Things to Say [Differently] on Orphan Sunday

This Sunday, November 11, 2018, is Orphan Sunday. Many churches will allocate time in their services to raise awareness for adoption, especially for those in foster care. In addition to the preparations already made for National Adoption Awareness Month, prayerfully consider the perspectives of those in the church for whom adoption or foster care is already part of their story. Recognize that the Orphan Sunday presentation may unintentionally cause injury.

To show honor and care for them, evaluate your messaging using the following questions:

How will adopted and foster children view their own story in relationship to the way orphans are portrayed?

Stress the value of all persons as being created by God and bearing His image. Steer clear of messaging that leverages emotion to inspire adoption; when an adoptee hears such language (and feels the associated emotions), they may internalize a depreciated sense of their value, feel pitied, or question the motives of their adoptive parents. Likewise, choose language that won’t make those attending church with their foster parents feel like a burden to those caring for them.

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How will adoptive and foster parents who are struggling feel?

The positive outcomes of adoption should absolutely be shared as testimony to the work of God in the lives of children and families. Yet when a reported 14% of families experience attachment issuesand a host of other challenges, we must acknowledge that not every story is a happy one. Take care that adoptive and foster parents in the congregation don’t feel further isolated due to presentations that don’t acknowledge the impact of their child’s trauma on their families. Affirm not just the decision to adopt, but pledge to come alongside adoptive families with longevity and encourage them to make their struggles known for the sake of more support. It may be tempting to avoid mentioning the grief and hardships experienced in adoption, but portraying a truthful account of adoption is the best way to assure that parents are prepared which, in turn, best helps the adopted child.

How will those who’ve made an adoption plan for a child of their own, or had their parental rights terminated, hear the message?

Check your language to be sure none of it implicitly or explicitly condemns the birth (or adoptive/foster) parent. As the third part of the adoption triad, those who made an adoption plan or had their rights terminated experience grief—and may still be in the throes of it. Maintain a posture of welcome, hold space for those who’ve walked this painful road to allow them to experience the tender care of God through the church and, if warranted, forgiveness. Children come to be available for adoption through many paths; avoid causing injury by recognizing the emotional and spiritual complexity of adoption—for each of the parts of the adoption triad.

The need for adoption is great, and, in keeping with James 1:27, we rightly dedicate ourselves—corporately, and individually, when called—to meeting that need. This year, as we recognize Orphan Sunday, let’s be sure we do so with respect and care for all those affected by adoption: birth parents, children, and those who are already adoptive parents.

Kirsten Holmberg is a writer and speaker based in the Pacific Northwest. Her TEDx talk, “Your adopted child experienced trauma, now what?” chronicles the impact of trauma and Reactive Attachment Disorder on her family. She speaks regularly at church and community events, encouraging others to step closer to Jesus and better know His love for them through His Word. Find her online at www.kirstenholmberg.com.