A Letter to the Alternative Care Community

To the Alternative Care Community,

Living in Uganda has made the issue of "alternative care” quite visible to me, whether I wanted it or not. The great thing about this alternative care movement, at least in my mind, is that it seems to put the needs of the child first. I love that! I love the general message of alternative care: that it is far better for a child to be raised in a healthy family environment and not an institution. I could not agree with this concept more, thus I believe that, by association of beliefs, I consider myself part of the community.

We say that children should be in families, not orphanages. We say those families should be, if at all possible, the biological family. We call that resettlement and I think that has become a buzzword. If the child can’t be resettled, we look into other care options like foster care, national and international adoption. Amen. Seriously. Amen.

But, if I can be honest with you - I’m nervous. I’m not nervous about our message - that children should be, if at all possible, raised in a healthy family environment. I’m nervous that we are communicating our message in a way that is alienating people. Not only alienating them from our message, but for those of us who claim to be Christians, I fear we may be pushing people away from Christ himself.

Hear me out.

I have withheld my opinions and my input on alternative care for one reason, and one reason only - because I’m protecting my family.

Really.

I’m protecting my family from our community. In the last few months, as the topic has heated up, some of us who believe in this alternative care message have lashed out at people we believe aren’t on our team. I’ve seen families publicly criticized for adopting, organizations mocked for raising money and awareness for adoption. I’ve seen people’s character attacked on public forums simply because they are trying to do what is best for the child.

Since I’ve opened my mouth, might as well call out an example. Recently, I came across a post on Facebook. It was a link to photos of a white lady trying to adopt a girl from Uganda, and a little blurb about the problems she was running into. A Ugandan judge ruled in favor of it, and now she’s hitting problems on the U.S. side. The whole story was vague and maybe two paragraphs long.

The person who shared the story and photos gave this as their comment: “Sharing because there’s probably more to this story (isn’t there always) but wanted to pass along. I’m not sure why the State Dept is the enemy here."

You know how I read that? “I know nothing about this situation, but I’m sure these people are doing something that is either illegal or not in the best interest of the child. And since I have this feeling, I figured I would throw their story and photos out into the public arena for a good roasting. Let’s all give our opinions on what a travesty it is when people don’t keep their kid with the biological family."

If I read it that way, I think it’s a possibility that others, outside of our community that don’t know anything about alternative care, will read it similarly. What better way to alienate people from our message than to show how ruthless we are?

These are real people. They have feelings and emotions and scars and wounds. By throwing their photos and stories out for public debate, I openly submit we are causing more hurt and wounds in the name of “what is best for the child."

So, what am I protecting my family from? Well, we want to adopt. My worst nightmare is our family photo ending up on the internet and people picking us apart when they truly know nothing about our particular situation. You can take it to the bank that we are doing everything we can to make sure our adoption is above reproach, that resettlement isn’t an option, and all of the other things that our convictions demand. But what if others in this community don’t agree? I think there’s two ways it could play out.

One, we get our families story and photos posted to the internet without our consent and we are publicly scorned. People give their opinions on our case, attack our character, and shame us for not “resettling” or whatever. In this case, a few things happen. First, our hearts are deeply damaged. My opinion of alternative care is ruined, and if these people are Christians, my view of the church in general becomes bitter. And if I’m honest, I might unleash a truckload of righteous anger on whoever is responsible. I’m a husband and a future father, and I will be protective.

Second scenario: someone within the alternative care community gets a funny feeling that we are doing something immoral or illegal. They come to us, privately, and kindly share their fears and invite us to share the details with them. We are given the opportunity to, without fear of public shaming, share our story in detail. God uses this to either a) convict us of a wrongdoing or b) show the person with fears they are unfounded. The results? My respect and love for the alternative care movement and the church are both strengthened.

My challenge to all of us? Before we hit the “post” button, let us all consider which option we would prefer for our own family.

Enough of my babbling. Truth sets us free.

How do our actions stack up against scripture? Let’s see.

John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another … By this everyone will know you are my disciples, that you love one another."

Does the way we go about spreading our message convey love? Or are we like the Pharisees, quick to berate people, policing them according to the “law”. Jesus deals with that, too.

Mark 7:5 “The Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live accord to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’"

Jesus replies, “You hypocrites. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions."

Have we become so focused on “childcare ethics” that we have tossed out God’s commands to us?

Listen. I’m not against calling people out, when it is appropriate. Have proof of someone trafficking children? For the sake of all that is holy, call them out. Publicly, to the authorities, whatever. I love justice. In fact, we are all to “act justly” (Micah 6:8). But at the expense of being the church? At the expense of loving one another as commanded?

Some thoughts. I’m in it with you. How do we seek the face of God in childcare? How do we balance justice and love in this arena of alternative care without becoming the Pharisees who Jesus himself reprimanded?

Josh Hamby

Jinja, Uganda