November 13, 2007

Interview with Chris Nelson: Father of a Multi-Ethnic Family with a Special Needs Child

One of our great desires at Carolina Hope is to help Christians increasingly think about orphan ministry and adoption from a theological perspective. Carolina Hope has commissioned me to explore and articulate the beautiful gospel-connection between uppercase Adoption (i.e. God's gracious adoption of us) and lowercase adoption (i.e. our adoption of a child) so that Christians become more firmly grounded in the gospel and grow in their understanding of its profound implications for all of life. We are committed to helping Christians in general and both prospective and adoptive families in particular think theologically about all things adoption. This is one of the main reasons for this interview series.

Today's interview is with Chris Nelson. He and his wife are members of Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis. God has created a culture of adoption at Bethlehem. It is a church that embraces the truth that adoption is the heart of the gospel. Bethlehem sees the earthly practice of adoption as a beautiful reflection of what God has done in the gospel.

1. Chris, tell us a little about your family.

My wife Katie and I have been married for 9 years and live in Hopkins, MN. We have a 6 year old adopted son, Andrew, and an 8 month old adopted son, Joseph. Both are from Korea. Andrew has a chromosome abnormality called partial trisomy 18, and Joseph is typically developing. Finding out about Andrew’s chromosome abnormality when he was 2 shook our world...and has been the biggest blessing we’ve received in making us get serious about faith in Christ, and growing to understand what we are truly here for in this world – and it’s not little league and soccer practice.

2. What initially motivated you to adopt?

Primarily the desire to have children and expand our family and the “feeling” that the time was right. My wife has an adopted brother and from the time we married we had always talked about adopting – it felt very natural and “right” to both of us. I guess you could say we felt it as a calling, although we didn’t articulate it as that at the time.

3. What kind of responses have you received from extended family and friends about your decision to adopt?

Most family and friends were very supportive of our first adoption 6 years ago, although there were some who seemed to falsely assume that adoption was necessarily a second choice. It wasn’t. Our oldest son has some special needs and when we started telling people of our plan to adopt a second child there was significantly less support, along with the implicit and explicit “are you nuts?”

4. How do you think the gospel should influence the decision to pursue adoption?

The gospel should be the thread that binds the adoption decision together. We are God’s adopted children through Christ, and what a powerful metaphor to adopt little ones in this age and to raise them up in truth to understand that Christ loved us first and gave himself up for us that we might be reconciled to him...he loved us first that we could love him by giving ourselves away that others might see and savor Jesus.

5. How is the gospel shaping your relationship with your adopted children?

Powerfully. My wife and I often reflect on how God has grown us in Him through having a special needs child and through adoption in general. One example is that having a child in general, and particularly one with special needs that can sometimes seem extra frustrating, has helped us to see just how sinful our hearts really are and has made Jesus’ finished work even sweeter. When we are wrong in a situation we humbly apologize to our oldest son and ask his forgiveness...and he is so quick to give hugs and kisses in return.

It’s also been powerfully humbling to me to read the bible and pray with our oldest son, as in the past I had often used his developmental and cognitive lack as an excuse not to do these things...yet by God’s grace I’ve learned those things aren’t just for him, but to humble and shape me too.

6. How have you sought to help your adopted children understand the gospel better through their adoption?

We have not directly talked about adoption with either of our children yet, although I expect we will as they get older and talk about the great gift of being adopted by God through Jesus.

7. Did you or do you have any fears related to your adopted children's future as a members of your family? If so, what were/are they and how have you sought to apply the gospel to those fears?

We’ve seen the struggles of some adopted children who are now adults...even leading in one case to suicide. So the reality of the internal identity struggles that some adoptees face is very real and needs to be taken seriously. We’ve also seen other adoptees who are very well adjusted and seem to deeply love the Lord. Our oldest son is pretty significantly developmentally and cognitively disabled, so we sometimes wonder if he will ever even understand what adoption is, and if he will live in a group home when he reaches legal age, or if he will live with us until God takes us home. What will happen to him then? We will make plans accordingly for someone to care for him, and entrust them to the Lord. In all this I’ve found myself not worrying about such things but just seeking to grow in Christ myself, and to grow in being faithful to sharing Christ with our boys, praying with and for them, and trusting in the sovereignty and supremacy of God over all things.

I want Andrew and Joseph to grow up knowing that adoption is a beautiful thing, a picture of the grace of God, and that God doesn’t make mistakes. That they are our sons, and we are their parents, and it is so for a reason – that God may be glorified and that He would be our joy.

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