Tuesday, 16 August 2016

When Normal Feels Broken - the long process of grief

We are nearly two months removed from the phone call we received indicating the end of our adoption process of Hamdali and Masad. During that time, we have experienced a rollercoaster of emotion. The grieving process requires time, and it often involves intense and sudden vacillation of sentiments. We are grateful for God’s peace in the process. Yet, a void remains. Becky summed it up this week as we were talking about the start of school and everything carrying on as usual. Right now, “normal” feels broken. Our "normal" is good and beautiful, but right now it feels broken.

The Gift of Community: For the last 30 years, we have attended a Christian Family Camp called Northern Pines. This year, we thought we might miss because we would be in Ethiopia finalizing the adoption, or perhaps back at home in the “cocooning” stage with our boys. However, in spite of the ache within our souls, we were so grateful for the gift of community in the midst of grief. I cannot count how many people approached us and let us know they cared for us and felt our loss. They did not try to offer advice or make it all better. They simply offered a hug, encouragement, and their prayers. We have experienced that same feeling from other friends and family, but camp happened to be an intense time with many friends – many whom we only see once a year – who offered the great gift of community – life together (to borrow from Bonhoeffer) during our time of lament.

Revisiting the Questions: As the school year begins, we have realized that we are re-engaging a new group of people who have waited, hoped, and rejoiced with us in anticipation of the adoption. Many of them had not yet heard that the adoption had fallen through. At the back-to-school picnic, we experienced many who asked if the boys had arrived or would be coming to school this year. Each time someone asks with great anticipation, “Are the boys home yet?”, we realize they had not yet heard our sad news.

In all honesty, I am grateful that so many ask. I am sad that our story does not have a happy ending right now. But this is the process of grief. We don’t have answers to the questions we ask. We still don’t understand why this has happened. This too, is part of the journey.

Two common questions have emerged, and we will attempt to answer them here:

What will happen to the boys? Can we keep in contact with them?  As we shared previously, the government required all the children from the orphanage to be returned to their families or villages in June. We do know that Hamdali and Masad’s birth mother came to meet them. Beyond that, we don’t know what has happened to them. Through two different sources, we attempted to see if we, or other organizations, could offer support to their family. In both cases, we were informed that the local government has made it clear that no one is to ask questions, seek contact, or try to interfere with the birth families, on threat of arrest. Sadly, in the near term, we cannot find out more. We will keep hoping and listening. We have met some missionaries working in the area, so, hopefully, we will know if the situation changes.

What will you do next? This question is largely related to what we will do next in the adoption process. Will we start over? Will we change countries? Will we stop all together? For now, we have reinstated our application and place on “the list” for adopting from Ethiopia. We have invested the last four years in connecting our heart and our family to the country. We do not feel called to change. However, we also know that adoptions from Ethiopia are becoming even more difficult. Only a couple of states in the country now allow them. The current political unrest is not helping the situation either. But, for now, we are back on the list, waiting and praying.

Prayers:  As a family, we continue to pray regularly for Hamdali and Masad. Their situation is not good. Unless circumstances change dramatically, their mother will continue to struggle to provide for them and help from other family members or the community did not emerge in the past (which is why they were at the orphanage). We pray that, somehow, their needs will be not only be met, but that they will thrive in life. We pray that, somehow, their mother will have the resources to care for them in ways she could not do previously. We pray for each of the other 27 children we met at the children’s home in Assosa. So many stories, so many smiling faces, so many needs.

If you are a praying person, please join us in those prayers. Pray for us as well, as we continue the slow journey of grieving a loss in our family. We had such a different idea of what this fall would look like. Those dreams will not become realities (at least not with Hamdali and Masad). What is normal does indeed feel broken. Yet, we are grateful for God’s peace as we continue this path. Pray too for what comes next.

Thank you for your fellowship in the journey.

Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live community” – Dietrich Bohnhoeffer, Life Together

Friday, 24 June 2016

Our Hearts are Breaking

Our Hearts are Breaking …

We are grieving. The boys will not be coming to our family.

Ten months ago, we got “the call” that brought two wonderful boys into our lives. The referral brought our adoption process into the final phase, and we prepared our hearts and our home to receive these two brothers. In November, I visited them. In March, we took the rest of the family to meet them. On Easter Sunday, our family of seven was together.

On Monday, we received a different call. The adoption process had ended. The regional government had forced reunification, returning the boys to their birth relative. It is among the most heartbreaking moments of our lives. Like a miscarriage, the pain of loss, the pain of unfulfilled hopes, the shift from joy to sorrow, and the feelings of confusion and questioning dominate our grief.

To summarize a much longer story, the government has determined that it is best for all of these children to remain in their region. While parents have a right to relinquish children, and have made the incredibly difficult choice to do so – even explaining their decision in multiple interviews – the officials have seen it differently. At this time, the regional entity has stopped all adoptions, regardless of where they were in the process, and mandated reunification.

We grieve our loss – and we pray for Hamdali and Masad. We pray that somehow, this birth mother, overwhelmed and under-resourced, can find a way to care for them. We pray that they will be safe, that they will somehow have even the most basic necessities that were previously impossible provided for them. We pray they will know they are still loved and they have not been abandoned, even as political agendas have taken precedence over the care for these particular children.

In our grief we have dozens of questions. What? What will happen to them, what happens if … what happens next … what happens to the children’s home and the caregivers …. what did they tell them … what did the children keep with them as they left … what do we do with this experience? What, what, what?

Who – who will care for them, who will advocate for them, who is watching out for them? Who, who, who?

Why … why have these decisions been made … why is this the position the officials have taken … why these kids .... why us … why now? Why, why, why?

These questions may never have answers.

What should we do next? Do we look into ways to advocate for them and make sure they receive the care they need?  What do we do with this experience? What comes next in our adoptive journey?

But mostly, we are grieving. We are grieving the loss of this version of our family. We are grieving. We are praying. We are praying for a broken system, for two little boys to know love and have their needs met, for a mother who is overwhelmed, for a future that remains uncertain.

We grieve. We pray. We ask for the grace to trust when we cannot see the reasons why nor the next steps to take.

We welcome your prayers in this journey.

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Last Wait (we hope)! (or let's go to Ethiopia anyway...)

The Hardest Part: They say the hardest part is the waiting. I'm not sure who "they" are, nor am I sure exactly for what they were waiting, but waiting is hard. That's not new. From your first cognizant Christmas, or for a visit from Grandma, or the end of 5th-period math, we learn early on that waiting is hard. Even Tom Petty agrees, sometimes the waiting is the hardest part.

For us, the waiting continues. Two months ago, we hoped our timeline would be 2-16 weeks. That timeline seems to have extended. Realistically, we are still 4-6 months from having the boys come home. In the meantime, we wait. That's the hard part.

But we do have good news. We are (theoretically) in the final wait. In January, we were waiting for two final pieces of paperwork from Ethiopia so that we could submit all the papers to US Customs and Immigration (the PAIR) process. That process took a little longer than expected in part because the Ministry of Women, Youth and Children’s Affairs underwent reorganization. For nearly a month, they were without a director or anyone who could sign the approval letters to complete the paperwork. However, things started to move again two weeks ago.

We received the final documents and signatures, and USCIS has received our paperwork. We are now in the final wait (we hope). If all the papers are approved, our next step will be a court date in Ethiopia – hooray! Unfortunately, PAIR approval by USCIS is taking an average of 4 months – (ughhhhh). The wait could be longer if USCIS requires additional documents or seeks to clarify materials in our packet. Such requests for evidence are not uncommon. They usually resolve but add to the timeline. Hopefully, we won’t need any more documents.

So that puts our court date most likely in summer. With another 4-6 weeks from court date to embassy date, it is probably another six months until the boys come home. While it is still a long time, it should be the final wait.

Going to Ethiopia: From the beginning, we had intended to take Austin, Caleb, and Micah with us on the court date trip in order for them to meet their brothers and experience Ethiopia. (I've been saving all those frequent flyer miles for a few years - one perk of international travel). However, as this process has dragged on, we realized that the court date is going to be unpredictable. We may have only a few days to get to Ethiopia once we get the news. So, in light of the changed timing, we decided to head to Ethiopia for Spring Break. Traveling now gives us a known timeframe and a chance for Becky and the boys to meet Hamdali and Masad much sooner than the 4+ month wait.

To say that everyone is excited is an understatement. We will spend 12 days in Ethiopia. We will visit the rock churches and ancient monasteries in Lalibela. (The background photo on this blog is one of these famous cross churches, carved out of solid stone). We will visit friends in Addis. And, most importantly, we will see the boys. It will be a glorious Easter for the Hunter family. We will share all about it in our  next blog post - it should be quite exciting.

Prayers and Thoughts Appreciated:  First, keep Hamdali and Masad in your thoughts and prayers. Just as we decided to go to Ethiopia, we received another piece of difficult news. The boys had been moved out of the Transition Home, back to the orphanage in Assosa (far western Ethiopia).  For our visit, this adds a minor complication of travel as we will have to add another trip to see them. For the boys, however, this is the fifth time they have moved since July. It is the third time they have moved to this orphanage. The reason for the move is purely political and tied to the pressures against international adoption in the country.

Legally, the orphanage is responsible for them until their court dates. Historically, they would transition children who are being adopted to the agency run homes. These moves were generally good for everyone. For example, at our agency’s home, the boys received better care, had daily access to nurses and a doctor, had better facilities and more education opportunities. Because of some of the political maneuvering, the orphanages required that all the children in process be relocated back to their original place.

This is hard as it is a step backward in both care – and I’m sure the boys’ sense of the process. However, we see a couple of positives in the negative. First, as with their move back to the orphanage in October, they are with a group of children who have been moved together each time. Therefore, they have some friends in the journey (in addition to each other as brothers). Second, the orphanage in Assosa is a place they know. This is the same place I visited in November. At that time, I was pleased with the care they were receiving. The facilities are spartan but adequate. While not as nice as those in Addis, we know they are receiving care. Finally, for our family, it will give us all one more window into their world. Becky, Austin, Caleb, and Micah will get to travel to their region and see a little more of their part of Ethiopia.

Pray for their hearts as they undoubtedly struggle with being moved around, as they try to understand the process, the wait, and what is happening to them at this time. Pray for their health as they live in the group setting, with all the challenges of so many kids together.

Pray for us as we travel. Pray that our time meeting Hamdali and Masad will be a special one for building lasting bonds and beginning the connecting process as a new family of 7.

Pray for all of us as we wait. It is hard. But, hopefully, we are truly in the final wait.

With gratitude,
Evan, Becky, Austin, Caleb, Micah, Hamdali, and Masad

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Last Christmas Without You

Melkam Gena – Merry Christmas! Today is the holiday of Gena, or Ethiopian Christmas, celebrated according to the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar. For several years now, our family has celebrated the holiday sharing an Ethiopian meal with friends. This past Sunday night, we did that again with our small group. Becky has learned to make a number of Ethiopian dishes, and even makes her own injeera (Ethiopian flat bread). The meals are always amazing.
This year, it is a special Christmas – our last Christmas as a family of five. Here are a few updates and thoughts as we pray that sometime in the next 2-12 weeks we will hear from the courts in Ethiopia and make a trip that direction.

Visiting the Boys in Ethiopia: It has been two months since I was able to visit our boys in Ethiopia. Two days before I left, we learned that the boys had been moved back to an orphanage in the city of Asosa, a ten-hour drive from Addis Ababa. After a whole series of logistical hoops, I was able to find a flight to Asosa and visit the boys there. How does one share the rush of emotions from something as special as that moment in a format like this? But suffice it to say, the time with them was amazing. What joy to see them, to hug them, and to begin getting to know them. Leaving Asosa that Monday morning was a feeling of sadness I had not felt in quite some time.

After the initial hesitant awkwardness of meeting someone for the first time (with 20 other kids all looking on), we found some ways to communicate and bond, despite the lack of a common language for conversation.  I shared small gifts with them; we were able to FaceTime with Becky and the boys back in Chicago, we played soccer. The kids danced and sang, we shared oranges together; they showed me their room, shared with the all the other boys in the orphanage. We looked at the photo books of the family (with their pictures interspersed on the pages), we read together, and we took silly photos together.

I have so many questions for them and look forward to the day when they can share in words their own thoughts, fears, and dreams.  I loved watching them interact with each other. I love the impish grin of one as he posed for selfies on my phone; the other, with a slower to come, but radiant smile that can light up a room.

What joy it was to play, to begin the long process of bonding together.

Last Christmas without You: Eight years ago, we purchased Dawn of Grace, the Christmas album by Six Pence None the Richer. On it was a song called The Last Christmas without You. That song became dear to our hearts as we would listen to it, anticipating the birth of Micah in February. We listened with tears in our eyes as the song depicts both the birth of Christ and the waiting for the birth of a family’s own child. This year, we did the same again. While we do not feel the heartbeat of a babe in the womb this time, we look at smiling faces in the photos we have. We watch videos I took on my visit in November, and we pray. So grateful this will be the Last Christmas – without them.

From The Last Christmas Without You  -by Six Pence None the Richer

I feel your heart beating inside my own skin
And I think of Mary in BethlehemThat night in a stable our Saviour was bornYes, we have so much to be thankful for
On the last Christmas, the last ChristmasThe last Christmas without you
They're choosing the colors, preparing your roomFor one day midsummer the advent of youTogether we wait for a heavenly giftIs winter a wonder? Enchanted that this is
The last Christmas, the last ChristmasThe last Christmas without you
See the stars shining from aboveHear the Seraphim singingPraise to the Giver of life and loveMaker of beautiful things
I feel your heart beating inside my own skinAnd I think of Mary in BethlehemWhen darkness was shattered the dawn of God's graceAnd the journey began to the first Easter Day
On this last Christmas, the last ChristmasThe last Christmas, the very last ChristmasThe last Christmas, the last ChristmasThe last Christmas without you

Hear the song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUXjB1XL0AE

Process Update: Since I visited the boys in November, we have seen some of the details progress. The boys are back in Addis. Two critical official steps have happened. We are now waiting for the Ministry of Women Children and Youth Affairs to offer their positive recommendation, match the boys paperwork with ours, and then (finally) receive word to come to Ethiopia for a court date.
We will likely make two trips to Ethiopia. The first will be the court date. Once that is complete, it often takes 6-8 weeks to get an appointment with the US Embassy to complete visa applications so the boys can travel to the US and become US citizens at that time.  So, our current window is somewhere in the next 2-16 weeks. It’s getting closer.

In the meantime, we wait and pray - grateful that next Christmas they will be part of our Gena celebration.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Happy Referral Day - Reflections on the great joy - and hard realities of "The Call"

It is three years to the day since we announced our adoption journey. It's also been 18 months since we last blogged. I guess that says something about how slow the process had been going.

Things have changed.

Today, I stepped off a plane in Asosa, Benishangul-Gumuz, a town in far western Ethiopia, to meet my sons. I'm still sorting through that.

In the meantime, here is a blog about our referral and hopefully a little insight into the great joy - and hard realities that are adoption.

Grateful for the support of many,

A family in transition

We Got THE Call

We got “the call.” This is the one we have been waiting for, dreaming of, longing for. Actually, we missed the call the first time. We got “the message” – “this is your agency, call us back.”

To be honest, I did not think it was going to be “the call.” I truly thought it was a call to say the agency was pulling out of Ethiopia. For the last three years, things in Ethiopia have become more difficult for international adoptions. Over the summer, individual states pulled back on or terminated overseas adoptions. (In Ethiopia each state has its own set of family laws – it adds to the fun – and bureaucracy – and probably has done wonders to curtail corruption …).  Wait times increased regularly. For months, the agency gave people the option to switch out of the Ethiopia program and into another country based program.  The Ethiopia program was in a financial bind as their revenue came primarily through processed adoptions – of which there were very few.

I had spoken with a friend the night before about these challenges and wondered if we would continue in the process if Ethiopia closed down.  I was not sure we would start over. Three years is a lot of time. But still we hoped and we prayed. We had determined to stay with the program until it shut down or we got the call.

Now, we had each missed a call from the agency. Becky and I spoke on the phone. She had great hope. I had great fear that this was the end (Rorschach tests need not be done).  She was at work. I was about to walk into a meeting at the library at Trinity. We made a three-way call to the agency.

“Happy referral day.” Those words ring in your ears for some time. The agency had a referral for us. This was the day. This was the call. This was like seeing the little pink + on the stick. It was giggles and deep breaths. This was amazing.

Then the coordinator said “they.” There were two. Two brothers. Two more boys to join our family. Five. Five boys. Oh wow. We had put openness to a sibling pair on the sheet. And now they were coming our way. Wow. Five.

We received their information. Prayed. Talked to the boys. And said yes. Happy referral day.  Five. Five boys. Lord, how exciting. Lord, please help us. Lord, please protect them.

“Happy Referral Day”
Those words are still amazing. I can find the email with the boys details in a heart beat. I have read and re-read it a number of times. I have stared at the picture of these little guys (pictures cannot be posted online during the adoption process for protection of the children and the fact that they are not legally part of our family yet. But be forewarned they will come. These guys are incredible).  I have laughed. I have cried. And I continue to pray – for them, for us, for this new family of 7 – 5 boys – plus a mom and a dad. I feel overjoyed. I feel whelmed.

For us, this day is truly happy. We have dreamed, longed and waited. But what is it like for them? For them, this is still a moment of loss. Adoptions happen when things break. That is a hard reality in the process. Adoptees have experienced pain. We pray that joining our family will be part of God’s redemptive healing in their lives. However, we do not forget that when someone says how lucky these boys are, that this part of their journey began with loss. Happy referral day only comes when the kids have lost something near and dear – their family.

 We have received part of their story. We have received a small idea of their loss. Their father passed away two years ago. How do young boys process that? The youngest was only two; the older perhaps five or six. Losing a father at such a young age leaves a permanent mark on one’s life.  How do they handle it?

They came to the orphanage earlier this summer. After trying to make it work for a couple of years, their mom could no longer do it. Apparently, extended family could not help either. They became wards of the state. They entered the orphanage. How do they make sense of that? What do they understand of this process and what is happening to them?

By the time they were referred to us, they had been moved from their home region – in far western Ethiopia to the orphanage in Addis. From what we have learned, theirs is a poor region, a fairly remote part of Ethiopia. We assume their life was one of agrarian subsistence. They speak a local language, not the national language of Amharic. They have not yet been to school. Passing any grade will likely eclipse their parents’ education.

Moving to the capital was already a significant change in their world. How will they even conceive of moving to another country and becoming part of another family?

Do they feel the same “happy” feelings for this adoption? Are they scared? Do they just want to go back home? Do they have hope?

When someone says to them that God had a plan for them to be part of their family, how will they hear and understand those words? Will it communicate that God somehow took their family away so that they could be part of ours? In adoption, we often view the process through the eyes of the adoptive parents who have waited and hoped; and for whom it is truly a happy day. But for the kids, it is a time of real loss. Someone has died. Someone has decided that the best thing for their child is to be given to the orphanage – perhaps in hopes of an adoption.  Someone has moved far from home and family. Someone has been deeply wounded. Adoption comes from a hard place.

In that hard place, I hope that our boys will also come to see it in a redemptive way, It is not so much God took their family away, but rather when things fall apart (to borrow from Achebe), God finds ways to make beauty from the mess. In God’s grace, there is a new home for these boys. The loss is real, but we pray that they will also embrace the hope.

As we celebrate, we do so with great concern for these boys and how they will make sense of this event. This will not be a one-time thing, but rather an ongoing process. In many ways, we are all doing this, trying to make sense of our lives – whether we have very clear and direct wounds and scars, or we just wrestle with our own existence and purpose. However, for adoptees, there is much that can make this happy day a very hard day as well. In our joy, may we not forget that it comes because these boys are in a hard place.

We have so many questions; so many prayers; so much love for these boys. May God’s redemptive grace be near.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A Little Girl Will Have a Forever Family Next Month - rejoicing with friends in their adoption

Sitting at breakfast during a consultation last past week, I became acquainted with a new friend who is completing an adoption in Ethiopia. In fact, he and his wife hope to pick up their daughter from an orphanage in Addis Ababa next month. They are so excited that after a year of waiting, the day of her coming home has finally drawn near. I rejoice with them and join them in prayer for this great day. 

In the course of our adoption journey, we have met many adopting couples and rejoice with each of them in the growth of their families. What makes this story different from the adoption stories of many of our friends is that Anwar and his wife are Ethiopian. They are part of a small, but growing number of Ethiopians pursuing domestic adoption. This is a great thing in helping more children  know the love and security of a forever family.

Domestic adoption plays a vital role in caring for the children whose lives have been disrupted through the loss of parents through disease, poverty, war and the realities of a broken of our world. International adoption agencies lead much of the work in in-country adoption and in-country adoption awareness overseas. My friend and his wife are in fact conducting their adoption with the help of an international adoption agency. 

Recently, our own agency, America World, shared this photo of an ad they sponsor in Addis Ababa promoting in-country adoption. 

Earlier this year, much was written about the “market” created by foreign adoption that fuels corruption in the system. First, let me be clear, all corruption must be eradicated wherever it is found. However, corruption is not the norm. Most adoption agencies want to care for kids, who through the circumstances of their lives are now up for adoption. Parents motivated out of love, no matter whether from within the country or from without, have a great love for that child they will adopt. It is so great to see these agencies partnering with parents - international and in-country - to provide loving families to children. Far from a "market," most involved with adoption really do want to care for kids as best as they can.

For us this is a long process with lots of waiting.This morning, we met with our case worker to update our home study and renew several items of paperwork.  As we talked with her, updated and confirmed things about our family that have happened in the last year, it continued to make us think of this little one out there.

 Beyond that, there is not much new to report. Our paperwork has been in Addis Ababa for about a year. It could be up to two more - or we could receive a call tomorrow. We don’t know. But we do know that we love this little person already - whoever they might be and look forward to a time, like Anwar and his wife, when we are counting the days until that special someone’s arrival.

For now we wait - and celebrate with friends in their time of joy!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Feast and a Fast

Our Feast: This week, our family celebrated Ethiopian Christmas for the second time since entering the adoption process. Becky made defo dabo (Ethiopian Christmas bread) doro wat (chicken with spices) and two lentil dishes. She even braved her own injera for the meal. Everything was wonderful – and her injera was quite tasty. I may be biased, but my wife is a very good cook when it comes to Ethiopian food.

This year, friends joined us for the celebratory meal who have adopted from Ethiopia. Their daughter gave Becky full marks for her execution of an authentic Ethiopian meal and shared a few tips she remembers from cooking, even as a very young child. It was so fun to hear their stories of life and travels in Ethiopia as we enjoyed the food and celebrate Christmas together.

Our Ethiopian Christmas feast is one more way we are continuing to learn about Ethiopian culture. In doing so, our hearts are drawn more and more to this wonderful nation and its rich history and culture. We continue to pray for this person, whoever they may
be, who will, God willing, be part of our family soon. Melkam Gena!

The Fast: No sooner has our Ethiopian Feast wrapped up then we are turning our attention to an Ethiopian fast.  Over the next few days, many involved in international adoptions in Ethiopia will pray and fast about the future of adoption within the country. From January 9-11 government leaders will meet to consider reforms and changes to the intercountry adoption system.

The government has published a research paper commenting on the gaps within the current adoption laws of the country. Having read the 44 page document, none of the concerns are new and some of the solutions seem obvious (see comments and thoughts below). However, at the same time, group, with a variety of motivations has also started to call for the end of international adoptions. Over the next few days, many will join in fasting and prayer for the meetings, the country of Ethiopia and our own pursuit of a call to adopt..

Our agency has posted the following prayer items. I would also add prayers for all of the families, like our own, who are in the midst of this journey. If you are willing, please join us in this prayer:

·      Praying for Ethiopian government officials to be convicted of the need children have to grow up in a family and for international adoptions to remain open;
·      Praying for advocates in Ethiopia and around the world to speak up on behalf of orphans and vulnerable children;
·      Praying for an end to any corruption, deceit, inappropriate work regarding adoption;
·      Praying for prospective adoptive families who are anxiously awaiting news of the Ethiopian government’s decision;
·      Praying for wisdom and guidance for our agency staff as we seek to respond wisely to whatever news we hear from Ethiopian officials.

Thoughts on the complexity of Adoption:

Comments on the Paper Concept and Procedure of Adoption Services, The challenges and other alternatives.

The paper, prepared by the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, traces the history and current status of adoption in Ethiopia.  It documents gaps and challenges within the current system and proposes action steps, and particularly alternatives to adoption within Ethiopia. The entire document is available at www.awaa.org.

From my experience in the adoption community, most are motivated by some of the values expressed in the paper. First and foremost, the belief that children thrive best when raised within the framework of the family. This is in keeping with the biological design of the human race, as well as in keeping with the descriptions we receive of God as Father – and in having maternal care for His people. However, due to a variety of circumstances (which Christians would consider the result of the fall), many children are denied this opportunity. According to the paper, in 2006 the number of full orphans (without both biological parents) in Ethiopia exceeded 3.5 million. Many agencies list the total orphan number closer to 5 million. Orphans make up about 5% of the population in Ethiopia. To give perspective, if they were a city in the US, the number of orphans in Ethiopia would rank third behind only New York and Los Angeles (within official city limits) and would have more residents than the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis, Denver or St. Louis . Ethiopia has a significant orphan challenge.

When life within the biological family is not possible, the next best is an alternative permanent family. When possible, domestic adoption, whether by relatives or by unrelated families. This belief motivates most adoptive families. They genuinely feel called to extend their family to another child, bringing them fully into their home, their life and extending every right and obligation as a permanent member of the family.

Community based care is a very good alternative that keeps children within their larger cultural communities and provides support for the child so that they can grow and thrive despite a lack of family resources.  The work of Compassion, World Vision and other similar organizations maximize this model to provide quality care for children (not just orphans, but families who cannot meet all the basic needs of life). Such models provide holistic care for children in ways that keep them from having to enter into institutions.

Institutional care (orphanages) are the least desirable. The challenges of children raised in institutions are well documented – and known popularly through many of movies and stories (think Annie, Despicable Me, Meet the Robinsons, to name a few my kids have seen recently). Orphanages in many nations are rife with problems. Many are run well, with loving staff and quality care. In every one, children long for a permanent home and, what our agency calls a “forever family”.

The paper delineates a number of challenges in the current system and laws. Corruption, notably the deceptive recruitment (or even outright stealing of children) for adoption has received considerable attention in the last several years. Tightening of laws to verify orphan status and explore all familial adoption possibilities prior to adoption are one reason the process is so slow.

Critics of adoption say the practices itself fuels the corruption and has led to the creation of an “adoption industry” and the creation of orphanages, not for the care of children, but simply to meet adoptive needs.  

Many of the challenges listed in the paper related to the lack of control and oversight exercised by the Ethiopian government over the adoption process. In addition, the adoption laws, though recently revised still do not specifically address a number of items. Examples contained in the paper include:
·      The lack of stipulation for minimum and maximum ages of adoptive parents. They give the example of 70 year olds adopting infants whom they will not live long enough to raise into adulthood and 25 year olds adopting 17 year olds. 
·      The lack of stated economic capacities of adoptive parents as raising children is expensive.
·      The fact that no minimum length of stay is legislated when parents meet their adoptive children as is done in some other nations.
·      Laws do not adequately address issues of married and unmarried parents or the number of total children and adoptive couple might have.
·      Concern for cultural identity is also addressed.

The paper concludes with a priority for domestic adoptions and community based care. Orphanages are reiterated as the least desirable option.

The challenge of orphans in Ethiopia (and the world) is complex. The numbers can be staggering. Consequently, the solutions will require efforts on multiple fronts. Many of the items outline in the paper can be fixed with simple legislation. Greater oversight and regulation will be good when it prevents corruption in the system. I whole heartedly agree with the promotion of domestic adoption and encouraging greater care for vulnerable children from within communities. Such endeavors are not at odds with intercountry adoption.

Eliminating international adoption, however, does not alleviate the problems described in the paper. International adoption is one tool in the kit to addressing the issue of millions of orphans in Ethiopia. When done well (and I believe quite a few organizations are doing it well), international adoption can help promote the reforms needed to address the gaps in orphan care in Ethiopia. Many in international adoption are considerable advocates for the care of children – not just those adopted into their own families, but also those who remain in need of care – by communities, and, we pray, one day with forever families.

We can and should continue to educate adoptive families on Ethiopian culture, maintaining connections to that culture and raising adopted children with a real sense of identity to their cultural and national heritage. This is possible in international adoption.

Corruption in the adoption system is a serious problem. We must do everything to eliminate it. Yes, the corruption comes because there is money involved. However, eliminating adoptions still leaves millions of orphans in need of care.  Institutional care and their challenges will not simply disappear. Exploitation will not disappear. We live in a broken world. Abuse has happened in adoptive families – but abuse sadly happens in biological families as well. Such issues remain in all forms of orphan care – domestic adoption, community care and international adoption. All three groups can and should work together, for the sake of the children. They are the ones who matter in this conversation.

Left unaddressed in the paper are the broader societal issues that also play a role in the orphan challenge of Ethiopia (and so many other places). Societal changes, poverty and disease are contributing factors to the need for orphan care. These issues obviously extend beyond the scope of direct adoption reform, but they speak to the need for reflective holistic approaches to complex problems. These, too, are issues that require prayer and thoughtful action. These, too, are issues for which we must advocate in our care and concern for the children –and for the nation.

So over the next few days, we will wait and pray for the nation – for the lawmakers – and most of all for the millions of children who need to be loved by families, just as they are loved by their heavenly Father. May they, each one, know that love tangibly.