Monday, September 8, 2014


Last week I noticed some discussion on twitter concerning adoption in Uganda.    An article from AFP was circulating ( entitled, Uganda fears for children as overseas adoptions boom.”   The article quotes a front page headline of “AMERICANS RUSH TO ADOPT UGANDAN KIDS “by David Lumu  in Tuesday, September 2, 2014 New Vision.   (The article can be purchased at   After the front page headline the article takes up most of page 3 with the headline, “Alarm as foreigners adopt more Ugandan children.”


When I did a google and twitter search I came across a CNN article entitled Red flags wave over Uganda's adoption boom” by Todd Schwarzschild on March 2, 2013 ( Then one quickly finds the common trends of those using the recent headlines to voice concerns about adoption such as ( and a plethora of personal adoption blogs, adoption agency information, and feel good news promoting Americans adopting in Uganda.   (I chose not to list those sources so they can have the freedom to speak themselves.)  


            My family has adopted two children from Uganda.   We served
With Ruth and Timothy, June 2014
there as missionaries with New Testament Churches of Christ from 1993 to 2004.
   Following that we served with Christ’s Church of Rwanda from 2005 to 2012.   We have facilitated several Americans adopting, been adoption advocates, and at times been involved with East Africa’s media.   We’ve also been part of dialogue within international adoption discussions (  It seemed prudent to blog about this discussion.



            For my wife, Jana and I our adoption journey began with both of us having adopted siblings.    Adoption was always on our radar.   When we first arrived in Uganda in 1993 we noticed the large numbers of orphans as a result of the AIDS epidemic, and considered personally adopting.    However, at the time only citizens of Common Wealth countries could adopt from Uganda.    In 1997 The Children’s Act was passed in Uganda.   There were many issues the legislation addressed.   It cautiously opened the door for those from Non-Common Wealth countries to adopt in Uganda.  We decided that this was a whisper from God to pursue adoption. 

            On October 29, 1999 we began fostering Mary Ruth Mirembe,
Jana and Ruth 2000
an infant girl after being contacted by Mama Joyce at Sanyu Babies Home in Namirembe Hill, Kampala, Uganda.   An advert with Mary Ruth Mirembe’s picture was run in Bukedde and no relatives came forward.    We obtained legal guardianship of Mary Ruth Mirembe so that we could travel with her in both East Africa and to the United States in relation to our missionary responsibilities.  On February 23, 2004 we adopted Mary Ruth Mirembe.    We traveled to the United States in October 2006 and our daughter, Ruth became a USA citizen.  As intended in the records of fostering, legal guardianship, and adoption she has grown up well educated and involved in our delightful Christian heritage of Uganda and East Africa.   

            Our African Christian heritage is one of inclusion of children
Ethan, Ruth, and Timothy at Lake Bunyonyi 2011
in difficult situations.
    A few years later Mama Joyce asked us to consider bringing another child into our home.   We began fostering Timothy David Sanyu on October 21, 2002.   We obtained legal guardianship on March 4, 2004 to facilitate travel in East Africa and to the United States for furlough.    On January 20, 2006 we adopted Timothy David Sanyu Jenkins.    He traveled with us like Ruth in October 2006 and became an American citizen.   As intended in our documentation he has been educated and nurtured by our wonderful Christian heritage that spans nations.

            Our family returned to the United States from Rwanda, Africa in June, 2012 to serve as missionaries in Chicago land.   Ruth is currently enrolled in ninth grade at UNO Charter High School in Rogers Park, Chicago.  She excels in photography and dance.

            Timothy is enrolled in sixth grade in Waters Elementary Magnet School in Chicago.   He was diagnosed at 10 months old with a minor case of cerebral palsy.    Yet, Timothy has fast feet, rhythm, and Ugandan determination.   He excels in soccer and plays on travel teams.

Ethan playing with Chicago Uganda Cranes
            Our family is members of Ugandan cultural associations in Chicago.   We pay our yearly membership dues, attend most functions, and occasionally provide some pastoral care.    Our other Ugandan born son, Ethan plays soccer for the Chicago Uganda Cranes team.  Some who may not know our community well conclude that we “bless Uganda.”   With all due respect we disagree.   We have been immensely blessed by Uganda.   If we offer any blessings to others it is us simply passing on the goodness Uganda so graciously gave to us.    


            The boom in adoption is likely a fly wheel gaining momentum.    Few Americans were adopting in Uganda when we began the journey.   We were featured on UTV’s “Open Up” show with Irene Kulabako.    Relate Magazine ran an article on our adoption.    Elizabeth Kameo wrote an article in The Weekly Observer related to the need to provide extra care for children with disabilities that discussed our journey with Timothy’s cerebral palsy.   

            The non-Ugandans we knew when the journey began who adopted were those with deep Uganda roots.   Most were long-term missionaries.   A few were business people.   

            While The Children’s Act did open the path for non-Ugandans to adopt it required a 3 year residency in Uganda and 3 years of fostering before the adoption could be completed (  The length of time to complete an adoption was a concern of some.  Yet, it made great pragmatic sense for a nation with few means of doing extensive background checks.   A Ugandan friend told us, “We don’t want people taking our children like chickens in the market.”   Our old missionary mentors had counseled that cultural understanding would take 3 years.  If Ugandan children were to be raised by those who honored Ugandan culture a 3 years residence made sense.    

            Some advocated that with so many children in vulnerable situations the process should be streamlined.   Yet most of the non-Ugandans arguing for a stream lined process represented the beginnings of the waves of short-term missions (volunteerism.)   

            In fact, I had some very pointed conversations with foreign residents of Uganda who had great concerns with the slow process.   From my perspective most of those with great concerns were those whose Uganda experience had been disappointing.   They had found a child to adopt and now wanted to depart Uganda as soon as possible.

            Many of us processed legal guardianship so we could travel easily between the nations that our African livelihood took us.   However, a few families were processing legal guardianship in what American jargon calls, “An end around.”   It was a loop hole to avoid staying in Uganda 3 years and respecting the intent of Uganda’s leaders.

            I distinctly remember telling several who I perceived to be running an
end around, “The gospel requires for us to treat Uganda’s government with honor (Romans 13:1-7.)  It is true that you have found a child that needs a family.   It is not true that the Uganda government is stopping you from adopting that child.   The Uganda government is asking for you to respect their culture in the process.   Yes, some in the Uganda government are corrupt.   Yet, this 3 year residency is not about corruption.   In fact, by you going around the intent you encourage corruption.   A time will come when an honest government official goes through the adoption records and finds inconsistencies.   Some will be held to account.  Will the cost at that time be less vulnerable children in families?   Please put down a 3 year root in Uganda.”


Last week’s New Vision told how Uganda’s Attorney General John Muwanga had come to a similar conclusion.   I believe he has valid concerns.  The process is irregular.  There is no mechanism within the Ugandan government to monitor the trend.  The numbers don’t match up.   For instance, while there are records of 576 Americans adopting Ugandan children only 333 adoptions are registered during the studied time.  The legal guardianship process allows those who don’t qualify to adopt in Uganda to adopt Ugandan children outside of Uganda.   A side effect of what appears to be a growing adoption industry in Uganda is a growing number of baby and children homes that now total over 500.

Such concerns raise fears of child trafficking and abuse.   

Also, the children’s homes that support the adoption industry will leave many children who do have extended family disconnected from their community.    Consistent research concludes such children will suffer from a wide range of social and psychological issues.   

It is the responsibility of Uganda’s government to protect Uganda’s children.   The Attorney General’s recommendations of clear adoption and legal guardianship guidelines are needed.   (For more insightful reading on the subject see 


            My experience has been that with headlines, partisan dynamics outside
of Uganda, volunteerism, and industrial economics sometimes adoption discussions polarize beyond reason.   In that process vulnerable children are frequently the loser.   Thus I offer the following missionary suggestions.

            First, take a deep breath.  Examine the facts.   Listen with compassion.  Act with grace.  A quick reaction will wound many. 

            Second, think about long-term consequence.  I once heard a seasoned missionary in a discussion about caring for vulnerable children say, “If you want to increase the numbers of orphans in a community build an orphanage.”  He was right.   Once the institution of an orphanage is functioning extended families struggling to economically care for their children will turn to the easy fix.   Yet, the process has horrific consequences.   Besides isolation we must consider the stigmatization of being an “orphan” in a society where the basic social building block is the extended family.    Conversely, a few children in Uganda have absolutely no extended family to care for them.  In a quick reaction to stifle an industry we take away adoption options for those children.

            Third, though Americans and short-term missionaries have greatly contributed to this anomaly, it is Uganda’s responsibility to deal with her vulnerable children.   Those who must craft new procedures are Ugandan.  We from other locations must exercise restraint.  God’s Holy Spirit moves in Ugandan hearts just as it moves in American ones.   God will direct this discussion to His intent.  One of those intents will be for Ugandans to lead in adoption of Ugandan children (   Ugandan Diaspora may be particularly of help here as their remittances are Uganda’s largest source of foreign income.   We should never sell the Ugandan people short on their capacity to reason and create solutions. 

            Fourth, though difficult following process is a must.  The current discussion has been created by many who chose to rush and not follow process.    The process should prioritize reuniting children with their extended family.   Next it should prioritize adoption of Ugandan children by Ugandans.   Then it should place Ugandan children with no family in non-Ugandan families for adoption.

            Lastly, this discussion calls those of us who believe in Jesus of
Nazareth’s resurrection to live the Gospel.   Old Testament texts are rich with metaphors of adoption to describe God’s relationship with Israel (Psalm 68:5; Ezekiel 16.)   Paul uses adoption as metaphor of the Gospel (Romans 8:15; 8:23; 9:24; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5.)   Thus when process is followed and children with no adults in their lives are part of our world community it is the responsibility of those who believe in the Gospel to adopt them into our family.

May we live with the grace and wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit in that process.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very well balanced response with great truth for all sides of the discussion. Thank you for your insights!