In one of the classes I was a part of here in Uganda this past week, the topic of
international adoption was being discussed. African pastors were talking about
Westerners adopting Ugandan orphans, so we Westerners asked them for their
opinion on the matter. The response was startling. They asked us a simple
question: “Well, how would you feel if we Ugandans came to the U.S., adopted some
of your children, and brought them back to Uganda to raise them here?”

That simple question revealed all sorts of assumptions and emotions. For many of
us, our initial reaction is pretty ethno-centric and ethno-superior: “That wouldn’t
make sense, they’d obviously have a better life here,” or maybe “Americans
shouldn’t be raised in Africa.”

But maybe there is a more theologically grounded response: “If you did that, then
the church in America would lose an opportunity to care for the poor and orphaned
around us.” But if we’re going to make that assertion, shouldn’t the same thing apply
to the church in Uganda?

Here is my question: By adopting internationally, is it possible that we are robbing
the church in other parts of the world of an opportunity to show Christ’s love to the
people around them?

In similar fashion, I am curious about how international adoption can weaken the impact of the local church in the communities where the adoptive families are located. I wonder what is being communicated to the children & caseworkers in local foster care systems when they see so many families from various churches adopting internationally? I wonder if this gives them a higher view of God and of God’s love for them.

I am a bit hesitant to write this post. In part because it is a sensitive topic, and
in part because I know my tendency is to sound rather critical when I talk about
certain things. Please understand my desire with this post is to raise a question, not
to cast judgment. If as you read you feel a judgmental tone please refer back to this
sentence. I raise this question only because it was raised by a Ugandan pastor, and it
challenged my thinking in an unexpected way.

I wouldn’t even begin to suggest that we simply abandon the poor or orphaned—not
in our local settings, nor anywhere else in the world. But have we thought through
the implications of plucking them from their local setting and relocating them to our
American setting? Without a doubt, we can help meet physical needs through international adoption. But do we in the process
weaken both the church here as well as the church in places like Uganda? Perhaps a better approach would be to
empower the church in these hurting locations so that they can care for the orphans
in their midst. I’m not claiming that this would work right off the bat, and I’m not
saying that there wouldn’t be problems with such an approach. But I do think it’s
important that we ask and answer questions like this.

One thing I can say with confidence is that sometimes our well-intentioned efforts to
help other people actually does unexpected damage. If local pastors in Uganda aren’t
convinced that international adoption is the best approach, then maybe we need to
consider another alternative.

I’ve tried to hedge and qualify my statement enough. Let’s hear some feedback…


  1. I disagree. There is no shortage here or anywhere else of orphans. There are plenty in Africa that Africans can adopt, even with all the adoptions going on internationally.

    As for us not taking care of the orphans around us, I would ask: Is it more godly for an American to adopt an American baby rather than an African baby? I really don’t think so.

    Obviously, I am all for international adoption, if that wasn’t clear 😉 and I second your comment about sounding judgmental even when I don’t want to. I tend to do that, also, and if that’s the case with this, I hope you sense passion rather than judgment.

    • Heather, is it more godly to adopt a national baby (or child of any age) than an international? Absolutely not. I don’t think there is any confusion or dissension here. So, maybe that’s not the right question to be asking.

      Maybe a better question is:

      What is best for the gospel?

      I don’t think there will ever be a shortage of orphans in the world, not until Christ returns. So with the orphans we do adopt, how can we be strategic in our decision for the greatest advancement of the gospel?

      From the Ugandan pastor’s perspective, it doesn’t seem like it is well received that Americans snatch babies from other parts of the world, even if we think they’ll have a better life with all the distraction and materialism the comes from living in North America. (As an aside, let me clearly acknowledge that the Enemy uses different schemes in different locales in order to lead people away from Christ, so America is not the “worst place to be a Christian.”) But not only is it not received well by indigenous people’s (at least in the case of one indigenous pastor), but what good is it doing in proclaiming the gospel to those here in America who are generally concerned about orphans, e.g. child-case workers and local adoption agencies, which are comprised of many unbelievers.

      I think there is truth to Spencer’s point that “unexpected damage” can be incurred even within the context of “well-intentioned efforts.”

      Therefore, Spencer’s question is a good one, and it should lead us to ask in each case of adoption, Will adopting locally or internationally best glorify God in the midst of the people he has placed me in? Which is most effective for the advancement of His kingdom?

      No matter where the church adopts, I think it is a good and pleasing thing to the Lord. But let us strive to maximize the gospel-ripples that an adoption can potentially create in the pond that we have been called to swim in (lame metaphor, I know).