The morning of December 26, 2004 was a beautiful day for many people spending time on the beaches of Thailand and Indonesia. No one was aware that something very ominous and deadly was happening below the surface of the Indian Ocean. That morning, the day after Christmas, a 9.1 earthquake brought about four separate tsunami waves in succession that killed more than 230,000 human beings.
Interestingly, fisherman in their boats that day, much further out to sea, felt an unusually strong lifting wave glide under their boats and then moving quickly towards shore. But because the waves were still so far out and not really that high, the power and destruction that they boded went unnoticed by most of them.
There is another kind of tsunami on the horizon in the world of adoption. For the first time in recent history, families are now adopting older children in record numbers because that is what is available to them. These children are coming to well-meaning families who have nothing but good intentions in bringing them to their new “forever family”.
The senior pastor of a thriving church and his wife were so excited when God added to their family through adoption. When they were presented with the opportunity to adopt two children internationally, they eagerly stepped forward in faith to be available however God wanted to use them.
This pastor and his wife, like thousands of families, had been touched by the need to give foster kids and orphans a family. They were excited to see how God would graft two lives into their little family. At first, all went well, but as the weeks turned into months, the behavioral issues of one of the children began to cause concern.
It became clear that this child was not connecting with the mother and was jealous of the other children. The pastor began to pray, not exactly sure what to do.
And then the hammer fell, the discovery that this older struggling child was abusing younger ones in their home. This led to desperation and a feeling like the wheels were coming off. It was not long before the pastor had to live in a separate location just to protect his other children. It was devastating and not the story they anticipated.
This type of story is playing out with greater frequency in hundreds, maybe thousands, of churches and few are prepared. Despite the amazing growth of the adoption and orphan ministry movement in America, few churches have a safety net of grace and care for these families. In fact many Christian families in post- placement crisis feel like they have been shunned by their churches.
With the reality that the vast majority of children to be adopted in the coming years are kids experiencing some form of PTSD, abuse, neglect and worse, we have a storm brewing that the Church is not prepared for.
However, just as with the effects of sin and rebellion, there is hope. That hope is not in behavior modification. That hope is not in science-driven faith in man-made systems. Rather, it is hope in the real and transforming power of the Gospel and God.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:2-5
We must realize that we have to be intentional now about building safety nets of community and care for adoptive families in the local church. Most families will not end up in circumstances as extreme as the family we described, but the effects of neglect that many adopted children arrive with will result in homes with stress and struggle that can lead to great turmoil—even despair. In most cases, these families struggle alone and in silence.
We must take steps now to provide Gospel-centric training to parents whom God has called to adopt at-risk children. There is much we can learn from how God parents His children. He sees us for who we really are. He entered the world to not only build relationship with us, but gave His life so that redemption and relationship might be eternal.
Building support groups or community for adoptive families is a great need. But the greatest need for our children is not to attach to us but be adopted into the family of God. As the Church encourages community and support, we pray that Gospel transformation will come to our children. Only with this transformational power, can there be real healing.
Have you felt the lifting up of your boat due to waves of crisis experienced by adoptive families in your church? It’s only the beginning. Now is the time to act. Preparing your church for the rough waves ahead can and probably will be what determines which families survive the crisis and which families will go under. Your church has a huge role to play. Don’t wait until a tsunami hits—have the lifeboats and life preservers ready before the storm.
Launched by Paul and Robin Pennington in 2001, Hope for Orphans (www.hopefororphans.org) has equipped thousands of churches and tens of thousands of families in orphan ministry, adoption and foster care through its resources, tools and events. Hope for Orphans recently released a digital parenting resource for struggling parents called ROOTED.