicle had luxurious fur coats, that one had men's dress shirts and ties, this one featured a variety of children's toys while another had pots and pans. Thankfully one shop had plain bottled water and soda pop and another had household necessities such as laundry detergent, deodorant and toilet paper. At the end of the maze was a very large enclosed area which housed the groceries. Over to the left was an enclosed booth with many types of fresh bread. There were cases of cheeses and others of sausages and fish. The fresh meat section was to the right. I saw a long row of plucked, gutted chickens, with heads hanging down and feet sticking up. There were several counters where each vendor was apparently singing the praises of the particular chunk of raw meat held out in his un-gloved hand. Was it pork? Beef? I had no idea and wasn't quite secure enough to try mooing or oinking to find out. Tails and tongues were available for sale as well. Around the edges were colorful displays of fresh fruits and vegetables and pyramids of fresh honey jars. At first the unusualness was very interesting.
But after awhile the unfamiliar became uncomfortable and then actually frightening to me. With almost no knowledge of the language we were reduced to pointing and holding up fingers to indicate what and how many we wanted of a particular item. There were no shopping carts and no central checkout. Each vendor at each counter collected her own money in an unfamiliar currency. Most of the sellers placed our purchases in a small cellophane bag which we then added to the larger bags already in-hand. The load was getting heavier. I was having trouble finding basic items because they were packaged differently. Yogurt was in small jugs; milk came in thick plastic bags; I couldn't find butter and I couldn't ask for help. Finally I couldn't stand the stress or the strangeness anymore. I begged Kevin to let me go back to the haven of our apartment.
The next day (Friday) we were driven across the city through the swarming, blaring traffic to the government office where we were given the official referral for our son. We were shown a tiny photograph of him as an infant, told a few sentences about his family history, and given a document granting permission to go to the Baby House to meet him. It was hard to wait until Monday but I will always treasure the moment when a white-coated worker stepped into the orphanage doctor's office where Kevin and I were anxiously seated--accompanied by a bright-eyed, smiley bundle of shaggy-haired cheer. Sasha was no longer just a picture on our fridge or a .jpg file on the computer. He was real. He was beautiful. And I was in love. After about 15 minutes of interaction, we were asked if we wanted to proceed with the adoption. Oh yes!
Over the next few hours and weeks, Sasha's whole world changed. We gave him a new name: Caleb Alexander. He gained a new status—from outcast orphan to treasured son. He attained new citizenship. And of course, he began to hear about Jesus' love. All this sounds so dramatic and parallels so closely what God does for each of us through faith in His Son. But for our son the change did not come easily—well, not for any of us really. Several subsequent visits at the orphanage were filled with the tears of a frightened little boy left alone in a tiny room with two strangers. There were complicated legal issues that had to be resolved. Kevin had to return to the USA and resume work. I ached for my children at home. I had to go to that scary market all by myself and, after I had custody of Caleb, I was worried he wouldn't survive on yogurt, fruit loops, bread, bananas and tea (the only foods I could get him to eat) long enough to get home.
Finally on February 26, I was on a plane taking off from Kyiv, a city I had grown to love, this time joyously holding the hand of our new son. I hadn't gone to live and work in an orphanage but was certainly bringing one former-orphan home to love for the rest of his life in obedience to a heavenly call. Adoption was a different kind of missions—but true missions, nevertheless.
(1) http://www.childinfo.org/hiv_aids_orphanestimates.php accessed on August 7, 2010. Of these 18,520,000 had lost both parents; the fathers of 126,000,000 had died.