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By Bob Smietana
October 11, 2009 / Tennessean.com
The 2-year-old girl was living in an Ethiopian orphanage, facing poverty, malnutrition and disease. Her birth parents were dead and she was alone.
That was six months ago.
Today, she is smiling and playing at LifePoint Church in Smyrna, and pointing at the preacher.
"That's my daddy,'' said Alyza Kate Hood.
Then she and her 3-year-old sister, Jadyn, from China, ran off to play under the watchful eyes of their parents, the Rev. Pat Hood and his wife, Amy.
The Hoods, like a growing number of Middle Tennessee families, say their faith motivated them to rescue the orphans. They have adopted children from overseas, not because of infertility, but because they believe God wanted them to do it.
The interest in faith-based adoption comes when the number of international adoptions is declining. In 2004, there were 22,911 overseas adoptions in the United States, with 448 in Tennessee, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Last year, there were 17,229, with 367 in Tennessee.
Most of the change is because countries like China and Russia are allowing fewer children to be adopted. Currently, the wait for a child from China is about five years. That's prompted couples to turn to countries like Ethiopia.
"Not everyone is called to adopt," Pat Hood said. "But everyone is called to care for orphans."
Caring for orphans
The idea of rescuing orphans through adoption comes from several factors. First is the sheer numbers. By some accounts, there are 143 million orphans in the world.
Second, there's the Bible. The Old Testament and New Testament teach believers to care for orphans.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this," reads the book of James, "to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Then, there's the mission trip factor. The Hoods cite their experience overseas when talking about their decision to adopt.
Amy Hood says she first began thinking about adoption in 2002. At the time, her husband was not interested. "I told Amy I wasn't even going to pray about it," he said.
But when the couple went to India on a mission trip and met several orphans, he began to change his mind. They brought Jadyn home in 2007, and Alyza Kate this past June. “I realized all my reasons for not adopting were selfish,” Hood said.
The Rev. Chris Hollomon and his wife, Dawn, went through a similar experience.
They adopted their 7-month-old son, Myles, from the same Ethiopian orphanage where the Hoods saw Alyza.
The Hollomons, both 29, had been to Africa in the past, and believed God wanted them to adopt an African orphan before having biological children.
“Adoption is not Plan B,” Dawn Hollomon said. “We want him to know that we chose him.”
Donna Thomas, director of the adoption program at Catholic Charities, says her program has seen a number of families like the Hoods and Hollomons. Over the past 12 months, they’ve worked with 26 families adopting from Ethiopia. That’s up from six or seven the previous year. Most already have biological children. “Infertility is not the driver here,” Thomas said.
Tracy Mihnovich, who operates the East African Adoption Fellowship support group, has two biological children but she has adopted one son from Ethiopia. She and her husband hope to adopt four more children. They have been shopping for bunk beds, and a bigger car.
“We have room in our hearts, and room in our home,” she said. “So, why would we not adopt.”
Her support group meets monthly to talk about the challenges of adopting and bringing up children from other countries.
Issue raises questions
Adopting from overseas does raise some questions. Critics wonder why couples are eager to adopt a child halfway around the world, but not a child in foster care in the United States.
There’s no easy answer to that question, says Lisa Lancaster, an adoption worker at Bethany Christian Services in Nashville. Sometimes, she says, couples find it easier to work with a foreign government than with state agencies in the United States. Other times, they fear dealing with birth parents so close to home.
Lancaster tries to calm those fears, and presses them about why they aren’t adopting a child in the states.
“If they don’t bring it up, I will,” she said. “But most of them feel a call to adopt overseas.”
That was the case with Christa and Josh Nichols, who adopted their teenage daughter Albana from Albania this past summer. The Nichols had been foster parents in the past but had a bad experience with the state. When they heard Albana’s story — she was 15 and living in an orphanage, but would be out at her next birthday — they applied to adopt her.
The adoption was final just as their daughter turned 16. She speaks little English, but Christa Nichols says they are getting along well.
“We aren’t the first parents who have a hard time understanding their teenaged daughter,” she said with a laugh.
The movement for faith-based overseas adoption seems poised to grow. Last weekend, more than 700 people attended an adoption conference at Christ Community Church in Franklin, where they learned how adoption works, and discussed the theology of adoption — the teaching that believers are adopted into God’s family at their conversion. The church also will host a concert, to be simulcast nationwide, by Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman, for Orphan Sunday on Nov. 8.
The Rev. Scott Roley, the church’s pastor, hopes more Christians will adopt orphans, both in the United States and overseas. He said about 40 families in the church have adopted, including he and his wife, who have five children. Three of them were adopted in the United States.
But he applauds American parents who adopt children overseas.
“If you take a child from one of those orphanages you are really saving their life,” he said.