Friday, September 23, 2011

This is the Life He has Called us to

This is the life He has called us to. One of loving and losing. One of extremes. Great joy and great sorrow- sometimes all mixed up into one. This is the life we have said yes to- because we live for the joy and we live through the sorrow because that bit of joy mixed into it all is what makes it all worth it.

Like medicine hidden in chocolate. The joy keeps us going. The sorrow teaches us to trust and lean and bring it all to the feet of Jesus.

And it’s in moments when yet another baby dies that we think- why the hell did we say yes to this? Why did we say yes to loving? Why did we say yes to a world full of disease and death and corruption and cruelty? Why did we say yes to a God that never promised to stop the hard times from coming?

And we breathe in deep… and we force our heart to calm and soften and open to the Truth that washes healing through us. Because that joy that keeps us coming back for more- that is JESUS. He is what makes beauty from the ashes… He makes beautiful things out of us… He is who makes it all worth it… He is the one that brings the love we pour out each and every day… and He is the only one that can bring the healing and renewal.

We love and we lose. And yet we gain Jesus through the whole process. And we gain eternity with the one we are losing.

Baby Peace, Baby Joel, Baby Shamim- We miss you. We love you. We cannot wait to see you again.


I wrote this two weeks ago when Baby Shamim went to be with Jesus. I wrote it for my friends who loved Shamim and fought for her life no matter the cost. I didn’t send it… I don’t know why. Maybe because these truths hadn’t quite made it from my hands to my heart and Jesus knew I would need them this week.

Sweet, Precious Ajuma went to be with Jesus this morning. I’m not going to lie- I don’t feel at peace, I’m not trusting God, I’m not strong.

I’m angry.

For once I want a baby to live. For once I want a miracle. I’m sick of loving and caring and working for lives only to watch them slip away. I’m sick of being positive and dreaming about the day they’re running around and laughing only to see that image crushed to pieces.

But you know what? This isn’t about me. Madeline L’engle wrote “compassion means to suffer with, but it doesn't mean to get lost in the suffering, so that it becomes exclusively one’s own.”

The moment this grief becomes all about me is the moment I’ve lost sight of what this all means.

So friends please join me in having compassion for Ajuma’s family- his family that are grieving the loss of their son and brother, a family that sat by his bedside for months at a time, the family that didn’t blink before sacrificing anything that was asked of them to try and save their son’s life. They need your prayers.

And please friends join me in remembering the hope we have in Christ. It is because of Jesus that Ajuma is dancing in heaven fully healed and fully whole. It is because of Jesus that we do not need to grieve. It is because of Jesus that we know the sadness with only last for a season.

It is because of Jesus that we have the strength to do this again. Love and lose. Again and Again. And humbly pray that we leave glimmers of Christ along the way.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Negative Effects of Institutional Care

“I constantly experienced a sense of profound loneliness and a deep sense of uncertainty. I felt lost. You have to understand that my exposure to the outside world was limited… What did I have? Where would I go for Easter or Christmas?”

- - Stephen Ucembe (grew up in an institution, speaking about trying to fit into University life after the institution)

Reading this post it is easy to come to the conclusion that we believe all institutions are bad. However we believe there are such things as good institutions. We define a good institution as one that…

1. 1. Understands they are not a long term solution for a child and seeks to re-unify or adopt their children out as soon as possible.

2. 2. Ethically seeks out alternatives for their children and seeks re-unification with family members before turning to adoption.

3. 3. Does their best to meet the children’s emotional and physical needs

4. 4. Meets a need in the community rather than creating one. This means they set up in an area that is not already overrun with orphanages and they only take in children that are truly in need of their care.

The goal of this post is not to attack every institution out there- it is to show that institutions should be a last resort for children and never a long term solution.

We will approach this by addressing myths some people hold when it comes to institutional care.

Myth: An institution that is well run and well funded can provide all a child needs to develop into a healthy and functioning adult.

“For the last half century, child development specialists have recognized that residential institutions consistently fail to meet children’s developmental needs for attachment, acculturation and social integration.”

The best institution in the world cannot give a child everything a loving and committed family can. Children in institutions may be given food and clothes and an education but their emotional needs cannot be met in an institutional setting. In the best institutions children are well loved by the workers and volunteers who care for them. However these volunteers come and go and the workers shifts’ end and new groups come in. One consistent caregiver is not provided and as a result children develop attachment issues that can lead to developmental delays, self esteem problems, trust issues, behavioral problems, and future relationship issues. Children’s unique needs and differences aren’t accommodated when there are other children to be cared for and this can also lead to increased emotional, psychological, or physical problems. Research shows children raised in institutions have lower IQ’s, higher rates of suicide, homelessness, brain damage, and psychological disorders and medical problems.

Myth: But the kids seemed so happy and loving. They came running up to us and held our hands and jumped into our laps. They must be well-loved if they know how to show it.

“Although such behaviour may initially seem to be an expression of spontaneous affection, it is actually a symptom of a significant attachment problem. A young child with a secure sense of attachment is more likely to be cautious, even fearful, of strangers, rather than seeking to touch them.”

Think of the children you know back home. If they were in a room without their parents and a whole group of people who didn’t look like them walked in, how would they react? Most children would be scared. They’d either cry and run away or at least act shy. It isn’t normal, safe, or healthy for kids to run up to strangers and jump into their arms immediately after meeting them. This behavior is a sign of attachment issues these children face as a result of their years spent in an institution. These children were never given one caregiver who consistently met their needs so they never learned how to attach to another person and develop that relationship of trust and love. They can get their cuddles and special attention from the new visitors or anyone else that shows up- it makes no difference to them.

Usually this can be changed if and when the child is placed in a family. A consistent amount of time having their needs met by their mom and dad eventually teaches them how to form relationships and place their trust and love in others. Some children however develop a disorder called Reactive Attachment Disorder. This is often a result of severe neglect and/or abuse and is often found in children who have grown up in institutions. This disorder can be hard to treat and makes family life difficult for these children.

Myth: Okay so kids in orphanages may be a little behind developmentally but they can easily catch up as soon as they get into a family.

“Every three months that a young child resides in an institution, they lose one month of development.”

Kids are little sponges that are great at bouncing back and catching up in their development when given the right environment, but for a child who spends years in an institution permanent damage can be done. For someone who has never been consistently loved it’s hard to believe you are worthy of love. For someone who has lived in an incredibly structured and strict daily routine it is hard to adapt to any new environment. For someone who has never known family life it’s hard to adjust. Some research even supports that institutional life can actually damage a child’s brain and affect their ability to emotionally process their environment.

*Now if I was not a Christian I might believe there are children who are beyond saving, but thanks to our all powerful God I can say that no child is beyond saving - that miracles are possible, that healing is within these kid’s reach. However that does not mean we cannot ignore the long term affects children face from institutional life.

Myth: There’s nothing wrong with someone moving to a country to open an orphanage. There are still kids out there that need help.

“In communities under severe economic stress, increasing the number of places in residential care results in children being pushed out of poor households to fill those places.”

In some cultures, such as African cultures, a significant amount of value is placed on family ties. In countries where there are very few institutions available children are often cared for within the extended family or community if their parents are unable to care for them. However when institutions start to open families who are uneducated in the possible developmental harm of these institutions make the decision to send their children there instead of finding alternative solutions. The orphanage can actually create the need.

A survey of orphanages in Uganda in 1992 found that 95% of the children in institutional care had living relatives. Now it would be na├»ve to assume all of those children could return home to their families but a large majority of them could and did thanks to efforts by Save the Children (86% were re-united). This is why it is so important that institutions are careful about what children they allow to be admitted and why just starting an orphanage without the research and knowledge of the area can be more harmful than helpful. Some orphanages are what we would call good institutions (see opening) and these can meet a real need for orphaned and abandoned children, but we don’t need hundreds of orphanages in the same area. We really only need a few good ones so to that person wanting to move to a country they know little about and open an orphanage- please think about the impact you’re really making and whether it is going to be a beneficial one.

Myth: We’re a Christian run orphanage and we’re raising up our children to be strong Christian leaders in their own country.

With the developmental delays, possible brain damage, attachment issues, and psychological and medical problem your children are at risk for chances are they’re not going to make really good leaders. Every child deserves a family (God places the lonely in FAMILIES-Psalm 68:6).

I hope this discussion of the harmful effects of long-term institutional care shows why it is Abide’s goal to prevent as many children as possible from being separated from their families and entering into this form of care.

Sources/other resources:

*All quotes (unless mentioned otherwise) are from the document Families Not Orphanages found here

Blog of a wonderful couple living in Uganda and working with alternative orphan care initiatives-

One of our favorites in the blog world- Kristen is an adoptive mother and advocate for creative orphan care solutions:

Some great resources for studies and documents on alternative care options for vulnerable children:

Better Care Network-

The Way Forward Project:

Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC):


Federici, Ronald. Help for the Hopeless Child. 1998.

(Megan would like to add a personal note about Dr. Federici. She has had some experience with him and while she loves his research and insight into institutionalized kids she does NOT support his therapy practices. So please do not take away from this article that we endorsing his therapy in any way, shape, or form)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Families Not Orphanages

"A survey conducted in Uganda in 1992, in the wake of civil war and increasing AIDS mortality, found that approximately 2,900 children were living in institutional care. The survey also found that approximately half of these children had both parents living, 20 per cent had one parent alive and another 25 per cent had living relatives. Poverty was the reason most of these children were in residential care. Guided by these findings, a multi-year effort by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and Save the Children UK improved and enforced national policies on institutional care reunited at least 1,200 children with their parents or relatives and closed a number of sub-standard residential institutions. A 1993 evaluation found 86 percent of the children to be well integrated in their families. Unfortunately, some of this work in Uganda is now being reversed, and the trend of orphanages seems to be on the rise, apparently due to shifting priorities in policy implementation."

- Families Not Orphanages by John Williamson and Aaron Greenberg (2010)
Taken from the Better Care Network