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Christianity becomes a driving force in adoptions


MARK BARNA/The Gazette

July 2, 2009

Dinner at the Hassoldts' Colorado Springs home resembles a spirited children's party at the United Nations.

Nine-year-old Kiana, born in China, and 8-year-old Landon, born in South Korea, talk quietly with each other while 7-year-old Garett, born in Vietnam, boasts of cleaning his plate.

Four-year-old Corbin, born in Tulsa, Okla., is told he can have no seconds until he finishes what he already has.

The Liberian-born children, Alia and Joeliana, both 4, joke loudly while 2-year-old Aiden sits in his high chair stabbing at his food and shouting.

Kalyn, 15, and Caresse,11, the only kids at this party who were born in Colorado Springs, help serve the younger children.

Overseeing the controlled chaos are Steve and Shonni Hassoldt, who clearly revel in the big family they've created: three biological children, one of whom is old enough to be out on his own, and seven adopted children. Next year, they hope to complete adoption of an Ethiopian child.

"I am in love with my babies," Shonni Hassoldt said.

But there's more to the couple's penchant for adoption than just a love of children. What started as a way for them to add to their family after Shonni had complications with a pregnancy has become a Christian mission to help the orphans of the world, as written of in the New Testament, and to raise children strong in faith.

"This is our answer to the great commission, but instead of going out into the mission field, we are bringing them to us to raise them up as disciples of Christ, and then let them out into the world," Steve Hassoldt said.

Christian adoptions on rise

Compelled by their faith and a push from churches and ministries, more Christian couples are doing what the Hassoldts have done and building their families through adoption. The churches and ministries do their part by instituting programs to help the families navigate the sometimes difficult road to adoption and to offer emotional and spiritual support.

Maddi Noleen, Colorado executive director of Bethany Christian Services, a global adoption group with a clientele that's mostly Christian, credits church and parachurch involvement with an increase in adoptions throughout the U.S.

"They have really stepped up to the plate," said Noleen, whose organization has facilitated 47 adoptions in Colorado so far this year, compared with 39 in all of 2008.

In Colorado Springs, Focus on the Family's three-year-old Adoption & Orphan Care Initiative has had great success at educating Christians and others about foster care adoption, Noleen said.

"We believe every child deserves a permanent family to call their own, and we are never going to give up on these kids," said Kelly Rosati, senior director of the Sanctity for Human Life division at Focus. "The churches are embracing this."

Last November, New Life Church hosted the Focus foster adoption program, co-sponsored by the Colorado Department of Human Services. Thirteen hundred people from various churches attended, and 260 families started the process to adopt kids in foster care.

Independent of that effort, hundreds of families who attend New Life Church have adopted children domestically and internationally, said New Life senior pastor Brady Boyd, who, with his wife, is raising two adopted children.

"There is a huge groundswell of interest in adoption among believers," Boyd said.

He's hoping more will become interested, especially in foster adoptions. To raise awareness among his approximately 10,500 church members, Boyd has set a goal of 100 foster-care adoptions.

At Rocky Mountain Calvary, which has a weekly attendance of about 3,500, seven families are part of the 6-month-old adoption ministry.

"We feel it is a biblical call. There shouldn't be orphans," said Kent Nolley, a mission pastor at the Colorado Springs church.

Vanguard Church, where 1,300 worship each week, hopes to officially launch its adoption ministry in a couple of weeks. Executive Pastor Rick Clapp, who will head the program, and his wife, Laura, adopted two Swaziland orphans, ages 1 and 2, in spring.

The Clapps, who have four biological children, said they decided to adopt, in part, because they saw devastating poverty during a mission trip to Swaziland and wanted to make a difference in children's lives, and caring for the world's children is biblically mandated.

"God laid it on our heart to adopt," Rick Clapp said.

Adoption challenges

The Hassoldts are members of Mountain Springs Church, which has a 2-year-old ministry that lends emotional support to congregants going through the adoption process.

The couple started adopting in 1999, and never thought they'd end up taking in so many children - especially given the challenges of adoption.

Though foster-care adoptions can cost as little as $500, domestic and international adoptions through private agencies can cost from $15,000 to $35,000. The wait to finalize some international adoptions can be three years.

Adoptive parents can also face scrutiny from friends and co-workers. Steve Hassoldt said people have told him that orphans from outside the U.S. would be better off being raised in their own country, that they can't save the world through adopting disadvantaged kids, and that adopting so many children in light of the couple's limited financial means is unethical.

Hassoldt, a claims team manager for State Farm Insurance, acknowledges that it's been a stretch financially. Because Shannon spends her day homeschooling their nine children, he's the only breadwinner.

The Hassoldts, however, have been helped financially by family, friends, State Farm - which offers $5,000 toward adoption costs - and tax breaks.

Even so, the couple has dipped deep into their savings to pay for the adoptions. But they have no regrets.

Shonni Hassoldt said she's learned through the adoptions how open-hearted children of different ethnicities can be toward one another.

"Sometimes I think how I have children from China, South Korea, Vietnam - all countries that are enemies of one another, but here they are brothers and sisters," she said.

The couple also view their colorful family as part of God's plan.

"This is our mission field," Steven Hassoldt said. "We let God's love come through us to them."

2009 Jul 2