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Papa of pop

Music star Steven Curtis Chapman promotes adoption on tour

Christian pop star Steven Curtis Chapman is challenging sold-out crowds on his current "All Things New Tour" to undertake the biblically mandated task of caring for orphans. And his audience is listening.

Having performed in 60 of the tour's 70 cities alongside accompanying acts Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns, Mr. Chapman's efforts have generated nearly $2 million in donations as well as interest from around a thousand prospective parents. "The response has been double what we expected," said Scott Hasenbalg, executive director of the benefiting adoption charity Shaohannah's Hope.

With some worldwide estimates of orphaned children ranging as high as 40 million to 50 million, the need for such pro-adoption messages is overwhelming. Where other celebrity advocates might come off as performing public relations, Mr. Chapman (who picked up two more of gospel music's Dove awards on April 13, pushing his total to 49) has proven his devotion to the cause with sleepless nights and a hectic family schedule. The Chapmans have adopted three baby girls from China.

At a show in Tyler, Texas, last fall, concertgoers witnessed Mr. Chapman's sincerity firsthand when his adopted 5-year-old daughter and the charity's namesake proudly introduced herself as "Shaohannah Hope Yan Chapman, Disney Princess!" Mr. Hasenbalg took the stage next for a brief presentation on adoption. "She was a tough act to follow," he said.

In other cities Mr. Chapman shares his story and shows a brief video before passing the microphone to Mr. Hasenbalg for nuts-and-bolts directions on how to get involved. Melody Moore, a 19-year-old Chapman fan, attended the April 9 concert in Nashville, Tenn., and described the presentation as inspiring: "I definitely want to adopt one day-a little girl form China."

Like many families, the Chapmans were initially resistant to adoption when their oldest child Emily began a campaign for it in the late 1990s. Mr. Chapman's wife, Mary Beth, worried she could not love a baby with whom she had no biological connection. Holding Shaohannah assuaged such concerns instantly, however, and Mrs. Chapman was hooked.

Soon after, several close friends intimated desires to follow the Chapmans in international adoption but could not afford the $15,000 to $20,000 price tag. "Mary Beth started writing checks," Mr. Hasenbalg said. As the need grew, the Chapmans established the Shaohannah Hope fund through Bethany Christian Services. Two years ago, the fund graduated into an independent charity, offering grants to help defray the costs of adoption.

The Chapmans continue to pour time and money into their organization, most recently publishing a children's book given out free of charge to pledging donors along the tour. Two anonymous friends of the charity secured their respective copies with matching-funds gifts of $250,000 and $500,000-money included in the $2 million figure.

In the long term, Mr. Chapman envisions Shaohannah's Hope as a tool to spread the adoption message on a grassroots level. "Our first goal is to get people to turn to their local churches," the five-time Grammy-award winner says in a video on the charity's website. "This is something a whole body needs to come around."

The number of adoptions worldwide in a given year hovers steadily around 120,000-roughly 100,000 of those within the United States. With Africa's AIDS crisis orphaning millions, the need exceeds that number by several hundred times. "Most people are intimidated by adoption because there are so many layers you have to go through," Mr. Hasenbalg said. "The church has fallen short."

Many churches spend far more time railing against abortion than advocating adoption. Mr. Hasenbalg considers the issues inherently connected: "A stance for adoption is a stance against abortion. They go hand in hand." And unlike pro-life arguments, adoption is one cause no group can shout down-at least not in the court of public opinion.

Mrs. Chapman says she never felt closer to God than when she held her first adopted daughter-making real the theological picture of God as an adoptive father. "We raise our arms to the God who adopts every Sunday," Mr. Hasenbalg said. "We're hoping churches grab this."

Mark Bergin

Mark Bergin