Surreal. That’s how Chris Padbury of Project 1:27 described it.
I concur. Surreal indeed.
After the White House Roundtable on Orphans and Vulnerable Children concluded in the Eisenhower Executive Offices, a smaller subset of the attendees was invited to a reception at the White House Residence. For some reason, God gave me favor and my name was on the list. I immediately had to scramble to postpone my Thailand trip. These aren’t the things that the White House gives advance warning on. One has to be flexible.
(Image: South Entrance of the White House)
After passing through a couple of Secret Service checkpoints I entered the rear of the White House through a veiled parapet. Once we finished strolling through the West Wing and ascending the white marble stairs to the Cross Hall, our group was ushered into the East Room, otherwise known as ‘America’s Grand Ballroom.’ A life-size painting of George Washington (Who the current President would later refer to as "the original George W.") greeted us, along with rows of TV cameras and photographers.
(Image: The White House Pianist entertains us in the Cross Hall)
(Image: The Chairman of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, Paul Pennington (right) finds his seat in the East Room)
Numerous House Representatives, Senators (yes, even the embattled Senator Craig) and White House Staffers were also in the hall, as well as some special adoptive families. Families with children from Asia. Families with children from Africa. Families with children from Eastern Europe.
Formerly discarded children, who have since found ‘forever families,’ were now seated in places of great honor. I would say that such things happen, "Only in America," but the reality is that they happen, "Only in God’s economy." It is God who values the ‘least of these.’ It is God who elevates the poor and downtrodden. It is God who promises that such as these would inherit the earth.
Yes…only in God’s economy.
A regular middle-class family with a child from Russia sat in front of me. The White House Chief of Staff sat directly behind me. My admiration was almost equal for each. I was more enamored by the couple with the child squirming on the seats before me.
"Ladies and Gentlemen…The President of the United States of America and First Lady, Laura Bush."
(Image: President George Bush looks on affectionately as his wife, First Lady Laura Bush speaks about orphans and adoption)
Both the President and First Lady addressed us at length, conveying powerful words of compassion regarding orphans and adoption. Many sank in. Some were lost because the majesty of the moment simply overpowered the communication. Sensory overload prevented the full absorption of the message.
One statement from the President will remain with me forever, though:
"Families are formed by love, not biology."
My mind first went to the family of Christ universal, but then it drifted to the hundreds of pastors that World Orphans has partnered with in almost fifty countries. These hundreds of families opened their hearts and homes to disadvantaged kids who were not their own biologically. Those kids are now part of families – families forged by affection, knitted together by God.
The President spoke with pride about the legacy of adoption in the White House. Gerald Ford was adopted. Ronald Reagan was an adoptive father. George H. W. Bush has two adopted grandchildren.
‘W’ beamed as he spoke of these families, and the families in the audience, that had committed to take in the parentless…to give them hope and a future.
Don’t be unfairly swayed by the biased media. This President is a man of faith and focus, conviction and compassion. He has a deep heart for the family…and for the desire of orphans to be a part of one.
As the President and First Lady’s comments were still bounding in our heads, we were treated to three songs from Country Music Superstar, Rodney Atkins. Rodney was twice adopted as an infant, only to be returned to the orphanage because of an illness he was battling. A third couple picked him up and, even though his health deteriorated yet further, they stuck it out, determined to love him as their own through thick and thin, sickness and health. That ailing orphan was now entertaining the President of the United States and members of Congress…as well as those who champion the orphan themselves.
…Only in God’s economy.
(Image: Country music star, Rodney Atkins, performs in the East Room)
The leader of the free world was sitting four rows in front of me and ten chairs to the left. I have to embarrassingly admit, the back of his head was as entertaining to me as the music coming from the stage. While a revered celebrity was blasting out tunes on a White House stage, my view was partially blocked by the graying head of the President of the United States. Bizarre beyond bizarre.
After the chords fell silent, we were led towards the State Dining Room, where a lavish spread of hors’douvres filled the opulent national table in what President Bush called, "your house."
(Image: The State Dining Room awaits us)
Before I left Denver for D.C., my World Orphans colleagues, Mike and Scott, told me not to take any of the White House silver.
…I took some paper serviettes instead.
I grew up in a working-class town north of London. Although I was born into a family of privilege, to eat at the White House amongst leaders of the most powerful nation on earth, was quite a leap for me.
…Only in God’s economy.
Listen, I want you to unequivocally understand. We are all created equal in God’s eyes. We are not to idolize those in positions of authority, no matter how significant those positions are. However, one cannot help but be captured by the grandiosity and pageantry of the moment.
…And I want to clearly stress that the most endearing thing I take from the whole experience is that former developing-world orphans were there also – picked up out of the mire and invited to the banquet, rescued from neglect and positioned for lavish attention, taken from the periphery and cherished around thrones of power.
…Only in God’s economy.
(Image: Girls adopted from Cambodia are seated for a picture in the Blue Room)
(Note: All photos were taken with a cheap, slim-line digital camera that could easily slip into my suit jacket. My apologies for the low quality of some pictures.)