From Southern Racist to Adoptive Dad
I was born and raised in the South. The roots I have in the state of Tennessee run deep. I firmly believe that in Heaven my granny’s syrupy sweet tea will be served with lunch on Sundays. I still love the same kind of country music our local station played through the static on my great grandmother’s cheap kitchen radio.
With much pride, I embrace my southern heritage. And yet, there is one connection with my past for which I am abundantly ashamed.
I was a racist!
It turns my stomach but I cannot deny that racism was a part of the way I was raised. Now, it wasn’t the sort of violent racism of the 50s and 60s. I wasn’t scandalized that black people drank from the same water fountains I did. We attended the same schools, played on the same sports teams, and it all seemed right.
It wasn’t until we gathered for dinner on Sundays that the racist residue of our past could be smelled. It was in the secret of heated church business meetings that our prejudices were defended as even being biblical.
For reasons unknown to me at the time, we still had to protect our families and churches from becoming ‘mixed.’ After all we were told, “Birds of a feather flock together.” And even, Moses was forbidden to intermarry. (Numbers 12:1)
Such thinking didn’t stop us from praying for the lost in Africa during our prayer meetings. We even held backyard bible clubs in predominantly black areas in nearby inner cities. We had no problem going to them. We just didn’t want them ever coming to us.
The subtly of the sin I willingly embraced was just as loud as the color of orange I still wear as loyal Tennessee Vol fan. Its hard to believe I didn’t see it just as clearly.
As a young Bible college student I began to see that God’s family, the church, is designed to be a mixed with more than just different skin tones. His plan is to adopt people from every race and culture into one family. (Revelation 5:9) I came to see that using, ‘ya’ll’ when talking about the church is more than acceptable. And yet, Jesus’ bride isn’t just white with a southern accent.
This new way of thinking led to some heated debates with a few relatives. It also led my wife and I to adopt two boys from Ethiopia. It was on July 13, 2009, that these abstract theological concepts of race and adoption became a living, breathing rebuke to all I use to think and believe.
The racism I formerly embraced now followed me to the grocery store. I began to notice second glances from others upon seeing a white dad with two black sons. My prejudices cornered me when people would ask me, “Why black kids?” The sins of my past haunted me when I heard folks begin their sentences with, “I’m not racist but…”
For some time I found myself constantly irritated with the racist tendencies of others. Then I realized why. The reason I know what’s behind their stares and comments, is because the same foolishness was once in me. No longer was my anger directed solely toward relatives who still use the ‘N’ word. My indignation toward racism had to first be stared down in the mirror.
Through the process of adoption that God has thoroughly transformed my thoughts about race. He is also changing many in my family through two black boys who now share the same heritage and last name as their white grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
And yet this is the same story Jesus is telling over and over in the world. As He builds his church, racists from Tennessee to Zimbabwe are to take notice of the many shades and colors of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Our prayer should be that they not only hear us sing, “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.” But that they will come to know its true and begin to sing with us, “Red, yellow, black and white, and even former racist like me.”
As announced, on March 10, 2011, the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs reduced the processing of intercountry adoption cases from 50 per day to 5 per day.
The Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs approves the matching of orphans with families before the cases are heard in the Ethiopian court.
There is still uncertainty as to how this will affect cases the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs has already approved and sent on to Ethiopian Court.
According to joint council US Embassy officials have a scheduled meeting with the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs for Monday, March 14, 2011.
In attempts to alleviate international scrutiny over alleged corruption in the system, Ethiopia has been adjusting its adoption procedures for some time now. Many believe this cut back is an unnecessary overreaction to only a few instances of corruption.
Please continue to pray for the 5 million orphans in Ethiopia!
During this years Summit VII which is being held in Louisville, KY on May 12-13. I have the privilege of leading a breakout session entitled “Pastoral Ministry and Cross Ethnic Adoption.” We will be discussing: How leading your local church to champion cross-ethnic adoption can lead to a greater understanding of kinship in Christ and a more aggressive approach to gospel unity in the church.
Because the act of adoption is a reflection of what God is doing for us in Christ, the gospel can be experienced in a myriad of practical ways within and through the lives adoptive families. When connected to the church’s mission is assisting these families in the rescue and care for orphans, there are a myriad of practical gospel benefits that can be experienced in the life of the body. The church is able to more deeply understand what it means to be a family that God is creating through adoption as the gospel echoes in 3D from the nursery to the student ministry wing to the worship center.
I hope you will join us on May 12-13. Register for Summit VII here.
2010 World Impact Conference Reflection #1
a key point of reflection for me from the conference was that:
Orphan care must be more organic than programmatic.
- Tools, structures, and resources must be in place for us to be effective at fleshing out our passion to serve vulnerable children. And yet, we must be primarily driven, not by a program, but by the gospel.
Mercy and love are not abstract concepts. They are realities that we experience because of our relationship to the Father. They are what force us to respond to the crisis of the moment for the least of these in society with mercy and love.
The natural and immediate response to the crisis of 145,000,000 vulnerable children in the world has to mercy and love for those who are experiencing mercy and love.
This is why our greatest service to orphans is to continue to preach the gospel in our church, in the world, and in our homes. As we preach Christ and Him crucified to the former and current spiritual orphans among us, we seek to cultivate, not an adoption ministry, but an adoption culture.
For a long-term effective ministry, caring for orphans and widows must not just be something we do. It has to be more of who we are as children of God.
GUEST POST by David E. Prince
Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. Psalm 115:8
In the verse above the Psalmist provides a warning about idolatry. Those who create idols to worship become like them (lifeless, useless, empty). Whatever you heart relies on, clings to, and trusts for security that is your god/God. If it is not the triune God of the Bible then it is an idol god. There is no neutrality or static middle ground; if you worship an idol you become like the object of your worship.
We become like what we worship. Therefore it is equally true that if we worship the triune God of the Bible as revealed in Jesus Christ we will become like Him. And as John Stott has written, “The God of the Bible is a missionary God” and if we worship Him we will be a missionary people. But one of the primary ways that God describes His work of saving and gathering His people from every tribe, tongue and nation is adoption. The children of God through Jesus (His only Son, John 3:16) are those He gave the right to sonship and now these adopted Sons cry out “Abba, Father” (John 1:12; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:5) with their elder brother, Jesus (Mark 14:36; Hebrews 2:11-12).
Therefore, since we become like what we worship, we must be a missionary people who preach the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation and we must also be a people picture that Gospel among every tribe, tongue, and nation through adoption.
What God has joined together let no man separate.
GUEST POST: by David E. Prince
“I thought you said you were having a Mission Conference?” That is not an unusual reaction when people find out that responding to the global orphan crisis through adoption is the topic of our 2010 Mission Conference. The adoption of orphans and the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are completely distinct categories in the mind of many evangelical Christians.
The adoption of orphans is a good thing that we are glad some people are involved in but glorifying God through the Great Commission is the central task of all followers of Jesus Christ. Such a view ignores the fact that the Scripture describes the unfolding of the Great Commission as God’s work of adoption (Romans 8:15; 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). As J.I. Packer so powerfully stated in Knowing God, “adoption is the highest privilege of the Gospel.” We are not only declared righteous in a legal sense in the Gospel we are also totally embraced in the family of God with a new identity and inheritance.
Human families exist because they are a reflection of the eternal Fatherhood of God and His plan for the eternal Son to be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11-18). These brothers in the family of God were not born into His family but they are those who by grace “He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:13). They are the adopted children of God. We look to God as Father to understand and define the role of earthly Fathers and as we live with earthly fathers we better understand His perfect fatherly provision in our lives.
Consider how Jesus reasons when He calls for His followers to forgive others their trespasses and for those who refuse to forgive others He warns “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). This plea and warning do not provide a plan for justification by forgiveness but assert the direct relationship between being forgiven by God and forgiving others. Jesus points to the reciprocal relationship between the forgiveness He provides in the Gospel and the forgiveness of the flesh and blood people we rub shoulders with every day. According to Jesus, it is nonsensical for someone who has been eternally forgiven to refuse to forgive.
This reciprocal relationship is the way it always works with Christian living and why the believer never moves past the Gospel. Thus, it is nonsensical for those who were spiritual orphans and have been adopted into the family of God through the atoning blood of Jesus to refuse to be involved in the adoption of the millions of physical orphans in the world today. When we understand this it becomes clear why James refers to rescuing orphans as “Religion that is pure and undefiled” (James 1:27). Not all Christians will or should become adoptive parents but all Christians must be involved in seeing orphans adopted into families and look into the face of an earthly abba, father who will tell them about the Abba, Father and His eternal Son.
As my friend Russell Moore has said, “The Great Commission is a call to spiritual warfare not a public relations campaign.” The same is true for adoption. Christian adoption is not simply a nice thing for kind, charity-minded people. Living the Gospel in the world by adopting orphans is spiritual warfare and Satan hates it because it cannot be severed from the Great Commission. Adoption is a fundamental aspect of the battle against the principalities and powers who hate the Gospel. When we can ignore the cries of the millions of orphans in the world we are not simply saying something about our charity but about our missiology.
“I thought you said you were having a Mission Conference?”
“We are, we really are.”
A few weeks ago, my grandmother told Jonah that she had been to Africa. He responded, as only Jonah could respond, “Really Granny? We didn’t see you there.” Amidst the laughter, I realized something. While Jonah didn’t see his granny in Africa, the mission trip she took there is one reason he is now here 20 something years later.
I was a small child when my grandmother took a month long trip to Africa. She served in a village full of poverty and sickness. She used her spiritual gift of ‘southern hospitality’ to serve the least of these while the gospel was proclaimed where it had never been heard before.
Before leaving for Africa, she sat me down and explained to me why she was traveling so far away for such a long time. She explained that there were people in Africa who had never heard about Jesus. As I began to ask her questions, not only about Africa but also about Jesus, she explained to me my own sin and need for the Savior. It was then that the gospel started making sense to me.
The pictures, stories, and smells she brought back with her never left me. Growing up in her home, I continually found myself thumbing through the picture album created from her trip. She even came to my elementary school to show her slides and explain the issues affecting the people of Africa. With pride, I showed all my friends the souvenir drums and toys she brought home with her. The conditions of the villages displayed in those pictures were forever imprinted in my heart.
Last year, these pictures became reality as I traveled to Africa myself. I was able to witness the poverty and sickness of those pictures firsthand. My wife and I brought home more than just pictures and souvenirs. We brought home two sons.
When we arrived in Lexington, my grandmother made sure she was one of the first family members visit her newest grandsons. With tears in her eyes, she is able to see, touch, and kiss the fruit of an investment she began to make some twenty years ago.
This is one reason I cannot wait for our Care 4 Africa (a virtual mission experience for children) on September 23-26. At Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, we long for our children to touch and feel missions around the world. As they grow in our congregation, we want them to see the mission as central to their life, whether they ever leave the Bluegrass or not.
Our goal is to creatively display the issues that children face in Africa. Our prayer is that there would be many children like myself, who after seeing the sights, hearing sounds, and smelling the smells, will be used of God in years to come to care for orphans and preach the gospel in Africa. Like my grandmother, I long for the day when I will be able to hold some of the children who will be brought home because of Care 4 Africa. Who knows? They may even be some of my own grandchildren!