At its annual meeting in June, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution "On Adoption and Orphan Care" that urged Southern Baptists to "join the Father in seeking mercy for orphans," "pray for guidance" regarding adoption, and teach on adoption in their churches.
At least two congregations are taking those admonitions to heart.
Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, and Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, have thriving adoption ministries. And according to their adoption ministry leaders, embracing adoption is helping believers understand their own salvation in a new way.
"The day our pastor began to introduce it (adoption) to the church, he said, 'Is there anyone that's adopted?'" said Kevin Burdette, minister of adult impact at Green Acres. "And, of course, just eight or ten hands went up of those that were adopted into a family. Then he said, 'No. I want to ask that again. If you're a child of God today, then let me ask you, are you adopted?'
"So that was a lesson for our church to think of it that way — how God adopted us and we can in turn adopt another child and give them a Christian home and a great hope and a future like Jeremiah 29:11 says."
Green Acres is in the midst of a campaign to adopt one hundred children into the families of its members. The campaign, known as Hope for 100, stems from one family's experience adopting a daughter from China. Following that adoption, the father, Rocky Gill, started a ministry within the church to care for orphans. Pastor David Dykes enthusiastically supported the ministry, and the church launched Hope for 100 in January 2009.
"It's become a really incredible thing," Burdette said. "Our whole church is talking about it and wanting updates and constantly asking about it. It's been a really exciting thing to watch it happen."
Partnering with the Abba Fund in North Carolina, Green Acres is helping its members secure interest-free loans to adopt children. After the adoptions take place, families receive federal tax credits with which they can repay their loans. Using this system, families have adopted children from places as near as Fort Worth and as far away as Africa and Russia.
Many families in the church began the adoption process in January and started to bring home their children during the summer.
"We're just now to the point where we're going to start having some children come in," Burdette said in July. "We haven't had a whole lot of that yet. But we're to the point now where a lot of children are probably about to start coming in. So that's really exciting."
Green Acres is approximately halfway to its goal of one hundred adoptions. The campaign has generated such excitement that even non-members and local media are supporting it.
"We have not used any budget money on this," Burdette said. "Everything that we've done has just been through the generosity of the people and a lot of folks just from within our community. In fact, our community has really bought into this with us. A couple of local television stations have picked up on this and it's been in the newspaper."
Looking forward to reaching the goal, he said, "The day when we can have all of our families stand up there with all one hundred kids and say, 'Look what God did,' it's going to be an amazing Sunday."
At Highview, enthusiasm over adoption runs similarly high. Several years ago, members Tera and David Melber started a five-week class called "Considering Adoption." The class, which has been offered twice a year ever since, explained the Christian responsibility to care for orphans and explored the logistics of different types of adoption. The response was overwhelming.
"Some of (the couples in the class) did not adopt, but yet they have given to other couples who are adopting or they're supporting an orphan through a sponsorship program," said Tera Melber, who serves as Highview's director of adoption ministry. "But overall we saw a vast majority of the couples we've taught in the class decide to start the adoption journey."
To help adoptive parents, a donor gave the church money to start an adoption fund. That fund, combined with consistent teaching on the subject from Pastor Kevin Ezell, has created a culture of adoption. At three of Highview's campuses, there are maps with pictures of adoptive families and updates regarding where they are in the process of bringing home children from across the globe.
Ezell and his wife Lynette are adoptive parents themselves and have led several staff members to adopt children as well. Once a year, Highview sets aside a special Sunday to celebrate adoption.
Other adoption ministries at Highview include support groups for adoptive parents, fellowships for mothers waiting to adopt, and gatherings of families who have adopted children from the same continent.
"Adoption has become a culture at Highview and not a subculture," Melber said. "It's a part of who we are. And much of it stems from the fact that Pastor Kevin is very passionate about adoption and the plight of the orphan and he lives it out."
Russell D. Moore, teaching pastor at Highview and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said adoption ministry is fundamentally about the Great Commission.
"Several weeks ago Kevin Ezell and I sat on the platform at Highview Baptist Church, surrounded by children at a special Sunday night service," Moore, who has two adopted sons, said. "We had invited all of our children who had been adopted to join us on the platform, and they carried flags of the states or countries from which they had come.
"The platform was swarming with children, including many toddlers and infants. The thing that struck me was how few of these children seemed to recognize the flags in their hands, but they all knew the words to Jesus Loves Me. Adoption and orphan care is, quite simply, both Great Commandment and Great Commission ministry. When congregations adopt, foster, or minister to orphans, people are saved."
While some Southern Baptists may think that only large churches can support adoption ministries, Burdette and Melber say congregations of any size can help their members embrace God's plan for orphans.
"I get phone calls a lot from small churches and big churches," Melber said. "And I think the biggest deal is not to jump too far ahead. Even if we had not had the money for the fund, we would have started by teaching the class. And that doesn't cost a dime.
"Or we would have started with a support group where adoptive parents or people considering adoption can get together, and that doesn't cost anything. I always tell people, 'Just pray and seek the Lord because for the longest time our adoption ministry was really small.'"
Burdette stressed that churches of any size can begin adoption ministries because the cost of adoption is lower than most people realize. In Texas, for example, adopting a child out of foster care is nearly free because the state covers so many costs, he said.
"Even on top of that, the state — at least here in Texas — will continue to pay for education, will pay for college and all that because it's cheaper for them to do that than to pay for foster care," he said. "There are a lot of different options that are available to families that are very low cost."
Green Acres wants other churches to use and customize its Hope for 100 concept to adopt as many children as God leads. Burdette hopes sister churches will launch Hope for 20, Hope for 50, and Hope for 200 campaigns in the days ahead.
In the end, both churches agree with the Southern Baptist Convention resolution's prayer that "what God is doing in creating an adoption culture in so many churches and families can point us to a gospel oneness that is determined not by 'the flesh,' or race, or economics, or cultural sameness, but by the Spirit, unity, and peace in Christ Jesus."
RESOLUTION NO. 2
ON ADOPTION AND ORPHAN CARE
WHEREAS, In the gospel we have received the "Spirit of adoption" whereby we are no longer spiritual orphans but are now beloved children of God and joint heirs with Christ (John 14:18; Romans 8:12-25; Galatians 3:27-4:9; Ephesians 1:5); and
WHEREAS, The God we now know as our Father reveals himself as a "father of the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5) who grants mercy to orphans (Deuteronomy 10:18; Hosea 14:3); and
WHEREAS, Our Lord Jesus welcomes the little ones (Luke 18:15-17), pleads for the lives of the innocent (Psalm 72:12-14), and shows us that we will be held accountable for our response to "the least of these brothers of mine" (Matthew 25:40); and
WHEREAS, The Scripture defines "pure and undefiled religion" as "to look after orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27); and
WHEREAS, The satanic powers and the ravages of sin have warred against infants and children from Pharaoh to Molech to Herod and, now, through the horrors of a divorce culture, an abortion industry, and the global plagues of disease, starvation, and warfare; and
WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have articulated an unequivocal commitment to the sanctity of all human life, born and unborn; and
WHEREAS, Churches defined by the Great Commission must be concerned for the evangelism of children-including those who have no parents; and
WHEREAS, Upward of 150 million orphans now languish without families in orphanages, group homes, and placement systems in North America and around the world; and
WHEREAS, Our Father loves all of these children, and a great multitude of them will never otherwise hear the gospel of Jesus Christ; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, June 23-24, 2009, express our commitment to join our Father in seeking mercy for orphans; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on each Southern Baptist family to pray for guidance as to whether God is calling them to adopt or foster a child or children; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage our pastors and church leaders to preach and teach on God's concern for orphans; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we commend churches and ministries that are equipping families to provide financial and other resources to those called to adopt, through grants, matching funds, or loans; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage local churches to champion the evangelism of and ministry to orphans around the world, and to seek out ways to energize Southern Baptists behind this mission; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage Southern Baptist churches to join with other evangelical Christians in setting aside a special Sunday each year to focus upon our adoption in Christ and our common burden for the orphans of the world; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we pray what God is doing in creating an adoption culture in so many churches and families can point us to a gospel oneness that is determined not by "the flesh," or race, or economics, or cultural sameness, but by the Spirit, unity, and peace in Christ Jesus; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we pray for an outpouring of God's Spirit on Southern Baptist congregations so that our churches will proclaim and picture, in word and in deed, that "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world."
Adoption in the Scriptures
by Thomas White
The Old Testament displays God's passion for adoption through the concept of Father, the sonship of Israel, and adoption stories like Moses (Exodus 2:10), Genubath (1 Kings 11:20), and Esther (Esther 2:7).
The Old Testament reveals God as Father and contains about forty references to the "fatherless." These references include the commands to "treat the fatherless correctly" (Exodus 22:22) and to "bring justice to the fatherless" (Isaiah 1:17). Deuteronomy 24:17-21 compares the plight of the fatherless to that of Israel while in Egyptian bondage.
The adoption metaphor also extends to the nation of Israel. Moses received instruction to tell Pharaoh, "Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son" (Exodus 4:22). God used Moses, rescued through adoption, to speak of God's adopting Israel as His firstborn son. You remember the story. Pharaoh commanded the death of all children under two, and Jochebed hid Moses in the bulrushes. Pharaoh's daughter had mercy on this "orphaned" child and eventually reared him in the house of Pharaoh. Moses, saved through adoption, eventually led Israel, the nation adopted as God's son, out of Egypt.
In the New Testament, four passages address the theological importance of adoption, two using the term "orphan," and one special example of adoption.
Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 8:14-23, Ephesians 1:3-6, and Romans 9:1-4 all discuss adoption. These passages could have easily retained the well-established language of the new birth; instead, the Spirit-inspired Scriptures reveal imagery of adoption describing our salvation.
Excerpted from an article in Southwestern News.
David Roach is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky.