Johnny Carr is the national director of church partnerships at Bethany Christian Services, the nation’s largest adoption and orphan care agency. Previously he served as a full-time minister for 14 years, and worked at several different churches during that time. He and his wife now live with their five children – the three youngest are adopted – in Pittsburgh, Penn. Carr was the pastor of ministry and leadership development at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. While at Hillcrest, he led the church in establishing its first orphan care and adoption ministry, which sponsored mission trips and other events to encourage involvement from the congregation. Many children have been adopted and helped by church members as a result of this ministry.
Plywood People: What is Orphan Justice?
Johnny Carr: When I first started working in orphan care and adoption I attended an HIV/AIDS conference at Saddleback Church. Elizabeth Styffe, orphan care and HIV director at Saddleback, said to me this quote, “You can’t care about AIDS without caring about orphans and you can’t care about orphans without caring about AIDS.” The more I thought about that statement the more I realized that you could put almost any social justice issue for the word AIDS. If we care about orphans we have to care about poverty, trafficking, abortion, and a host of other issues.
Plywood People: What motivated you to start work in this area?
Johnny: In 2005 we traveled to China for our first adoption. It was my first time to travel internationally. 24 hours after meeting him, we visited his orphanage. Walking into the courtyard we saw about 20 special needs children sitting in make shift high chairs, motionless. The chairs had hole in the seat with a pan underneath them. We then walked into the baby room. Standing in that room, I remember thinking that I didn’t want my other two children to see the conditions of the infants in the beds. While holding James, I began to push my oldest two kids back towards the door. When I did that, James began scream and his grip around my neck got so tight that he was literally choking me. That moment changed my life. It challenged my theology, my ideas about church and church growth, and how lived personally as a family.
Plywood People: Could you share about your new book?
Johnny: Picking up on your first question, it takes that idea from Elizabeth and each chapter takes on a different social justice issue and ties it into caring for orphans. Growing up as an evangelical, I was convicted that we had not done well in ministering in these critical areas. Yet, if we truly wanted to care for orphans, we would have to take these issues seriously. I hope that I have taken the issue of orphan care and challenged the reader to see how they also have a biblical responsibility to minister in these other areas that are going to be very uncomfortable.
Plywood People: What has been your greatest hurdle in the process of writing and sharing about adoption?
Johnny: Leaving stories on the cutting room floor… There are still so many other stories that I want to share. However, some, we have to keep to ourselves and let them be our kids’ own stories. It’s been hard to know where the line is between this unique role that God has given our family to be open, but at the same time reserve the things that need to be special to our family.
Plywood People: What are the top 5 things that you wish others knew about adoption?
Johnny: 1. Adoption is a journey of faith from beginning to the end. In the beginning, the men are worried about the money. In the end you look back and laugh about that.
2. Pray for the best but prepare for the worst. This is especially true when adopting older children. Many of them have experienced a lot of loss and pain and will need to readjust to family life.
3. You must look at adoption through the eyes of the child and not the parent. One family asked their church to help them financially with their adoption of a sibling group from another country. The pastor said that “they didn’t help with optional things like adoption.” The pastor’s perspective was looking at this couple that WANTED something. He wasn’t looking at it through the eyes of the children who NEEDED something – a family.
4. Adoption is not just for childless couples or couples experiencing infertility. Many empty nesters are now considering adopting older children through the foster care system. Some are doing like my family and being blessed through child birth but also adding to their family by adopting.
5. Not all adoptions are as expensive as you might think. As a matter of fact, adopting through the foster care system in most states is virtually free for the family (not to mention the state benefits for the child that are not lost in the adoption). There is also a tax credit available plus many organizations that work to help fund adoptions for Christian families.