Derailing the international orphan train

by Janie B. Cheaney
Posted on Monday, April 29, 2013, at 10:43 am

It was a beautiful story, illustrated with photos of African babies firmly folded into white, homeschooling families. Delivered from war-torn, poverty-cursed countries, these children now had a chance to know and love the Lord. Christians were heeding the call, sounded from Saddleback Church and Focus on the Family, to go into all the world and adopt from all nations. And then, according to author Kathryn Joyce, the international orphan train went off the rails

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption shines an unwelcomed light on families who may have been a little too ardent, and agencies that were less than forthcoming about children’s availability and needs. Joyce tells of “orphans” with parents who believed they were sending their kids to America for educational opportunities. Other children were hastily placed with families who had no proper understanding of the trauma the children had endured during civil wars and famines. Misunderstandings led to punitive discipline and deprivation.

One of Joyce’s prime exhibits is Colin and Nancy Campbell, publishers of the venerable Above Rubies magazine, which promotes homeschooling, plain living, and lots of children (the Campbells are leaders in the “Quiverfull” movement, which Joyce documented in an earlier book). In 2005 the Campbells’ daughter and son-in-law, Sam and Serene Allison, added four Liberian children to their family of six. Or perhaps “added” is the wrong word, for the adopted kids, after a brief honeymoon, found themselves literally hewing wood and drawing water at the Allisons’ Tennessee homestead, while receiving little or no education. The oldest girl eventually ran away, and the boy was sent back to his homeland where he lived on scraps and caught malaria before friends of the Allisons rescued him again. Worse cases have come to light, such as children entrusted to homes where they were punished for perceived ancestral sins, some of them to death.

What to make of this? Lots of hay, if you’re a secular media outlet. An interview with Joyce on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and an excerpt from her book published in Mother Jones naturally generated nasty comments about Christians who are closet racists looking for heavenly brownie points or free labor. Joyce takes little note of the vast majority of successful adoptions into Christian families, as Christian adoption has a noble history and able defenders. But in spite of the book’s sensational title and worst-case-scenario coverage, it raises issues we need to talk about.

The foreign adoption boom began around 2006 and gave hundreds of poverty-stricken children a new chance at life, but it also offered a bonanza to unscrupulous operators and a soapbox to overzealous advocates. A few things to be aware of: Adoption is tough. We love reading about rescued children, but it’s too easy for us to turn the page on glossy photos of smiling multi-national families and move on. If we know such families we should be praying for them and offering any material and emotional support we can. Christian couples who are thinking of international adoption should proceed carefully and do their research—don’t succumb to the promise of quick and cheap. And be wary of promoters who equate their product with righteousness. Only Jesus can supply that: Fix your eyes on Him, and go where He leads you—which may not be the direction the current guru is pointing.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine based in Missouri. She writes novels for young adults, is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series, and reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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