EDITOR'S NOTE: Adoption seems the perfect topic for celebrating Sanctity of Life Sunday on January 18. Southern Baptists have been among the nationís most ardent supporters of pro-life ministries and public policies, pushing for laws to protect the unborn, developing programs to encourage sexual purity and providing pregnancy centers to minister to unwed mothers, and they have promoted adoption policies and programs that reflect the biblical concept of family. Most importantly, Southern Baptist have shown a deep compassion and passion for the orphaned, opening hearts and homes to love and be loved through the gift of parenthood and family that adoption affords.
Other stories about domestic adoption are available here and here . Stories about international adoption can be read here , here and here .
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Just mentioning the word "adoption" causes John Mark Yeats' eyes to light up. Yeats, assistant professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, not only has four adopted children, but he and his wife Angie counsel potential adoptive parents and advocate adoption wherever they can.
The idea of adoption was a topic of discussion early on in their relationship.
"Before we got married, we had laid the expectation that we could have kids on the table and surrendered it to God," Yeats said.
They agreed that even if they were able to have biological children, they would adopt at least one child. At that point, the Yeatses did not know that they would experience infertility.
Having seen a few families self-destruct when faced with infertility, Yeats considers this kind of surrender "an important thing because a lot of times we think it's a right that we have kids."
Having difficulty getting pregnant early in their marriage, the Yeatses experienced feelings of inadequacy. Some wondered what was "wrong," since they adopted children instead of having them biologically.
"Many people want a sense of biological succession," Yeats said. Angie admits that she had difficulty with it as well, wanting to be able to bring the baby home from the hospital.
Angie said she prayed, "I'd just like to know one way or the other whether we should adopt." After a complicated tubular pregnancy that ended in surgery, doctors told them in-vitro fertilization was their only option for getting pregnant, but they did not consider this an ethical option. Through these events and continued prayer, they realized that God wanted them to adopt and began the process. Less than a year later, they brought their first daughter, Briley, home and finalized the adoption.
When they moved to Texas and Yeats joined Southwestern Seminary as a professor a couple of years later, they felt like the Lord was leading them to adopt again. During a meeting with Hope Cottage, a Texas-based pregnancy and adoption center, Yeats asked, "Do you ever get sibling groups?"
With a stunned look in her eye, the representative said, "We never have people ask that question, and we never have sibling groups, but we just got our first." Six weeks later, Cadie, an infant at the time, came home with them, and then six months after that, they adopted Sean, her biological brother who was a year older.
In 2007, they received a phone call from Hope Cottage informing them that Sean and Cadie's birth mother had recently given birth to another child. Although they thought they were finished adopting children, they surrendered themselves in prayer again.
Yeats recalls, "The overarching issue was asking, 'Where will this child be in 15 years?' We have a responsibility as believers on some level to bring him into a godly home." A couple of months later, they welcomed Jackson into their home, and the adoption was finalized in June.
The Yeats family has also had to work through the challenges associated with transracial adoption, especially misperceptions from people they meet. They've endured all of the random questions and false assumptions, but they see them as opportunities to educate people about adoption.
Even their children have begun to notice a difference in skin color from Mom and Dad. "As Briley has gone to school, it is interesting to hear her talk about kids 'with skin like mine' and those who have 'skin like yours,'" Yeats said.
"We have always used age-appropriate terms and concepts to reinforce positive values of their heritage. One of our kids' favorite picture books is a book by Sandra Pinkney called "Shades of Black." The book talks about the variances in skin color, hair textures, and the things that make each person unique.
"We have to work to make sure that we, as parents, stay up on aspects of a culture that is foreign to us so that our children can engage in the history and heritage of their own ethnic identity," Yeats said. "Most of all, we pray that our kids will find their true identity in Christ, which supersedes all earthly divisions.
"We are careful to try and place our children in arenas where they have exposure to people from all over the world. We also have close friendships with families who have also adopted transracially."
The Lord has blessed the Yeats family with a church that includes several families who chose adoption. Several children in their kids' Sunday School classes are adopted and reflect a variety of ethnicities.
"As our kids age," Yeats said, "we will continue to expose them to more aspects of their own adoption story as well as how it works to be a part of a transracial family. We know that there will be difficulties ahead, but we work to stay prepared and surround ourselves with a community that reflects the beauty of God's creation.
"Adoption itself is a picture of the family of God. I don't think it has anything to do with race. The family of God contains all people who are adopted by God, and it reflects all nations and tribes. Every Christian family that God calls to adopt depicts this reality no matter what children God gives them."
Yeats and his wife have counseled many couples interested in adoption. They encourage the couples prayerfully to consider how God would have them be involved.
"It is not for everyone, but everybody can be involved in the process," he said. "For those who do believe God is calling them to do it, it's just a matter of starting to research and finding out what it means."
For those who do not feel called to adopt, the Yeatses offer many ways to be involved. Churches can support the family, hold baby showers and make meals for the family when they bring the child home. A common sentiment they've encountered is, "You're just bringing a kid home," to which they reply, "Yes, but it is still a huge adjustment for us."
Another option is providing foster care to children. Briley's foster parents use it as a ministry and have fostered nearly 70 children.
"Some of the unsung heroes in all of this are the foster parents," Yeats said.
Pastors can be a vital influence in the area of adoption.
"For pastors and church leaders, one of the things I would encourage them to do to facilitate adoption is to educate themselves about what resources are in the community. You don't have to be the resident expert, but you can get to know the agencies in the area. For pro-life people, how can we not know where these places are?
Churches, Yeats said, can promote Sanctity of Life Sunday (Jan. 18), and as pastors talk about abortion, they can present adoption as the alternative. Pastors also can promote National Adoption Month each November. In addition to these days, the Yeatses encourage pastors to lead their churches in celebrating when a family in the church adopts and to include adopted children in child dedications, even if they are older.
"The church has got to be involved in the process," Yeats said. "This is what we're supposed to do.
"The gay and lesbian community is very active in promoting adoption. They want to adopt children. Where's the church been? We've been asleep at the wheel. We have so many kids in Texas who need a home, and we need people who are believers to be foster parents and adoptive parents."
Yeats advocates adoption wherever possible. In 2007, he presented a paper at Southwestern Seminary's 2007 Family Conference on the biblical model of adoption.
In an interview with the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, he posited the question: "What if the church in America would wake up and realize that our walk doesn't equal our talk in relation to pro-life issues?" Yeats asked. "What if 5,000 godly couples in [Dallas-Fort Worth] raised their hand and said they believed God was calling them to adopt? What if those same godly couples raised those 5,000 kids, and they became Christians who in turn raised godly families with godly children? Do you catch the impact here?"
Keith Collier is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This story first appeared in the winter edition of the Southwestern News magazine that focused on adoption and is available online at www.swbts.edu/swnews. To listen to the audio of the Family Conference message online, www.swbts.edu/yeatsaudio. To read the paper that the message was given from, visit www.swbts.edu/yeatspaper.