There’s an elephant in the room.
As friends and family find out that we’re hosting an orphan for the summer, some greet us with excitement, others with joy, others with concerned eyes. And although most don’t ask the question out loud, we hear it in their pauses, in their round-about queries, in the awkward (God bless them) ways they bring up the subject of orphan hosting as the date gets ever closer.
As we pack and prep to pick up our superhero-in-waiting this weekend, we wanted to not only ADDRESS the elephant, but light him up in stage lights, discuss his traits and give an entire presentation on this amazing but rather large and awkward creature, because it’s only IN THE LIGHT that we can hold REAL conversations about the questions we ask in the dark.
The big one is this: Is orphan hosting really in the best interests of this child? And is it really in the best interests of our family?
These are the hard answers to the hard questions we’ve been asking ourselves for the last six weeks. They’re not perfect answers, and they may not be complete answers, because this is not a perfect process, and we don’t know the end results. But they’re honest answers, and they’re f’real answers, and they are the conclusions we’ve come to as we’ve asked these same hard questions and turned them over to an all-providing God in prayer this month.
Orphan Hosting FAQ
What is orphan hosting?
The Great Wall China Adoption Orphan Hosting program, run by the adoption agency we used for Superman, brings children who haven’t yet been placed in forever families from their orphanages in China to host families in the United States. The children, generally the oldest and hardest to place from the orphanage, come as part of an “international camp” and stay with host families for four weeks. The superheroes-in-waiting see this trip as a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience away from the confines of their orphanages; the host families see this experience as an opportunity to tell these orphans’ stories.
For many of these sweet angels, this is their LAST OPPORTUNITY to find a family. Children age out of the system at age 14 in China, and most of the children on this trip are between 8 and 12. Seventy-five percent of the orphans who come to the United States on these trips find their forever families while they’re here. Children who may never have been considered for adoption because of their age or medical status find forever homes when friends and neighbors of host families meet them. See them. Fall in love with their precious hearts. And discover that these older kids with special needs aren’t scary — they’re “super.”
All the children, regardless of their adoption status, return to their orphanages and foster homes in China at the end of the four weeks. Those who find forever families wait there the nine to 18 months until their families complete the adoption paperwork required to bring them home. (These children won’t even know until months later that they now have families coming for them.) The others return to their orphanages and foster homes with glasses, dental cleanings, needed orthopedic items and updated medical records, as well as a month of memories, love and physical touch they would have never had an opportunity to experience otherwise.
With updated adoption profiles, including new photos, videos and personality descriptions, they also return with a better chance of being “chosen.” (Some of their profiles are months or years old.) Because their advocates never really stop advocating.
What does it mean to “host to advocate”?
Some families host orphans with the intention of adopting them; others host with the intent to advocate. Families who “host to advocate” host superheroes-in-waiting in order to love on them, play with them and share their beautiful stories with the world. They share their faces, share their giggles, share their personalities, share their hearts. And as they share, they open the eyes of others who may have never realized there was an orphan crisis in the first place.
Besides advocating, these host-to-advocate families also take these superheroes to dental exams, eye exams and medical exams these children might never have had the privilege of receiving in their home orphanages, and they update their medical profiles with new documents and updated pictures and videos that give a fuller picture of the entire child. This allows potential adoptive families to review more complete profiles, and it gives these children a much better chance of finding a forever family in the future.
If nothing else, these host-to-advocate families speak life over and pour love into one deserving child for four straight weeks. Some studies show the power of love, attention and physical touch, even for this short of a period, can make an impact for a lifetime.
Are you responsible for finding your host child a forever family?
Only God can do that. We are just praying that He would allow us to be His hands and feet throughout the process.
Why don’t you just adopt him yourself? Why would you host him if you aren’t planning to adopt him?
We cannot wait to host this sweet superhero in our home! However, our homestudy agency does not approve out-of-birth-order adoptions. This little guy is six months older than our oldest, which breaks the birth order rule.
This opportunity fell into our laps the night before the hosting deadline. We received an urgent email from our adoption agency with a picture of one of the last three superheroes-in-waiting who needed a host family. By the next day.
When we opened the email, we saw a little boy six months older than our oldest … and in his determined 10-year-old eyes, we saw Superhero 1. And in his perfect, precious right hand, we saw Superhero 3. (They both have what the world would call “right hand deformities” — we know that those are the very things that make them so special. That’s why we call them “Superman hands.”) And in his smile, we saw the tender heart of Superhero 2. And we thought to ourselves, “What if this were one of OUR superheroes? Would we not do EVERYTHING to bring that boy home?”
And we decided. We might not be able to adopt this little boy. But we could do SOMETHING. And something for this little boy who so deserves the chance at a forever family is a whole lot better than nothing.
Can I meet him?
Absolutely! If you live in our local area, we’d love for you to drop by for casual playdates and yard play anytime! If you don’t, we’d love to arrange a way for you to meet this precious little guy, especially if you are interested in adopting him! We’ll also be hosting a birthday party for our superhero on June 18 from 2 to 4 p.m. Please email email@example.com for event details.
What happens to your host child if he doesn’t find a forever family while he is here?
All the children in the orphan hosting program, whether they find a family while they are here or not, return to China at the end of the four weeks. Those families who wish to adopt children from the program then begin the paper chase here in the United States and follow standard adoption procedures to bring them home. This process can take anywhere between nine to 18 months from start to finish. (We were matched with Superhero 3 in February 2013 and met him in China in December 2013.)
All of these superheroes-in-waiting come to the United States for an international camp, and none know that they have the potential of being adopted while they are here. (This is why it is SO IMPORTANT to not use the word “adoption” in front of our little superhero while he is here.) For them, this experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enlarge their worlds and experience a different culture. To see what “family” is. To get a glimpse of life outside those four orphanage walls. To travel America. They all return to orphanages and foster homes and continue to wait for forever families after this experience concludes.
If DJ does not find a forever family while he is here, we will continue to advocate for him until he does. He has until the age of 14 to find a forever family before he is ineligible for adoption. We will advocate for him until that very last day. With new photos, updated medical records and a month of experiences that give insight into his little personality, we are praying that, whether he finds a family while he is here or once he returns, his time here will HELP him to find a family eventually.
Is orphan hosting really in the best interests of the child?
This is the pink elephant.
A child leaves the comfort and familiarity of his less-than-perfect circumstances in an institution in his home country. He experiences a month of love and hugs and physical touch and attention that he may have never known before. He lives in a family unit, is treated like one of the crew, discovers the beauty and chaos and drama and LOVE of family, and then he returns to his home country four weeks later, maybe never to experience such love or individual attention again in an institutional setting.
Is that really in the best interests of the child? Couldn’t that inflict unnecessary trauma on this sweet boy? Couldn’t this cause more issues than it solves, especially if he never finds a family while he’s here?
I’ll just be real. We’ve grappled with those same questions, and we don’t have good answers.
It may be difficult. It may be heartbreaking. It may inflict trauma — on both us and on him. There is simply NO WAY around that potential.
But this is the real and raw deal: NOT AS MUCH TRAUMA AS SPENDING THE REST OF HIS LIFE WITHOUT A FAMILY. Not as much trauma as aging out of an adoption system at age 14 with no chance of EVER AGAIN having a mother or father or sister or brother. Not as much trauma as battling the label “orphan” for the rest of his life as he makes his way in a harsh and unforgiving world without the shelter and unconditional love of parents to cushion those blows.
I will be the first to admit that hosting has its issues. It’s not a perfect situation. Orphan hosting is not a perfect answer. Even though DJ knows he’s coming for an “international camp” for four weeks and has NO EXPECTATIONS of finding a family while he’s here, we know it will be hard for him to leave a home where he’s experienced individual attention for four straight weeks. (Or, let’s be honest, after four weeks with our crazy crew, he may be sprinting for the airport.)
But this may be his LAST CHANCE. And we have an opportunity to walk through scary waters — to hold this precious hand that is so similar to Superhero 3’s — and to HELP this superhero SHARE HIS STORY.
His story MATTERS. His story counts. And his story has the ability to open the eyes of more than just his future family’s; his story has an opportunity to open the eyes of everyone in this community who will get the HONOR and PRIVILEGE of meeting him. Because once you’ve looked into the innocent eyes of a child without parents — once you’ve held the hand of a little boy who longs not for material things or accomplishments or success, but only for LOVE — your life is never the same. You can’t just keep living on in ignorance. The veil is removed. And it’s there, as you stare into those deep black-brown eyes, that you as a human get to make the choice — to acknowledge that EVERY life matters and that a family shouldn’t be a luxury, or to turn your head, walk away and hope that someday “someone” will “do something” about “that orphan crisis.”
Not everyone can adopt, but EVERYONE can do SOMETHING. THIS could be YOUR something. And it’s as simple as helping us share DJ’s story.
This isn’t just DJ’s story we get the privilege of telling this summer; it’s the story of every orphan who MATTERS to God and who deserves the chance at a forever family. And if God can use DJ to open eyes so that not only DJ, but also his 20 friends traveling on this trip with him and his 132 million friends in his situation around the globe, can find forever homes, then it’s worth it. Then the temporary trauma is worth the long-term prevention of crisis.
No, it’s not ideal. No, it doesn’t “solve” the orphan crisis. But it has a 75 percent success rate of matching superheroes-in-waiting to forever families.
We’re willing to take the risk to give this superhero his very best chance at a forever family.
He’s worth it to God. And he’s worth it to us.
Is orphan hosting really in the best interests of your family?
There are no humans on the planet more excited about bringing another boy into our home this summer than OUR three boys. Their first response: “This means we’ll finally have even teams for Nerf gun wars!”
The boys have been asking every other day when they can go pick up their friend for the summer, and when we printed up business cards with DJ’s name and adoption information, Superhero 2 was the first to ask if he could take them to his school.
These boys have been through the adoption experience before. They know that life doesn’t always look pretty, especially those first few days home. They know the challenges — they remember the language barriers and the food aversions and the grief temper tantrums and the time change transitions. They remember well the first few days of total and utter upheaval in the home. They already know this isn’t going to be one big party.
But they DO know how meaningful this season will be. They’ve seen how one perfect God can use one imperfect family (and let me tell you, if ANYONE knows about our weaknesses and failures as parents, it’s our kids) to write one beautiful redemption story. They’ve seen how far a little love goes. And they’ve witnessed firsthand how what the world calls “special” is really just “super” in disguise. “Super” is the specialty of the three cape-bearing heroes in this here home.
After four weeks in our home, it’s surely going to be difficult, even heartbreaking, to let this superhero return home. But all five of us know that we can ALL play a part in FINDING him a forever home. ALL of us can love on him. ALL of us can play with him. ALL of us can share his story. That makes five adoring fans in the DJ Fan Club to advocate for this boy until he finds a family.
And knowing that we have a part to play in this superhero’s story gives us strength that, even if it’s hard, it’s worth it for ONE superhero to find ONE forever family.
Why spend the money to host an orphan when you could spend that money on an adoption?
Because DJ is older than our oldest, adopting him would disrupt the birth order of the boys in our home. Our homestudy agency does not approve out-of-birth-order adoptions. So adopting this boy is not an option. But advocating for him is.
Supersoldier and I set aside part of our tax returns this year to go toward a possible future adoption. And when this opportunity arose, we had the exact amount for the hosting fee in our bank account.
We don’t want to be so busy planning for possible future opportunities to serve orphans that we miss the opportunities right in front of our faces.
That’s why we used the money we had set aside to host DJ instead. This is one way we can love on a superhero-in-waiting RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. We don’t know what God has in store for our future. We’re in the middle of a homestudy right now just in case. But giving one child the opportunity to meet a forever family (and receive medical care he would have never received otherwise) NOW is worth every penny.
This sweet boy has waited 10 YEARS to find his forever family.
A decade is already too long.
Why not just foster a child here in the United States instead?
This experience fell unexpectedly into our laps. We received an urgent email from our agency, who needed orphan hosts for three more boys. Within 24 hours. We had never considered hosting before this time, and we felt that this was a perfect opportunity to love a sweet superhero-in-waiting RIGHT NOW with the resources God had provided and with the little boys already in our home. We’ve learned so much over the last six weeks about what an opportunity this is! And it’s opened our eyes not just to the needs of the superheroes we left behind in China, but to the needs of superheroes-in-waiting RIGHT HERE in our own state.
There are so many kiddos right here in the United States just waiting for someone to share THEIR stories. They need advocates, too! Strong and brave families willing to say “YES!” when the actions of the people in their worlds have said “NO.”
One day, we might be the ones telling those precious stories — the stories of those deserving superheroes right here in our own community. We had started the foster-to-adopt program at a former duty station and, after getting 20 percent of the way through the process, were discouraged by that organization from continuing because of our military (frequently moving) status.
That’s when God turned our hearts to China. And that’s where we met the 599 children we had to leave behind after Superhero 3’s orphanage tour that post-adoption day.
Their faces have been etched on my mind and in my dreams ever since.
So although we may consider fostering after this wonderful hosting opportunity, for now, we’re focusing on sharing the story of a little boy who God dropped in our laps and into our hearts from a country that has become so dear to our entire family’s hearts.
What can I do to help?
· Pray for DJ and his future forever family.
· LOVE on this precious superhero! Join us for outings and playdates as we get the privilege of enjoying this superhero for one short summer.
· Celebrate this superhero’s birthday with a party and open house on Saturday, June 18, from 2-4 p.m. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. This is a great place to bring friends who may want to meet this little man!)
· SHARE the photos and stories and videos we post to the blog and our public Facebook page this summer! (Note: My personal Facebook page has very tight security and privacy settings, and anything shared from that page cannot be seen by third parties; in order to share DJ’s pictures, please share them from the Of Capes and Combat Boots Facebook page, which is public.)
· Share your beautiful talents. We’re still looking for:
o A local dentist to examine and clean DJ’s teeth (he’s never been to the dentist)
o A photographer to take some photos of this little guy that we can use to update his adoption profile and photolisting
o A baker to help us create a fabulous cake for DJ’s birthday party (we’ll decide the theme after we meet this little superhero and see what he is into)
o Someone who might be willing to help me post photos and videos to Facebook throughout the trip so that I can keep my eyes and focus on the superheroes while sharing THIS superhero’s story with the world
o Email email@example.com if you are interested in offering your incredible talents to our deserving summer superhero!
No, orphan hosting is not a perfect system, and no, it’s not a perfect “solution.” Like most solutions in our world, it’s filled with holes and more problems. But it’s ONE WAY that we can reach out to a deserving child, pour life and love into his precious, thirsty heart, introduce him to others who can love on him and help advocate for him and hopefully, help him find a forever family.
And it’s better than the alternative — doing nothing. Saying we care about orphans but refusing to participate in opportunities to love and serve them simply because these opportunities aren’t perfect solutions and may create new challenges. Standing by as more children age out of orphanages and more Supermen-in-waiting go without Kents to raise them, all while saying we would help “if only” …
“If you can’t feed 100,” Mother Teresa said, “just feed one.”
Our superhero-in-waiting may walk away from this experience with a forever family, or he may walk away with a family who will just be praying for him forever. Either way, he’ll walk away knowing he is loved by a perfect God and valued by a chaotic crew of crazies. Knowing that there is life outside those four orphanage walls — abundant life he may have never imagined. Knowing that his identity is not in his status as an “orphan” or as a “special needs child” or in his medical condition or in anything else he may have allowed to become his “label.”
He is defined by a Savior who died for him. And no one and NO THING and no STATUS in this life gets to define him. His God has already done that. His status is “LOVED.”
No matter the outcome of these four weeks, this sweet superhero can walk away knowing personally the Father to the fatherless who goes with him wherever he’s at. Which means he’ll have the opportunity to meet and know and be loved by a Father, whether he gets to meet an earthly one or not.
And THAT relationship, whether you have parents on paper or not, changes a life forever.
Do you have other questions about orphan hosting? We’d love to answer them!
Feel free to post them below, and we will do our very best to answer as honestly and completely as possible.
Please just give us a few days to respond as we prioritize the superheroes God has entrusted to us.