Becoming Home book review

  • 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
  • Rating:
  • 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.

The book:

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 positive:

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.

The not-so-positive:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Craft refers to the level of writing technique, ranging from clarity of text to carefully edited prose.
  3. 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.

16 thoughts on “Becoming Home book review

  1. pao says:

    Wow. This is very detailed. I am incapable of saying anything about this because it is not a familiar topic to me, but that was very informative. And really, so detailed :O I’m amazed.


  2. maddogmarley says:

    Thanks for writing this review. I am very familiar with the “orphan care movement” and am part of the StopCHIFF Working Group. I just sent this link to our list. I’ve written extensively about Russian situation in my blog NIKTO NE ZABYT – NICHTO NE ZAB I needs a few a few updates but there’s a lot of stuff there.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Hello and welcome, Marley. Do you have the current statistics for adopted children killed in adoptive families?

      I hesitated to write the review and promote the book, but I hope readers will take the context seriously.


      • maddogmarley says:

        Sorry getting back so late. I don’t have any stats outside of Russia and some FSU adoptess. I’m not sure if anybody has numbers. I believe there are more than you’d think, and certainly a lot of abuse cases. Ethiopia is coming up strong right now. 20 years ago when I started to hear about adoptee abuse I was flummoxed. I just couldn’t (and still can’t in a way) imagine going to all that trouble to adopt and then abuse the kid. Of course, with cases such as Masha Allen’, which I’ve written about a lot on the Russia page, was adopted specifically to be sexually abused by Matthew Mancuso and eventually placed with a seriously nutty woman who also abused her.


  3. Nina says:

    Ana, great review, somehow this reminded me of some class tests I got back at school long ago. Those without comments were the good ones and those with the most text, were the bad ones. 🙂

    I don’t know this book series, but since the topic of adoption has been discussed between hubby and I, what is described in the book is interesting for us. Avoiding the legal procedures to keep children safe can definitely only create a load of problems, for years to come, and I do not even want to imagine what would happen to the child after maybe ten years, when the illegal adoption is discovered as such. Horrible. And this is only one of many problems where it is always the children who suffer. The implications of what might happen because ads about children are carelessly published online, is awful. The thought alone is enough to create nausea in me.

    I think it is great that you wrote this critical review and enable others to look for better sources of valid information and credible help for what they need to know. Thank you for that!




    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Haha, Nina, that’s right. If I write a glowing review, I feel less obligation to explain why.

      It’s also right that children get the brunt of things. I was dismayed because many of the reviews for this book said that the readers were now encouraged to try to adopt. Um, no. We wouldn’t allow stray pets to be adopted on a whim, so why children?

      Thank you so much for reading. 🙂


  4. laurellasky says:

    Excellent, detailed review. I don’t think I could write this kind of review. It reminds me of English classes and anylizing books. Early on I had written a few negative reviews and then realized that I didn’t know enought about the subject. I have since learned more but I decided not to do negative reviews. I don’t have your gift of putting words together.
    Big hugs, Laurel


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Yes, researching can take a long time. I probably won’t do as much for the next reviews (fiction), but it was fun this time. A nice challenge for my brain. 😀

      And you do too have a gift for putting words together!


  5. minellesbreath says:

    Beautifully said. You gave us very important information. I believe knowledge is power. We may not be aware of this information, but now that we know we can help spread the word.
    Thank you for the review!


  6. annapurna1951 says:

    Hi, Ana,

    Bless your heart for giving “Becoming Home” a long and insightful review.

    I read a few excerpts from the book’s poorly written passages and stopped. That’s where my interest took a steep nosedive. I trust your judgment concerning the book’s propaganda.

    My stepdaughter is of Russian-Ukrainian decent. Her first three years in America were hell. She missed her friends and a culture that was more family-oriented than the one I could provide at the time. She was mocked at school for her lack of English. After fifteen years, she has made a reasonable adaptation, but has difficulty with dating. American men are not, after all, Ukrainian or Russian.

    For the last ten years, my mother-in-law, Polish-Ukrainian, but ethnically Russian, has worked as a nurse in an orphanage in Nikolaev, Ukraine. Many of the children who live there consider her their mother. She seems well suited for the role.

    When I visited the facility, the children I met were kind and polite. However, there eyes said, “Please take me home—now.” Twice, I had to excuse myself to visit the toilet so I could cry.

    I know nothing about international adoptions or orphanages except this: I would never want to be condemned to one, nor would I ever want to be adopted by a family where I might end up dead.

    Incidentally, my sister-in-law of Ukrainian descent, who lives in Germany and teaches engineering, is waiting to adopt a Bulgarian baby. The cost will be twenty thousand Euros. A Russian/Ukrainian child would cost her thirty thousand Euros.

    When I was a kid, adoptions cost about five hundred bucks. Talk about inflation, or should I really say, “What greedy politicians?”


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      And here I thought I’d get panned for reviewing Christian books on a kinky site…really, the responses have been heartwarming. Thank you! I’ve loved seeing you stop by each day.

      Small children who don’t speak English can’t communicate their distress and trauma, so people assume they must not experience any. It’s terribly sad.

      Re: the increasing cost of adoption, that alone speaks to issues of corruption, greed, etc. When a domestic adoption costs a few hundred dollars for paperwork (as it does in some countries), and the fee is then waived by the government…while an international adoption brings in, as you say, 20-30K euros (40-60K US dollars)…it’s not hard to see why children would get abducted, falsely labeled as orphans, and piped into the system. If no one made a single cent in profit from adoption, we’d see a system far more dedicated to their best interest. That, of course, is also absent from this book.

      The saddest part is the children who are sent to institutions under false pretenses because their parents believe they will have a wonderful, perfect life in the US, where the streets are paved with gold.


      • annapurna1951 says:

        I stop by because of your energy. I’m attracted to your attitude toward life. I also like how you preset you point of view so kindly without treading on the feelings of other. Besides, how can I, or anyone else, ignore cookies, especially yummy ones like the ones pictured on your blog?

        Even now, after fifteen years living stateside, my stepdaughter and I have to work at communication, the problem being mostly mine. I, being the elder, need to slow down and listen a little more carefully to what she’s trying say. It’s all a matter of my doing a better job of reading between the lines. When she speaks, I need to listen for the hidden feelings that may be hiding among the words.

        My mother-in-law has told me that one hundred bucks would be more than enough to adopt a child from her orphanage. The only problem, of course, would be flying the child home. “Papers, please” is what one can reasonably expect. To buy those papers costs tens of thousands.

        My sister-in-law can write the check. However, that doesn’t seem sufficient anymore. She was put on a waiting list. Maybe twenty thousand euros is not quite enough to grease the right political palms.


  7. catrouble says:

    This was a very well written review Ana. I do understand people going international to adopt children but standards need to be maintained that protect the children. Also, the orphanage/children’s home needs to be honest with the parents as to the child’s medical/family background so that they are informed and can get the child any appropriate treatment necessary.

    Hugs and Blessings…


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      The problem with expecting “honesty” about children’s backgrounds is that children are often put up for adoption under false pretenses. Expecting a detailed background from a child, when no one has any financial interest in doing so (in fact, the opposite) is like expecting people to support local family preservation even though it would mean losing (as Annapurna says above) tens of thousands of dollars in adoption profits to do so. Once the financial incentive for adoption is removed, then we will see children’s interests protected.


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