October 8, 2007

Interview: Laura Christianson, author and adoptive parent

This is the fourth in our series of interviews about adoption. The purpose of these interviews is to address adoption-related issues from a theological perspective. We are interviewing theologians, authors, adoptive parents, and a few adult adoptees about a number of adoption issues. Carolina Hope is committed to helping Christians in general and both prospective and adoptive families in particular think theologically about all things adoption. We believe that this interview series will help us accomplish this.

LauraChristiansonLaura Christianson is both an author and adoptive parent. She is the author of The Adoption Decision: 15 Things You Want to Know Before Adopting and The Adoption Network: Your Guide to Starting a Support System . If you are interested in learning how to start an adoption ministry at your church, Laura's book, The Adoption Network, walks you through the basics of planning and launching one. Laura shares some helpful counsel on beginning an adoption ministry below in this interview. Her website and award winning blog provide many online resources for adoptive families. She's also available to speak on adoption.

1. Laura, our readers would be interested to know that you too are an adoptive parent. Tell us a little about your family.

My husband and I have been parents since 1992, when we adopted our first son, who was six days old at the time. He's now 15 and a freshman in high school. We adopted our second son when he was two days old. He is now 11 and in sixth grade. We have open adoptions (which include regular visits) with their birth families. When we first looked into adopting, the thought of open adoption completely terrified us, but openness has been a huge blessing for our sons, their birth families, and us.

2. How do you think God's story of adoption (i.e. God adopting us as His children) should influence the decision to pursue adopting children?

British New Testament Scholar, N.T. Wright, writes: "God wants people from everywhere to be born in a new way; born into the family which he began through Jesus and which has since spread through the world."

When we become children of God, we shoulder the honor and the responsibility of providing the next generation with opportunities to learn what it means to be part of God's family. Whether we adopt, foster, or simply find ways to care for a neighborhood child or an orphan, I believe God challenges us to serve as non-exploitive adults in the lives of children.

3. How is God's story of adoption shaping your relationship with your adopted children?

God loved me before I was born; my mind can't fathom the depth of love my Heavenly Father has for me, His unique creation. As I interact with my children, I remind myself that they, too, are God's unique creations. My job isn't to try to recreate little clones of myself, but to celebrate the unique gifts, outlooks on life, and personalities with which God blessed my children.

4. What do you cherish most about the doctrine of adoption?

The-Adoption-DecisionAs I researched my book, The Adoption Decision, I was struck by the many parallels between first century Roman adoption practices and today's adoption practices. What hit me hardest was learning how, in first century adoptions, an adopted person was accepted as a fully legitimate child in his new family. He was figuratively "born again" into his adoptive family.

The "born again" phrase had always seemed like a cliché bit of "Christianese" until I discovered that parallel. Now, when I hear about people talk about being "born again," I equate it with being adopted—spiritually—by Christ. The phrase has taken on a new and joyous meaning.

5. Most people who read this blog have adopted children, are considering adopting a child, or are just interested in adoption. What implications might the doctrine of adoption have for couples who have adopted or are interested in adopting a child?

We each play an important role in the great drama of the Christian faith. It's critical for us to seek God's will for how God wants us to positively impact a child's life. For some of us, that will mean adopting or fostering a child. For others, it might mean starting an adoption or orphan care ministry. For still others, it might mean taking a mission trip to an overseas orphanage. We need to be attentive to whatever God is calling us to do.

6. Many couples wonder whether they would love an adopted child as much as a biological child. How would you address this concern?

God gives each of us with the capacity to unconditionally love many people in our lives, including spouses, friends, biological children, and adopted children. Loving an adopted child is a matter of choice. God has equipped us with plenty of love to go around—are we willing to tap into our reservoir and choose to love?

7. How would you counsel a couple who is considering whether or not adoption is for them? What are some key issues they need to consider during the decision making process?

Most adoptive parents sense a strong calling or desire to build their family through adoption. In addition to having a "calling" to adopt, prospective parents need to look at adoption from a practical standpoint.

* Can I afford to pay adoption fees? What are ways I can work around fees?
* Do I have the energy and perseverance to parent a child who might have serious medical or behavioral challenges?
* Are my spouse (if I have one) and other children in full agreement of my desire to adopt?
* What resources in my community exist to help me and my child deal with difficult issues?
* What type of support network do I have in place?
* Am I willing to devote the rest of my life to loving a young person with whom I have no genetic connection?

Once you're able to confidently answer those questions, you'll have a better idea of whether adoption is the right choice for you.

8. More and more churches are considering developing some type of orphan/adoption ministry. Can you share a few examples of what churches are doing in this area of ministry?

Our church just hosted a mini adoption fair on a weekday evening. We worked with our church librarian and displayed a table full of the latest, greatest adoption books for people to check out. We gathered brochures and information from regional adoption agencies, attorneys, facilitators, and organizations and encouraged people to take whatever resources they wanted. During the "program" part of our adoption fair, several adoption professionals and adoptive families spoke, and we had a Q & A session.

Churches also commonly sponsor faith-based support groups, adoptive family social groups, and short-term mission trips to orphanages. They get involved on the local level by having a winter coat drive, shoe drive, or backpack drive and donating those items to foster children.

Many churches work closely with local maternity homes to support women in crisis pregnancies (whether or not they choose adoption). Some churches even build their own maternity home, and a few churches start their own adoption agency.

9. Do you know of churches that help adoptive couples financially? If so, how?

A growing number of churches are offering financial assistance for adoptive parents. Some establish a foundation and award grants to help parents over the financial hurdle. Others use discretionary funds (often called deacons' funds) to help church members finance their adoption.

10. What are some things churches interested in developing orphan/adoption ministry should consider?

Adoption and orphan care ministry doesn't have to be expensive. I recommend starting small and working within your existing budget (which, in fact, may be no budget at all). Donate books about adoption and orphan care to your church and establish a resource lending library.

Volunteer to facilitate an informational workshop – adoption professionals in your community are usually excited to come and share their expertise (free of charge).

Offer to mentor someone in your church who is considering adopting. Adoption ministry is relational, and it benefits everyone who gets involved.

11. What are some steps churches should take to develop an orphan/adoption ministry?

The-adoption-networkRead my book, The Adoption Network! I'm not really kidding when I suggest that, because the workbook walks you step-by-step through all the things you need to do to custom-build your ministry. Your first step is to write a mission statement. Mission statements aren't all that complicated or threatening to write; they simply state: (1) who you are, (2) what you do, and (3) how you serve. Once you've figured out those three key components of your ministry, you'll be off and running.

Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to participate in this interview series!

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