NOTE: Our guest blogger is Rev. Charlie Abbate, pastor of Cornerstone Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania.
"Well what's going to happen to her?" I asked. "You know what'll happen to her," my wife answered back. "Then we're going to host this girl." At that moment, my wife and I took a step in faith that resulted in us adopting a 15 year old girl from Russia. And the timing couldn't have been worse.
We had adopted before. After having three children "the old fashioned way", we prayerfully decided to adopt our youngest daughter, our little redheaded nine month old infant, from Russia. As a good friend and fellow adoptive father likes to say, "It's easy to pray when you're in the middle of an adoption, especially when you're in Russia."
But nothing else about it is really easy -- the process is anything but smooth, curveballs come at you from all directions and doubt surrounds you. Prayer is easy, though, because you need the comfort of the Father! Philippians 4:6-7 became my go-to verse time and again. In the end, we came home with our little Mary and life went on. Sharing the joys of childbirth with your wife is an amazing thing. Adopting a child is similar in that there's a new mouth to feed, a new personality in the mix and a heightened awareness of God's sovereign love. But it's also different. Adopting a child made me and Cheryl (my wife) - and others we know who've also adopted - keenly and piercingly aware of God's love in adopting us as his children.
We adopted Mary when life was simple. Cheryl and I had been married for thirteen years. I was an independent sales rep for a national direct sales company and was doing well. My schedule was flexible enough to allow for the traveling the adoption required. My income was sufficient to cover the significant costs. Thankfully, the major hurdles of international adoption were not too hard on us, and we had family close by to watch our other three children.
But this was different. Two years after adopting Mary, life wasn't so simple. We had sold our home and moved to the Philadelphia area so that I could study at Westminster Theological Seminary. God had made it clear to me that he was calling me to a life in the ministry and pursuing my Master of Divinity at Westminster was the first step. Seminary is a tough season of life: finances are stretched thin, there's never enough time to study, and the balancing of studies, family and work often feels like walking the tight rope over Niagara Falls. In the middle of all this, we got the phone call.
The voice on the other end was a friend of ours. She and her husband had adopted two children from Russia and were now involved in a hosting program specifically designed to bring older orphans to the U.S., in the hopes that the host family, or someone they knew, would adopt them. This friend had approached us a few weeks before asking if we would host one of the kids. We said no.
No! I was in seminary, I was still traveling in order to make money, we were barely paying our bills and the thought of hosting a child that we knew we couldn't even consider adopting seemed unfair, even cruel. No. We said no and we were OK with recognizing our own limitations. A week and a half later we got the second call. This time it was more specific, and more personal.
There was a girl. Fifteen years old. She had been to the U.S. the year before as part of this hosting program. A woman decided to adopt her. To make a long story short, this fifteen year old girl was all packed up and ready to go home to be with her new American mother when she was told the woman wasn't coming. The "why" doesn't really matter, does it? This girl was abandoned. Again. Both her parents died a few years earlier and now her new mother wasn't coming.
But now, she was coming to America. Again. And this time, it was her last chance. She'd be here in June. In September, she'd turn sixteen years old. At sixteen, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) won't allow a person to be adopted. So what would happen to this girl if she comes here and doesn't find an adoptive family?
You can look up the statistics for yourself. Even if you don't, with little effort, your imagination will carry you to the dark and horrific circumstances that are the reality for a sixteen year old girl, with no family and no resources, on the streets of Russia. This is the story that my wife heard from our friend, which she then relayed to me. What could we do? We had to make a decision and we didn't have the luxury of time.
When decisions of significance must be made in our lives, how do we go about deciding which option is best? For example, when we buy a home, we study the finances, the home inspection, the school system - we look at the facts and make a decision. If you've ever invested in anything from a single stock to an equity position in a business, you do your due diligence. You don't make a decision until you have all the facts. The facts tell you what are the odds of success and, if you decide against the facts, well, then you are a fool. Even buying a car, or a laptop, isn't done without some level of investigation.
Kids are different, though. If you have children, do you remember when you decided to have your first child? I do. We had a great marriage, I had a decent job, we had a two-bedroom apartment, and we figured we had enough money to pay for food and clothing. Done. Let's have a baby! And everyone we knew said, "Horray!" And don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against that. Children are a blessing from God, no doubt! But when the sentence changes from "We're going to have a baby" to "We're going to adopt," things change. All of a sudden the qualifications of good marriage, sufficient income and a home aren't enough. All of sudden, we need to look at the facts
When you choose to adopt, you don't get asked about baby names, you get questions like, "Who is this child you're thinking of adopting? What kind of medical information do you have? What do you know about the birth parents? What if this and what if that?". Every adoptive parent asks the same questions. And most people who know and love a couple who is thinking about adopting ask similar questions. These questions usually come out of a real love and legitimate concern for the couple and the family into which that new, adopted child will come. The same questions were asked of us when we adopted Mary. The answer to the questions, again and again, was faith.
We had faith in the God who loved us enough to adopt us, sins, scars, imperfections and all, into his holy family. We had faith that just as he knew each of our children before they were born, he knew that Mary was for us, even though she was conceived and born in a different country, by different birth parents. We had faith.
But Mary was an infant. We were now talking about adopting a teenager. We were talking about upsetting the birth order of our children by bringing in a new oldest child. Our social worker who worked with us when we adopted Mary told us we were crazy. Was this faith or stupidity? Were we about to commit, as one person told us, familial suicide?
So we prayed. As all Christians know, prayer is an amazing thing. We who are finite and frail have the ability to speak directly to the Creator of all things - this is a thought that amazes me! We prayed and prayed and asked everyone we knew to pray. The day we got the phone call about Ana, the girl who would become our oldest daughter, our hearts were open to the idea of adopting her.
Why? I don't know, except that God had given us such hearts. It was all of him, as all good things are. We even asked each other, why are we considering this? Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and other places in God's Word tell us of the spiritual gifting of the saints. As one body of Christ, we are made of many parts, each necessary and each different. Adoption seemed to be one way that we could serve the Lord.
But we are not alone. God has given so many others a heart that is sensitive to the needs of the orphans. Some satisfy that sensitivity by providing the finances necessary to make adoptions happen, some build orphanages, some give clothing, some pray without ceasing. We decided to take this teenage girl into our family.
In the same way that a minister's internal call to ministry must be confirmed by the external call and confirmation of the church, our internal desire to adopt Ana was confirmed by the body of believers around us. We were continually confirmed through unbelievable, "hand-of-God" financial support, often in stunning ways that can only be explained by the power of God. We were confirmed by friends who loved us, telling us that they agreed with our decision, even encouraging us to move ahead. We've since been confirmed by watching our other children embrace their new big sister, loving her, helping her learn English, and taking her in as one of us.
In my opinion, the doctrine of adoption is sorely under-taught in churches across our country. Reformed congregations usually have a good grasp of justification by faith. We get the Biblical truth that, in spite of our sin and rebellion against the holy and living God, God acted according the counsel of his own perfect will to provide a means by which we are saved through faith alone in the finished work of the Son, applied by the Spirit.
But we are adopted. Adopted by the Father! Adopted. Received into the number of and with a right to all the privileges of the sons of God, as the Confession puts it. We will never be turned away, never be forsaken, and never be abandoned. In other words, because of God's amazing grace, we will never face the prospect of what our oldest daughter faced and so many like her around the world face daily: abandonment. Orphaned. Left alone.
Rather, loved by God and called as his, we are secure in God's electing love. What a tremendous truth! What tremendous hope we find in the doctrine of adoption! And what a blessed opportunity, to live that truth and walk in that hope we have, by adopting children into our own families, children who would otherwise never see in real life what God has done for all of us as Christians.
Three years later, my wife and I sometimes think back to that initial conversation we had. We think about the life of one girl, whom God in his abundant grace, placed in our lives. We still don't know what the future holds, but we know that we have a daughter. Our other children have a big sister. We struggle with all the issues that every parent of a teenage girl struggles with. But we thank our God that he has allowed us to show forth the love he has for us, by allowing us to adopt children into our family.
What can you do? Pray for the orphans. Pray that God would continue to raise up couples who love Jesus and who walk in the blessedness of his salvation to adopt children. And, if that is not you, pray about supporting those in your church who are doing this. If you can't do that, pray for them! Love the children they adopt. I can tell you that six years after adopting Mary, and three years after adopting Ana, none of us would trade our family for another. We praise the Lord for his grace and the blessing of adoption - first into God's eternal family and then for permitting us the privilege of picturing this in our earthly family. There is no greater joy. Adopt.The theme for the 2011 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology is Children of God: Adopted into the Father's Love. You can register here.