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clean hands and a pure heart

Posted by on April 24, 2013

“However, as followers of Christ we can NOT stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this injustice is not happening or it negates all we stand for and shames the Savior we worship.

Vultures always encircle the orphan. It is our duty to protect them, but to do so righteously.

from an article titled On Orphan Fever In The Church 

With the above exception, I’m not going to show you the pictures I took of Baby B. I want to respect her privacy and the privacy of her family.  When I took them, I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry. My heart was so full of confused emotion.

Baby B was born two weeks ago. On Monday she weighed 3 pounds, 10 ounces. She is, for sure, a premie, but we don’t know how much of her small size is due to prematurity and how much is due to low birthweight.

Whatever the cause, her skin hangs from her emaciated, bony arms and legs.  Her face is gaunt, her skin translucent.

And I was told she is looking better than she did a few days ago.

Baby B had a week with her mama before Mama died. Mama was very young and very small. When Mama died, Dad just didn’t know what to do. Dad and Mama aren’t from here, they come from another, close by country. Dad has no family support system, no church, no help for Baby B.

One of Dad and Mama’s neighbors is a Christian. She works for an orphan facility here, and she has many friends who were able to help Dad with Baby B.  Right now Dad has gone back to his home country to talk to his family and find help.  Baby B is staying with a missionary friend of mine.  Sweet baby girl needs constant care.  If she was in the hospital my children were born in, she would certainly have weeks and months left before she would be released to go home.

Many times, when a Mama dies in this part of the world, the family will send a young teenage girl- often a cousin- to help with the baby.  In this situation, however, the baby is in need of more.  Not only does Baby B need lots of quality, nourishing milk; she also needs a quiet, clean, low stress place to rest.  She needs every calorie that she can save to put fat on her bones.

This is where I have to pray that my hands can stay clean and my heart can stay pure.  Part of me wants to rush in and save the day.  Instead of letting Baby B’s culture and family make the decisions about whats best for her, I want to say that WE (my friends and my culture) know what is best for her.

Claudia says it so well in her blog.  Here is just a piece of her thoughts:

I’ve called the area in which the relinquishing parents find themselves the ‘swamp of adversity’. (Did I spend too much time reading Pilgrim’s Progress as a kid? Um, possibly).  The swamp of adversity is fed by three rivers: the river of poverty, the river of illness and the river of social expectations. Of course there are other factors, but I chose those three because I think they are behind a lot of decisions to abandon children, or formally relinquish them to international adoption.  Any of these three can lead a woman to decide she is unable to parent.  A single, HIV+ woman with no income faces all three. 
One of the main reasons that I think there needs to be a wall between the beneficiaries and the decision-makers in adoption is that people living in the swamp of adversity are incredibly vulnerable.  They are socially vulnerable, emotionally vulnerable and financially vulnerable. And not only are they vulnerable, they are parenting vulnerable children and I am sure that they know it. None of the three rivers lead to my door and yet parenting often seems to me to be nearly impossible. I often feel like my children deserve more than me. If I couldn’t feed them, or care for their health, or my parenting attracted social stigma, I am certain I would feel that even more strongly. So people with an interest in seeing me decide not to parent would have a moral obligation not to exploit that, by staying a long way away. Preferably behind a wall. 
Of course, vulnerable is not the same as stupid. And yet being vulnerable and facing adversity can lead a person to make poor decisions. Here’s where I want to tread carefully. Because: adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I am sure that there are cases where a mother is not coerced in any way and yet regrets her decision intensely for the rest of her life. I am equally sure there are cases where a mother is not coerced and yet her child regrets that decision intensely for the rest of her life. I am not trying to make light of that. Ideally, in a better-than-merely-ethical situation, all mothers (and fathers) considering placement would receive free, neutral counselling about the implications of the decision they are about to make. And in the best of all possible worlds, these people would get more than counselling, they would get help and support and  financial assistance and encouragement to parent. That is what we want. That is what we should be striving for. That would make these families’ life better, and obviously helping children to remain in their families of origin is better than international adoption with all its losses. But I think the baseline, the very minimum for an ethical adoption, should be that it does not make anything worse. I think that a lot of confusion comes into discussions about adoption ethics because we conflate two things – an ethical adoption, and the very best possible outcome for a child. These two things are not the same. More on this later. [in part 2]. 
And speaking of regret – I do think that sometimes, ethical adoptions involve some very bad decisions. One thing I find odd about having been immersed in thinking about adoption for several years is that I am now pretty aware (at least theoretically) of the realities of adoption for children. I know that relinquishing a child for adoption is a lifelong decision with lifelong ramifications for both parent and child. I am also aware that these decisions are being taken, daily, by disenfranchised women who have never had the opportunity to learn to read at all, let alone the opportunity to read birthmother blogs or longitudinal studies on transracial identity formation.  From my position of privilege, I certainly hear some adoption stories where I think ‘oh no, I wish that mother had decided to parent’. But here’s the thing: It’s not my decision.  I’m not on that side of the wall. What makes an ethical adoption, in my opinion, is that mothers make their own decisions about placing their own children with no coercion and no manipulation from people who are getting something out of that decision. 
These words are so wise.
I find myself stuck in a battle between spirit and flesh.  In the spirit, with a heart of love and care and concern, I want to see Dad champion Baby B.  I want to see this culture able to provide and take care on it’s own.  I want Dad to be empowered to love and care for his child.
I also realize that for MY ministry to succeed.  WE have to have people to help.
Do you see the selfishness in those words?  They are in all caps in case you missed it.
The sad thing about the story of Baby B is that it is told over and over in this country in different shapes and forms.  In many cases, parents and families and birth mothers don’t have anywhere to turn.  They love their babies, but they don’t know how they will manage the job of parenting on their own.
God wants families to be whole and healthy.  I believe that when they are not whole and healthy, that is where He is asking us to step in and help.  There is a difference between helping and taking over.  From my perspective, one is centered in the love of Christ.  The other is centered in pride and arrogance.  I’m not, in any way, saying that adoption is taking over.  Sometimes adoption is the best decision for everyone.  The truth is, though, sometimes it is not.  Many children, here, live in orphanages and foyers (welcome centers) because the parents are in temporary crisis.
And so I wait.  I wait on God.  I wait on brokenness to be brought to us by Him.  But I do not want to wait for brokenness.  I do not want to hope for people to be unhealthy or families to be in tragedy.  I do not love watching children made orphans.  I love orphans, but I don’t love that children are orphaned.
I also do not believe that poverty is the enemy or that because I don’t live in poverty, I have rights over children that their parents do not.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is what I believe.  It is not my job to rescue.  It is God’s job.
There’s a fine line in my heart.  I’m trying to write it in BOLD.

5 Responses to clean hands and a pure heart

  1. Linda Watt

    Decisions here are made in community not individually. We may not see that community at work, but it is and in the case of adoption, it depends on the ethnic group’s culture as to what part of the community makes that decision. Parents alone almost never make a decision about their child. it is almost always made in collaboration with the extended family. Sometimes it is a matriarchal decision and sometimes it is a patriarchal decision depending on how decisions are made and sometimes it is a combination of both. Sometimes the living parent has a say so in what happens to the child and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes for a child to stay within the family, they are ostracised, teased, bullied, enslaved. They may live with an aunt or another family member, not growing up to know their birth father at all! Sometimes they are considered cursed and their life is miserable because the family of origin chose to parent the child rather than consenting to an adoption. In some situations, adoption is the best decision but it should be the family’s decision not mine, not another missionary deciding what is best from their vantage point. We almost always see things from what we know but we may not have all the facts. We make judgments all the time about things without having all the information and many times those judgments are faulty because we aren’t privy to all the facts. It is very easy to do here where decisions are not linear, but more circular and not as neat and tidy as we would like. The thing we do have control over is how we pray for this child. We can pray that God’s will for her would be done, we can pray that the father and his family and the baby’s mother’s family would be able to make a good plan for this baby. We can pray that we would allow God to work as He would like in this child’s life and if He chooses to use us to do then be prepared to help.

  2. Hope

    Linda, thank you so much for your comment. Your words are so full of wisdom. Your perspective as an adoptive parent, missionary, and social worker is so valuable to all of us who want to care for orphans in Niger. You are right, about decisions made in collaboration. I also love it that you see the need for prayer in this situation. I pray that Dad would come to know Christ through this situation. I also pray that the family would have wisdom and see Baby as a gift and not a curse.
    “We can pray that we would allow God to work as He would like in this child’s life and if He chooses to use us to do then be prepared to help.” Amen! I’m so glad to call you friend.

  3. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad

    this is a beautiful expression of your heart… and an honest recognition of the struggle i think we all have – of knowing what is the right thing to do and wanting to do it, but also often recognizing that our motives behind are not pure… sometimes it is so hard to look at the darkness of our own hearts and realize anew the immensity of our God’s sacrifice…

    linda, I’d like to echo hope’s sentiments… you shared beautiful words of wisdom – as one who has been a part of this whole scenario, and who helps others walk this road as well. i loved the focus on prayer!

  4. Jennifer Welch

    I am so with you on all of this. The issue of international adoption. What is right and what is wrong, or twisted, or warped. What is a true orphan and how many are being passed over for the ones who perhaps aren’t. It is something that Adam and I struggle with often, especially after reading about and finding out about so many adopted children who ended up having biological families who could have cared for them but gave them up for one reason or another. Those reasons are so vast. What is the real solution? What is our part? We’ve recently discussed the idea of creating a documentary that discusses these issues concerning international adoption since it seems that most people are unaware of the issues involved. It would be a massive project, but we’ll see. I believe it’s important to God.

  5. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad

    Jennifer, I’d love to see a well-done documentary addressing these issues and also starting the dialogue seeking a God-honoring response to them.

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