Tips for Overseas Living – What about the orphans?

I can still picture her clearly in my mind. She looked about eight years old, and was lying asleep on the broken sidewalk. A begging bowl was by her hands, and her tattered dress was wrinkled and wadded up around her waist. Her panties were visible to anybody walking by. I glanced around, and didn’t see one person who seemed responsible for her. I felt so helpless. I couldn’t take her home with me (kidnapping, anyone?). If I gave her money, it would be taken by whoever was using her to beg. I simply prayed for her as I passed. But I have never forgotten her.

When living in the cities of this world, we are faced with the awful question, “What about the orphans?” So many kids who need to be cared for and loved. So many kids who are ripe for being trafficked. Maybe they are not officially orphans, but emotional and/or physical ones. What are we supposed to do?

Some Americans first realizing the widespread needs assume it’s fairly simple to adopt a child, or take a child into their home when they live overseas. Sadly, it is very complicated.  Countries have their specific adoption laws that vary from those of other countries. Some countries do not allow adoption at all. You might be able to legally adopt a child by the laws of the country you reside in, but not be able to ever take that child back to your home country due to the home country adoption laws. We know people who have done that, and it often takes years to get U.S. Immigration to grant the proper authorization for the child to be allowed admittance to the U.S., if ever. This article is NOT a criticism of those people at all. Most of the ones we know personally chose to do it with full understanding of what they were doing. We love and respect them and their decisions. However, it is that understanding of the situation that I want to build.

If you must leave due to an emergency evacuation, or a health issue, or lack of funding, or any number of scenarios, what happens to the child then? You cannot make promises to that child that you will take them with you, or that they can always count on you, or anything like that. I am not saying not to do anything. Nor am I saying that we are to throw up our hands and say, “Well, we can’t see the future, so we should just wall off our hearts from the people we want to help and not do anything.” But sometimes our attempts to help a situation can bring even more harm and hurt to a child. So think through carefully the possible outcomes of your good intentions.

Are there local organizations you can trust? (You don’t want to give to a place that has no accountability for the helps you might offer. Research carefully before you commit yourself or your finances, especially if you are new to a culture.) Are there ways you can help improve a child’s situation without jeopardizing their emotional health or creating even greater problems down the road? Can you support organizations like IJM? I know what it is like for arms to ache to take a child, feed her, get her clean, comb the rats out of her hair, hold her close and read her a story. How can you do what is best for that child? Can you help provide clinics for street children and impoverished mothers to teach childcare and basic sanitation? Can you humanize a child by looking into his eyes, yet still help him to flourish in his home environment?

I don’t have the answers, so I am not writing this as someone who can give three steps to a better life for orphans. But I have heard people express heart-felt thoughts that were not consistent with what might really be helpful for the children. Sometimes their passion of the moment prevents them from carrying that passion into a long-term life-giving plan. Don’t let your fervor become more about you and satisfying that desire to do something, than about what is best for the child. YES, something should be done. But control the impulses and make sure your actions will have positive effects for the long run, and not just the immediate future.

If you want to adopt a child, do your homework first. (There is parental preparation to do too, but that’s beyond what I’m trying to do here.) Find out what your home country’s immigration and adoption laws are. Find out what your resident country’s adoption laws are. Find out if there are steps you can take ahead of time to speed up the paperwork so that once you adopt, the process will go more smoothly. Many countries are now part of the Hague Convention. Study the implications of that. Make sure you are not contributing inadvertently to a system that exploits children by using an unethical agency. Don’t make promises to a child that you may not be able to keep.

You may not be able to adopt a specific child who has stolen your heart. But you may be able to adopt a child who is just as needy or even more so. Many of the adoption laws, while cumbersome and even seemingly wrong in how they provide care for children (or not), have the intention of protecting the children from those who would exploit them. Unfortunately, they may also “protect” them from gaining a loving home. Yeah, it’s complicated.

Joan Perkins

Guest author: Joan Perkins lives in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, with her husband, Bill, and two youngest sons. She spent 25 years living overseas, in Costa Rica, Argentina, Bangladesh, India, and Thailand. Joan graduated with a M.Div. degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and enjoys teaching women. She and Bill have six children, and the first grandbaby is due soon!

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