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 Voices | | Coronavirus →

Pandemic victim: International adoptions and indefinite wait

We all have certain emotional triggers that evoke a deep response in us, but the plight of hurting and vulnerable children should strike a chord with even the hardest of hearts.

Think about it. Who among us hasn’t been struck with compassion by a late-night commercial of Sally Struthers as she sits with a destitute child and pleads for help? Who can’t relate to feeling a deep sense of urgency when a news story shows us a child struggling or without support?

Herbie Newell
Herbie Newell is the President and Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms including (un)adopted, Crossings, Families Count and Lifeline Village. |

Over the years my wife, Ashley, has been intrigued by real-life movies set in Nazi-controlled areas during World War II. She has such a burning passion for those stories of brave individuals who risked their lives to stop the extermination of the Jewish people and those who were seen as undesirable by the Third Reich.

Recently, she invited me to watch "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas."  My first question, as it is with all movies or books that feature children, was, “Will a child be hurt, traumatized or die?” Because, if the answer is even close to yes, then that is a movie I won’t watch. The truth is I have seen with my own eyes the real-life horrors affecting children all over the world, and I cannot bear watching anything where children are victimized.

When we experience the pain of a child, even through the distance of media, a visceral response wells up within us from a place of depth. Why? Because as human beings we are divinely imprinted by the God of the universe with an impulse to defend the vulnerable — especially children.

Children are the greatest resource of any nation, peoples, and family, and a delightful gift from the Lord. Throughout the Bible we see families and specifically women bereft of children wrestle and plead with God for the gift of a child. Hannah promises to give Samuel back to the Lord if her womb would be opened. Sarah hatches plans to have a child through her servant Hagar. Zechariah is rendered speechless when he doubts that the Lord would open his wife Elizabeth’s barren womb (she became the mother of John the Baptist). All these moments in Scripture point to the God-appointed value of children.

However, sin has marred our divine responsibility to care for children, leaving hundreds of millions of children orphaned, abandoned, and vulnerable. And the plight of these vulnerable children and orphans has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As countries closed their borders in response to the pandemic, children deprived of families were left in limbo waiting for their adoptive parents to be cleared for travel and bring them home. These families who have already waited months and years to complete their processes are now left with no end in sight. 

International adoption is always a complex reality. Families know going into the process that, in and of themselves, they are not enough to bring the hope, healing, and future that their child needs. Families expect the unexpected, but no one could’ve prepared for a global pandemic that would literally shut down travel for the whole world and halt all adoptions. Yet we remain confident that our God who opened Hannah’s womb, who filled Sarah with laughter, and who opened the mouth of Zechariah in praise at the birth of John the Baptist, will make a way in the wilderness for families to unite with their children.

Let’s not forget: family was God’s idea. Families are His original design and one of the greatest gifts He bestowed to His image bearers. One of the imprints of God’s design was the desire for communion, and God answered this desire through the family. Humanity grows and flourishes in families. Throughout His Word, the Lord has used the idea of family to demonstrate His grace, His kindness, and His salvation. It is the Lord who sets the lonely in families.

This is why, during the global pandemic, Lifeline Children’s Services has begun hosting monthly nights of worship and prayer specifically for adoptive families waiting for clearance to travel and bring their children home. Our hope is that these simple gatherings will point these families to our God whose plans cannot be thwarted and upon whom they will need to lean each and every day while they raise their children.

With 150 families in attendance, Lifeline held its first virtual Night of Praise on July 29th. Dr. David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church in metro Washington, DC, led a time of reflection from Romans 8. He reminded families that even our spiritual adoption was a journey, a wait, and a struggle through futility.

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons” (Romans 8:23).

And, the Lord is sending encouragement in the waiting. In late June, several Eastern European countries opened their borders to allow families from the United States to travel to Bulgaria and Hungary to bring home their children after the compulsory 14-day quarantine. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness and a reminder of hope in these uncertain times! The Lord is in control and He is using this time to bring together His perfect plan.

While we celebrate the families who are now together, we also remember those still in process and expectantly waiting for their next steps in the journey. 

In partnership with Show Hope, Lifeline will be hosting another online night of praise on Thursday, August 20 and feature Grammy-winning recording artist and adoptive parents Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman. It is our prayer that these nights will be a catalyst to thrust the eyes, hearts, and hopes of waiting families onto the sovereign God who works all things according to His will, purpose, and plan, even and especially during a global pandemic.

Herbie Newell (MBA, Samford University) is the President and Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms including (un)adopted, Crossings, Families Count and Lifeline Village. Under Newell’s leadership, Lifeline has significantly increased its international and statewide outreach, attained membership with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and achieved international accreditation under The Hague Treaty, begun an extensive foster care ministry, and started its (un)adopted strategic orphan care ministries in more than 10 countries. Herbie speaks nationally at conferences and events, and regularly preaches throughout the world on gospel-driven justice. He and his wife, Ashley, live in Birmingham, Alabama and are parents to a son, Caleb, and daughters Adelynn and Emily. His first book Image Bearers: Shifting from Pro-Birth to Pro-Life, released on January 21, 2020.

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