Thursday, March 11, 2010

True Religion

I want to start by saying that, as I'd hope anyone who has been reading this blog knows by now, I am not opposed to international adoption (or any adoption really) nor am I opposed to anyone sending aid to other countries. But today I was reading a blog post by a prominent blogger who is in Kenya promoting Compassion International's child sponsorship program. After I was done looking at all of the terribly beautiful and moving pictures of children and adults living in one of the poorest slums in that country, I scanned the comments. One of the very first one was someone pointing out that poverty like we'd just read about exists in the United States too. Someone else had replied to that comment and stated that it wasn't the same - that poverty in the US doesn't compare to poverty in countries like Kenya.

This was my response to the two comments: I would respectfully disagree with you [second commenter]. There are places, such as in Appalachia, in which American children do live this way. And in many urban cities, the buildings may be ever so slightly sturdier - but children are still being left to raise each other while parents drink, do drugs and die. There are many children who go hungry in the US every day. There are many who need help just as much as these beautiful Kenyan children. But I agree with you here - we absolutely have a responsibility both here and in Kenya.

I thought I made my point pretty nicely.

But then another person replied to ME : (edited for length)

DOES IT MATTER WHO HAS IT WORSE? There are kids ALL OVER THE GLOBE who are God's children who DESERVE basic care just like all of the rest of us. Does it matter if we help them in our backyard or in another country? No. God wants us to help them all.... close or far. Don't ever lose sight of the fact that YOU could be in Kenya with this life. God choose you to be born here. It is NOT the fault of anyone where they were born.The point is HELP... if you are led to help those in America - shut up and do it. If you are led to help those in Kenya - shut up and do it. Stop wasting your time fighting over the unimportant details. Satan is smiling that you are bickering over the unimportant details instead of HELPING!

Wow. Truly, I didn't intend to start WWIII. So, I felt compelled to reply again:

I would like to clarify. I was not trying to say that one place has it worse or better. Any time children are hungry and families are falling apart - it is a tragedy that needs our help. I was simply reaffirming [first commenter's] original statement. There are children and families right here in America who are living and dying in tragic circumstances. Circumstances that CAN be helped if people would be moved to do so.

As a social worker I see many, many children and families who are suffering on a daily basis. And, unfortunately, I see many people here in the US that don't recognize it or can not see it.

I sometime believe that we think that just because we live in a prosperous nation - that anyone who is not succeeding is CHOOSING not to and does not deserve our help.

I also sometimes wonder if, just as [Prominent Blogger] has alluded to in her all of her posts, we do not want to see the horror and poverty in our own country. We turn away from it.

It is maybe easier to believe that we are far removed from it - that is only happens in places like Kenya. I hope and pray that people will read [Prominent Blogger]'s words and that their hearts will be moved to help people all over the world.

And, if some people who read feel like Kenya is too far removed from their daily lives, or they want to do something besides sending money, I hope that they will see that there are people, families, and children who live very close to them that are suffering and are in need of a helping hand.

That is my hope. That just has people's hearts break for these precious people of Kenya - that they will break for ALL of God's people and that we may all be moved to action!

I hoped that it would be over. It wasn't, but I don't want to continue to stir up trouble. So, I want to continue it over here on my blog. Because its mine, and I can say whatever I want! :)

So, here's the thing - poverty exists all over the world. Including right here in the United States. These are pictures that I took for a project a few years ago. They were taken in my city.

Here in my city, children go hungry.

Here in my city, there are places that children are not safe outdoors.

Here in my city, people are doing whatever they can to feed their families.

This neighborhood, where I took these pictures, is utterly devastating - what few resources they have, can not be sustained.

I am in a lot of bad neighborhoods - but this one is the worst. When I cross the boundary into this area, I can feel the anger, the frustration, the desperation, and the sadness press in around me. When I leave, I feel like I need to physically shake off the feeling. I can only imagine how it feels to live here day after day. Where is the hope for these people? I believe they are just as desperate for hope and change as the poor living in every other country. Poor is poor, hopeless is hopeless - no matter what your nationality.

How are we going to help these people?

I hear and read a lot of people using this Bible verse, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress...James 1:27 (NIV)" to encourage Christians to adopt. But to be honest, I'm not sure it the best application of this verse.

I can understand why some people think that the answer is adoption - that it would be better to simply get the children out of those circumstances. The process of simply sponsoring a child means leaving that child in conditions that are so hard for our minds to understand. Instead, they think that it is ultimately better for them to be removed from those terrible circumstances. From their communities. From their parents (a huge number of children living in orphanages have at least one living parent).

But, I disagree. Removing children from their families, communities and countries only helps THAT child. It only stops the cycle of poverty for THAT child.

Adoption (and foster care) are sometimes necessary - I understand that reality. But I also understand that it is only a solution for THAT child. Children will still be hungry, Parents will still feel desperate, Families will still be hurting. In order to pull whole communities out of poverty - to fix the problems that cause children to be orphaned - we must start from the inside out. We must help adults and children within their communities.

What I love and appreciate about agencies like Compassion International is that they bring money and opportunities to children and families in their communities. They help children gain skills and provide families with the necessary supplies to better their situations. At first those changes may seem minuscule - new uniforms for a child to wear to school or a dairy cow for a family that can barely make ends meet. But over time, the milk from that cow may bring in enough money for the family to start a small business and that child will learn skills to help their family run that business.

I appreciate that some people see the commercials on television of starving children in very poor countries, and are moved to help them. But I am saddened that people do not see those same sad, hungry, desperate eyes in the children here in the United States. There are agencies all over this country that are trying to better poor communities. There are programs that attempt to build healthier families. But unfortunately, it seems to me that many people do no want to donate their money to these places. And sadly, I believe it is because many people feel that they do not deserve it. Not the kids of course, everyone feels badly for the kids, but they condemn their parents. I believe that people do not donate to programs that help struggling families in the U.S. because they feel that the adults do not deserve it. I ask you to look inside your own heart and ask yourself why you do not send money to the local homeless shelter... or rehab facility... or soup kitchen.

I hear it all the time -

"Don't give that man on the corner money, he'll just spend it on booze/drugs/etc".

"If he can hang out here all day, why can't he get a job?"

"If her husband is hurting her and her kids, why doesn't she leave him?"

"Her kids are always filthy, why doesn't someone call CPS? I don't want them coming over to my house."

But I believe the reason for poverty is the same in every country. I believe the reason for drug abuse is the same in every country. I believe the reason for families falling apart is the same in every country.

And, that reason is - no one has taken the time and devoted the resources to teaching people another way. Not just dropping the money down in front of them - but actually walking with them, modeling it for them, supporting them as they struggle to change generations upon generations of problems. Not giving up the first (or 10th) time that a person falls off the wagon, or loses their job, or loses their temper, or reverts to their old way of living. But actually implementing programs that help children learn from a very young age how to make healthy decisions about their lives. Programs that don't just give adult money, but gives them skills - job, financial management and interpersonal skills.

So, I guess my final thoughts are:

Carefully look at where you think your time or money will best serve children all over this world. Please examine your reasons for wanting to adopt/foster/sponsor a child. If you feel led to help children and families in another country - great! They certainly need it. But please also look around in your own community and see if there are children and families who might also benefit from you giving of your money - or better yet your time!

I absolutely believe that God has commanded us to look after the orphans (all children!) and widows (any parent!) - His word is clear.

I just wonder if we aren't looking at all the ways we can really help them.


  1. Beautiful, thought-provoking post.
    Thank you.

  2. What a beautiful, well written SO TRUE post! Thanks for sharing your words and opinions.

  3. I love it! Very convicting.

    There is a sweet lady in our program whose daughter is adopting from...Haiti?? She gets very offended when prof/students talk about international/domestic adoption and how so many children here are without.

    I'm with you, do what you can; where you can. God leads us all differently :)

  4. Thank you for posting this. I'm a social worker as well, and also ascribe to Christianity. I wish I could point out a part of this post that stood out to me, but all of it did. You echoed my thoughts on this issue exactly. I get tired of the international vs. domestic debate when it comes to people's time, efforts, or where they go to serve others. It doesn't matter -- all people, in all countries, of all races and even class are equally human beings deserving love, compassion, and dignity when they're at an hour of need.

    Again, thank you! I really appreciated it.

  5. I wish people in certain parts of Africa would actually do more than they are doing.As a Christian,where's your FAITH??SOmetimes we expect hand-outs from other 'richer' people when we could lend each other a hand.I see it here with our poor widows-people refusing to help them when they could very well make a difference in their lives.Yes, our widows do need lots of help, but they'd need less if their own communities were loving.We should start at home, is my belief.Or at least, don't castigate those who subscribe to the adage "charity begins at home."

  6. Amen! Love it! I'm all for helping the kids in our own backyard and around the world!

  7. Thank you so much for writing with such subtlety and wisdom. It's hard to put into words what you just described. I know as a foster/adoptive parent, I struggle to differentiate myself from what I see as a paternalistic (and unfortunately often racist) strain in many apparently well intentioned child rescue efforts. I felt very relieved to read your words here.

  8. i'm new to your blog. just needed to say well done with this post. some great community development language and i so agree with you. the answer for child poverty is NOT adoption.


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