Guest post by adoptive parent Wendy Lankford
Her tired, chapped face appeared contented as she rolled through baggage claim in her new umbrella stroller with her exhausted, relieved, and overjoyed parents. Little Lina had endured a two-hour car trip from her orphanage to the nearest major city, a 12½ hour train ride to Moscow, and a 10½ hour plane ride to Baltimore. Lina has Down syndrome. Amy and Mike, her adoptive parents and close friends of mine, were among the American families to adopt one of almost 1,000 Russian children welcomed into American homes in 2011.
How should we react to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent signature of a bill effectively eliminating American adoptions of Russian orphans like Lina? How can we take action when it appears that American hands are tied?
While the immediate implications are significant and disheartening for Russia’s more than 650,0001 orphans waiting for families, and possibly hundreds of American families seeking visas for immigration of Russian orphans—as well as thousands more who might consider Russian adoption in the future—there are three things we as believers called to care for the orphan must remember.
First, the media focus on the Russian orphan crisis may bring needed attention to the plight of orphans in Russia, as well as orphans worldwide. In a Christmas address, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, appealed to congregants, “And as we celebrate Christmas I would like to appeal to everyone with a request: If you can take this important step in life aimed at adopting children, supporting orphans, take this step. There should be no orphans in our country.” The media exposure of Russia’s overburdened orphanage system, which is acknowledged by American and Russian adoption agencies alike, as well as by Russian legislators, could result in a greater legislative emphasis on non-institutional and family-based solutions domestically for Russia.
Secondly, the shift away from American “solutions” allows us to focus on and support the growing efforts by Christian Russian nationals to stem the tide of the orphan crisis. In April of 2012, The CoMission for Children at Risk and the Russian National Network for children at risk partnered with other Russian organizations to host the Alliance for Russia Without Orphans in an effort to cultivate a culture of orphan care. This Christian summit provided information and helpful resources to prepare Russian Christians to care for the most vulnerable in their country. Organizations like the Russian National Network provide resources to the Church to meet the needs in the community. The Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund is an organization that helps children in orphanages prepare for transition to life outside the orphanage by teaching them life skills. We can use this opportunity to begin to pray for, partner with, and financially support Russian domestic ministries that are caring for orphans in Christ’s name.
Finally, as Christians, the uncertainty and powerlessness we are tempted to feel in response to perceived setbacks can be potent reminders that our Sovereign Creator God is the same God in Russia that He is in America. While we cannot dictate the foreign policy direction taken by Russian leaders, we know that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.” And while we cannot control the fate of the many vulnerable Russian children waiting for homes, we know that our God “hear[s] the cry” of the orphan. God has not forgotten about the Russian orphans, and His Church is alive and working on behalf of the fatherless. We need to create partnerships with Russian churches to serve them as they live out the biblical mandate to care for the fatherless. We must pray and look for practical ways to help our brothers and sisters in Russia. Russia’s new orphan care legislation is a great limitation, humanly speaking, but it does not limit the power and passion of our God—“the Father to the fatherless”—for the orphan.