- Title: Becoming Home: Adoption, Foster Care, and Mentoring–Living Out God’s Heart for Orphans
- Author: Jedd Medefind
- Contributors: Francis Chan, Jim Daly, Ruslan Maliuta, David Platt, and Carissa Woodwyk
- Print length: 91 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan
- Publication date: January 7, 2014
- Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
- 1 gingersnap (out of 5 gingersnaps) for content(1)
- 2 gingersnaps for craft(2)
- 1 gingersnap for its handling of Christian themes(3)
- Comprehensive score: 1 gingersnap (strongly not recommended)
Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Christian Publishing
Earlier this year, I posted my philosophy on writing book reviews. I enjoy writing book reviews, but it can be tricky to balance friendships/work relationships and a need to write an objective (as far as is humanly possible), professional review. For that reason, I’ve decided to begin reviewing books outside of my genre and for authors I do not know personally. I follow the BookLook approach to publishing negative reviews (rather than choosing not to publish):
Of course we want every title to be a home run with readers, but when they aren’t we want to know why. The only way we can continue to bring our readers consistent and quality non-fiction is to receive honest and unbiased feedback from them. We’re not asking for positive reviews in return for free review materials. We’re asking for complete objectivity.
The first book I received for review, Becoming Home: Adoption, Foster Care, and Mentoring–Living Out God’s Heart for Orphans, would have been a DNF (do not finish) if it had not been a mini-book consisting of 91 small pages. The topic, caring for children at risk, is one that is close to my heart, and I had hoped to enjoy the book. The preliminary infographic section was promising, but the first chapter lost me. I contacted BookLook to ask whether I could have the book removed from my account as I could not finish reading it. I was offered the chance to do so but also reassured that I could post a negative review as long as it was honest. After much thought, I decided to finish reading the book and publish this one-star review.
Today’s review will be longer than usual, largely because I feel that a one-star review should give solid reasons for its rating. As to why I published this review, a glance at Amazon revealed glowing reviews that did not touch on any of the book’s serious errors. The book contains dangerous misinformation that could jeopardize children across the world, and no one else has written a respectful, professional review explaining why this is so. I would not want my silence to constitute agreement with the existing positive reviews.
Becoming Home is part of a series, Frames, put together by the Barna group. Each mini-volume contains quantitative data (in this case, 2005 surveys of adults living in the United States) and focuses on a contemporary topic such as “Schools in Crisis” or “Fighting for Peace.” The book begins with preparatory questions about the topic, such as “When you hear ‘loving orphans,’ what comes to mind?” This is followed by a succinct visual representation of the survey results. The rest of the book alternates between a summary of major issues for the topic and personal testimonials from adults who adopted one or more children and urge the reader to adopt. At the end, a “Re/Frame” section showcases responses from people involved in adoption, such as organization founders and public speakers.
The graphics are clear, easy to understand, and appealing in presentation. True to the concept of Frames, they give the reader a quick and intuitive understanding of the survey’s questions and responses. The book achieves its goal with its target audience, an uninformed lay reader.
According to the printed information about Barna group, its mission is “to provide people with credible knowledge and clear thinking, enabling them to navigate a complex and changing culture.”
By its own standards, Becoming Home fails. Sloppy theology, ethnocentric assumptions, a misunderstanding of the predicaments of children at risk, and glaring omissions damage this book’s credibility. Instead of capitalizing on its greatest strength, a large-scale quantitative survey, it uses a simplistic understanding of theology to promote a dangerous message: The Bible tells us to adopt orphans everywhere, and we should spend our money to do so. The book cites “single” orphans and fails to acknowledge the logical flaw of conflating “single” orphans with the Biblical reference to orphans. A child with one living parent is not an orphan in the Biblical sense. A child of a single parent may be at greater risk for poverty or other negative factors, but this is a child at risk rather than a parentless child in need of adoption.
The book’s greatest error is diluting its statistical findings with 14 pages of sentimental testimonials by adults who adopted or wanted to adopt. For a series that promises “data-driven” and “credible knowledge,” those 14 pages would have been put to better use by further discussing its survey results. Or, they could have been used to prepare potential adoptive US parents for the challenges of raising a child born and partially raised abroad, in a completely different language, culture, and environment. It is no coincidence that international adoption soared along with US infertility rates and single mothers raising their children instead of placing them for adoption. In the process, 20 Russian children have died at the hands of their US adoptive parents. Children from other countries, such as Hana Alemu Williams from Ethiopia and Hyunsu O’Callaghan from South Korea, were adopted only to be beaten to death by their new parents.
While people of faith will always disagree on certain points, we can all agree that “rescuing” a child only to kill him or her is not sound Christian theology. Abuse, re-abandonment, and a host of other issues are particularly damaging for children transplanted to the US without family, friends, or familiarity with the culture. Reuters published an investigation last year of “rehoming,” or advertising on the internet for new parents to take in adopted children. Most are internationally adopted children, many of the placements were with parents involved in inappropriate treatment of children, and all were illegal evasions of procedures meant to keep children safe. An example of an advertisement to “re-home” a child:
“We adopted an 8-year-old girl from China… Unfortunately, We are now struggling having been home for 5 days.” The parent asked that others share the ad “with anyone you think may be interested.”
Think about that for a minute. Who scours the internet, looking for pictures of children? Who would most likely snap up a vulnerable child without any friends or family to make sure he or she is safe?
That a new parent would want to get rid of a child after only five days is chilling, and books like Becoming Home exacerbate the problem. True Christian caring for orphans, meaning children who have lost both parents, means stepping back from emotional reasoning and instead taking a hard look at the negative consequences of missionary work (and international adoption began as an overseas missions effort). Kathryn Joyce has written a book, The Child Catchers, on how the evangelical push to adopt children has placed many at risk. If we want to put parentless children into adoptive homes, we must ensure their safety. Absolutely no negotiation! Quick adoptions that result in dead children are far worse than doing nothing at all. We want to improve children’s situations, but we must tread carefully and go in prepared.
Becoming Home promises to give a clear look at what it terms “the orphan crisis.” It has chosen adoption, particularly international adoption, as the solution for this problem. It gives a kindly “I’m sure you meant better” pass to Laura Silsby, who kidnapped 33 Haitian children–who were not orphans–under false pretenses and without any legal authority to do so. It neglects to mention the Hague Adoption Convention (an international agreement signed by 89 countries that pledge to ensure safety of children who are adopted internationally) or adult adoptees who have been deported when their adoptive parents failed to acquire US citizenship.
Becoming Home, rather than providing a lay reader with a brief overview of the many issues surrounding orphan care from a Christian perspective, instead serves as propaganda to push readers to help finance or begin their own international adoption.
Propaganda has its place, and I have no quibble with a publication that seeks to encourage international adoption. What I find distressing, unethical, and downright irresponsible is to promote an action without equipping its readers with tools to prepare for that action. I would be wary of a book that exhorted me to climb Mount Everest or skydive without giving me a sober warning of basic safety issues. Worse, Becoming Home fails to warn prospective adopters of the risks to the very “orphans” they are trying to save. In the end, vulnerable children lose the most. Some have lost their lives, and even one is too many. That children living in biological families have also experienced abuse and murder is beside the point. As Christians, we must take our cue from the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.
Conclusion: I had hopes for Becoming Home, but it failed to deliver. If you are looking for a beginner’s guide on how to wrestle with the needs of the world’s vulnerable children, you should look elsewhere.
Bonus additional reading: an earlier post on Masho, an Ethiopian child adopted to Denmark, only to be re-abandoned to a children’s home. Both of her Ethiopian parents are still alive.
- Content refers to the themes and structure of the book. For fiction, this includes macro elements such as the book’s premise, character arcs, and how well the conflict and resolution fulfill the promise of the book. For non-fiction, this refers to the information that is conveyed.
- Craft refers to the level of writing technique, ranging from clarity of text to carefully edited prose.
- Christian themes refers to the application of Biblical principles as well as the understanding and application of Christian theology.
Additional note: The combined score generally is a mathematical average of the three ratings, unless an individual rating is especially low or high.