They call it a “paper pregnancy.” It’s the period of time between the conception and finalization of your adoption. There’s no positive pregnancy test, no hormonal upheaval, no morning sickness, no amazing ultrasounds, no growing belly, no random food cravings, no little feet-kicks coming from the womb, and no agonizing labor pains and delivery. Yet each of these finds its reflection in the paper pregnancy.
Ours was nineteen months long. We decided to adopt in December of 2005, and I picked up my wife and our 18-month-old Ugandan son at the airport on July 13, 2007. Our positive pregnancy test was the U.S. government’s acceptance of our application. Our hormonal turmoil was the onslaught of emotions that flow from the ups and downs of pioneer adoptions in African countries. The morning sickness came in frustrations of all kinds, from paperwork pains to cross-governmental headaches to the dizziness and nausea caused by the rollercoaster of international bureaucracy. The surreal ultrasound came in the first picture we ever received of the baby boy we were “matched up” with, and the periodic arrival of pictures over the months functioned as so many kicks and somersaults in the womb reminding us that our son was real, alive, and growing. As the process lengthened, the anticipation bulged, and at the end of it all came the agonizing labor pains of my wife’s second trip to Uganda and her final week in the capital city — which she will tell you was the most hectic and hair-raising week of her life.
Why go through this? The same question that women throughout the centuries have asked in the pangs of delivery can be asked of those who have chosen to walk through a predictably intense adoption. Why?
It wasn’t because we wanted a kid and couldn’t have one on our own. We’re a young couple, and we actually just wanted to adopt first. Scripture doesn’t have a Plan B view of adoption. We’ve never discovered a verse presenting adoption simply as a second-rate way to grow a family. We’re overjoyed at friends who decide to adopt because they can’t have biological children, and their children are no less blessed because adoption wasn’t their parents’ initial choice. But family-building is not the main motivation for helping the fatherless.
Rather, the highest and best motivation for adopting is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The spiritual impulse to adopt runs far deeper than cute international babies, cross-cultural experiences, and family growth. The impulse to adopt echoes from the very heartbeat of the gospel.
We ourselves have experienced the grace of adoption, and on a much grander scale. We were slaves of sin, but are now children of God (Romans 8:15). God was our judge, but now He is our Father (John 1:12). We faced a foreboding future in hell, but now we anticipate an abundant inheritance in heaven (Romans 8:16-17). God is the Father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), and He has made Himself that for us through Jesus Christ. Adoption is in our blood. Adoption is in God’s blood.
Adoption has been called the crown jewel of redemption, because even justification and reconciliation do not have to include adoption. God could have rescued us from sin and death without becoming our Father. It is possible to have reconciliation without sonship, to have justification without adoption. We could have been predestined, foreknown, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified without being adopted, because a declaration of righteousness is not the same as a declaration of sonship. Yet those of us who are in Christ are far more than former debtors and forgiven criminals. We are God’s children.
At 11:36 AM on Friday, November 16, 2007 at the Children’s Court in Monterrey Park, California, Judge John L. Henning declared that Judah David Mukisa Gundersen is the legal son of David and Cynthia Gundersen, with all the rights and privileges of a natural born child, including inheritance. We swore under oath that we would treat him as such, and the judge signed the court order to that effect. Although this was the first time we had walked through this process, these weren’t strange words to us. For years we’ve read them in the Bible. These words are our story.
This is why Jesus’ earliest followers wrote things like this in their letters: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). This call to help the helpless resounds in the heart of all who have been “visited” by God in Christ and who have been helped in our “distress.”
The need of orphans worldwide is literally incalculable. Their “distress” is severe. And we have the gospel, a family, and a home (in that order). With all of this in mind, the thought of us not helping orphans is unthinkable. We adopt, because He first adopted us (1 John 4:19).
With international adoption, there’s another element at play. God loves diversity, and we love diversity with Him. Unity in the midst of diversity is beautiful because it displays the singular glory of the one who binds the diversity together. Jesus Christ is praised in the book of Revelation because, as the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders cry out, “You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). God’s family is colorful, because God is creative and because the bond of Christ is strong. This is magnificent to us, and for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted our family to mirror this every-tribe-tongue-people-nation diversity. The loveliest family in all the universe is God’s, and its loveliness is well worth reflecting.
Finally, a word about adoption and the global cause of Christ. Missions means spreading the name of Jesus Christ to every nook and cranny of every people group on the planet by crossing cultures and languages and geographical boundaries to reach them, whether they be urban socialites or desert nomads or tribal villagers. International adoption means spreading the name of Jesus Christ into the hearts and lives of every people group on the planet by crossing cultures and languages and ethnic barriers to bring the smallest and neediest of the world’s population into our homes, making them part of our families, and investing the gospel into their lives from the backyard to the dinner table to the bedside. Adoption and the global Christian mission are inseparable.
This is why, at the end of it all, we want to bring the children of the nations into our family. Not so that they can grow up and live the American Dream, but so that by God’s grace they can grow up and walk the narrow road. Running water, medical care, and a sound education are precious and valuable things. But seeing the glory of Christ, hearing the good news of salvation, finding reconciliation with God, and walking in a manner worthy of the incarnate Savior of the world is infinitely more precious.
And so we seek to adopt — as those who have been freely adopted ourselves into a beautifully diverse family unified in the death, burial, and resurrected reign of Jesus Christ; as those who have been called to the outreaching of global missions and the inbringing of Christian adoption; and as those whose hearts long not for the security and comfort of the American Dream but for radical lives of incarnational love.
Every day, I see all of this and more in the bright eyes and brilliant smile and childlike faith of my son. I see the grace of God; I see the gospel of Christ; I see the diversity of the church; and I see the call of the Christian mission. And perhaps most of all, I see that it is no small thing to be a child, and no small thing to have a Father.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:15-17).
* Originally written for The Master’s Current (Spring 2009) 15/1, p. 14.