What would lead a man to take his family of 5 and travel over 6,000 miles around the world to bring 2 boys home to a forever family? The beginning of this journey began over 14 years ago when my wife, Gelaina, was pregnant with our first child. During her pregnancy, God began to soften her heart to the idea of adoption. Whenever she would mention it to me, I would never give it a second thought. I grew up in the church, so I had read verses like James 1:27 hundreds of times, but I always thought I could fulfill that by helping out at a children’s home every now and then. However, God had something else in mind.
My heart began to soften towards adoption when one of my best friends from college (also a groomsman in my wedding), and his wife adopted a beautiful baby boy from here in the States. My wife and I were there first hand when they went to the hospital to pick up their new bundle of joy, and their journey of parenthood began. I was also there a few years later when they picked up their second baby boy from the hospital. I was able to observe the immediate connection they had once they held each one of those boys in their arms for the first time. It was in those moments that the Holy Spirit would whisper, “See, Robert, you could do this.” At that point in our life, though, the timing just wasn’t right.
Allow me to interject another aspect of the story that needs to be addressed. About 10 years ago, I met Jason Hester (founder of Restoration Hope) in a small group that we both attended. God was beginning to press on my heart the importance of having an accountability partner, and the Spirit led me to Jason. Little did either one of us know where this relationship would take over the course of the next 10 years. Now, let’s pick back up with the story, because it is this brotherhood that solidified my calling to adoption.
After we had our third biological child, we began to talk about the possibility of adoption. After my wife read a book entitled “Orphanology,” she knew that the time for us to adopt was close. I read the book as well, and over the course of the next year, we would have many discussions about it. We began to pray about who we should adopt, from where, when, and so on and so on. I wasn’t quite 100 percent on board, but I was more open to it than I had ever been. Not long after reading this book, we boarded a plane, as a family of 5 to head to South Africa for a family mission trip to support the Hester family (and Restoration Hope) while they served in the community of Sweetwaters for 3 months. It was while I was there, that God wrecked me. I began to question everything I believed about God. Basically, God was tearing away all the beliefs that I had about Him that were based on what others had told me about God. He wanted me to have a faith that was my own. I found myself standing in a one room hut in the center of an AIDS stricken community, where there are hundreds,if not thousands, of child headed households and I realized that I didn’t believe God was enough for this person who was on the verge of death. As the trip was drawing to a close, we spent a little more time at the orphanage that Restoration Hope supports. I realized through serving in that orphanage that I could love a child that I did not help create. It didn’t matter what race they were, the background they grew up in, or the circumstances that put them in the orphanage.
After coming home from that trip, we began praying very specifically for all the details of our adoption, because we knew that it wasn’t a matter of if we’d adopt, but when. I was fully on board. Through the study of “Orphanology,” we were led to adopt from Ukraine, specifically, the Odessa area of Ukraine. We were also led to adopt a sibling group, because they are significantly less likely to be adopted in Ukraine because you have to take all the siblings when you adopt internationally from there. We also felt led to adopt at least 2 brothers. We wanted our oldest son to remain the oldest child. After hearing all these specific things to look for, we began praying to that end. In September of 2012, we were at a birthday party at a local skating rink. At the same time, there was a group of orphans from Ukraine that were there, too. They were here as part of an orphan hosting program. There was only one boy on the trip, so we thought we’d inquire about him. We sat down with him and a translator and began to have a conversation with him. We found out that he was 3 months younger than our oldest son, he was from the Odessa region of Ukraine, and he had a younger brother. After finding all these details out, we knew instantly that these were our boys. We went to a skating party at 10:00 am, and by noon that day we began the process of adopting these 2 boys. On April 21st of this year, were turned home from Ukraine as a family of 7.
It is the hardest thing we have ever done. Period. There are days that I wonder what I have done to my family, to my wife,and to my kids. Retraining years of learned behavior is very difficult, especially with a 13 and 10 year old. However, God continues to remind me that this is what He wants for our lives. There are too many “coincidences” to think that we made the wrong decision. Our ultimate desire is to see these boys come to a relationship with Christ and possibly return to their homeland as missionaries, but, it’s going to take a lot of work. Every day is a battle against fleshly desires to quit, to not show grace, to not show love, and many other struggles. However, it just reminds me of how I treat God sometimes. His love, grace,compassion, patience, etc. never runs out. It’s an endless stream for when I need to take a drink (thank goodness it isn’t a stagnant lake). It’s then that He reminds me that I can be that same thing for my family and,specifically, those boys. My job is to show them the love of Christ.
So, the question is now presented to you. What do you do when God commands us in James 1:27 to care for widows and orphans? It’s not a suggestion, it’s a command. Allow me to give you some suggestions. First, you can give to organizations that are making a difference in the lives of widows and orphans like Restoration Hope. It’s almost something most of us would prefer to do (me included, most of the time). Now, let’s take it a step further: maybe God’s calling you to go. You can go and find a place like the Children’s Village or a Children’s Home and volunteer your time and invest in these forgotten ones, these kids that are desperate for someone to give them value. Go and give them a safe place where they can feel loved and appreciated. Maybe God’s calling you to step out even further, and He wants you to go to a place like South Africa and serve as a short term missionary helping out in the ministries that Restoration Hope supports. These partners are impacting a community and are starting to see a generation change. What could be more important than changing an entire community for Christ! Finally, here’s one last option,find a family that has adopted and support them. They are tired and run down. It is a daily struggle for them to keep their sanity and keep their focus. Support them by watching their kids for a date night. Take their laundry and wash it for them. Bring them a meal. Be a sounding board for them. Most importantly, don’t judge them. They are going through the hardest circumstance that they have ever encountered. God is in the process of refining this family and these parents. While you may not understand what they’re going through, you can still love them and accept them during this time of brokenness. Love and accept them unconditionally and try to figure out the best way you can help.
There are numerous ways you can live out the commands to care for orphans, but you have to be on the lookout for them. You can’t expect them to come to you. You are going to have to seek them out. God’s desire is for each of us to actively pursue ways to live out this command, and don’t think that you are done just because you served one Saturday. Just because we’ve adopted 2 boys doesn’t mean that we’re off the hook for this command either. Hopefully, this post will encourage you to be aware of the opportunities God presents to you to live this command out. It’s His desire for us, as the Church and bride of Christ, to care for the least of these. We all know that Jesus has a special place in his heart for children, and we should too. See you in the trenches!
Robert Allen is President of Oil and Gas Accounting Services in Flowood. Robert has served on the board of Restoration Hope since its founding and has traveled with his family to serve on the ground in Sweetwaters, South Africa. Robert’s heart, talents, and involvement with Restoration Hope have been instrumental in bringing relief, rebuilding capacity, and redefining opportunity for the poor, widowed, and orphaned across the globe.