My mind is overflowing with information. I've been home for 6 days and still trying to sort through how I can apply what I have learned to be an advocate for orphans.
First, I was just incredibly impressed with the high caliber speakers they flew in to share their stories or positions on caring for the orphans all over the world. The most important of those that had a presence of course was God. He was sitting in on each worship time, each session and set up divine meetings with many for the purpose of sharing and coming together with a common passion.
Through the main organizers, God orchestrated this event and brought in many voices for the orphans to speak and share their hearts. Among these voices was former First lady of Gautamaula, Patricia Arzu to talk about her efforts to get children off the street and into homes; Senator Amy Klobuchar came and spoke about the legislation she is helping write to improve the international adoption process; The Desperation Band from New Life Church in the Springs came and gave their testimony and led worship; Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth gave their testimony through speaking and music.
All of these people are well known advocates for orphans. Then we heard from a very inspiring pastor from Russia and another pastor from Uganda; Tom Davis, author of many books I've read, including "Red Letters", "Scared" and "Fields of the Fatherless"; Then John Piper wrapped up the closing session.
Then there were the 6 breakout sessions I attended in addition to hearing all the above well inspiring individuals. Also, during lunch breaks and networking time, I met some very courageous adoptive parents and heard their stories of advocating for the orphans.
One young man in particular told me their family's adoption of their 2 beautiful children from Kenya a year ago. The process took a very long time with many unbelievable hurdles and obstacles, including his wife having to live there for 1 full year before they could bring their children home. They now have set up a child sponsorship program for the children of the village their kids are from. This was just one of many stories that I had the privilege of hearing during the 2 day conference.
I was just blown away by the efforts of the organizations and individuals and their hearts for the orphans.
The sessions I chose to attend included topics about Attachment and Trauma; Orphan Permanency; Global orphan care; How to help a family begin the adoption process and the last session I attended was...... "Global Orphan Care: are we doing more harm than Good?"
I was not originally registered for this class but I felt like I needed to be there and actually it ended up being the class I learned the most from (took 4 pages of notes) but also kind of turned my world upside down and challenged me in areas more than I have ever thought I could be challenged. I gained a new perspective from the course and so glad I made myself attend.
The attachment and trauma session was taught by Karyn Purvis.
I have already applied some techniques that were taught to my parenting of Samson and wow! What a difference! They were simple things like, children with a history of malnourishment and trauma need to eat every two hours during the day to keep their blood sugar up. When their blood sugar is down, the chemical in their brain that causes them to throw tantrums goes up.
Also, children who have a history of malnutrition are most likely chronically dehydrated. They need to drink LOTS of water. When they are dehydrated, the same thing happens, a chemical in their brain is elevated and thus they are more likely to tantrum.
The "Are we doing more harm than good?" class was an important class for me at this stage in my journey. Our family has been praying and discussing what is next and what we should be doing to give back to Ethiopia. I am a zealous person and when I feel my heart stir, I go after whatever is making it stir. I want to act right away, do something even if it isn't clear direction from God. But this class has shown me the importance of careful planning.
Something that has been on our hearts even before our adoption journey is to find a way to help children not become orphaned. We still have that on our hearts to help children stay with their birth families. Whether we adopt again or not, this will be something we will work towards - a resolution that is sustainable, even if it takes more time.
Some good advice I took away from this session is "Don't let our intentions to do good out way our discernment." In other words, "balance compassion with discernment."
Another relevant good point is the fact that we as Americans many times go into a village and just do what we think the people need without a solid understanding of their culture. We also like to go in and just take care of things for people instead of empowering them to manage on their own. This causes a dependency that is doing more harm than good because it does not offer a long term solution.
Matt Storer, the man from Vision Trust who presented this session summarized what I thought of as very wise advice:
1. Gain a clearer picture of the economics of the situation.
2. Educate yourself and study the worldview of the people you are serving.
3. Slow down and pray - research and get counsel.
4. Acknowledge you don't know everything.
5. Never conclude there is a perfect way.
6. Leverage the local people.
7. Balance compassion with discernment.
Another key point I kept hearing over and over during the conference is once you choose your area to serve, whether it be somewhere overseas or in your community, make a commitment to serve long term. In other words, don't bounce around from country to country on short term mission trips. Short term mission trips may only be helping you feel good. The long term commitment is much more impactful to the people you serve.
This confirmed in my mind that Ethiopia is where we will give back. We have had opportunities presented to us for short term mission trips to different parts of the world but none felt right and now I know why. However, I do believe that short term trips can be preparation for something bigger God has planned for you. In fact a short term mission trip may be necessary to serve as a vision trip. Just be careful about jumping in without God's direction.
Building a relationship over time seems like the best approach to helping in an area you are called to serve. Teaching and giving them the tools they need to accomplish things on their own, gives them hope for their future and goes much further in changing a person from the inside out.
Overall, the conference has given me a sense of urgency to help but has also taught me to be patient, wait upon the Lord and proceed in a way that will make the most lasting impact and that will be a solution, not a band-aid to the problem.
Our family is connecting with resources, praying and waiting patiently on the Lord's timing and His direction. I have so much more to share...