Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why we are adopting

I wrote this about a month ago for the local Christian news magazine to be distributed to all of the churches in the area. When I submitted it, I was informed of the serendipitous nature of things as the next issue was going to focus on foster care and adoption, so it fits in quite well. However, I had to shorten it down considerably. It's over 1400 words, and the normal article space is 500 words. The version that will be published should be just under 800 words. To this is the full version.

At the end of the movie Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler breaks down in tears. “I could have got more out,” he cries, “I could have got more.” A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Schindler factory in Krakow, Poland. Schindler had saved the lives of over 1,100 Jews during World War II, yet here he is admonishing himself because he could have done more.

“Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.” He intimates this thought to his friend Itzhak Stern. He takes his lapel pin off and continues, “This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. I could have gotten one more person,” he’s sobbing at this point, “and I didn’t! And I … I didn’t!”

This is one of the most powerful scenes in any movie ever produced. It’s also a stark reminder of the eternal reality we as Christians must face. Do we honestly believe what we say we believe? Is the world facing real eternal peril?

Jesus was very serious about this. He brought it up multiple times. One young man came to him asking what he could do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus responded, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21) In the same way, he told his disciples, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

And I’m reminded once again of Oskar Schindler lamenting his inaction, “I threw away so much money.” He wasted his money on the temporary pleasures of life when he could have saved lives with the money and resources he had at his disposal.

There are a lot of very strong verses in the Bible about rich people. They aren’t opposed to wealth, but they do warn about what comes with riches. Temptations, idolatry, murder, slander, all forms of evil. I’ve always thought these verses were for other people. I don’t have much money, much less than a lot of people around here. But I live in the United States of America, and even though I’m well below the median income level, I’m still in the top 5% of the wealthiest people in the world (according to globalrichlist.com).

I’m not alone in this regard. Earlier this year, Fidelity Investments released the results of a survey that found 46% of millionaires “didn’t feel wealthy in 2009.” In fact, 58% of them claimed they needed $1.75 million to feel wealthy. In survey after survey, the majority of people don’t believe they are rich even when they are millionaires.

And I am still in the richest 5%. Half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 per day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. I can’t even buy lunch for $10.

Needless to say, I cannot ignore these verses, like in 1 Timothy 6, that commands those who are rich to not “put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God.” Or in James 1, which instructs the rich to “take pride in their humiliation.”
But what is the response to all of this? Should I just feel bad about myself for having so much while many are perishing in this world?

The Apostle Paul commands us, “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18) It leaves me with one solution: If I am blessed with good things, I am to give to those in need. God has provided me with food, clothing and a home. Anything past this is luxury for much of humanity. Certainly I can look at what I have and make sacrifices to my comfort to even save one more person.

The Apostle John went even further saying, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18) Does this really mean that if I hold onto my possessions when another is in need that God’s love is not in me?

James teaches us that, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) This seems to be a very straight-forward verse, yet why is it so radical? This word “religion” means “worship,” or “ceremonial observance.” Why doesn’t the Church view caring for orphans and widows as a vital part of our worship?

So this is what my wife and I are doing: Last year we started the process of adopting children. We contacted our local Department of Public and Social Services, had our background checks, attended many hours of training, and now we’re on the list to receive children any day now. This is something just about everyone can do, and unlike the common perception it doesn’t cost a thing.

We took a look at our budget, and we’ve decided the needs of children are more important to us, and to God, than owning two cars, owning a home, frequent restaurant visits, cable television, etc. These things that seem so inconsequential to middle-class America were barriers to “pure and faultless” worship. They were (literally) a car we sold to buy beds for the children. I don’t have a gold lapel pin, but I would have been willing to sell that as well if I could have “gotten one more.”

These are meager sacrifices for what seems like nothing compared to what Oskar Schindler managed, but we’re a meager family doing what we can.

Schindler lived just miles from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, a real and present evil. We also visited these camps, and it’s really a life-changing experience. But we live in a world where 22,000 children die each day due to poverty-related issues like hunger, and preventable diseases. These are things we don’t see on a daily basis because they live in South-East Asia, or Sub-Saharan Africa.

But it also happens closer to home, and we ignore it, and even pass laws to keep it out of our neighborhoods - someplace out of sight. Nearly 21% of American children are living in poverty, facing food insecurity, poor health, abuse and neglect. With our income, we cannot afford to adopt a child from overseas, but we can help a few here in the Coachella Valley who are in need. I can’t make excuses anymore.

Jesus expressed how much it takes to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in severe terms - over and over again. At one point he even said that, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters - yes even their own life - such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) These are probably the harshest recorded saying of his. Yet I think I now understand somewhat what they mean. We are adopting children instead of having our own biological children. These aren’t children we will ever know, but we’re giving them up in order to “care for orphans in their distress.”

Jesus also taught us, “If you only greet your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48) It is (generally) easy to love your own family, and stick with your own kin, but it takes a work of God to love without expectation.

Of course these children will be ours. They will be loved, and they will love us. We aren’t walking away from anyone, but into a new kind of love. God is the author of love, and giver of good gifts. These children are great gifts from God, and we praise him for the wonderful opportunity to care for these little ones. In receiving them we receive God. As Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)

You see, it is always pure joy to serve our Lord. What may seem like a sacrifice of time, money or possessions always ends up being worth 100-times that in the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 19:29)

1 comment:

Nicole said...

I am so thankful to be sharing this journey with you.