Jan 202015

I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot lately.

No, I’m not talking about the trip home from the airport after you get back from vacation.

I’m talking after the airport.

With a capital T and a capital A.

THE airport.   The one where you come home with your adopted child(ren).    The one where the family meets the cousins, nephew, niece, grandchild etc. for the first time.

THE Airport – the place where your adopted child(ren) are thrust into a whole different world.   A world where there are a lot of people who know them and love them.   Or at least love the picture of them and the “idea” of them.

THE AIRPORT – where everything changes.   Where your child goes from being one of many to suddenly being the center of attention.    From being on a trip to going to a strange house they’ve never been in before.

There are times where, after the airport, it truly is a “happily ever after” story.   Child adjusts well, learns a new language, learns to like chicken nuggets and fries, loves mom and dad and does well in school.

And there are times when it doesn’t.

When after the airport is a whole lot of work. And a whole lot of pain.  And a whole lot of struggle.

An example of that – a friend of mine wrote a post on her blog about dealing with the trauma that many adopted kids struggle with.   You can read it at http://outofshemind.com/2015/01/dear-adoptive-parents-hard-lonely-road/.   It was shared on Facebook over 14,000 times and was read by over 60,000 people.  Think about those numbers.   14,000 times.   That means that 14,000 families are acquainted with the struggles that many adoptive families go through and felt others should know about what Heidi wrote.  60,000 views.   That means that 60,000 people read what she wrote about it.   60,000 people – even if you figure two people per family, that’s still 30,000 families.

Those are vulnerable children.   Children who have a new family.   Children who aren’t vulnerable to malnutrition or preventable disease, but children who are vulnerable.   Vulnerable to the scars of their past.   Vulnerable to the culture shock of going to a new country, a new language, a new…….

Those are vulnerable families.   They are, mostly, experienced parents who know a bit about parenting.    But they haven’t been adequately prepared for THIS.

For Reactive Attachment Disorder.

For what PTSD looks like in adopted children.

For a whole host of other scars.

How can you prepare for the unknown?   It’s not easy.

But, there are things you can do, before the airport, to make “after the airport” go smoother.

I’ll expand on this in the future, but a couple of quick thoughts:

  • Make contacts with some experienced parents – people you can call or text and say, “oh my goodness, what do I do?”
  • Read – read books, read blogs, live into the experiences of others who are walking that trail and sharing it with others.   And don’t let just one spouse read and tell the other about it – both should read…….
  • Plan for chaos – plan for how you’re going to handle chaos.   Look at it sort of like going white water rafting.   The time before the airport, you’re riding in the raft and it’s relatively smooth.   But you know big rapids are coming.   You don’t know how big they are, but you know they are coming.   Prepare for it – talk through what you’re going to do.   Talk through how you’re going to communicate.    If the rapids are minor, it will have been a good exercise in communication.   If it’s a really wild ride, it could be life saving.

Remember, you are not alone.


Jan 122015

It was a day.

A day that started like any other day for so many people.

For millions in Haiti.

For hundreds of thousands around the world.

For my kids.

For my family.

For me.

And at 4:53 pm all of that changed.    Many people saw and felt and smelled the changes instantly.   For those who lost loved ones, for those who lost limbs, the moment was immediate, painful and permanent.

For those who survived, the damage was indescribable.   The toll that it took on the lives of so many in Haiti is hard to imagine let alone relate to others.    The survivors were also victims of the earthquake.

The children – so many children were impacted by the shaking of January 12, 2010.   The children who lived through it and remained in Haiti.    The children who lived through it and ended up being evacuated from Haiti.    My wife and I were privileged to play a small role in the evacuation of over 80 children from God’s Littlest Angels to the United States and elsewhere.   These children went through the shock and trauma of suddenly being uprooted but at the same time were able to experience in many cases a lot more quality time with their adoptive families that they weren’t expecting to have.

The adoptive parents – friends of ours went from expecting that it would be 2 years until their kids came home to getting them home in 2 months.    Talk about a shock.

But they aren’t the only ones effected by this quake.

The world changed for millions of adults in Haiti almost instantly on January 12, 2010.    Most of them didn’t have the luxury of evacuating the disaster.   This was who they were, this was where they were and this was where God had planted them.   So, they struggled, they wept, they mourned and they kept going.

They had no other choice.

But there were many others in Haiti who had a choice.   They were there because they wanted to help.   They could have evacuated, they could have gone to whatever “home” was for them.

But they stayed.   They might have left for a short period of time – for their own healing, for the sake of their families, but they came back.   They carried the torch.    They helped the helpless.    They gave faith and hope to the hopeless.    They endured countless aftershocks and countless wonderings, “will this be worse?”

They stayed at great risk and great personal cost.   They stayed because there was a need and they could meet that need.

Speaking of personal friends of mine, many of them are still paying the price for staying.    In many ways – some seen, some unseen.   

The cost of this earthquake goes well beyond the dollars in damage and the lives lost.    It shook people to their core.

Both inside and outside Haiti.

It shifted what’s important for many people.

It shifted what people think of natural disasters.

It shifted the belief of many that one person can’t make a difference.

It reinforced in the lives of many adopted children “the importance of being Haitian.”

It adjusted career trajectories and paths for many.    I don’t know whether I would be where I am if it weren’t for January 12, 2010.

I know of at least three children who are alive and thriving with their adoptive families who wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the evacuation after the quake.

I don’t know why the earthquake happened.   

Questioning why God allowed such a painful and difficult thing to happen is a topic for a much bigger and different discussion.

But I do know this……

The aftershocks of this natural disaster are still moving through the “earth” of life and God is moving in those vibrations.

God is making good things out of very difficult trials.

God  is providing solace where there was suffering.

God is providing healing – not always on this earth but He is the ultimate healer.

God is moving through the difficulties that are life in Haiti.

He’s moving in the hearts of many and many lives have been changed.

Many people have seen and learned of God since then.

Many people have been the hands and feet of God since then to a troubled people in a troubled nation.

January 12, 2010 – a turning point for many.    A disaster for even more.

May God bless and keep those impacted by January 12, 2010.

May we all see God’s hand and feel God’s grace.

And may we never forget to remember Haiti,


Dec 092014

Obviously, the name of this site is, “The Vulnerable Project.”    But who are the vulnerable?    I think it helps to have some criteria in terms of what you mean when you talk about the vulnerable.    So, with that being said, here are 5 things (in random order) that define who could be considered vulnerable:

  • Where – where you live has a big impact on whether you could fall into the category of vulnerable.    Someone who lives in Middle Class suburbia in the United States isn’t necessarily going to be vulnerable.
  • Health care – do you have access to adequate health care?   Is there a significant risk that you  could fall ill with a disease that is potentially curable given adequate health care but is fatal in areas that don’t have it?   An example?   Malaria.   For someone with adequate healthcare, malaria is (so I’m told) a really bad time but is rarely fatal.    For people who don’t have access to medical care, malaria is highly fatal.
  • Family – is the family unit together?    Is there sufficient income in the family unit to keep the family alive?
  • Dysfunction – is there dysfunction in the family unit?   Is there abuse?   Is there a fear for the physical safety of one or more family members due to abuse?
  • Social Justice – are there systems in place to protect the innocent and deter or punish those who do wrong?


So, using those as guidelines, who potentially qualifies as “Vulnerable?”

  • Obviously orphaned children all over the world do.
  • Children in foster care do.
  • Parents of children in foster care – those who are really trying – do.
  • People like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others do.   People who might or might not have been violating the laws of society but who, from many viewpoints, were treated differently and treated less well because of their skin color – they do.
  • Women and their children suffering from abuse and domestic violence do.
  • Christians in Syria who are being persecuted and killed by ISIS do.


So, given those thoughts and those “guidelines,”  what is The Vulnerable Project going to do?   I’m in the process of reworking some of my thoughts on that, in light of Ferguson, in light of New York and in light of conversations I’ve been having with many people who I respect very highly.

The need to protect and assist the vulnerable has never, in my eyes, been greater.

God’s call to care for the orphan and the widow and to do justice and love mercy are or should be front and center.  (James 1:27 and Micah 6Alien

The Vulnerable Project is working on ways to do that.

I hope you’ll stay tuned and join us as we venture down this path and see what God wants us to do.



Nov 062014

November is a month devoted to awareness of the cause of the orphan.    There are many things happening – many churches are doing special services.    Saturday and Sunday, I’m speaking at two different events talking about how a church, how your church can support and encourage adoptive parents who have their kids home.

As part of that, and also as part of the blog series that I did on my personal blog at http://tomvanderwell.net, I wrote a handful of articles about the church and it’s relation to and impact on the orphan crisis.

DSC01262If you want to read them, here they are:

Why it’s important that the church “do something:”   http://tomvanderwell.net/2014/11/the-church-and-its-response-to-the-orphan-crisis/

The first rule in orphan care:  http://tomvanderwell.net/2014/11/first-rule-about-church-and-the-orphan-crisis/

Take care of your own?  http://tomvanderwell.net/2014/11/church-and-the-orphan-crisistake-care-of-yourself/

Take the battle upstream – orphan prevention: http://tomvanderwell.net/2014/11/orphan-prevention-akabattle-the-problem-upstream/

It’s not for fun, it’s a calling: http://tomvanderwell.net/2014/11/support-and-encourage-the-called/

Social Justice – it’s not just for college kids anymore: http://tomvanderwell.net/2014/11/social-justicethe-locust-effect/

I’d be grateful if you’d take a few minutes, maybe one a day for the next week?   And read through them and if you find that they resonate with your feelings or insights into the orphan crisis, share them with others?

Thanks in advance,


Sep 122014

Kristen Howerton wrote a post on her blog about why orphan prevention matters to adoptive parents.    You can read the entire article below.    I want to expand and personalize what she said, but first, read this:

This is what drives us to do this . . . we feel incredibly blessed by our children through adoption, but we ultimately want to reduce the number of children who are orphaned in the first place.
Read more:

I’ve talked to some people who have said, “wait, aren’t you advocating against what you did when you adopted your kids?”    Absolutely not.   I am very much for adoption.   I have been very blessed through adoption – not only through my kids but through the amazing people that I’ve gotten to know and consider friends all over the world.  

But adoption should be the last resort, not the  first resort.  

Keeping families together should be the first resort whenever possible.    Anyone who has adopted knows that at some point there will be pain and emotional struggles over why their child(ren) needed to be adopted.    If that pain can be alleviated for some children, that’s a great thing.

There’s another “party” in this picture that we need to remember as well.    The biological parents will be dealing with scars from this for the rest of their lives.   Can you imagine how grateful they would be if they were able to keep their child(ren) because someone came along side them and gave them a hand during a time of crisis?

There are many many, way too many situations where adoption is the only resort.    There are no biological family members who are willing and able to care for the child(ren).   That’s when adoption is a great option.

But adoption shouldn’t be the first option, it should be the last resort.

And that’s why The Vulnerable Project cares about orphan prevention and is also pro-adoption.


Tom Vanderwell

Sep 102014

My dream has changed over the years.

I used to think that finding a new adoptive family for every child in an orphanage was the answer to all of the problems in the orphan crisis.    I was wrong.   That is part of the problem and part of the answer.   But not the complete answer to the complete problem.

Instead of that, I’d like to share with you the dreams that I have for the Vulnerable Project:

  1. The Elimination of the Poverty Orphan  Syndrome –  There are too many children all over the world who are not living with their biological family, not because their family didn’t want them but because their family couldn’t afford to feed them.    That must stop.    There must be systems in place so that families who want to and are able to care for their children, rather than having to give them up for adoption, are able to get the assistance they need to be able to make it through the tough times and keep their family together.
  2. Improved understanding and knowledge of all areas of adoption – so many of the problems in the adoption world stem from a deep rooted misunderstanding of many of the realities of adoption.    We aim to address and improve that.
  3. The proper way to help – there are many ways to “help” in the 3rd world.    Many of them do a lot of good.   Some of them do a little bit of good.   Some of them actually hurt more than they help.   Most people don’t realize it and would do things differently if they knew better.    We aim to pull back the curtain and talk about those issues and help people do “it” better.
  4. Jobs – “What the Whole World wants is a good job.”   Jim Clifton – CEO of the Gallup Organization.    Many of the problems in places like Ethiopia, Uganda and Haiti could be drastically reduced if there was a significant increase in the availability of jobs so that people could support their families.     See Elimination of the Poverty Orphan Syndrome above.
  5. Churches – The church in the first world could and must do so much more to battle the forces of evil.   We aim to expose those weaknesses, encourage those who want to pray and be involved to do it well and battle the forces of evil through the efforts of the brothers and sisters in Christ who live here in the comfort of the first world.

Through book sales (see #2), online sales (see #4) and speaking opportunities (#1, 2, 3 and 5), we also aim to very quickly eliminate the need for traditional fundraising.

I’ll be going into these in greater detail in the coming days and weeks but I wanted to share with you what The Vulnerable Project is and how we can work together to help the vulnerable children and families of the world.

Thanks for reading and thanks for caring.

Tom Vanderwell