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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Johnny Carr
Dec. 15, 2013

The Orphan Care Mandate

Johnny Carr is the first national director of church partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, the largest adoption agency in the U.S. The former pastor and his wife, Beth, who is a deaf educator, have adopted three special needs children. Carr also is the author of Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting. Carr, 43, recently talked with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.

evangel: Why should adoption be a priority for Christians?

JOHNNY CARR: In Scripture, there is the model of our being adopted into God’s family. So many children around the world are displaced from families. Many can never go back to their families. We see in Scripture that God never meant for children to live outside the family. Adoption gives children every right and responsibility that belongs to the family name so they can grow up in the model God ordained. It’s a fantastic way for churches to live out the gospel.

evangel: In your book, you note orphaned children often fall victim to a host of problems, including AIDS, poverty and trafficking.

CARR: It’s the most vulnerable who are on the receiving end of the negative aspects of social justice issues: widows who can’t care for themselves, and orphaned children who have no one to look after them. Is there anyone in more dire poverty than a child who has no family? Is there anyone more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS than one who is being sold for sexual pleasure and they have no way to get out? These kids have no one to speak up for them. We have to be the ones to step in and break this cycle.

evangel: You write about how keeping rules rather than being compassionate guided your Christian life while growing up. How did God reshape your attitude?

CARR: It was standing in the orphanage where we found our son James in 2005. We saw children languishing there; one passed away a week after we left. Coming back to my very comfortable home and church, I could not get those images out of my head. These weren’t kids in a slide show a missionary presented. These were my son’s friends. God really began to break me of the haughty spirit and cold heart I had toward social justice issues.

evangel: You contend orphanages wouldn’t exist if Christians truly followed God’s heart.

CARR: Orphanages shouldn’t have to exist if we are doing what God called us to do. Orphanages have become a reaction to a problem, a quick way to get kids off the street. While there certainly needs to be some type of transition homes, if Christians provided homes for orphans there wouldn’t be any need for orphanages.

Bethany Christian Services has helped Christian families in countries like China, Uganda and Ethiopia provide homes for orphans. When a Christian family takes in a child with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome — and loves these children and treats them with respect — it shows the compassion Jesus has to those in the village and neighborhood.

evangel: Families need to know there is a cost involved in adoption, and it’s not just financial.

CARR: Many people think adoption is primarily about financial sacrifice. But adoption is a journey of faith. In the beginning you need faith for the money. In the end, you realize God will provide the money; it’s everything else that needs to be resolved.

How does the child fit into your family? If these kids are older or have had significant traumatic experiences, that will be a challenge. Some come with physical disabilities. Three of my children are deaf. My youngest son has multiple special needs. There are hours spent in different therapies and medical appointments.

But we have to dive into their culture. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us. He left the glories of heaven to enter into our culture to the point of death. A lot of messiness goes along with adoption. Yet we must enter into our child’s pain from physical handicaps, abandonment or abuse.

evangel: Why should the church, rather than the government, offer the solution to adoption?

CARR: It has become the government’s problem because the church didn’t act on it. The government — social workers and judges — has to be involved when it comes to taking a child away from a family. But the biggest problem with the foster care system is not having enough good Christian families ready to take children no matter what their needs are.

evangel: How is adoption a pro-life issue?

CARR: If we believe life begins at conception and abortion is not an option, there will be many children born in this world who will not be able to be parented by their birth parents. Many of these children come through traumatic pregnancies.

A mother not in a healthy pregnancy affects the brain development of the baby in utero. Many of these kids have early childhood delays. Our youngest son, JJ, was born to a young girl who was in the foster care system, and she was not able to care for him and his many special needs.

If we are going to be pro-life, we have to do more than carry a sign or talk about it as a political issue. If a parent is unable to parent by choice or by circumstance, the church has to be ready and willing to parent these children.

evangel: If adoption isn’t feasible, you still believe every Christian can do something to help orphans.

CARR: One of the greatest encouragements my wife and I have had through our journey of adoption was through Lou and Gabby Boyd, who both passed away in the last year. They had us over for dinner one night when they were in their 80s and said, “We are way too old to adopt children, but we just want to cook dinner for you and give you a night away.” For that elderly couple to do that meant the world to us.

There are many ways people can support the adopting family or the children around them. You could be a baby-sitter once a month. You could use your skills as a lawyer, counselor or nurse to help. You could contribute financially to help meet needs.

evangel: And not everyone feels called to adopt a special needs child from a foreign country as you did.

CARR: Absolutely. God may call you to be a safe family, which is a growing program that helps children in crisis. They provide a home for a family from 24 hours to 3 months, according to the situation. There are many other ways to get involved. Adopting a special needs child is not for everyone, but it is for many of us.

evangel: How have Christians confused achieving the American dream of material wealth with biblical mandates of social justice?

CARR: God didn’t put us here to live out the American dream in as easy a life as we can possibly live. He put us here to enjoy Him and to make Him known. That means entering into other people’s lives, entering into other people’s pain.

In the story of the good Samaritan, the religious leaders didn’t stop to help the injured man. The Samaritan had compassion when he saw the beaten man on the side of the road. He knew it wasn’t right for him to pass by. He took a huge risk by stopping to help. It was a dangerous road! The robbers could have been waiting to beat the Samaritan up too.

Love is risky. So many of us want to live as comfortably as we possibly can. God has not called us to live comfortably. He has called us to be in real community with one another. To do that it’s going to get messy and risky.


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