Last week I was honored to go to Kenya with AWANA International. AWANA has 1,500 groups in Kenya, and they are doing amazing things. But the most amazing thing (to me!) was the work they are doing in the Kibera slums.
The Kibera slums is estimated to be home to 1.3 million people, nearly half of them are children. Many of these children are orphans due to the death of a parent—many to AIDS. Yet dedicated leaders are creating schools and providing homes for these children. Because of AWANA these children know the Word of God!
If you know me at all, you know that the word “orphan” captures my heart. I cannot put into words how deeply touched I was to spend time with those little children—to laugh with them, to hold them, and dance with them—and then have to walk away.
These are children without parents, and there is no foster care system or other government program to care for them. They are alive and fed because godly, caring adults took them in. Can you imagine a more heartbreaking state to be in? To be unknown, not accounted for?
Because the state of orphans, and adoption, is close to my heart this conversation came up with the West Africa AWANA director, Charles.
“Adoption is very hard in our country,” he said. “There is a lot of obstacles. There is a lot a paperwork and there is a lot of problems with allowing adoptions to happen.” Charles should know. He’s an adoptive father of two.
Charles went on to tell me that there is a child trafficking problem in Kenya and the government’s rules are trying to protect children. As a result, may children will never know a forever home.
“This is a problem,” Charles told me. “A very big problem. Adoption is very hard here.”
My heart broke to hear this. After being in Kenya, I know that even those who want to adopt have little funds to do so. And because of the devastation of AIDS there could never be enough adults to adopt all the children left in the wake. The average life span in Africa is 47-years-old and most people live on $1.00 a day. Finding a forever home for every child in those circumstances is impossible.
Thankfully, there are loving people who don’t worry about the official paperwork. They feel God’s call and then take children in. They care and feed for those with no home and no hope. Because of AWANA they plant God’s Word deep into children’s hearts and teach them what a relationship with Christ is all about. They have few material goods, but they share all they have because of the love of God within them.
As I talked with Charles I listened, I nodded, and then I felt the words exploding from my mouth. “We have a problem—a very big problem with adoption in our country too.” And then I went on to explain.
“In our country adoption is very easy. In Arkansas—the state I live in—there is a foster care system that helps children. If you are a good family, you can adopt children without much problem. You have to go to 30 hours of classes. You have to allow people interview you and come into your home, but otherwise adoption is free.
“There are over 500 children, just in Arkansas, who are waiting for a forever family. Once you go through the training, and your home is approved, our government even pays you to provide foster care until the adoption is finalized. These children have medical care through this state program, and other needed resources, such as therapy, is provided for. In some cases the adoptive parents will continue to receive board payment when they adopt sibling groups or special needs kids, until the child is eighteen-years-old. There are support groups to help parents and children through the transition.
“Unlike in Africa, where people live on little, in America we have plenty. Most people live in clean, safe homes and have vehicles. Education is free. In America, the problem with adoption isn’t that we have too little. It’s that we have too much, and we get comfortable. Comfort is even more a hinderance than poverty when it comes to caring for ‘the least of these.’”
Our group was silent as I finished. I looked across the table and my eyes connected with Charles’. We are both adoptive parents, and both of us have broken hearts. Both of us were thinking about the children and of the problems in our own country.
The sad news about adoption in our world is different for various reasons. In Kenya, the courts make adoption very hard, but in America the sad news is that our riches make it even harder.
I thought I’d leave Kenya with a heavy heart for the children there. It is heavy. But I returned with an even heavier heart for us here in our country. For all of us who are missing out because it’s so easy to look away.
I cry for the children who are waiting for someone to choose him or her. They live here, too, and they know it’s not poverty that is stopping parents from coming to them.
I wonder if waiting children glance at the nice homes as they ride by and wonder, “Surely a couple out there has a little room in their homes and their hearts for me …”
We sit inside our homes and watch our televisions and play on our computers. We have food in our cupboards and closets filled with clothes, and we find it too easy to look the other direction. It’s the most heartbreaking state I can imagine—even more heartbreaking than the slums of Kibera.
Lord, help us all.