December 14, 2012

Defending the Orphan

She is a well-known public figure . . .  strikingly beautiful, invariably poised and impeccably dressed.  And incredibly famous.  In fact, her name is recognized around the world, familiar in nearly every household.  Wherever she goes, she is surrounded by an entourage of personal attendants, her bodyguards protecting her from people who are trying to get a glimpse of her.

Most people in her position would have simply secluded themselves in their well-appointed, professionally decorated mansion, immune from the troubling social issues that exist.  But not this woman!  She wanted to do something, to make a difference in her world.

So she does something that was previously unheard of from someone of her social stature.  She rescues a child, a little boy who had been abandoned by his parents. It didn’t matter to her that he did not share her ethnicity, that his skin was a different color than her own.  She brought him into her home, and welcomed him as a part of her life.  She became his mother, and loved him as a son, completely and unreservedly.

The news spreads quickly . . . “Have you heard what she has done?  She saved that child!  She is truly amazing!  What an inspiration and role model she is!”

Now instead of a life of unimaginable poverty, he has everything a family of affluence could possibly lavish upon him.   Instead of being raised in an illiterate, uneducated family, he is now attending the best schools, is being taught by the finest tutors, and has access to every academic and extra-curricular opportunity he could possibly want.  His bleak future has been replaced with infinite promise. 

Everyone who hears of what she has done has similar reactions:  What an incredibly fortunate boy he is to be adopted by this generous, compassionate woman!  It’s hard to even imagine what his life would have been life if she hadn’t saved him.  And what a great example she is setting for other affluent people in our country.  Everyone has watched this very public figure adopt her son, and look how many other families are following in her footsteps.  What a hero she is!

Does this story sound familiar?  This is actually the account of Pharoah’s daughter in ancient Egypt, who famously adopted Baby Moses, rescuing him out of the Nile River where he had been abandoned by parents who “obviously” no longer wanted him or were unable to care for him.  No doubt, those around her thought the very same thing people think today:  what a sacrificial act of love she bestowed upon this little child.  She can give him an infinitely superior life than the one that Fate had cruelly chosen for him.

Now, in this historical account, she really did find him floating in the river, and she really did save his life from certain death.  She should be praised for that!  But how could she have not known the truth?   She would have had to ignore the fact that surely somewhere not too far away was this child’s biological mother, heart-broken and inconsolable at the awful circumstances she faced.  At the impossible decision she had been forced to make.  Had the child’s mother not placed him in the basket in the river, he would have been killed by the Pharoah’s orders.  Surely the Pharoah’s own daughter knew about the decree, and must have known that was the reason this child had been left alone.1

Indeed, it was admirable of her to save this child’s life and to care for him as his mother.  But was adoption the only answer in this desperate situation?  If she truly was compassionate, if she really did want what was best for this precious child, couldn’t she have responded in another way?  Wouldn’t she have done everything within her power to ensure that the child was able to be raised by his own mother, a mother who adored him and whose primary goal was to protect him from the Pharoah’s horrible edict? 

Perhaps she could have assisted the baby’s family in some way, providing them with financial resources or a way of escape.  Maybe she could have used her position of influence to appeal to her father, the ruler, to amend the tyrannical law. The very fact that she adopted this baby and brought him to the palace to live, proved that she had within her power to protect the baby against the Pharoah’s murderous mandate.  

At the very least, she could have kept him safe, protecting him temporarily until the social and political crisis had passed.  She would have gone down in history as the first foster parent!  Yes, adopting the child was an option, but surely it wasn’t the only, or even the best option. 

Of course God used Moses’ upbringing in Pharoah’s household to accomplish His own purposes.  Moses was uniquely trained and prepared to later lead the entire nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  God always causes things, even terrible things, to work together for good.  But that doesn’t mean we can automatically say, “See, Pharoah’s daughter did the right thing by adopting him.  It was okay that Moses wasn’t raised by his birthmother, because look what good came out of it.”  Do the ends ever justify the means? 

What about the devastated birth-mother who knew that she would never see her son again?  Who knew that she would never have an opportunity to see him grow up?  Would never be able to teach him to know and love her precious Lord?  She had to live the rest of her life with the knowledge that her beloved child was being raised in a household that worshipped false gods, attending schools which indoctrinate its students with pagan philosophies.  How she must have prayed, fervently and desperately, pleading for God’s protection over that child!

One woman loved her son enough to make an impossible decision; the other one seized the opportunity to become a mother. 

One woman loved the Lord with all her heart; the other one was a pagan. 

One woman was surrounded by a community of God-fearing believers who had very few belongings, but possessed a deep, abiding faith; the other one lived in a materialistic culture that worshipped the god of self.

One woman cried herself to sleep every night; the other one was applauded as a hero.

Now here comes the challenging question . . . have I become like Pharoah’s daughter?  When I see children in poverty, with little or no access to an education, eking out an existence in deplorable living conditions, and having no hope of ever rising above their circumstances, it’s truly heart-breaking!  Those commercials and videos bring me to tears every time!  Of course I are filled with compassion.  Of course I want to do something, to make a difference!  But is adoption the only, or even the best option? 

The scene that is never shown, just out of view of the camera lens, is the mother who can’t afford to feed or educate her children because their father abandoned them.  The elderly woman who is doing her best to raise her grandchildren while their parents work long hours in a faraway city, sending home as much money as they possibly can each month.  The father who is working hard while raising his children alone after his wife died from a preventable disease.  Are these children truly orphans?  Is being born into poverty reason enough for them to be taken from their families? 

The point in Psalm 82:3 is pretty clear: “Defend the poor and fatherless.”   Being poor and being fatherless are not necessarily the same thing.  Should my first reaction be, “I want to adopt these children!”  Or should it be, “How can I defend their cause?”  Perhaps instead of being a part of a system that separates families (and then is applauded for doing so), I need to examine my motives and seek ways to ensure that, whenever humanly possible, families remain intact.2

Maybe all these families really need are resources:  food, access to medical care, a basic education.  Sure, there are countries that do not provide such basic needs for their citizens.  And indeed, the system of social services in the United States, the one I have devoted most of my adult life to serving, is far less than perfect.  But what about the church or humanitarian organizations?  Surely there are doctors, teachers, construction workers, engineers, and agricultural professionals who are able to give of their time and would be willing to share their expertise.  What about offering parenting classes, providing basic health and nutrition information, training for job skills?   Are there folks in the legal or political realm who could literally “defend” these children and their families? Who could be their voice where there is currently only silence?  Once we use our imagination and a little creativity, the list of ways to make a difference could be endless. 

Perhaps it is isn’t necessary for these poverty-stricken families to lose their children permanently.   This is where the unique role of foster parents comes into play in the big “Orphan Care” picture.  Maybe what is needed is simply a loving, selfless adult to care for needy children temporarily, keeping them safe, healthy, and nourished until the personal or economic crises in their families have passed. 

I am frequently asked the same question by friends and strangers alike: “Isn’t it hard when your foster children leave?”  Of course it’s terrible!  Of course my heart is torn into pieces at the loss!  But strangely enough, no one ever thinks to ask, “Isn’t it hard for the parents of your foster children, living every day with the knowledge that their children are in some one else’s care?”  Of course they must be heart-broken at their circumstances!  But where is the compassion for them?  It would be a selfish prayer indeed for me to plead, “Lord, please let my foster child stay with me.”  As impossibly difficult as it may be, I should always be willing to pray with absolute sincerity and surrender, “Lord, please enable and equip his parents to raise him.  Please do whatever it takes to restore her family.” 

Of course I cannot overlook the fact that there are countless children in my own city and around the world who are truly orphaned.  An astounding number of little ones who have no parents to care for them.  No extended family members who are willing or able to provide for their needs.  These are the children that desperately need to be adopted by loving, compassionate families who are eager and ready to welcome them into their homes. 

But in my zeal to adopt, to “defend the orphan”, to make a difference in my world, I need to be careful that I do not become like Pharoah’s daughter.  I can’t simply look at the zoomed-in cropped picture of that child’s face I see on the screen.  I need to pan out a little bit further and ensure that there are no weeping mothers in the background, no parents and grandparents who, just like me, love their children with all their heart.  

Adoption is a radical act of love and courage.  It is indeed a noble goal.  But I cannot forget that there may be other options to consider.   Different questions that I should be asking myself.  What does it mean to defend the orphan?  How can I equip a loving mother to raise her own child?  What can I possibly do to protect and preserve a family?
1.            The full story can be found in Exodus 2:1-10
2.            My friend Missy wrote a beautiful article about international adoption ethics at

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