This month’s Christianity Today contains three perspectives exploring ways that church communities can encourage and aid adoptive families. The response I wrote for CT is below and I’d definitely encourage you to read the two other articles as well–by Johnny Carr and Megan Hill. All three are now online: How Can Churches Best Support Parents Who Adopt from Overseas?
Every orphan’s journey begins with a tragedy, and usually, it gets worse from there. This is true for the orphans of hiv/aids, abandonment, and civil war, as well as for the child entering foster care due to severe neglect or abuse. They have tasted the world at its most broken. If we the church open our lives and hearts to them, we will taste some of that pain as well.
But the orphan—whether literally parentless or simply bereft of the nurture parents should provide—also comes with an invitation. He or she offers the church the chance to grow a culture of hospitality that receives all in the same way we would welcome Christ himself.
Not every Christian is called to adopt or foster or mentor. But every Christian community is called to embody the “pure and faultless religion” that embraces the orphan and the widow in their distress (James 1:27). How do Christian communities do this? By practicing a winsome, sacrificial vision for redemptive hospitality.
Redemptive hospitality is first a matter of the heart. The vulnerable child represents the presence of Christ among us in a special way (Matt. 18:5). Yet often he or she arrives in the distressing disguise of special needs, deep emotional and psychological wounds, and behavioral problems that require uncommon patience. He or she may bring these hurts to Sunday school, youth group, and gatherings with friends.
Complaints from teachers or an annoyed glance from down the pew can wither an adoptive parent’s heart. But patience, grace, and words of encouragement to parent and child give new life.
When my wife and I were adopting, several families helped us bear the financial costs. Our community of faith celebrated and gave gifts. A retired woman did most of our grocery shopping to help carry our happy load of five young children.
Through my work with the Christian Alliance for Orphans, I get to see church communities across the country and beyond living out redemptive hospitality in creative ways. Young adults offer babysitting to give adoptive and foster parents a break. Empty nesters run errands and help with yard work. An orthodontist provides free services to the children in adoptive and foster families. At times, this is as simple as inviting over for barbeque the “extra-large family” or one with special needs that seems to require too much support for typical social gatherings.
All these acts convey something supremely valuable to both parent and child: You are most welcome here. Redemptive hospitality affirms that the responsibility of loving and healing the wounded child is not the task of one family alone, but of the entire church community.
As we do this together, we offer a compelling witness to the world—and to each other—of unparalleled beauty: the redemptive hospitality that declares the true presence of Christ and his kingdom.