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What Youth Leaders Need to Know about Adopted Kids

[GUEST POST] Hi, I’m April and I’m a youth worker and adoptive momma. Being a youth worker first stole my heart, but becoming a momma has irrevocably changed me. And parenting adopted kiddos has changed how I think about youth ministry.

In 2011, my hubby and I adopted two of the most beautiful Ethiopians. Judah was 2 ½ years old and Addise was almost a year old. Over the past nearly five years of parenting these “kids from hard places” (a Karyn Purvis term), I’ve learned a great deal that I hope they’ll experience in their youth ministries some day.

First, adoptive kids embody the heart of the Gospel.

Their stories scream of their adoption into a family who will love them no matter what. Their lives tell us a story of how we are all adopted into the family of God when we choose Jesus. We truly have so much to learn from the life of kids who are adopted!

When my two oldest kids drive me crazy, I’m still starkly aware of how I’d go to the ends of the earth for them. There’s nothing that would separate me from them. I tell them all the time that I love them no matter what. When they wish they looked more like me, I remind them that they are indeed my kids. Period.

And as I affirm all those things, I connect more to the heart of God. He says the same thing about me. My kids teach me about the heart of God more than most anyone or anything else in the world.

Judah, Addise, and Asher.
Judah, Addise, and Asher.

Second, adoptive kids carry deep, deep wounds.

It is no small thing to be orphaned – left behind, abandoned, given up, lost, forsaken. It doesn’t matter if a child has been adopted from birth at the hospital or if the child was brought home much later in life, the lifelong affects are palpable (the research shows this is true even for newborns!).

Many adoptive kids exhibit signs of sensory processing disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and plain ol’ challenging behavior that surpasses traditional “adolescent angst”. If you have adopted kids in your ministry, you may notice some of these struggles:

  • They may have a hard time going away for camp more than the average kid…they’re afraid they’ll be abandoned again.
  • Loud and flashing lights music may really affect them…their brains don’t process intense sensory experiences well.
  • You may notice that they over-charm peers or adults in order to get what they need/want…they are seeking to be liked and loved.
  • They may shut down or have outburst when they get overly stressed and don’t know how to handle a situation. Remember the “fight, flight and freeze” stress reactions? This is a big deal for adopted kids.

Third, they need the church to help them heal.

The extended family of God is critical in their healing. They need to know they belong, even when they don’t behave in the prescribed lines. They need to know that, though they don’t share our DNA, they are stuck with us forever. Kids from hard places need to see what a place of forgiveness, grace, fun, and love look like. Their history has “proven” to them that these things aren’t possible. The people of God get to prove it is actually true!

Lastly, their families need your understanding.

This is where it’s personal for me. I need a church who “gets” us. I need a community of believers to look at our multi-racial, ethnically diverse family and say “We’re with you.” My husband and I need leaders, pastors, and Sunday school teachers who will say: “Teach us. What’s hard in your family? Where do your kids struggle and soar? You are welcome here…as you are.” As a whole family, we need the people of God not just to marvel at our beautiful, unique family like a novelty, but to scoop us up after the airport, after the dust has settled when our kids come home and say “we’ve got you.”

April and Brian arrive at the airport with Judah and Addise in 2011
April and Brian arrive at the airport with Judah and Addise in 2011

Adopted kids are not freaks. They are created in the image of God. They teach us beautiful things about the Gospel. They are the embodiment of what we read in the Scriptures. It’s time for our churches and youth ministries to embrace these kiddos – and their families – in ways like the Scriptures invite us to, as well.

May our youth ministries be restorative, redemptive, and hospitable places for people who don’t have it all together to belong to each other.

April Diaz has pastored in the local church almost 20 years at two of the most influential churches in the country. She is most passionate about coming alongside leaders who are women, youth workers, or advocates for orphans. Currently, she’s the Director of Coaching at The Youth Cartel and an associate in the youth department of Slingshot Group. She’s also heavily involved with the Fuller Youth Institute as an Advisory Council member, Sticky Faith Coach and Certified Trainer. Her first book, Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker: A Manifesto for Integration is a compelling vision for the church’s role with teenagers. You can read more of April’s adoptive and parenting journey at aprildiaz.com and follow her on Twitter @aprilldiaz.
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