The first level is obvious. This is primarily a story about a family who followed God’s leading and ended up radically changing a young girl’s life for the better. The simple version of the story is that Larry’s wife and three boys went on a short-term mission trip to the Ukraine. They went there to improve the facilities at one of Ukraine’s many orphanages: #17. There, they met a young girl named Sasha, and they all fell in love with her. They felt the Lord leading them to adopt her, not knowing anything of the challenges that they would face. With the help of some incredibly generous Christian brothers and sisters, they convinced Larry to adopt Sasha. As a result, Larry, his wife, and two of his boys traveled back to the Ukraine to get her.
The long version of the story, however, is much more interesting. They knew that such adoptions were expensive, but they had no idea how expensive. Not only are the legal costs high, but the Ukrainian government is so intensely corrupt that pretty much every step in the lengthy adoption process requires a bribe. Judges cancel hearings, orphanages delay appointments, etc., and the process comes to a halt. In order to get the process back on track, the person in charge has to be given a “gift.”
While Taunton never indicates the total cost, he mentions discussing Sasha with some well-to-do Christian friends, which resulted in two incredibly generous donations of $10,000 each. In addition, he discussed Sasha with Frank Limehouse, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent. He only discussed Sasha to get some wisdom regarding her health issue (she is HIV positive), but a few days later, Limehouse handed him a check and simply said:
That’s from the people of Advent. You get that little girl and bring her home. (p. 184)
So we know that the adoption costs were well over $20,000, much of which went to the bribes that were necessary to get greedy people simply to allow someone else to help a little girl.
Does the price tag sound unreasonable to you? After all, imagine what more than $20,000 could do to help children right here in the United States! Why “waste” that money to help one little girl who is already being taken care of in an orphanage? That’s the way the world thinks, but it’s not the way God thinks.
God has His reasons for leading us in the ways He wants us to go, and our job isn’t to assess whether or not the leading is “reasonable.” Our job is to make sure the leading is from God and then follow it regardless of the consequences. If you read this book, you will realize the joy that such obedience can bring. While our adoption story has none of the incredible sacrifice and drama of the adoption story in this book, it was also the result of following the Lord’s leading, regardless of how “unreasonable” it seemed. Doing so blessed my wife and I beyond measure.
As I said, there are two levels of meaning to this book. The first is how one family, aided by their brothers and sisters in Christ, can transform the life of a young girl. The second is more philosophical. Throughout the story, Taunton paints an incredibly dismal picture of the orphanage Sasha lived in and her treatment at the hands of the workers. It’s not that she was abused; she was just not treated as a person with any intrinsic worth. Consider, for example, what happened in the Taunton home after Sasha broke some dishes she was trying to carry. Larry’s wife, Lauri, lost her temper and yelled at Sasha. Then this happened:
After a moment, Lauri collected herself. “Sasha, I am sorry for raising my voice at you. I know you were only trying to help.” “That’s okay,” Sasha said. “You don’t have to apologize to me. I’m different.” Lauri paused from gathering the larger shards of glass and looked up. “What do you mean, you’re different?” Sasha then explained that people didn’t need to apologize to her because she didn’t deserve it. (p. 168)
Simply put, Sasha was raised to believe that she is worthless.
Taunton also contrasts the squalor in which the orphan children lived (they didn’t even have toilet paper, for example) with the lifestyles of the people who were supposed to be taking care of them. The judge who ultimately decided whether or not they could adopt Sasha parked her car outside the bleak orphanage. It was a big, expensive Mercedes. How could the judge afford such a luxury car? Specifically because she oversaw adoptions. The Tauntons had to give her $1,500 just to keep her from canceling her scheduled court date with them. In essence, the judge was living a life of luxury specifically because the orphanages in her country are so horrid that people from other countries feel the need to adopt the children who live in them.
Why does Taunton bring up these issues? Let me quote him, because I think he puts it quite well. He describes a painting that depicts Jesus raising the dead son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:11-15). He then says:
The man is withered, his body cold and colorless. Except for his arm. It is there that Jesus is touching him. Radiating outward from the Master’s grip, the flesh is warm and pink. So skillfully has the artist rendered this scene that it’s easy to imagine that his whole body will soon be likewise restored.
Since the fall of man, there has never been a Christian nation. What there have been are nations with varying degrees of Christian influence. In the parts of those societies touched by Christ, the blood courses, fortifying, revitalizing, and sweeping away the contaminants as it goes. At the cold and colorless extremities are those places where the healing power of His Church has not yet penetrated. Here one finds cruelty, injustice, and indifference.
As militant secularists rush to banish Christianity from American public life, I have sought to give you a snapshot of what this country – indeed, what any country – will look like should they succeed. (p. 218, emphasis his)
He sees the bleakness of Sasha’s old life as an apt illustration of what happens in a country with no Christian influence.
Peter Hitchens, the brother of famous atheist Christopher Hitchens (the subject of Taunton’s other book), wrote a book called The Rage Against God. In it, he describes what brought him from atheism back to Christ. It was living in the former Soviet Union. He saw what atheism did to a country as a whole, and that convinced him he did not want to be an atheist. In my review of his book, I said I wasn’t convinced by that line of reasoning. I still don’t think I am. However, Larry Taunton makes the case much better than Peter Hitchens.
If you are touched by Sasha’s story, you might consider supporting her ministry, Sasha’s Hope, which seeks to prevent child trafficking.