Adoption in an act of mercy, not justice. That phrase repeats over and over in my head. It has since June 2010 when through a series of conversations, life group studies, and sermons God made it clear that he was speaking. As Margaret Feinberg discusses in her book The Sacred Echo, when God wants to communicate a message, the same theme will resurface in many areas of your life. God has continued to echo this message long after we returned home.
Adoption is indeed an act of mercy. That is a relatively simple truth, one that our family embraces. Yet, that same truth leaves me empty handed and confused in the justice department. There are many injustices in this world. Often times, the mountains seem too big to climb. I wonder if perhaps people feel that because that cannot fix it all, they shouldn't bother doing anything. I wonder if the size and complexities of the issues make it impossible to see the forest beyond the trees. I cannot speak for others, but I know that our adoption experience has made it clear to us that we must always be fighting for justice, whenever and wherever possible, for the glory of God.
When we attended our court hearing in Ethiopia, our adoption agency told us things would happen in a predictable and relatively emotionless (stoic was the word used) manner. In short, we were told the birth relative (if there is one) will attend court in the morning and relinquish his/her rights. They would stand before a judge and give their account. Then, the birth family would leave the court and be taken back to the guest house where he/she could meet with us later in the day if desired. We would definitely not see each other at court. After the birth family has long departed from court, we would enter the courtroom and give our account. We would answer any questions the judge asks and tell her about the countless hours of training and preparation we have been through. She would look over our file and if everything was complete, we would be declared the forever family of Sporty and Sassy. Yay! Throw some figurative confetti and high five our travel group...simple and straightforward is what we were expecting.
The following account describes how things actually went down. Around 9:30 a.m., we piled in the van and drove to court. Once we arrived, our agency representative got out and and ran up about 1000 stairs to the office. Five minutes later, he came back out of the building, hopped in the van and we all drove back to the guest house. Due to some confusion or mix-up with the schedule, we would not be meeting the judge until the afternoon. We walked up 500 stairs (at 8000 feet elevation) back to our room and sat on the couch just long enough for our phone to ring with our representative telling us to hurry up and get back in the van. So, down the stairs we ran, hopping into the van, driving wildly back to the court decapitating a few donkeys. (OK, maybe that part did not actually happen, but I can not be certain because my eyes we closed!) We were dropped off in front of the courthouse and hurriedly walked up 1000 stairs where we exited the stratosphere and entered the courtroom. What happened next was not in our handbook.
As our travel group piled into the middle of the waiting area (think teeny-tiny version on the DMV with chairs for about a quarter of the number of people in the room), I turned around the see our son, Sporty, walking in. What? We were told no children would be present. OK, breathe. Breathe again. We've got this. Then, following directly behind Sporty was his aunt, head down and eyes full of tears. WHAT? Can I say, what? Wait just one second. We were told no children, no birth family...not until we had both separately given our account to the judge. And what about stoic? I did not see or sense stoic. I sensed heartbreak, shame, guilt, sadness...a deep and dark sadness. I began to sob as my eyes met hers. I knew, without ever seeing or meeting her before who she was. Our son's aunt. The only living relative left in his family, yet unable to care for another child. This was not how she envisioned her life. This is not what she wanted for her children or her family. Her family had already been through so much. Illness, death, sudden death, poverty. She was the face of injustice. At that moment, we became forever entwined with injustice. Our family = injustice. And because it is our family, we take up the cause.
I am not a fool. Obviously adoption is not the perfect answer to this scenario. However, it is the only merciful answer given our constraints within the law and due to the unequal distribution of the world's (aka God's) resources. Our son was legally declared an orphan over one year before we met him. We knew of no aunt or family member at that point. However she was there, she is there, she is family, and she has been done wrong. We must continue to pray and work for justice while being merciful and obedient to God. Our options and solutions will never be perfect this side of eternity; however, that should not preclude us from acting at all. In John 21:15-18, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" When Peter says yes, Jesus' response was the same each time, " Then feed my sheep." Read Matthew 25:31-46 if you need further convincing. These verses can be summed up in verse 40 when Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of one of these brothers and sisters, you did for me." Finally, the famed adoption verse. James 1:27 says, "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." That verse is full of wisdom. Do good, do not let yourself be polluted.
The truth that God is continuing to reveal to me is that acts of mercy, one by one, are compounded and as our heavenly father is glorified through his hands and feet, fruitfulness increases exponentially in order to achieve justice. On earth as it is in heaven, folks! While one person certainly cannot change the world, one person can change the life of another, who pays it forward and testifies about the truth to another, who hears the truth and experiences life transformation and clarity that only God can give. He or she takes the message and runs with it. All the while, the person who initially thought they were 'simply adopting a child', has experienced a different kind of life transformation. That person becomes one with injustice and can no longer turn a blind eye. As Proverbs 24:12 tells us, "Once our eyes are opened we cannot pretend we do not know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows we know and holds us responsible to act."
The best thing to come out of our court day adventure was our newly formed relationship with Sporty's aunt. In a one and half hour conversation, we talked and bonded. Grieved and loved. Sitting around the guest house, we became family. In traditional African fashion, stories are passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. In a meeting we recorded on video, Sporty's aunt described in detail how various relatives met, married, were sent off to war, had died, where they were buried, so on and so forth. She handed down these stories to us, her family, and I have honestly never been so humbled and thankful. We hugged, talked, cried, and tried as best as possible to communicate that we are all family, and what one family member faces, we all face. Next year, when we return to Ethiopia we will be returning to family. Thank you God, for letting us be transformed for your glory. Let us never grow weak or weary.