On the day the Compassion Team braved the Amazon River and met Jonathon-who-broke-our-hearts, my youngest brother was fighting another kind of poverty in a hospital room in town: a poverty of pills and confusion and loss. In my own house, on that same day, our teenage prodigal raged through the house, wrestling against the only legacy a broken young birth mother had left for him.
I read Jonathon's story and cried. Once upon a time I wept compassion for those other boys too, when they were young and innocent and saving them seemed as easy as signing adoption papers and stepping into happily ever after.
I told a friend I wanted to fly to the Amazon and bring Jonathon home right now. And then I choked on my words because I know enough to be ashamed of myself. A preacher once explained to me that Christians are really good at loving the "deserving" poor. The problem is once we get to really know poor people, they quit seeming so "deserving" and start seeming like every other person in our lives who ought to be able to make better choices and take care of their own issues.
After two decades of adoption experience I can tell you that the shameful thing is I really only want to love the least when they are sweet and compelling and innocent, like Jonathon. But love the aggravating, selfish, dirty, angry boy downstairs or the confused young man and his self-medication? That's just hard work....and not very fulfilling.
Forgive me for being honest.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am in full support of the work that organizations like Compassion and World Vision do. My husband and I have been child sponsors for almost 20 years now. (Currently we have 8 children.) I hear these stories of the lovely children and their faithful sponsors and I remember the joy we had in our first children: two boys and a girl in the Philippines. We wrote letters and sent gifts and prayed and delighted in the new life we were helping to provide for them. After a couple of years, when we hadn't heard anything at all, the organization wrote to say that all three teens had dropped out of the program. One boy was in jail after stowing away on a merchant ship. One boy had disappeared. The girl had gotten pregnant and run away.
Forgive me for the ironic laugh when I tell that story. It was all just the beginning: God asking us, "Will you love someone who doesn't know what to do with that love? Will you keep loving when they take your gift and disappoint and wound and run away?"
Forgive me for not having a ready answer to that question.
I'm still trying to work it all out.