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An Adoption Scandal: A reaction to USA TODAY’s article on an international adoption gone wrong

• 5 mins 6 secs read

On January 27th, USA TODAY broke the news of an international adoption scandal spanning from adoptees' biological parents to adoption agencies. The article “‘Forever family’ found only anguish in the end” waved down American families thinking about adoption. The article’s message is clear: Thousands of children are adopted each year internationally, nearly half of whom are American families. Unfortunately, not all adoptions are legit, and American families are left “holding the bag” for just trying to help.

In their article, USA TODAY placed harmonious photographs of two families, one Ugandan and one American, although both distraught. The paper’s main focus was documenting the adopting family’s grief when their adopted boy returned home to Uganda because of an adoption scheme rendering his adoption illegitimate. Sadly, the anguish of the adopted boy and his family, the actual victims, were glossed over, and in the end, the boy was demonized.

This has caused us to issue a reaction article as adoption schemes, and their victims are gaining national attention, but not all articles are fair or knowledgeable. USA TODAY’s article is one such report.


For six years while in his "adopted family," 17-year-old Charles felt "that he had been stolen" and "just wanted to be with" his family. His "adoption" story began when Richard and Jennifer Gerth became interested in adoption while on a mission trip to Haiti. They decided to adopt a Ugandan child to help orphaned children like the ones they saw. Why Uganda? They heard reports of corruption in Ethiopia.

In 2013, a Texas non-profit, Little Miracles International, introduced Charles, a Ugandan, to the Gerths. Little did they know, by 2022, their work of adopting would become mired in allegations of fraud.

As an older youth, Charles sat through therapy and began questioning whether or not his biological mother signed off on his adoption as his biological father did. Furthermore, an x-ray proved he was older than was reported on adoption documents. At this point, a private investigator was hired, by whom they contacted Charles' biological mother, Mrs. Fardiah Buringi (although once thought of as dead).

Mrs. Fardiah said she had not consented to Charle's adoption.

In August 2020, the US state department reported the suspension of Little Miracles International's adoption accreditation for "failing to maintain sustainable compliance... and failure to conduct adoption services ethically in the best interest of the children." The Gerths filed a lawsuit, but it took Little Miracles more than a year to settle and two months to finally stop adoption operations after they fell from accreditation. To this very day, the agency still operates as a "humanitarian aid organization."

Later, three women in Ohio were charged in federal court for running a crooked adoption scheme in Uganda and Poland. Court records also mention a European adoption consultant involved in the plot. The victims included the countable number of 30 children who were moved around from 2013-2016.


We are glad that this story was published as first-page news. It's an individual story representing a fraction of a tragic reality. The narrative of "adoption" as "compassion" is often unbroken. While that can be true in many cases, an overwhelming number of cases are the opposite. We know that at least 130 adopted children have been put up for private adoption in recent years. "The stat of 66,000 adoptions ending in foster care" indicates a faulty system. Seems like a different kind of human trafficking.

Though the USA TODAY article did well to capture the current situation that has gone unspoken, we found the report to have reflected a self-righteous, Western attitude. Nine paragraphs were dedicated to Gerth "reporting" Charles's "aggressive and manipulating" behavior. Many parents know these common misbehaviors of children listed in the article, and some of the one's not so common are more an indicator of a young man kidnapped from his family and fed a lie.

The write-up doubled down on the adoption system and those adopted as the issue, with no responsibility left to the one doing the adoption. US TODAY recorded Gerth stating that she installed locks on doors and installed a camera in Charle’s room. The article’s reaction to these claims was absent; there was no condemning Gerth for violating the human rights of a boy not legally in her custody.

From what was published, it would seem that Gerth feels let down by a corrupted system but, even more so, a victim of a young boy she unknowingly kidnapped. If not, she would have excluded her statements comprising the character of the kidnapped boy who cannot respond to allegations posted on the front page of international news.

The attitude of superiority among some of those who have "kind intentions" raises flags for anyone genuinely desiring to make a difference -- the right difference.

An "us and them" mindset in goodwill is just as ethnocentric as "seek and conquer."


Many traditional mission strategies spawn a colonialistic attitude when traveling to a far-off place to be people's educators and reformers. This mentality indicates that there is a native savage and an enlightened savior in every mission: a teacher and a student.

Several summers ago, MERCY PARTNERS was presenting at a Vacation Bible School when a preacher's wife turned her nose and said, "I don't get those people; they are filthy. Why don't they learn." Our response was blunt: "Well, if you didn't have clean water, an appropriate home, and also had to run from armed men seeking to slaughter your family, you might say otherwise."

Your skin color and where you live do not give you a right to claim superiority.

Sadly, the mindset of superiority that USA TODAY and some churches exhibit sends the message that they are immune from responsibility in the cultures they seek to bridge.


Rarely will compassion take place by someone with only a benevolent intention, though you need a caring intention to be compassionate. We must educate ourselves and realize that sometimes we need to learn how to help, and we are best not to define helping based on conventional systems made by agencies and colleges. We must practice due diligence before giving and acting in an organization; it causes us to ask good questions before walking into a short-term commitment that could unknowingly appease malevolence.

USA TODAY’s reporting adoption scandals point to the "evil web” that is responsible. However, the sins of adoption scandals are not so much committed by an interconnected web of evil-doers. It would be practical to take down or not claim responsibility if it were. But the actual reality is even worse: adoption scandals are many people's sins, although many unintentional. Until we are ready to take responsibility and own the possibility of us being able to contribute to a corrupt system, we have good intentions that will most likely unwillingly fuel the issue.

MERCY PARTNERS is always guiding those who desire to help. Sadly, sometimes that means interrupting the "adoption as compassion" or "'giving without question' is caring" narrative by training people to respond to needs but to do so with discerning eyes to avoid corruption and foreign dependencies.

Consider reading our article about navigating foreign requests:

We invite you to get involved with our Project Barnabas. Unlike many sponsorship programs, the young people of Project Barnabas are involved in our church growth outreach, gender reconciliation, and leadership programs. Most importantly, they are members of a family and community that needs to remain together rather than forcing them to become an "educational orphan" by having them attend a boarding school far from home. More details at:


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Thomas, Program Manager and Chaplain for Mercy Partners


Thomas Kilian III, as Program Manager, has personal relationships with our Global Partners, having traveled to most of our mission points. He holds a Bachelor of Science, with high honor, and is a candidate for Masters of Theology from NationsUniversity. He's an Ordained Minister and is the author of the book, Start being, Stop Doing (

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