I nervously switched off the television early Sunday morning as I heard my children bounding toward the door. I didn’t want them to hear the news. I didn’t want to hear it myself. Every time I see what is going on in Russia, with the government calling for an immediate halt on American adoptions, I think about the orphanage where I first met my two oldest sons.
And I want to cry.
The news reports are appalling, to be sure. A grandmother in Tennessee reportedly placed a child adopted from a Russian orphanage on a plane bound for the former Soviet Union, sending him back because the family allegedly said they couldn’t deal with his disturbed emotional state and alleged potential for violence. The Russian government and the Russian people are outraged, and want to see to it this will never happen again.
There are several things Christians ought to keep in mind and, more importantly, in prayer here.
First of all, we should pray for this child, and for his family. We, of course, don’t know much about this situation beyond what we see in the news, but that’s enough to know this is a catastrophe. It is horrific any time a child is orphaned. It is even more horrific when a child is twice-orphaned.
There is no defense, and no excuse, for the actions this family took. If there were emotional or behavioral problems, there are legitimate mechanisms in place to work through those things with the assistance of counselors or social workers, even through the agency by which the family was formed in the first place.
We should also pray, and pray fervently, that God would change the hearts of the Russian government officials, that they would not allow this tragedy to further harm the already endangered orphans of Russia.
Sadly, this American family’s actions may well have catastrophic implications. This case, along with one or two others, has given impetus to a nativist Russian nationalism already uncomfortable with international adoption.
At one level, I can understand this. Imagine if the United States collapsed into a hodgepodge of independent and impoverished states and American children were being adopted by citizens of a Cold War triumphant USSR. Add to that, a high profile case of this kind of neglect, and this impulse can be whipped into a frenzy.
The stakes are high. Families who were poised to be formed through adoption are now suddenly on hold, in a “diplomatic limbo” of waiting. “An estimated 3,500 Russian children are in some stage of the adoption process with 3,000 American families,” reports the New York Times, citing the Joint Council on International Children’s Services.
The very fact that this horrible situation is getting such coverage all over the world right now is precisely because it is such an anomaly. There have been more than 50,000 U.S. adoptions from Russia since 1991, with adopting parents carefully screened and the Russian government receiving reports back from the post-adoption home studies. The stories of abuse are rare, much rarer than domestic abuse rates in virtually any country.
It would be quite different if there were a vibrant adoption culture in the former USSR. This is not the case. Adoption is extremely rare in Russian culture. The very few families who adopt, and children who are adopted, are often stigmatized.
The leftover effects of Communist materialism matched with the instability of the new economy have resulted in a skyrocketing abortion rate along with orphanages filled with abandoned infants and children. The children who are not adopted languish in these orphanages until they are old enough to be thrown out, defenseless, into society, where they often find few options beyond the Russian military, prostitution, or suicide.
The Russian orphanage where my wife and I found our sons, then Maxim and Sergei, was the most heartbreaking place I have ever been. Its sights and smells and sounds come back to me every day.
But, even more so, before my mind’s eye every day are the faces of the children we couldn’t adopt. The little girl who peered around the door frame every day as we visited our then-future sons in their room. What happened to her? What will happen to those like her, and like my sons, who are waiting now for homes and families, someone to love them and feed them and hug them?
Until now, my hope has been that Christians from America, Canada, Germany, France, or somewhere may have adopted them, to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If the anti-adoption Russians get their way, I fear that these children will be sentenced to institutions, never to find families.
There are other Maxims and Sergeis, sitting day and night in cribs somewhere in Russia. Let’s pray that the Russian people make the right decisions for them. And let’s pray for the providence of the One who promises to be a Father to the fatherless. This situation isn’t just a human interest tragedy. And it’s not just a foreign policy issue.
Russia’s orphans aren’t foreigners to those of us who’ve been adopted into the family of Christ. They’re Jesus’ little brothers and sisters (Matt 25:40). He won’t forget them.
And neither can we.
My television’s going to stay off for awhile. I don’t want my boys to overhear this horrible scenario and wonder if, God forbid, they might ever be put back on a plane to Russia. I don’t want them to know, yet, that they live in a world so dark that such things can happen. Maybe you could turn your television off too, just for a little while, and pray for the orphans of Russia.