Orphan Fever

Orphan Fever April 16, 2013

by Calulu

Mother Jones magazine has finally published Kathryn Joyce’s account of the Evangelical Movement’s obsession with adoption and the inevitable not so great outcomes when you don’t take practicalities of foreign adoption under consideration.

Surely you remember not too many years ago when Nancy Campbell was pushing everyone who was Christian and could possibly afford it to adopt babies from the war-torn African nation of Liberia? She adopted a number of them for her and Colin to raise. But the saddest stories of Liberian adoptions in Kathryn’s article involve Nancy and Colin’s daughter Serene and her husband Sam.

In October 2006, a year after their first Liberian adoptions, the Allisons adopted another pair of siblings: Kula, 13, and Alfred, 15. “In Africa we thought America was heaven,” recalled Kula, who is 19 now. “I thought there were money trees.” Primm Springs was a rude awakening: It was dirty, she recalled, and she had no toothbrush. The new house Sam was building—with the older kids working alongside him—often lacked electricity. There was only a woodstove for heat, and no air conditioning or running water yet. Toilets were flushed with buckets of water hauled from a creek behind the house. The children recalled being so hungry that they would, on occasion, cook a wild goose or turkey they caught on the land. “We went from Africa to Africa,” CeCe said.

They didn’t attend school, either; home schooling mostly consisted of Serene reading to the younger children. When the older kids watched a school bus drive past on a country road and asked why they couldn’t go, they were met with various excuses. So Isaiah and Alfred worked with Sam in his house-painting business or labored in Nancy Campbell’s immense vegetable garden while CeCe, Kula, and Cherish cleaned, cooked, and tended to a growing brood of young ones. It was also the job of the “African kids,” as they called themselves, to keep a reservoir filled with water from the creek. CeCe hadn’t yet learned to read when Serene gave her a book on midwifery so she could learn to deliver their future babies. “They treated us pretty much like slaves,” she said. It’s a provocative accusation, but one that Kula and Isaiah—as well as two neighbors and a children’s welfare worker—all repeated.

Discipline included being hit with rubber hosing or something resembling a riding crop if the children disrespected Serene, rejected her meals, or failed to fill the reservoir. For other infractions, they were made to sleep on the porch without blankets. Engedi, the toddler, was disciplined for her attachment to CeCe. To encourage her bond with Serene, the Allisons would place the child on the floor between them and CeCe and call her. If Engedi went to CeCe instead, the children recalled, the Allisons would spank her until she wet herself.

…and things sort of go downhill from there.

ULTIMATELY, all but 3 of the Campbells’ and Allisons’ 10 adoptions ran into serious problems. They were purged for a time from Campbell’s website, prompting readers to gossip about the family’s “disappearing children.” In a 2009 video, Serene claimed that the missing adoptees were off at school. Campbell’s biography was amended to say she had adopted “some” Liberian children.

In response to specific questions for this story, Sam Allison responded with a blanket email dismissing the children’s allegations as “lies and untruths.” Nancy Campbell conceded that Serene “did have some problems with her older children (who were adults) and wanted their independence immediately…She embraced these children as though they were from her womb and it was terribly painful for her to be rejected by them.” Only one of her own adoptions failed, Campbell said.

Fascinating reading.

Comments open below

 Read everything by Calulu!

Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago. Her blog is Calulu – Seeking The Light and The Burqa Experience

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Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • saraquill

    “Only” one adoption failed. They also see children as teddy bears or other collectibles, to grab up as it’s the cool thing. Those who take in piles of children with the idea of converting them, while neglecting their education, physical and emotional needs, and not even bothering to arrange for their citizenship, are not parents at all.

  • Nimue

    W does she mean that the adoption “failed”? It sounds extremely sinister.

  • Nimue


  • saraquill

    Failed or disrupted adoptions usually mean that the adoption wasn’t completed and the child ends up living elsewhere. Considering how the article mentions at least one adoption by this family that didn’t go through the proper legal channels, I have no idea how it applies to them.

  • I think a “failed adoption” in this context is one where the child “rebels” against the parent or where the child has not adopted the parent’s belief system.

  • Kimberly

    So many from our church jumped on that bandwagon and adopted from 2 to 5 children at a time from a variety of countries. Even a family member of mine adopted 2 at the same time from Romania (one of which was re-adopted by a childless couple later on due to problems). While they weren’t “abused” like was mentioned in the article, the situation was less than optimal for the natural children and the adopted ones. The parents often weren’t prepared for the huge emotional issues these children had from leaving everything they knew behind. The houses didn’t accommodate such large numbers, the rooms were dirty, and the birth kids didn’t really get the attention and support they needed with all the baggage that came along with the foreign kids, not to mention the language issues and the problem with home schooling everyone. I often wonder if it was the best thing for any of them–American or Christian arrogance?

  • Nea

    They didn’t want actual children. They seem to have wanted easy God Green Stamps by collecting an entire set of converts. The problems came because they got children – children who needed special help adjusting to culture shock and PTSD at that.

  • texcee

    Adopting children from foreign and/or Third World countries can be a wonderful thing, if done for the right reasons, and if the adoptive parents understand fully that the children they adopt are highly likely to be “damaged”, psychologically, physically or both. Many of these children have come through starvation, trauma and war. Some will have been abandoned at birth to be raised in governmental creches, bereft of the love and care that every baby needs, something which has been shown to leave them without the mental and emotional development necessary for human beings to grow up as well adjusted people. Some of these children will have been born with diseases and deformities. In all except for perhaps tiny babies, these children will experience culture shock and separation trauma from all that they have known in life. American parents who adopt these kids and expect them to arrive as perfect little blessings from God are in for a huge shock — and it will be the children who suffer the most.

  • Oh hey it’s my pet-peeve topic! XOXOXO

    Here are some more links if anyone is interested. Joyce has done quite a few articles on this subject:




    David Smolin also has a good paper on the movement: http://works.bepress.com/david_smolin/10/

    Documentary of a Dutch family who adopted from Ethiopia: http://mercymercy.dk/

    Adoption is not the perfect solution to world poverty. It’s probably one of the worst because the money spent on adoption fees and whatnot could probably enable the families to stay intact. Taking the pick of the orphanage litter not only leaves hundreds of children behind in deplorable conditions, but serves fraud and enacts a massive resource and brain-drain on sending countries.

  • Disruptions are adoptions that both failed to complete as well as adoptions that were later dissolved. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/s_disrup.cfm

    Some states that means that a parent is found guilty of child abandonment. Other states it means not much of anything. It’s more often though that the family will quietly find another family to readopt the child or put them in a home for troubled teens.

  • This seem to connect to both the conversation on having a pro-children mind set (a regular theme on this blog), and the dominionist who promoted slavery recently.
    You are not pro-child by merely collecting them (whether by adoption or by staying off birth control); feeding them and making them work for you: That is slavery, not loving children. You are pro-child if you really love them, love that is shown in giving them the best you can.
    To not give these adoptees citizenship or an education or trauma councelling on leaving their whole world behind, and only having them work for you, is slavery, not love. A child who grew up quiverful may not know better, but it seems to be clear to these Nigerian youths.
    I believe Serene treated these Nigerians no(t much) different from her own children of that age. And that says a lot of her child rearing methods.

  • Liberians, not Nigerians. My fault.

  • madame

    I read the whole Allison story, and then I followed a link to some videos by Serene.
    She seems like a lovely woman who would be happy to have her children, bake her sourdough bread, and live a laid-back life. She doesn’t sound like the type of person who wants to control the people around her.
    She and Sam are very young. Why on earth did they adopt teenagers? And why so many? It’s so foolish, and so sad!
    The whole story is heart wrenching.

  • Y’all, this stuff breaks my heart. Those poor kids! And the little one…. how the HELL do you think that beating a toddler will promote genuine bonding? Good grief. I wouldn’t give a fish to those people.

  • Brennan

    Or it could mean that Nancy sent one of her adopted kids back to be homeless in their native country like her daughter did. Or anything in between. From the text, we don’t know.

  • Rich Shipe

    Hey everyone, It is important to get some perspective on adoption. Are their problems and reforms needed? Of course. But keep some things in mind:

    – Expect to only hear about the problem cases. No one makes national news for a successful adoption.
    – Don’t judge agencies or orphanages from a distance. And I mean don’t judge them good or bad. One commenter said that the money involved could keep the family intact. Really easy thing to say from a distance. But sometimes that is very true. But don’t assume it is always true.
    – Listen to the experts who fight to keep families intact but are also pro-adoption. Ignore anyone who is flat opposed to adoption.