Nikondeha, who was raised Catholic until her parents joined an evangelical church when she was in middle school, returned to Catholicism later in life. Her Master of Divinity is from the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary, yet on her website, kelleynikondeha.com, she describes herself as “ecclesiastically promiscuous.”
She writes from experience with two sides of what’s known as the “adoption triangle”: She was adopted as an infant, and she and her husband have adopted two children from Burundi.
Her book weaves stories of both experiences with scriptural reflections on Naomi and Ruth, Jesus (whom she calls the Adopted One), and the good Samaritan, as well as theological reflection on shalom, hesed (steadfast love), and the African concept of ubuntu (usually translated as solidarity or connectedness).
The chapters can be a bit disjointed, as they are made up of one- to three-page vignettes that jump from a first-person story to a scriptural reflection to summarizing other theologians. I wanted her to go deeper with some of her insights, especially in the chapters on “Relinquish” and “Receive” — the two that deal with placing a child for adoption and adopting a child, the two sides of the adoption triangle that I have experienced.
“Relinquishment is the shadow side of belonging,” she writes, adding that Jesus’ experience of having been relinquished by God to join humanity can help us to see the seeds of redemption in any loss, including divorce or death.
Although universalizing adoption experiences of loss and connection gives the book wider appeal, I’m not sure it’s helpful, especially for adoptees. Nikondeha writes positively about her own adoption, saying she is grateful her birth mother gave her life and seemingly harboring no regret or anger about not being raised by her, nor feeling the need to search for her.
But not all adopted people feel the same. In fact, within the past generation or two — in part fueled by the ability to connect on the internet — many adults who were adopted have become vocal about their negative view of adoption, not only its roots in deep loss but also some unethical adoption practices.
Nikondeha briefly mentions these issues, but, in my opinion, glosses over them too quickly. Although such negative aspects of adoption do not fit her thesis, they deserve to be wrestled with.
Instead, she sees receiving an adopted child as an act of “hospitality,” one that is then reciprocated by the adopted child who accepts his or her parents as family. This mutuality, Nikondeha argues, is a model for other relationships.
Not every assertion in the book — especially those that universalize adoption experiences or connect adoption to redemption — was persuasive to me, admittedly a tough reader as a biological and adoptive mom. Yet the book is successful in holding up adoption as inspiration for more connection in a disconnected world.
The “unorthodox genealogies” in adoption prove that belonging can be found in unexpected places, Nikondeha says. “Belonging is a choice, a series of habits, and way of life that cultivates healing.”
[Heidi Schlumpf is NCR national correspondent.]