In her 30 years of work in human services for state government, Sharen Ford is very familiar with the power of adoption—and the need for adoptive families. As a Christian woman, she is also very aware of the important role we can all play in encouraging and supporting those who choose to adopt. She now shares her expertise and passion through the adoption-related ministries of Focus on the Family. TCW talked with her about the beauty and
Christian calling of adoption.
What's your role at Focus on the Family?
I am the program director for Focus on the Family's Adoption & Orphan Care Initiative. I work on projects that help raise awareness and do recruitment for children who are waiting in states all across the U.S. We engage folks on the ground—local churches, local private child placement agencies—and get them to partner so that people who are thinking about adoption or are on the cusp of moving forward to become an adoptive family have resources available. They know who to be connected to, and through that connection they can get connected to the state or to the local child worker agency so they can get through the process of becoming a family for a waiting child.
How do you serve families in your role?
I serve families by being an educator and an advocate. I always want families to know what their options are, what resources are available to them, how we can play an appropriate role in their life. I think families don't always have information, and the lack of information causes them to make uninformed decisions, so I've always tried to make sure that if I knew it they knew it, and the sooner the better so they could make good choices. So you're serving families all over who are interested in adopting and helping them find the resources they need to move forward in that process. This is about our nation's children and also about providing support services—those wraparound services to families who have already adopted—and sharing with families who are getting ready to go through this adoption process. You want to have a strong support network, and what better place to have a support network than your local church? So it's also about equipping churches with information on how they can wrap around and support families who are going through the adoption process and who have already adopted and are raising children.
What's important about the church's role? What can churches do to provide better support for adoptive families?
What's really important about the church is that it's the natural place for families to get that support. You're going there already every week for Bible study or small group or Sunday service, youth group, children's ministry . . . that's the natural place where families are already connected and people know and love you and they want to support you in being successful. So we want the local church to be there for each other and to help its neighbors. We reach out to them and say, "Here's an opportunity to serve one another and to do it well."
Are you asking churches to encourage families to adopt, or is this just about supporting families who have already adopted?
Actually, both. We're saying, "Would you share from the pulpit that there are children all across your state waiting to have families?" We can tell you how many children in your state are available for adoption. We definitely need the church to do that call to their congregation and say, "Is this something God has called you to?" Everyone's not called to it, and that's okay, but there's a role for everyone to play. Whether you're the one who's adopting or you're going to support someone who chooses to adopt because God's called them to do that. So it's all about building a network of support across the system. All along the way. It's a lifetime journey. It's not a sprint. This is a lifetime journey.
How has God uniquely equipped and prepared you for this role?
I grew up on a military base. My dad was in the Army, and he always taught us about getting an education and really loving the Lord and taught us that we are to be givers and servers. And interestingly enough, all of my siblings are in serving ministries, from law enforcement to social workers. You know, I've got a couple degrees under my belt, all focused on giving, serving people. I always understoodthat family was bigger than your birth family. In my culture we just took people in and they became your play sister, your brother, but you were family to them. I worked for state government for 30 years, in human services. As I was entering child welfare and saw that children were being removed to protect them and they needed family to be there for them, I wondered, "How could I make a difference in the life of a child?" This is family, and the family of the church has an opportunity to continue to be there for everyone—not just the children but the families who adopt or foster children.
What's the impact of adoption on adoptive parents and families, and on churches and communities that welcome people through adoption?
All across the states there are adoption days where the courts are open and people can go and participate, actually go into a courtroom and see an adoption being finalized. And you see the family just stream in: grandma, auntie, great-grandma, cousins, you know, the people down the street, balloons, it's just a huge celebration. This is adoption, this is the birth, this is the wedding, and this is our day. The judge asks the family questions, they ask the child questions, and the judge hits the gavel and says, "You are now adopted. Come up, everybody, and sign the names." Many of the judges allow the kids to come up and take a picture with the judge behind the judge's bench so they have that picture to capitalize on that day. It's just a huge, huge, huge wedding. I've been there when 100 people showed up for a sibling group of five to be adopted. I mean, you don't see weddings that big. It was just phenomenal. You just bring the Kleenex because you know you're going to cry. And the joy you see—I don't care how old the child is, you know they are cognitively able to be a part of it . . . the laughter and the love. There is one adoption that happened where this mom was down the hall and this child came running to her new mom after the judge hit the gavel and mom just set herself to catch her new daughter. It's just a celebration of life, and your church community is a part of that. I've seen pastors be present; I've seen the adoption after-party at the church where the church family celebrates. It's beautiful.
What makes adoption a ministry that Christians specifically should consider?
Adoption is specifically meaningful to Christians because we are all adopted into God's kingdom. We are all adopted children. I have brothers and sisters in whatever nation I go to because there are people who know and love the Lord. If God adopted me, who am I to say to someone else, "No, you can't be adopted. You're unadoptable." That's not in God's vocabulary, so Christians, there's no unadoptable child. The Bible is very clear that we are to take care of the widow and the orphan. All throughout the Bible, God says to take care of the children, and who better to take care of God's people than God's children?
How is welcoming people into our family an expression of our Christian faith?
Adoptive families talk about expressing their Christian faith through adopting. They say God has called them to that. For some, he's called them to minister to those with trauma backgrounds, to the least of these. They hear God's direction based on their Christian faith: If God wants to use my family to make a difference in the life of someone else, adoption can mean lining up with God's purpose for my family. So maybe adoption gives us an opportunity to express the purpose God created families for. It's not just about being a family but it's about being a family and the impact we have on the world around us. It's about our family following and fulfilling the purposes that God has called us to.
Amy Simpson is editor of Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership, Senior Editor of Leadership Journal, a speaker, and a Co-Active personal and professional coach. She's also author of the award-winning Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission (InterVarsity Press). You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter @aresimpson.