Defending the Fatherless
About the Guest
Adoption is dear to the heart of God. Adoptive parent Jedd Medefind talks to Dennis Rainey about the explosion of interest and engagement in the church around the subject of adoption. Jedd, who is the President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, talks about the reality of adoption, its joys and challenges, and tells what first lead him and his wife to first consider bringing another child into their home.
Jedd Medefind talks about the explosion of interest in the church around the subject of adoption.
Defending the Fatherless
Bob: Jedd Medefind is encouraged by the outpouring of concern he’s seen from evangelicals about the orphan crisis around the world. He hopes that concern is rooted in the right motivation.
Jedd: If we’re simply motivated by cause, if it’s just guilt or duty or even idealism to solve a big problem, at some point that will run dry. It will leave us aching for more because the world’s brokenness is so vast. But if we are motivated by the Gospel, if that is what fills us up, then, that’s a source that never runs dry. If we are drawing life from the Gospel, we can continue to serve and love in the same way that we have first been loved by the pursuing God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about how caring for the needs of orphans is one way that we can demonstrate the reality of the Gospel in our lives.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know I’ve run into folks from time to time who have said to me, “I would really love someday to sit in on a recording session that you guys do for FamilyLife Today to see how the program is put together.” Well, I have a deal for my friends who would like to sit in on a recording session for FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: Well, you haven’t cleared this with me.
Bob: You’re already signed up for this. Yes, this is going to happen. They are—anybody who would like to sit in—all of you—
Dennis: Okay, I know where you are going.
Bob: Yes. All of you who would like to sit in on a recording session—
Dennis: It’s a little difficult sometimes to know exactly where Bob is headed in this journey of FamilyLife Today. (Laughter)
Bob: We’re going to be recording a couple of programs in Nashville in May.
Dennis: We are.
Bob: And we have a big auditorium for those who would like to sit in and listen to the program be recorded. You want to tell them where it is we’re going to be recording this?
Dennis: It’s going to be May 2nd and 3rd at Brentwood Baptist near Nashville in Brentwood, Tennessee.
Dennis: And it’s the Summit. It’s all about addressing the needs of orphan care, foster care, and adoption.
Bob: So, there are a few other things going on. It’s not just our recording session that’s taking place.
Dennis: No, it’s not; but we do have the privilege on stage of letting the audience—last year, we were at Saddleback—
Dennis: —and we had over 2,100 people who were at the event; and I’ll tell you what: It’s a lot of fun to do—really, to have the studio audience at the same time you’re doing a recording because powerful stories—
Bob: Great stories, and the audience loves hearing the stories. We love getting a chance to share them with listeners. So, it’s a great opportunity. And this is the Christian Alliance for the Orphans Summit that’s coming up in Nashville on May 2nd and 3rd. It is open to anybody who has a heart for seeing the needs of orphans be met in our world.
Dennis: It—well, we’re going to explain more about that because we have Jedd Medefind with us here on FamilyLife Today. Jedd, welcome back.
Jedd: Thanks, Dennis.
Dennis: Good to have you here. Jedd is—he and his wife, Rachel, have five children—one adopted from Ethiopia, and we want to talk about that in a moment as well—and he is the President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans and has given leadership to that from the very start.
And the Summit is really, Jedd—it’s a watering hole for anybody who wants to come and find out more about how to support orphans, how to encourage orphans, how to go near orphans because we’ve got all kids of folks who come. Explain who is attending this event.
Jedd: That’s right. You’ve got the whole spectrum from the folks who are just considering adoption for the first time seeing what this journey might look like, all the way to folks who have been serving in these fields for decades; but ultimately, the question is “How do we live out James 1:27?” How do we love and serve the orphan in distress well, wisely, effectively, and in the context of the Christian community?”
Bob: This is the 9th Summit that’s been held; and you weren’t at the first one, were you?
Jedd: That’s right. It was, of course, right here in Little Rock, a gathering of about 38 people just saying, “Hey, we share a heart for the Gospel, and we see in the Bible that God cares deeply about the orphan. How do we help the church make this a priority?”
Bob: You were at the first one back nine years ago, right?
Dennis: I’ve been at every one of them. And it’s been a real privilege to watch God birth something that He wants to do. I think this is a part of what’s on God’s heart; but there were, as Jedd said, 38 folks who attended.
Focus on the Family, Steven Curtis Chapman, and FamilyLife all banded together in a partnership and said, “You know what? Let’s just have a couple of days to talk to the leaders in the orphan care, foster care, and adoption area who minister and let’s get them together and let’s just have a dialogue.” And they did.
Then, the next year we did it again, and I think about 120 came; and the following year we had it at Focus on the Family and had about 400. Then we had one in South Florida. It got close to 1,000 people attending. Then it began to take on its own identity, and Jedd came on board as the President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans and gave leadership to the overall Summit.
But one of the things I want you to explain is—it’s like a fair. I mean last year at Saddleback there were all these tents and ministries and churches and individuals who came who brought what they’re doing to go near the orphan to share it with others. Kind of explain what happens there.
Jedd: Yes, it is like a carnival in a certain sense. You have folks from all over the world that have different expressions, different passions; but they all boil down to they love Jesus, they love orphans, and they are living it out in some creative way.
Again, some are focused on foster care. They are seeing there are kids growing up without mom and dad right across the tracks, and we’re going to be in their lives. Others who are serving in some far flung part of the world, and they are bringing that unique perspective; and yet, when you come in there—whether you are new to this or you’ve been in it for years—you just feel like it’s something you’re never going to forget.
Bob: You know, Jedd, if I go back ten years ago, I don’t remember there being much talk about the plight of orphans around the world. Adoption was talked about maybe some, especially as you thought through the implications of abortion—foster care a little less, orphan care around the world not much at all. I also don’t remember there being much talk about human trafficking and slavery.
Today, both of those issues, the human trafficking/slavery issue and the orphan issue, have kind of exploded inside the church. Why do you think that’s happened over the last decade?
Jedd: Well, you know I think the first thing that is really beautiful to see is that while there is this—I agree with you, Bob—a total explosion of interest and engagement for the orphan, this is nothing new to the Christian church.
From the earliest days of the church, Christians earned a special reputation as defenders of the fatherless. In the Roman Empire, when they were still just a persecuted minority, the Romans had a practice called exposing; and babies that were not wanted because maybe they were malformed, maybe just because they were female, maybe they were just simply inconvenient—but they were taken outside the city walls and left there—
Dennis: Like human trash.
Jedd: Absolutely. It was the form of abortion for that day in many ways, and they were left there for the wild animals and the elements. And Christians, even though they were a small and persecuted minority, would go outside the city walls and find these children, and often take them in and raise them as their own. That same spirit has really been something that’s been a part of the church all throughout church history.
From those early days and throughout the Middle Ages, you had someone like Justinian, the emperor of the Eastern Empire of Christianity—actually, that was part of the Justinian code that orphans were not to be taken in and taken advantage of; but actually, it was encouraged that they were adopted even as we have been adopted. That’s part of the Justinian code from 800.
Looking much further throughout the centuries, you have people like George Müller that earned their reputations as people who took special care for the fatherless. I think what we are seeing today is that Christians are simply re-earning the reputation that they’ve always had at their best, “People who defend the fatherless.”
Bob: Dennis mentioned that you and your wife are adoptive parents. You have—is it a son from Ethiopia?
Jedd: A little girl—daughter.
Bob: A little girl from Ethiopia. And as I talk with foster parents and with adoptive parents, many of them say to me, “It is one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done; it’s also one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.” Has that been your experience?
Jedd: It definitely is. And I feel like it is so important—you know we in the church so often like to just speak of the shiny, happy, smiley things; but you look at the Bible—that’s not how the Bible talks about life. The Psalms talk about the beauty and the brokenness because that’s the truth of our world. You know, the Psalms, they dance, and they bleed.
So, when we talk about loving children that have come from difficult backgrounds, children that are orphans that have been in orphanages, that are in the foster system—when you wade close to that, you will taste the world at its most broken and, I would add, at its most beautiful; because as you see God’s redemption beginning to work in the life of a child that previously had never known permanent, consistent love, it is beautiful—and certainly has been for my wife and I—but I hear that again and again from so many other families as well.
Dennis: So, you adopted a little girl—and again, I do think we tend to romanticize this and think that it’s going to be forever ever happily ever after. You know? It’s just going to be this wonderful journey all the way to the finish line.
Bob: Well, the child is going to thank you daily for the sacrifice that you’ve made in bringing them into their family. That’s kind of the picture we think: “This child will be eternally grateful to me for what I’ve done;” and that’s not always the case.
Jedd: Right. I mean in many ways it is just much closer to regular, biological parenting than you would imagine, perhaps, at first. You think it’s this special category—and there are certainly unique things to be aware of as you begin the adoption journey—but at the same time, your own biological kids—
I have four biological kids. Each one is totally unique. Each one responds to my love in different ways; and as the stories of their lives are written, I know some of them will have times of wandering and other times of gratitude to me. And that’s what I signed up for in being a parent, and that’s certainly what we sign up for in adopting too.
Bob: Did you and your wife think, “We’d better adopt. I mean now that I’ve got this job with the orphan group, we better bring somebody home?” (Laughter)
Dennis: Yes, I was going to ask that. Did you and Rachel as you dated, did you ever talk about adoption? Where’d the idea come from?
Jedd: Well, Rachel has an adopted brother and so it’s been a part of her family life. It hadn’t been for me, but when we were newly married it was something that we thought about. And I think that’s the case for a lot of couples, especially Christian couples. They talk about it as a potential thing, but then at some point in their lives they realize, “Hey, there may be a special invitation from the Lord towards this.”
Dennis: I want you to speak to two groups. One group that may be listening right now who maybe a husband and a wife have been talking about adoption, maybe about foster care—how would you coach them to move forward? And then, I want you to talk to a group of people who are listening and thinking about the Summit and thinking, “You know? I think I’d like to attend that because I think I may have a special assignment around the orphan.”
First of all, talk to the couple who want to adopt or are thinking about adopting.
Jedd: Well, for those who are weighing this, I would, of course, say, “Start with prayer. Spend intimate time with the Lord”—just getting to know His heart for these things and realizing that He is the God who reveals Himself in a special way by His adoption of us and begin with that place.
Then, on a practical level, I would encourage them to speak with families that are part of this journey, those who have adopted a few years ago as well as those who adopted ten or 20 years ago; because at each stage along the way, there are unique joys and unique challenges. Don’t just speak to one or two; speak to five or ten because every story is as unique as every person.
Beyond that, there will be the process of talking with adoption agencies and finding out about specifics to the process; but I would encourage them to focus on the idea of a life journey because that’s what adoption is.
Bob: Jedd, why do you think Christians are motivated for the plight of the orphans? What is it that is stirring this and why are we seeing this more on the horizon than we have before?
Jedd: You know there are so many things that can motivate us toward a good cause like the cause of orphans, but what I have seen serving in Washington, D.C. and other places for many years is that if we are simply motivated by a cause, if it’s just guilt or duty or even idealism to solve a big problem, at some point that will run dry. It will leave us aching for more because the world’s brokenness is so vast, and we’ll run out of that gas.
But if we are motivated by the Gospel, if we are driven by the fact that we were first pursued when we were destitute and alone and that God draws us to Himself and He invites us to live as His sons and daughters—if that is what fills us up, then, that’s a source that never runs dry; and that will keep us going even when the child that we are seeking to love turns his back to us, even when the girl that we’ve been mentoring goes back to gang life; if we are drawing life from the Gospel, we can continue to serve and love in the same way that we have first been loved by the pursuing God.
Dennis: And I would say you are absolutely spot on in terms of really challenging people in their motive, but for me, I learned what you’re talking about by going near the orphan and by adopting. I would have to say that I learned more about God’s adopting of me by the expression of faith that Barbara and I entered into by choosing a little girl and saying, “We want you. We want to love you. We want to bring you into our family.”
Honestly, I would have to say I feel like our understanding of the whole process of God’s adoption of me and His pursuit of me was just about that high and just a fraction. After adopting, it grew a bunch because I understood more of God’s heart and what He was about when He came after us.
Jedd: Absolutely, Dennis. That’s what we often say at the Christian Alliance for Orphans, “Love for orphans transforms.” You know it certainly—it transforms the lives of children, absolutely, who have come to taste love and belonging that they’ve never had before; but it transforms us. And I think it takes Christian communities from an inward focus to a real focus on the God who, as you were saying, pursued us when we were alone.
Dennis: You’re seeing churches transformed by getting involved in adoption, orphan care, foster care?
Jedd: Absolutely. You know I think of actually an individual named Roger who shared with me that he had been a youth pastor. He had been burned out by that. And he had really grown cold in his faith, and he and some friends got involved in an orphanage in Haiti and began to raise some funds for that and visit frequently trying to find families for these children.
I remember Roger saying to me—he said, “I don’t know what is happening, but I know that when my friends and I used to get together all we used to talk about was surfing. Now, we talk about God’s heart for the orphan.” He said, “I think I’m beginning to rediscover my own faith as well.”
And I’ve seen that in many families—families that have adopted, families that are mentoring kids in the foster system. They really come to rediscover the tender heart of the Father when they come to recognize, first of all, how much He loves the orphan—but of course, that tells us how much He loves us as well because we are that child.
Dennis: Roger is really proving out James 1: 27. This is pure and undefiled religion that one visits the orphan and the widow in their distress. Somehow God’s heart is very near the widow and the orphan as they go through their pain, their agony, their losses, and we get infected with that love when we go near.
Bob: You know we have resources here at FamilyLife that we’ve put together through our Hope for Orphans® outreach that are designed to help folks weigh out pros and cons, to think through things you might not otherwise think through, and if listeners want to go to FamilyLifeToday.com, they get more information about what’s available.
Again, we want to assist you in this process and help you be ready to make a wise decision because this isn’t for everybody. You may feel drawn to this, but it may turn out that your family’s circumstances, for whatever reason, aren’t a good place for adoption to happen.
Dennis: If Barbara were here, she would smile; but she would pound the table saying, “Every couple needs to really count the cost before adopting,” because it is a call and you don’t know what’s wrapped up in that call.
Now, I want you to speak to the second group of people who maybe think God has an assignment for them to go near the orphan and they’re thinking about the Summit. Talk to them about what they should do.
Jedd: Well, I’d certainly invite them to come because there’s not going to be a better place where they can encounter the people, the experts, that are walking this road ahead of them.
They will be exposed to everything from effective models for engaging the foster system or just what it takes to become a foster parent in the first place to questions about adoption—attachment issues with children, how to bond with children when they’ve been coming from difficult backgrounds and that bonding process—extremely difficult in some cases—everything to getting involved with the church around the globe, helping support efforts in the Ukraine, helping the Ukrainian church to more effectively care for the children of Ukraine.
So, you know there is the full spectrum there; and if you are feeling some stirring in this direction, Summit is a great place to meet the people and the organizations that are on that road ahead of you and learn from them.
Bob: You know I mentioned that ten years ago the plight of the orphan was not really something that was on our radar screen as Christians as prominently as it is today. I’m just wandering from your perspective, do you think the needs of orphans are being better met today than they were ten years ago? Do you think we’re making a difference in the lives of more and more orphans?
Jedd: Well, you know I think there are more Christians that are loving more children. There are more Christians that are faithfully reflecting God’s heart for the fatherless. And so for those children that are being touched, I definitely think their lives are utterly different. Of course the need is vast. And when you focus on the numbers, it becomes overwhelming; it becomes paralyzing.
Dennis: Just how many are there today?
Jedd: Well, the estimated number is 153 million orphans, which includes those who have lost either one parent or both parents. That’s what is counted in the official statistics.
Within the U.S. foster system, there are about 400,000 kids that are in the system, and about 100,000 of those are waiting for parents. They need to be adopted.
But you know, there is one statistic that really matters more than any other; and that is it just takes one caring adult to make a lifelong difference for a child. And I see that over and over and over again.
Dennis: One other thing I want you to comment on about the Summit—and this just brings a big grin to my face because as Bob and I have done FamilyLife Today live on the stage at a couple of these summits now, you look out over the audience and it really is the spectrum of humanity. It’s young people, college students; it’s 20- and 30-somethings who are rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in this; and it’s folks who are beyond the child rearing age who are wanting to make a difference in the lives of orphans as well.
Bob: And a broad spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds—
Bob: —and ethnicity. In fact, that’s one of the great things about coming to the Summit is that you see a diversity of backgrounds and socioeconomic, racial—it’s cool to see it.
Jedd: Yes, and I would add denominations. You know there’s—you have everything from your hardcore Reformed’s to your Assemblies of God and Calvary Chapel and mainline; and they share a passion for Jesus Christ, and they share a passion for orphans. That’s a beautiful thing to draw the church together.
Dennis: And the thing I appreciate about you, Jedd, is you and the Christian Alliance for Orphans are really wanting to uphold Scripture and make sure these young people are introduced to Jesus Christ as we go near them.
Whether we adopt them or not, whether they’re in foster care, or whether we’re engaging an orphanage, you really want to give laymen the mandate of when they go near—yes, care for their physical needs but also attend to their spiritual needs—explain the God who loves them, who died for them on the cross, who rose again on the third day, and who wants to adopt them into His family. And I just appreciate you and the leadership.
And folks need to go to our website, Bob, and find out more about the Summit this year. We’re looking to have two to three thousand folks there. It’s going to be a happening—you need to be there.
Bob: Come sit in on a live recording session for FamilyLife Today, and we’re having this orphan summit kind of attached to it.
Dennis: And see if Bob and I have a face for radio. (Laughter)
Bob: That’s right. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. If you click on the link we have there for the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit coming up May 2nd and 3rd in Nashville, we’d love to have you join us. There is also information about resources we have available here at FamilyLife through our Hope for Orphans outreach, resources that are available to help you promote orphan care, adoption, and foster care in your church.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link you find there; or call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. Hope you get a chance to go see the new movie, Home Run, in theaters this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday when Shaunti Feldhahn is going to be our guest. We are going to talk about some new research she’s been doing into the differences between men and women, and some of the new findings she has come up with. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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