Amplifying the Voice of the Orphan
About the Guest
On the broadcast today, impassioned youth speaker and author, Ryan Dobson, and his father, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, share some emotional moments regarding Ryan's 1970 adoption. Joining them in the studio are adoptive parents Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly, and Focus on the Family broadcasting vice-president John Fuller.
Ryan Dobson, and his father, James Dobson, share some emotional moments regarding Ryan’s 1970 adoption.
James: Anyone who has ever been infertile, even for a short period of time, knows the sorrow and the disappointment and the pain of having the wife come home again from the doctor's office and say, "No, not this time," and to hear that over and over and over again, when your arms ache for a baby, it was not easy.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 13th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today we'll hear how God turned mourning into dancing as Jim and Shirley Dobson became the parents of their adopted son, Ryan. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. It's pretty exciting. You and Barbara are on Focus on the Family today, right?
Dennis: That's right.
Bob: And did you get a chance, when you were out with Dr. Dobson, to talk about my book, "The Christian Husband?"
Dennis: Bob, you want me to pitch your book to Dr. Dobson?
Bob: Here's a chance, maybe, you could just mention it. They might want to have me on the program.
Dennis: Bob, I’m not going to go do your dirty work – go out to Colorado Springs and do that. That's just …
Bob: It probably wasn't really appropriate to do it, anyway.
Dennis: It probably wasn't and, besides, he's here in the studio with us today. You can do your own dirty work. Do you want to ask him?
Bob: No, it probably isn't appropriate for me to ask in the context of today's program. What we do want to talk about is the need of the orphan, and what we've got going here is really a pretty unprecedented event that's taking place today.
Dennis: You know, FamilyLife Today has now been in existence over 14 years, and I don't know in those 14 years, on FamilyLife Today, if we have ever had a hostile takeover of our broadcast.
Bob: You're anticipating one today, aren't you?
Dennis: I have invited Dr. James Dobson to be a co-host of our broadcast today, and our listeners are going to know who he is, obviously, from Focus on the Family. Welcome to the broadcast, Jim.
James: Well, I had hoped to get my hands on your ministry for a long time.
This is the first chance I've had here. So, you know, we're going to have to move it to Colorado Springs, and I'll tell you if you have a role here to play.
Dennis: You know what? That's very gracious of you, and you've always been kind to me, and I'll take that into consideration. But we also invited Jim Daly, who is the president of Focus on the Family to join us, along with John Fuller. Gentlemen, welcome to our broadcast.
James: Thank you.
Jim: Great to be with you.
John: A privilege.
Dennis: And then someone that is no stranger to Focus on the Family listeners, at least, Ryan Dobson, the new father of Dr. James Dobson's grandson. Ryan, welcome to our broadcast.
Ryan: Thank you, it's good to be here, I appreciate it.
Bob: Do you know how much your stock went up when you had a grandchild?
Ryan: Yeah, I've been noticing that. It wasn't starting my own ministry and my own broadcast – it was having babies.
Bob: You were good, but now you're great.
James: Well, I put Ryan back in my will.
Dennis: And we also have my bride of now more than 34 years, Barbara joins us, and this is a subject that has been near and dear to her heart as we talk about the issue of orphans and adoption and foster care. And as we just said, our broadcast here on FamilyLife Today, in collaboration with Focus on the Family, we decided to link arms, and John Fuller has been to Little Rock, and we said, "You know, we've got to make a statement to the Christian community that this is important."
John: Dennis, you've been very gracious, as you and your team have led a series of meetings involving orphan care and adoption agencies and organizations there in Little Rock. You've hosted a couple of meetings there. It was a privilege to go on behalf of Focus on the Family and, as an adoptive father, I was very personally interested in where this was going.
It was astounding to find out that despite having 40 or 50 agencies and organizations and ministries and churches represented in the room there, never before had they collaborated. Some of these folks had never even talked to each other.
Dennis: Never been in the same room together in the history of orphan care and adoption ministry.
James: The sad thing is that Christian ministries have not cooperated on much of anything, you know, we all go our own way, and it's sort of a territorial thing. That's embarrassing.
Dennis: It really is, and to your credit, thank you, Dr. Dobson and John and Jim for joining with other organizations, along with FamilyLife, to say you know what? This is a crisis where something must be done. It's bigger than any individual ministry but together and collaboratively we can make a difference.
Now, Dr. Dobson, your son is here in the studio with us here, and he's adopted.
James: He is.
Dennis: And you had been very reticent to talk about this on air, but I've been looking forward to asking you – take us back to when you and Shirley first started talking about adoption.
James: Well, it's one of the most rewarding and inspirational stories of our lives, and the only reason I haven't talked about it is because I felt that when Ryan was old enough to deal with that, he would tell it. I didn't feel like I should be the one to reveal that.
So Shirley and I have shared it with friends and close associates, and it goes all the way back to the birth of our daughter, and we just absolutely loved parenting and wanted another baby – we really wanted four – and after Denay [sp] was born, Shirley couldn't have any more children, and we spent four and a half years trying to have another child and simply could not, and began seeing that this was an option for us that the Lord had laid before us. And I am now convinced that the Lord had this in mind, and I can't explain why we couldn't have more children anymore than all those people listening to us now who are infertile can't explain that. Only God knows that.
But I do know He had Ryan in mind and put him in our arms, and it was a marvelous thing. And for parents out there that already have biological children, and you're saying, "I don't think I can love somebody else's child, I don't believe I can love an adopted child," it's not try. Boy, there's no difference between them.
Dennis: You know, there's a grief that comes with infertility that's – I've looked into the eyes of many a couple – it's tremendous sadness. But God turned your sadness to great joy, didn't He?
James: He did.
Bob: Did you have any concerns that, as parent often do, that you might not be able to love an adopted child?
James: No, we wanted another child so much that I don't think that was every a real concern. You know, like every other parent, we didn't know what all the implications were. We didn't know how an adopted child will feel as he grows older about being adopted when there is a biological child in the family, but, Ryan, if I read you right, that has never been one second's problem.
Ryan: Oh, for me, no. No, that was never – you know, someone asked me recently did I have an identity crisis because of the adoption? I said, "No, I think being a Dobson took care of anything that I may have had in that regard."
You know, I've had a lot of friends who are adopted, seek out their birth parents and, I'll be honest, it rarely goes well. And for a very good reason – you've got to think about it logically. My birth mom was 17, and when she found out she was pregnant, she wasn't even dating the guy any longer. Really, 35 years later, 36 years later, does she want me to open that wound again? Maybe, maybe not, but that's got to be her choice, and I’m okay with it. I've got a great family, I've got great friends, I've got a wife. I have a sense of belonging, I know who I am, and how could you feel abandoned?
Dennis: Ryan, I'm going to stop you there, because, Jim, you and I are good friends. I told you off mike earlier that we had a little surprise for you on the broadcast. We knew that you've never talked about Ryan being adopted on the broadcast out of respect for him, and so we called Ryan.
James: Oh, really?
Dennis: We called, and …
Bob: We didn't know that he was going to be able to be with us, so we called and said, "Could we ask you a few questions, and we'll share them with your dad when we get together with you."
Dennis: And so I want you to just listen to this little conversation. There's two parts to this conversation, Jim, that I want you to listen to, and then I want you to share with our listeners just what emotions and thoughts run through your mind.
James: I've got a lump in my throat already, and I don't even know what's coming.
Dennis: [from audiotape] You have a unique story just about how you came to be Ryan Dobson. Do you want to share that?
Ryan: I do. When my sister was born, and there were problems during her pregnancy, so that my mom wasn't able to have more kids, and they said, "You know, we've got to do something," and they decided they would pray for a miracle. And they committed to the Lord, they were going to get on their knees at the side of their bed every night and pray, and they did that for an entire year. For 365 straight days, they prayed every night on their knees beside their bed, and nothing happened. And so they just kept right on praying, and one year turned into two, and two quickly turned into three, and three turned into four. Four years go by, nothing happens.
Right about that time there was a young couple, they were in high school, they dated for a little while, and after a while the girl says, "This isn't the guy that I want to marry, and if I'm not going to marry him, I better not keep dating him," and they broke up, and a short time later she found out that she was pregnant and didn't know what to do and didn't know if she should tell her parents and didn't want them to be upset or mad or disappointed.
She finally couldn't take it, and she broke down one night, and she told her parents, and they didn't know what to do. They already had four kids, and one more mouth wasn't going to help things. And the family, there was that debate on what would they do, were there any options available? Someone at their church pointed them to the doors of a pregnancy care center, and they started meeting with a counselor, and there were a lot tears shed as options were laid out, and they were trying to decide what to do, and the Lord took my parents' inability to have more kids, and He took that young couple's high school folly or indiscretion, and He meshed it together, and on August 31, 1970, my parents, Jim and Shirley, brought me home from an adoption center. And that's how I became a Dobson.
Bob: [from audiotape]Ryan, how old were you when you first knew you were adopted?
Ryan: [from audiotape] Oh, my parents told me from the time I was very, very little, from day one. I didn't understand it for many, many years. It was just kind of one of those light bulb moments where it dawned on me. One day, I thought, "Oh, that's what adoption means," where it kind of took hold, and I started speaking publicly about 12 or 13 years ago, and a crisis pregnancy center was one of the first places to call and ask if I'd come speak, and I thought, "That's kind of funny. I've never even thought about doing that," and then it dawned on me what a great opportunity it would be for me to give back to that community that literally saved my life so many years ago. It really is indescribable.
Dennis: [from audiotape] And the choice to give you life and to give you a family – if there is something that Christian community ought to be celebrating today is that. It's that courage, it's the willingness to stand in the face of a storm, a personal storm, and to say, "You know what? I'm going to believe God for something better."
Ryan: [from audiotape] That's right. You know, it's so much more amazing to me now, having watched my wife go through a pregnancy and to imagine that there was a 17-year-old girl that carried me for almost nine months, not being married, you have to know that she experienced a lot of shame and fingers pointed and embarrassment, and yet she chose not only to do that but to try to give me a better life than she thought she could give me herself by giving me up for adoption.
Dennis: And that's just what I was going to say, Ryan, is the heroic choice of your birth mother to be able to give life and to give life a chance.
Ryan: That's right, and it is heroic. You know, people don't talk about that these days, you know, it's still kind of one of those things where you're not quite sure what you'll do, but it's heroic. I talk to adopted kids, and they think somehow they've been abandoned, and I think, "No, no, you have no idea what it means to go through a pregnancy," and now, seeing my wife go through it and go through the birth and how tired she is and all those things, to think that someone did that for me and, on top of it, gave me up to give me a better life and not see the rewards of it.
I can't believe I've got a son of my own now. It's an amazing, amazing, miracle.
James: You should have warned me about this, Dennis.
Dennis: I did, a little.
James: Oh, that's touches my heart.
Dennis: What's going through your mind?
James: Well, it just again takes me back to that era and what we were feeling. Anyone who has ever been infertile even for a short period of time knows the sorrow and the disappointment and the pain of having the wife come home again from the doctor's office and say, "No, not this time" – now, maybe later, but not yet. And to hear that over and over and over again, when your arms ache for a baby, and then to have the Lord put this beautiful little baby boy into your arms, and we loved him from the moment we first saw him.
My parents were praying about this, and my dad made a statement early on, "The Lord's got something very special for that kid because He put him in your arms." And it's been true, and this is just one of the happiest aspects of my entire life and thank you, Ryan, for what you just said. You got to me, man.
Dennis: You know, before we leave this topic of Ryan's appreciation for you adopting – you and Shirley adopting him, we asked for one last little piece to be recorded, Jim, and I want our listeners to eavesdrop as Ryan turns to you and Shirley and has some words of appreciation for your courage, your faith, to step out and to offer a home to a child who might not have had one.
James: Oh, my.
Ryan: [from audiotape] Mom and Dad, I just appreciate so much the sacrifices that you made to get me, and to understand that so much moreso now that I've got my own son. It really is about a faith issue. It's trusting in God to go through that turmoil and to think that someone did that for me – I didn't understand it for many, many years, but because you had latched onto me I was no longer in a foster home, I was no longer wondering whose family I would be, but I was instantly accepted into a family. And it was instantly my family. Seeing you, Mom, today, on the National Day of Prayer, and the impact you have upon not just this country but this world, through prayer, I have no doubt that part of that was started when you started praying for me so long ago.
And I've come home many nights in high school and in college, and crept into the house hoping not to wake anybody and to hear voices from your room and to walk in and see you guys on your knees, words can't describe what that does to know that I have parents on their knees every night praying for me and asking the Lord for protection. It made all the difference in the world. Anytime I was going through a crisis, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, somebody out there would pray for me every night, and that was you and Dad.
And, Dad, growing up in the household, I am who I am because of you. I am a Dobson, and to be raised in a household and to see daily someone stand up for the word of God, and to follow God even when it seems like it's not making sense, that changes people. I have the greatest situation because I have parents that not only modeled a faith in God unlike any other place I could get it, but they modeled a healthy, loving relationship.
You've been married for over 40 years, and I hope to have that someday, and I appreciate it, and I love you guys, and I know you're going to be great, great, great grandparents.
James: Can I answer this, Dennis? Can I answer him?
James: Ryan, just let me tell you that when we were on our knees there praying for you, what we were praying for over and over again was that God would make you a man of God with a passion for Jesus Christ, and He has answered that prayer, and see you speaking all over the country and see people responding to you and carrying that same message that your great-grandfather and your grandfather and your father had such a passion for is one of the great thrills of my life, and it's been a privilege being your father.
Dennis: And, you know, Dr. Dobson, as I was listening to your son's tribute and watching your face, Barbara and I are parents of an adopted daughter as well, and just to watch you hear those words and to kind of relish in them, do you know what we're talking about? We're talking about the embedded power of God of a family. It's you and Shirley reaching out to give a home to a little boy who might not ever have had one, and the power of that love in full blossom now as he starts his family and as he begins to appreciate you in fresh ways that he hasn't in the past.
Bob: Well, and to give him a home that is founded on Christ. Here is the opportunity not just to give him a nurturing, protected environment, but to raise him in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord – what an opportunity Christian families have with orphans who so long for love and for care and for community, what an opportunity to say the source of that is found in Christ.
Dennis: And, you know, one of the things that I dare not allow us to slip by, this is a huge evangelistic opportunity for the church – 143 million orphans who some of them will hear about Jesus Christ in orphanages because churches here care. And I want to encourage listeners to go to VoiceOfTheOrphan.org. It's a website that's established by Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Shaohannah's Hope, more than 40 other organizations from across the country have linked arms together. It's a collaborative effort to say yes to the orphan, to give a voice to the fatherless. Go to VoiceOfTheOrphan.org and find out how your church can become a part of this movement.
Bob: There is a link on our website to the VoiceOfTheOrphan website, and I'll point our listeners there. We really need to thank Dr. Dobson for letting us spring this on him today, do you think?
Dennis: I think we do. Jim, you've been a good sport.
James: Oh, it's been a thrill, because it touches my heart, obviously, and it's just a subject that I care about, as you do, about those little children. I've given my life not only to our own children but to children, in general. My degree is in child development. My history is pediatrics and so on. So I care about kids, and I think about all those children out there that have no one to love them, no one to care, and you guys are not adoption agencies and neither is Focus on the Family, but you're going to do everything you can to help them link up with those that can help them either domestically or internationally.
Dennis: I'm glad you mentioned that because what Focus on the Family wants to be and FamilyLife – we don't want to be an agency. We want to be a catalytic influence in the Christian community to bring about a collaborative partnership among all these agencies and to become a giant megaphone for the orphan so that the people of God who follow Jesus Christ might hear and might do something about it.
James: We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in that regard.
Bob: And that's where the website that you talked about comes in – VoiceOfTheOrphan.org. On that website, again, in a collaborative effort, Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Shaohannah's Hope, and more than four dozen other organizations have put together information about how churches can start orphan ministries, there are documents that can be downloaded, PDF files that can be downloaded. In fact, there is one file that includes "Ten Things That Every Christian Can Do" to play a part in caring for the orphan. And that's been the theme of what we've been talking about here today. All of us can be involved in trying to help care for the needs of orphans. So, again, go to VoiceOfTheOrphan.org, and you can download the PDF file that gives you the information on what you and your family can do.
I also want to encourage folks to go to our website, FamilyLife.com. If you click the red button that says "Go" right in the middle of the screen, that will take you to a page where there's information about a book that our team has put together that talks about how you can start an orphan ministry in your church.
So go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go" right in the middle of the screen. Again, that will take you to a place on our website where there is more information about this book on starting an orphans' ministry in your church and other resources that are available from us at FamilyLife Today. You can also call for more information if you'd like. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329. 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we hope to hear from you.
Let me say a quick word of thanks, if I can, Dennis, to those folks who stand with this ministry financially. We appreciate your ongoing partnership with us, and your prayers for us, your financial support. Those are evidences that we're on the same team, and we appreciate that partnership. You can make a donation to FamilyLife Today online at FamilyLife.com. You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and, again, thanks to those of you who do stand with us financially.
Now, tomorrow we're going to hear part 1 of a message that Dennis and Barbara Rainey shared at a local church talking about what churches can do to care for the needs of the orphan, and I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Andrew Stevens and special help today from our friends at Focus on the Family. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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