Several months ago, we had the great privilege of meeting Clint and Esther Ouma. The Ouma family live in Moshi, Tanzania and have a passion for caring for orphans and for adoption. When we first me…
This past Sunday I preached at a little red church in Los Osos, California. A few days prior, as I was preparing the sermon on Romans 8:12-17, a passage I’ve preached on many times, I realized that a lot of what I gather and teach on is self-evident. A simple text that is so profound.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
I asked the congregants at the church what the difference is between an orphan slave and a son or daughter of a king. Their answers put flesh and bone on what Paul was describing in the text.
Freedom. Acceptance. Family. Unconditional Love. Joy. Self-worth. Authority. Belonging. Hope. Safety. Privilege. Inheritance. Grace.
Lost. Rejected. Bondage. Withdrawal. Insecurity. Oppression. Anger. Fear.
The chasm between these two realities is vast. The beautiful thing about the gospel is that God takes us from one extreme to the other in an instant. It’s passages like this that capture my heart and imagination for the spirit of adoption.
In any journey, whether it takes an instant or a lifetime, it has to start at the beginning. Our beginning was as orphans. I often reflect on Jesus’ words in John 14 when He says that he will not leave us as orphans. Jesus knew that the life of an orphan is dire. He knew the realities and the feelings that such a slave endures. He wasn’t content to leave people in this state.
In our redemption, we go from death to life. Enemy to friend. Slave to free. Orphan to son. Orphan to daughter. Yet, as much as that’s our reality, our discipleship takes a bit longer to turn into Christ likeness.
Discipleship, is monkey say, monkey do. It’s follow the leader. Discipleship is we love, because He first loved us. It’s be holy, just as the Lord your God is holy.
Discipleship is we adopt, because He first adopted us. >>tweet this<<
From my experience as a family-man, I’ve learned that the relationships that God’s given me play the most critical role in my discipleship. I’ve led street evangelism in Newport Beach, I’ve worked at churches and non-profits, I’ve preached in English and Swahili and yet all of these play such a truly minuscule role in my discipleship. I learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus by being a husband and father.
It’s not merely understanding the theological parallels to being the bride of Christ, God being our Father, God adopting us. Much more, it’s the fact that the people in my family bring out the best and worst in me. For me to become like Christ, the worst and deepest sin of mine is going to have to come out if it’s going to be changed. Adopting my son has brought out the worst in me at times. That’s just being honest. His insecurity has scratched, clawed, beat and pulled out my own insecurity. His trauma has traumatized me. His orphan spirit has brought out all the areas in my life where I still feel like an orphan. Somehow, Melissa and I stepped out in adopting an orphan and in the process feel like we’re worse people because of it. There are many times when we feel we have ruined ourselves and wrecked our lives.
The craziest things is that through Kingdom Families, we’re trying to lead people down this same path. What would drive us to do such a thing?
As I preached Sunday, the passion for the fatherless stirred up in me and the understanding of the difference between an orphan slave and a son or daughter shed light on why we keep going. Thank God for hope. I have hope for my entire family that God will bring us forward.
As difficult and traumatizing as the adoption process has been, we know that our son is better off for it. One of my favorite bloggers, Jason Johnson, says it well when discussing the difficulties. “Let’s not talk about what it will cost us if we do foster or adopt without also considering what it will cost these kids if we don’t.”
The truth is that at this point, my love for my son Moses only drives me so far in pursuing orphan care. Because Moses isn’t an orphan anymore. My drive is motored by my love for the orphans still back at the orphanage or on the street. I’m thinking about Justice, I’m thinking about Maria, I’m thinking about Awadhi. These orphans with faces, stories and personalities. Faces that are blurred, stories that are untold and personalities that are suppressed. Orphans that up to this point have been left as orphans. Children that are waiting for
Freedom. Acceptance. Family. Unconditional Love. Joy. Self-worth. Authority. Belonging. Hope. Safety. Privilege. Inheritance. Grace.
I’ve been putting together our website for Kingdom Families over the last month. I’m nearly done and I’d love for you to check it out. Just follow the link – www.kingdomfamiliestanzania.org
The goal of our Kingdom Families Conferences is to empower the Tanzanian church to be the godly spouses and parents the Lord has called them to be. At the same time, we are advocating for the needs of orphans within our midst in Kilimanjaro, foremost by encouraging the church to adopt and foster children in their own homes. For this conference we partnered with Pastor Zacharia Olo in Majengo district in Moshi at the church Yesu Anaweza Center. Grateful for the Kingdom Families team that jumped in for the conference. Ryan helped teach, Peter helped with some translation and Patrick and Leah took the photos.
My director Ryan and I were meeting at a local restaurant recently just talking and catching up on life. As we sat there, a guy that Ryan knows approached us. He asked if we would be there for a little while as he wanted to go get his boss to come speak with Ryan. The boss was visiting Moshi and was staying in one of the rooms in the adjoining hotel. We weren’t going anywhere just yet, so ten minutes later the man came up with his American boss. He was eager to speak with Ryan about a plot of land Global-Effect owns in a village about a hour away. He asked Ryan about title deeds, working with government offices and the like. He asked what Global-Effect is going to use the land for and so on. He’s interested because he has also bought land in the same village. Ryan, in turn, asked them what they plan to do with their land.
“We’re going to build an orphanage.”
My heart sank. Ryan swallowed deep and smiled at him then gave me a concerning look. In an area where Global-Effect has begun empowering the community and an orphanage-less village can quickly capture a biblical model for orphan care, another American wants to establish another orphanage in another African village.
You want to hear something offensive? Kids shouldn’t grow up in orphanages. >>tweet this<<
Does that offend you? One of the hardest things for me to bear in my ministry is living out that statement alongside SO MANY people, friends of mine, that have started or run orphanages in Kilimanjaro. It can be very uncomfortable at times. I am not writing this to put anyone on blast, because these are great people, people that I look up to. As I followed up and emailed that American gentleman, I made sure he knew that I appreciate his heart in wanting to help. I really do.
The difficult thing is that we’ve run out of imagination. We’ve been establishing orphanages for so long, we don’t know what else to do. I’ve spoken with government officials in Tanzania that have told me placing children in families instead of orphanages is a new approach. Granted, it’s not actually new, kids have been raised in families since the dawn of time. But as a response to the modern poverty and AIDS-induced orphan crisis, this is a new approach.
I’d be lying if I said that paternalism doesn’t plays a role in all of this. Tanzania was previously a German, then a British colony. Over the last 55 years since independence, Tanzanians have been sovereign, but many of the perspectives between Tanzanians and westerners have changed very little. We have westerners that say, “oh, I should take care of that child” and Tanzanians that say “oh, they should take care of my child.” That happens. That happens often.
Remember that movie, Field of Dreams? It has that classic line “If you build it, he will come.”Kevin Costner gets this divine calling and knows that he must begin the irrational task of building a baseball field in a cornfield. In so doing, ‘he’ will come. Thereafter Shoeless Joe Jackson, a bunch of Hall of Famers and ultimately his dad show up as ghosts and play on the field. I think of that line, when it comes to orphanages.
If you build an orphanage, you will be able to fill it up with children. You can get that institution up to capacity in no time. I’m not saying the kids should be there, I’m just saying they would come. The welfare office might send some, the community will send some, relatives of a child will send some. You’ll fill it up in no time.
Let me share a story that’s close to home for me. It’s about Moses.
My son was fatherless at birth. Whoever his biological father was, he never stood up. Tragically, Moses’ biological mother passed away from meningitis when he was only a month old. His family of origin, three days after his mother’s passing, brought Moses to the social welfare department. The social welfare department signed off and boom, he was in an orphanage. The relatives signed that they would come and take Moses on his third birthday to return to his family. But eight years after he was dropped off, Moses remained at the orphanage and experienced all the heartbreak of being an orphan left in an institution.
All of a sudden, God puts it on Melissa’s heart and subsequently mine that Moses is to be our son. He should no longer be an orphan. We got the process started with the orphanage directors who had faithfully prayed that Moses would get into a family. We’re so thankful for them. After that, we contacted a lawyer and we were on our way. One of the important pieces we needed was the consent of the family of origin. I thank God that we have a good relationship with the majority of Moses’ biological family, but that part of the process was the most maddening.
In the process of adopting Moses, we visited with various family members in four different homes in the area. Of those homes and the people that resided in each, I would say that three of those homes would have been more than suitable for an elementary boy to be raised. In fact, there were already kids there, relatives of Moses.
It was Moses’ destiny to be a part of our family and I would never have it any other way. But on a systemic level, this is very upsetting. Moses is not the only one either. I know other children that live in orphanages that have biological family that are able to care for them. And yet it doesn’t happen. That sin, unless confessed and repented of, is on those families. But it comes back to us as well, if we are feeding into a system that exacerbates fatherlessness.
From an American standpoint, this orphanage building is rather mind-blowing. Don’t you find it ironic that we go overseas and build and run orphanages, when in our own country we don’t allow them anymore? There was a time in our country’s history when there were American orphanages, but people realized it wasn’t a good system and did away with it. Wouldn’t it, then, make more sense to promote fostering and adoption in the majority world?
In wrapping up a blog like this, I feel as though I’m obligated to give some sort of disclaimer or caveat about all this, but it’s my unapologetic view that no child should grow up in an orphanage. There is foster care, adoption, kinship care and other alternatives that are not only more natural, but they are better in every way. Instead, of celebrating every time an orphanage is built, we should celebrate when an orphanage is shut down because all the kids got into families.*
*Further reading: I highly, highly recommend Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr, specifically his chapter on orphanages. I definitely pulled from his work in this post, specifically the last line and the final two paragraphs. It is my favorite book on orphan care and will alter unbiblical and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors we have concerning orphans.
A big part of what we do is advocating for orphans in our communities and strengthening the families of the local churches. This past Saturday I led a Kingdom Families conference at our friend, Pastor Evarist’s church in Bonite village. (Pastor Evarist is pictured in black and white). Grateful for my wife, Melissa, for coming up with this idea, as well as Brian, Patrick, Leah and Peter who filled out our team. This is how we affect change in Tanzania, we call on the church to rise up.
My son has nightmares just about every night. On a normal night, I get out of my bed, walk across the hallway and into his bedroom 1-3 times. On Monday night because the power was out and he’s also afraid of the dark, I went into his room nearly a dozen times. Ever since the adoption, my nights of good rest have been few and far between.
In our dreams, our subconscious works out the emotions, thoughts and fears that we aren’t aware of in our waking hours. With that in mind, it concerns me that every time I ask Moses what his bad dream was about, he tells me the same thing over and over. “I had a dream where I was running and crocodiles were chasing me and one bit my arm off.” Translation: “I don’t feel safe. I’m insecure. I’ve been trying to avoid serious danger my entire life.”
I know that this is residue in his spirit from spending the majority of his life as an orphan.
When a child grows up fatherless, the most immediate and constant issue is the lack of a felt-safety. The most natural instinct between a father and his child is the innate understanding that he will protect them at all costs. I see this with my own children, when they feel scared or unsure about a situation, they cling to me. It’s natural. I, for most intents and purposes, am a pacifist. I’ve never been in a fight and I am morally opposed to it it. But when I feel that someone is a threat to my family, all my philosophies go out the window and I’m ready to throw down. It’s also natural and in many ways is one of the key traits and responsibilities of a father. I protect my children.
But what about an orphan?
They become afraid and turn to a parent that isn’t there. It pains me to think of my son sleeping in a bedroom at the orphanage, having a bad dream and calling out to thin air, because I wasn’t there and Melissa wasn’t there to go in and comfort him, secure him and help him go back to sleep.
Children, by God’s design, are smaller and more vulnerable. In an ideal family situation, this is a good thing. It’s a good thing that my one year old son, Shepherd, isn’t as big as me. If he were, I wouldn’t be able to carry him away from dangerous situations or pick him up after he hurt himself learning to walk. It’s also a good thing that my daughter, Promise, is vulnerable to me and my wife. It’s with that soft heart that we’re able to mold her, guide her and disciple her into the wonderful, loving and kind woman that she’ll be.
However, given these truths about children, when they are detached from family and don’t have a parent looking out for them, fear and insecurity are the natural inclination. It’s a survival mechanism. Orphans are always in survival mode. What a stressful state to live in. I wish that I could say it were just a feeling too, the feeling of insecurity. I wish that I could say that they aren’t actually susceptible to such dangers, but they are.
Orphans are most likely to be abused sexually, physically, verbally and socially because there’s no one to protect them. Are we okay with this? >tweet this<
I know that there’s no shortage of reasons that people give to not adopt, to not foster, to not become a protector of orphans. “We haven’t been called to that.” “We don’t have enough money.” “My heart wouldn’t be in it.” “I’m not ready, I’ll do it when I (fill in the blank) first.” Meanwhile, orphans remain at-risk of serious danger on every front. Meanwhile, orphans are dying. Dying physically, dying emotionally, dying spiritually. This is real life, people.
At what point do we allow their drastic needs to outweigh our own? When do we decide that we are the ones that can make them secure?
Over the last few months, Psalm 127 has been on my mind and is deepening my theology on orphan care. At the end of July, I was blessed to teach out of this passage at our Kingdom Families Conference and frame the orphan care conversation in a new lens.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
Behold, children are an inheritance from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
You have the power to build something. Everyday I see people striving to build some sort of legacy. It’s really a part of our nature as beings created in the likeness of God. He is the Creator so we inherently want to create as well. This desire to build has led to the entirety of human progress. What the psalmist is saying here is that it is actually possible to build something apart from God’s design. We are able to build things and not have God involved in it whatsoever. He states such labor is vain. It’s useless.
As I was studying this text I couldn’t help but think about all the houses that have been built for orphans throughout the world. Houses that don’t have God’s design and don’t have the child’s best interest in mind. Even those with good intentions that build an orphanage or run a group home fall short. That’s not even to getting into the houses that exploit these vulnerable children for sinister purposes like sex slavery and child armies.
Throughout every society, orphans are the most susceptible and disadvantaged populace. As Christians, we must determine what kind of house it is that God’s building for them. Is an orphanage, even a Christian orphanage, the end-all design that God’s given? Is it foster homes or group homes where children often last short periods of time only to be passed on to the next house and then the next after that? Or is the house that God’s building something else?
I’m reminded of a quote by Johnny Carr speaking specifically about orphanages: “Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.” (Orphan Justice, pg. 65)
I’m overwhelmed with this understanding that we can pour ourselves into orphan care ministries and make sure that kids get fed and get a bed and we can smile at them and say “Jesus loves you” and yet, they remain an orphan. They remain disconnected because they received our best material resources, but never had the couple that went to bat for them and said “you are our child.”
When I see children that have been adopted, I see how they transform and meld into the family and I see the family evolve as God adds to their number. The child not only knows that they’re loved, but they are finally free to be the fullest expression of who they are in Christ. I can’t help but realize that this is the house that God is building. God is building families.
As God allows us to build our families through both procreation and adoption, we are saying yes to receiving our inheritance. Inheritance is normally associated with what children receive when their parents pass away, but that isn’t the meaning of this verse.
My children don’t receive my inheritance, they are my inheritance. >tweet this<
The legacy that we leave behind is our children. For the twenty years they’re in our home and all the years after that, we are investing in our own inheritance. We get to delight in our inheritance when we see our children succeed in their vocation, raise our grandkids or even when they mess up and we are privileged to be the ones to pick them up.
In Tanzania, adoption is not common. One of the reasons for this is because people understand that if they adopt, especially a boy, then they will have to split up their inheritance. This often involves family-owned land. For this reason, many people are hesitant to make an orphan their son. They view this is as reducing their inheritance, but this scripture says just the opposite. When we adopt, our inheritance actually increases and we have another arrow with which to advance God’s Kingdom.
What are you building? Are you satisfied with a house that is less than or totally other than what God is building?
I’ve come to this realization that at almost thirty years old, my life is going by and my kids aren’t getting any smaller. Next thing I know, another thirty years will go by and I’ll be sixty and still another and I’ll likely be dead. If this is the one life that I get and it’s over like a vapor in the wind, I don’t want to waste it building something apart from God’s design. Lord, let not my life be in vain. God has a special inheritance and a house in mind for me and for you, will you receive it?