In November 2009 my family had the incredible honor to adopt Mfundo from South Africa. The journey to that point was filled with unknown challenges to us, as we happened to be the first adoptive family from the United States to legally adopt in South Africa. We were not the first to try to adopt from this country; we were just the family that happened to be furthest into the adoptive pre-work when the two countries came into agreement for international adoptions.

The Keehn family with Mfundo standing in front of a Christmas tree

At our first meeting with Mfundo, he quietly lay on the couch in his small cottage, shy and unsure, but he quickly grabbed for my finger and held on tightly. Mfundo was chosen for adoption due to his unresponsiveness in the children’s home, however he is a picture of the intimacy each of us yearns for with God but don’t know how to experience. I recognize myself in him, we are all reserved but reaching.

Later that first night my wife Debbie and I went back for dinner to watch Mfundo’s routine. Mfundo, although two years old, had been treated like a baby in the house filled with 5 other young boys as he was youngest. Thus his development had been limited, due to this codling and the trauma he had experienced in life. Mfundo could not speak English to us; in fact he did not speak any language. We would have to teach him to communicate. Debbie and I had to embrace who Mfundo was, as he was – I remember wondering if it was going to work. “How am I supposed to attach to a child I can’t communicate with?” I realized I must make the first move. I was going to have to make the move to be with him on his level; just as God first loved us, and initiated our relationship with him (1 John 4:9, 19).

That first day began a new journey – a journey of becoming an adoptive father of an incredible boy that was given life by two parents who were taken away by death. I have two other children that were born to my wife and I. When they were born, I was grateful for their health. However, with adoption, a new level of investment was added: choosing. While a social worker matched Mfundo with our family, the choice was ours to adopt. Adoption means to be chosen. As his father, I have chosen to love this young child, to give him my name, and an inheritance that is equal to all my children. His birth certificate now lists my wife and me as his parents; and with that come all the responsibilities and rights of being his father.

What some may think of only as responsibilities (to protect, to provide for, to guide, to teach) I consider a right: to train to be a godly man, to instill values that reflect my own, to enjoy him as a child – my child. As an adoptive father, I prepared for this moment, but its reality struck like “a ton of bricks” when I was standing before a judge, declaring my intent to adopt, to be held responsible for his life. The seriousness of the moment was punctuated by the joyful embrace of a boy, who for a moment cried when separated from his housemother, but then gave himself completely to us as we enfolded him into our family.

Many people take double-looks at my son and I, walking hand in hand – a black child being led smiling by a white father – but he is MY SON. I have chosen this. I am his father. What a beautiful picture of how God has chosen me to be his adopted child! God the Father sought a relationship with mankind, to restore us to a right relationship with him, thus forever changing our identity and eternal destiny (Rom. 8:15-16; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

To be a father is a gift of God; to be an adoptive father is a double gift as 1) a child is blessed with a family and the family blessed with the child, and 2) the orphan crisis takes one step towards a sustainable solution in a permanent family. Families led by fathers - adoptive fathers - which I get the privilege to call myself.