Stephen and Dottie Story, of Grovetown, had plenty of reasons to adopt.
She was adopted, and it would give a mother an alternative to abortion. Six years into marriage, their own infertility treatments hadn't worked.
Yet, none fully explains the Christian couple's motivation.
"Adoption is rooted in the theology of our salvation," Mr. Story said. "People who follow Jesus have been adopted into the church."
Religious groups have historically cared for orphans in missions and children's homes, but that responsibility is shifting as individuals take up responsibilities once shouldered by institutions.
They're adopting, Mrs. Story said, in an expression of gratitude for a God who "first adopted us."
Galatians 4 says: "God sent forth His Son ... that we might receive the adoption of sons."
Locally, there has been an uptick in Christian families inquiring about adoption, said Dawn Jett, the executive director at the Family Counseling Center, which runs the only licensed adoption agency in Augusta.
"When I started, it was largely parents without kids, who couldn't have children of their own," said Ms. Jett, who has worked at the center for 10 years.
"I don't have one family I've worked with this year that's adopting for infertility. The majority are families who already have kids but, because of their faith or their situation in life, want to share what they have."
In June, Southern Baptists were asked to pray over the issue in a denomination-wide resolution on orphan care.
The Storys, who attend Berea Baptist in Grovetown, are awaiting a call with the news that a birth mother has chosen them. It could come in days -- or years -- but they painted a nursery and packed a bag in anticipation.
"It could be two weeks or two years," Mr. Story said. "We don't know."
The Storys chose a Christian adoption agency that shared their anti-abortion views.
"You don't decide to adopt to make some big, world-changing statement, but adoption in the U.S., we see it as giving an alternative to abortion," Mr. Story said. "Christians can say they're against abortion, but if they've got no stance on adoption, do they really?"
In addition to the legalization of abortion in 1973, the waning stigma of single motherhood has influenced adoption rates, said Emily Hipchen, the editor of Adoption & Culture Journal and a professor at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Ga.
"Women feel they have cultural support for a decision to keep their babies, unlike women before Roe v. Wade," she said.
Domestic adoptions fell from a high of 175,000 in 1970 to 130,000 in 1975, according to the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. More recent data on domestic adoptions is sparse, but it shows the decline continued at least through the 1990s.
The rate of international adoptions has fallen 20 percent in five years. A U.S. State Department tally of visas revealed Americans adopted 22,884 children internationally in 2004 and 17,433 in 2008. It's often the more expensive option, but it offers shorter and more predictable wait times.
This summer, Leslie and David Bullington adopted a 6-month-old boy, Davis, from Ethiopia. They are members of Warren Baptist Church and the leaders of Reaching Hands, a ministry that provides grants to adoptive parents. The couple organizes a yearly banquet and fundraiser for the ministry and stages workshops to point others to adoption resources.
"We want this issue brought to the forefront," Mr. Bullington said. "We want it to be a normal part of the life of this community. It should be, as Christians."
It was in that spirit that Russell Moore wrote the Southern Baptist resolution. The Rev. Moore is a dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and the author of Adopted for Life : The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches. He is also the father of two adopted sons.
The resolution stakes out the need for a stance on adoption: "The satanic powers and the ravages of sin have warred against infants and children from Pharaoh to Molech to Herod and, now, through the horrors of a divorce culture, an abortion industry, and the global plagues of disease, starvation, and warfare."
There's certainly a need for adoption, Dr. Hipchen said.
"There are children out there to adopt: emphatically yes. The dockets are full, full, full of children who need homes," she said.
Often, she said, children are not adopted because they're not the same race as the adoptive parents or are seen as too old or emotionally troubled.
"It takes a certain kind of person to adopt them," Dr. Hipchen said.
Dee Thompson wasn't deterred by an uphill battle. The former Augusta resident, who now lives in Tucker in suburban Atlanta, is the adoptive mother to two older children, one with a learning disability.
"I was over 40. I really wanted kids but I didn't see how I was going to do this," she said. "I told God I need a miracle. I didn't know it would be adoption."
In 2003, Ms. Thompson traveled to Russia with a choir. A performance was canceled one evening, and the group was rescheduled at an orphanage. It was there she met Alesia, who would become her daughter.
Ms. Thompson took a home equity loan to adopt her daughter, now 18, and later cashed out her 401(k) to adopt a son, Michael, now 13.
"I couldn't have done it without my faith," she said. "I've always been a Christian. I went to the Church of the Good Shepherd, but I never really felt close to God. When I met my daughter, I had this overwhelming feeling that God was saying, 'You wanted a family, and this isn't the conventional way, but you can do this.' My life changed."
Ms. Thompson kept a journal, which she adapted into a book, Adopting Alesia: My Crusade for My Russian Daughter, published in June.
"I wrote it because when I was researching adoption ... it was such a daunting task," she said. "I had no idea what to do. I went looking for books and personal stories of adoption."
There are, of course, a few adoption stories to be found in Scripture: Moses, Esther, Samuel, Jesus.
"God clearly cares about the issue of adoption," Mr. Story said. "Christians are instructed to care for orphans. There's a clear commandment given for us. Anybody can adopt, but Christians should own it."
Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
OTHER FAITH TRADITIONS AND ORPHANS
- The prophet Muhammad was an orphan. The Quran records many instructions regarding them: "You shall treat the orphans equitably. Whatever good you do, God is fully aware thereof" and "Righteous are those who ... give the money, cheerfully, to the relatives, the orphans, the needy ..."
- The Mormon church encourages birth mothers to place children for adoption and runs one of the largest private adoption agencies in the world.
- Catholic Social Services around the country, although not in Augusta, runs adoption agencies. In 1899, the Catholic Home Bureau was created, becoming the first agency in the U.S. to place children in homes rather than orphanages.
- The United Jewish Communities, a federation of North American Jewish communities, notes that reproductive technology can raise questions of Jewish law, making adoption an increasingly popular alternative. Jewish texts offer many examples of adoption.
DO YOUR RESEARCH. "Take the time to talk to other families and learn about their experiences. It can be different for everyone, but you'll have a better idea of what to expect," said Dawn Jett, the executive director of the Family Counseling Center of the CSRA.
LOOK FOR HELP. Counseling can help families deciding if they should embark on the home-study process, which determines if a family is ready to adopt. Counseling can also help as families deal with delays, costs or the transition home.
CHECK YOUR FINANCES. Research grants and tax credits to help with costs.
ONE STEP AT A TIME. "It can be a long process. It takes patience," Ms. Jett said. One family put it this way: "Adoption has labor, too. It just happens to be in the form of paperwork."
Adoptive parents often pay for home studies (screening), post-placement supervision, court and attorney fees, in addition to travel expenses.
- Domestic adoptions cost $5,000-$40,000; $10,000 to $15,000 is common at a private, licensed agency; independent adoption through attorneys costs $10,000-$15,000
- Fees are minimal for adopting through foster care with federal or state subsidies, or a minimal amount from attorney fees.
- International adoptions range from $7,000 to $30,000.
Source: The Child Welfare Information Gateway of the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services
- Reaching Hands Adoption Ministry, Warren Baptist Church, 3203 Washington Road; (706) 860-1586
- The Family Counseling Center of the CSRA, 3711 Executive Center Drive, Martinez; (706) 868-5011