NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The adoption agency Bethany Christian Services says interest from couples in adopting is significantly ahead of what it was last year, a trend that is being seen elsewhere and, adoption leaders say, is an example of a growing adoption movement among Christians.
International adoption placements through Bethany are up 66 percent this year compared to last year while inquiries about international adoption are up 95 percent, the agency reported July 19. Domestic infant adoption interest also is up: Applications are up 23 percent and home studies up 15 percent.
Representatives from Nighlight Christian Adoptions and Buckner International -- two Christian-based agencies -- say they, too, have seen an uptick in interest from couples wanting to adopt.
The increased interest comes as ministries and churches renew their focus on adoption. The Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference in June had a special emphasis on adoption and donated its offering "overage" to adoption scholarships for pastors and missionaries. Saddleback Church, where Rick Warren pastors, hosted a Forum on Orphans and Adoption in May, and the Christian Alliance for Orphans in April held its sixth annual Summit conference, an event that grows in popularity each year.
Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, said there's "no doubt" that there's a growing adoption movement among Christians. Nightlight -- which has offices in California, Colorado and South Carolina -- is a member of the National Christian Adoption Fellowship, which is comprised of nine adoption agencies and programs. All nine, he said, have seen an increased interest this year from couples wanting to adopt. In addition to an upswing in interest in international and domestic adoption, Nightlight also has seen in increase in interest in its embryo adoption program, in which couples adopt donated frozen embryos.
"I think the reason for the upswing in the number of home studies that are being done and the number of families that are applying is because of this increased awareness within the church of the need to take care of kids," Stoddart told Baptist Press.
Estimates of the number of orphans worldwide varies wildly, although all stats put the number in the millions. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Russell D. Moore and his wife Maria adopted two boys from a Russian orphanage. He has since written a book about adoption, "Adopted for Life," and he often speaks to groups on the subject.
"The Spirit of Christ is on the move among evangelicals, and this is just the beginning," Moore, dean of the seminary's school of theology, told BP. "... [M]any Christians are awakening to the radical nature of the Gospel itself. We, the Gospel says, were adopted. This reality tears down any artificial notion that adoption is some kind of 'less than' or 'Plan B' family. Christians are also waking up to what Jesus and His brother James define as pure religion: the care of the least of these, the orphans and widows."
Other factors are at work, Moore said. Christians have seen "the plague of fatherlessness" and been convicted to make a difference. There's also a multiplying effect: As couples adopt, their friends see that adoption isn't so "strange" and they, too, begin to "pray and ask God if this is where He's leading them," Moore said. Pastors also are leading the way, he said.
"Pastors are starting to preach the whole counsel of God about the Father's love for the orphan, and calling churches to support the effort in all sorts of ways. Not every Christian is called to adopt, but every Christian is called to care for widows and orphans," Moore said, pointing to James 1:27. "I literally do not go five minutes these days without hearing from at least one family, via e-mail or social media, who testify that God has called them to adopt."
Kevin Ezell, who served as the president of this year's Pastors' Conference, has seen firsthand that pastors are taking action. He expected around 70 Southern Baptist pastors and missionaries would apply for the adoption scholarships; however, 140 did so.
"I've never been more proud of SBC pastors than the last month," Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., told Baptist Press.
Ezell learned of one pastor's family who was adopting a child with spina bifida and another pastor's family who was adopting twins with Down syndrome.
"The stories are incredible," Ezell said.
Although the funds were limited for the scholarships, Ezell is trying to find enough money to cover everyone who is eligible. Church members who see their pastor adopting a child will be more likely to do the same, said Ezell, whose family has adopted three children.
"If a pastor does it, it changes the atmosphere of the church," he said.
Buckner International, which places children in families through domestic and international adoption, also has seen an increase in inquiries and applications this year, said Debbie Wynne, director of Buckner Adoption and Maternity Services. She credits much of it to churches adding adoption, foster care and orphan ministries.
"There is a grassroots movement of churches building these advocacy ministries to support and inspire their church members to actively help 'the least of these,'" Wynne said.
The Haiti earthquake also impacted couples. Buckner's international adoption program received more than 3,800 inquiries in January and February about adopting children from the country, Wynne said.
Bethany Christian Services said the Haiti disaster had a big impact in demonstrating to Christians the plight of orphans.
"The figures Bethany released show strong improvement as we confront the global orphan crisis, but the need still remains as there are still an incredible number of orphaned children who wait for their 'forever family,'" Bill Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, said in a statement.
Stoddart, of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, said despite the positive increase in interest, some children -- older ones and minorities, for instance -- remain the toughest to place into families. The outlook is not good for an orphan from a foreign country who never finds a home.
"That still is a great need," Stoddart said. "With those kids, if they're not adopted, we know what happens when they age out of the orphanage. They become victims of one sort or another. The girls get into prostitution and the boys into petty street crime and drugs. The number of kids who commit suicide is staggering. Here in the United States we have kids that have problems during their teen years and rebel, but there still is that family that is there as a safety net. When you get out of an orphanage at age 17 or 18, there is no family."
(c) 2010 Baptist Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Visit the ministries and programs referenced in this article: Bethany (Bethany.org), Nighlight (Nightlight.org), Buckner (Buckner.org) and the SBC Adoption Fund for Ministers (SBCAdoption.com). Bethany Christian Services is providing a matching grant for the first 25 pastors who are approved for the SBC Adoption Fund and who use Bethany for their adoption service.