By Johnny Carr
National Director of Church Partnerships
Bethany Christian Services
Americans are adopting fewer orphans from overseas, except from one country: Ethiopia. But international adoption, sending an orphan to live with a family in another country, is most frequently not the best option for many children in need.
I recently returned from Ethiopia, traveling from the outskirts of Addis Ababa to Nazret and Hawassa, several hundred miles south of the city. We were there to meet with local pastors to discuss domestic orphan care.
In Ethiopia, the orphan crisis did not receive the media scrutiny it deserved until recent years. High profile adoptions by celebrities including Angelina Jolie, and books, such as “There Is No Me Without You” by Melissa Faye Green, have helped educate many of us concerning the rapid acceleration of new orphanages in Ethiopia. I’m not talking one or two orphanages in a city, but rather five, six and seven orphanages within the span of a couple of years. But the crisis has not stemmed.
According to United Nations Human Development, United Nations International Children’s Emergency and Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey, today there are an estimated 5 million orphaned and vulnerable children in Ethiopia; 800,000 of them are AIDS orphans. The country’s cities and villages are overwhelmed; Addis Ababa alone has more than 100,000 orphans. The system is overtaxed, and sadly, new orphanages are not the answer.
While most orphanages are built in good faith they are usually built in response to a crisis. In 2009, Americans adopted 2,277 Ethiopian children. It is easy to see that the numbers just do not add up even with the addition of other countries adopting from Ethiopia. We must be proactive in our approach and not just responsive. Orphanages should not be viewed as acceptable long-term solutions for children. Man has made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children. How then do we place as many children in families as possible?
Bethany Christian Services has started bringing together churches in the United States with churches in Ethiopia into long term foster care projects. These are one-on-one relationships; essentially, the U.S. church provides the necessary financing for foster care and the Ethiopian partner inspires its members to help find families and develop loving, local communities. The two churches coordinate their efforts in a symbiotic fashion, working not only on adoption issues, but also any other missions projects that they wish.
These figures I mentioned previously show that the future of Ethiopia’s children is heading toward a crisis of epic proportion if measurable and immediate action is not taken. The existing structure of orphanages can only do so much and a large number of orphaned children still remain helpless. They are lost, confused, hungry and crying out for a family that will provide them with the basic human need: unconditional love.
We must continue to create other ways of putting children in families. We must continue to direct our efforts in and through the Church. It is our responsibility as believers – it is our honor and privilege to be able to serve the least of these.
Johnny Carr is the National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services.