Notes from the Road Four: Adoption, Orphan Care and Illinois Cornfields

My return drive from Peoria to Chicago included a stop at the headquarters of Lifesong for Orphans, nested in the small town of Gridley, IL amidst a vast expanse of now-soggy cornfields. The founder of Lifesong, Gary Ringer, created Lifesong as a ministry outgrowth of his successful food processing business. The relationship between the two enterprises enables Lifesong to spend all the funds it raises entirely on direct services, and offers a remarkable vision of a businessman integrating his daily work with things of eternal value.

Lifesong brings together both adoption and overseas orphan care ministry—two ways of serving orphans that sometimes appear disconnected. Along with the ABBA Fund, Caroline’s Promise and Show Hope, Lifesong helps families with the costs of adoptions through both direct grants and loans, and also by helping set up and administer church-based adoption funds at no cost to the church. In addition, Lifesong helps support in-country care for orphans, in Zambia, Ethiopia, Honduras, Ukraine, India, and Liberia.

There’s sometimes a perceived (and even real) tension between advocates of adoption and advocates of in-country orphan care. But the truth is, the two are more interwoven than most people realize. Of course, not all organizations can blend the two. But what I see again and again is that adoption often becomes the catalyst for ongoing engagement with the cause of the orphans beyond one’s own adopted child. “You realize you can only bring home and care for a few through adoption,” expressed Andy Lehman, VP of Lifesong, who has two adopted and two biological children. “So you want to figure out how you can start serving the countless others.”

I was particularly struck by the story Andy shared of his brother and sister-in-law, who embody this point. Steve and Danae Lehman adopted a little girl from Ethiopia in 2007 named Eva. She’d been found abandoned by an old farmer named Gobena and his wife. The elderly couple took Eva in and cared for her “because she is the soul of God,” and finally took her to an orphanage, knowing they could not meet all her needs. Eventually, Eva was matched for adoption with the Lehmans. When they traveled to Ethiopia to pick up their new daughter, the Lehmans were deeply moved by the needs of so many other orphans. They were also impacted by the love of the humble farmer and his wife, who’d saved Eva’s life. So, when they returned, they launched Gobena Coffee, which today serves as an engine for fundraising for orphan care in Ethiopia. Stories like this are repeated again and again: adoption carries powerful gravity towards ongoing, whole-life engagement in the lives of other children as well, whether across the world or across town.