Fathers and Sons
In Herodotus’ Histories we learn that Croesus, King of Lydia, waged war upon his neighbor Cyrus II, the great king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. At the outset, Croesus felt assured of his victory, having been told by the oracle at Delphi that he would destroy a great empire. When Croesus lost to Cyrus, however, he learned—too late—that the empire he was fated to destroy was his own.
“Croesus,” Cyrus asked the defeated and condemned Lydian king, “what man persuaded you to wage war against my land and become my enemy instead of my friend?” Croesus blamed “the god of the Hellenes” for inciting him to wage the ruinous war. It must have been Apollo, because “no one is so foolish as to choose war over peace,” Croesus said. “In peace sons bury their fathers, in war fathers bury their sons.”
As I write, the bitter lesson of war and loss is being learned anew in Eastern Europe. War is inverting the natural order of things. Russians and Ukrainians are burying their sons (and daughters). As death fills the news, it becomes easy to forget that this is not how things are supposed to be. Fathers are not supposed to bury their sons. Fathers are supposed to love and protect their sons, to risk their own lives to save their children—not the other way around.
I was powerfully reminded of this recently by a rare bit of hopeful news concerning Ukraine. In February and March, I read various reports about an Alabama medical doctor named Christopher Jahraus. Dr. Jahraus and his wife were in the process of adopting an orphaned boy named Sashko from Ukraine when war broke out. The Jahraus family had met Sashko before, and Sashko had even spent time with them in the United States. That was before the bombs started falling on Kiev. With his soon-to-be-adopted son suddenly in a war zone, Dr. Jahraus was anxious—as any father would be—to bring his boy home to safety.
I reached out to Dr. Jahraus to learn more about why he had decided to become an adoptive father. He responded with all the warmth and openness one would expect from a man eager to provide a loving home to a special-needs child, to be a father to a son being pulled into the horrors of war. “My wife and I have a blended family of five kids,” Dr. Jahraus explained to me in an e-mail. “We have talked about adoption before, but just hadn’t found the right fit in terms of programs. Then Bridges of Faith (BOF) came to our attention last August.”
Bridges of Faith is an Alabama-based Christian adoption agency that helps place Ukrainian orphans in homes in the United States.
“Dr. Tom Benz, the president and founder of Bridges of Faith,” Dr. Jahraus continued, “came to our church and talked to us about this idea of orphan hosting, of bringing a Ukrainian orphan here to live as part of our family for a month, just to see what a healthy, loving family looks like.
My wife Gina and I met with Tom and his wife Nancy, and we became fast friends. The decision to host a child was obvious. In September or October, we got a couple of pictures of Sashko, and in very little time I had written him a letter to introduce us and gotten it translated into Ukrainian. Late last fall, everything was confirmed, and Sashko arrived for a month with us in December of 2021.”
Dr. Jahraus says that his family bonded with Sashko during the boy’s time in America. One of the highlights for him was taking Sashko to church. “We’re members of Christian Life Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Birmingham,” Dr. Jahraus told me. “Sashko knows who Jesus is, and in short, he’s quite a natural little charismatic! The worship of God transcends language barriers, and seeing him lift his hands in worship was like getting a tiny glimpse of Heaven!”
Those glimpses of Heaven have given way these past few weeks to scenes from Hell. Bombed-out buildings, bullet-riddled vehicles, and streets strewn with the bodies of war-wracked dead. “The atrocities of war can be seen so readily on the tear-stained faces of the people of Ukraine,” Dr. Jahraus writes.
Not all of the atrocities are readily visible, however. Some lie hidden—requiring the love of a father to reveal.
Dr. Jahraus traveled to Poland on March 8, carrying a letter from Sashko’s attending physician stating that the boy (who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome) needs urgent medical care and must be evacuated to safety immediately. Dr. Jahraus had hoped to have Sashko brought over the Ukrainian border to Poland so that father and son could return to America together. However, Ukrainian officialdom denied his request. According to news outlets, the Ukrainian Service of Children’s Affairs contacted Dr. Jahraus while he was in Poland to announce that “by order of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, no children would be allowed to leave the country with ‘foreign nationals during hostilities.’” Dr. Jahraus was forced to board a plane for home without Sashko.
The current official moratorium on adopting children from Ukraine, Dr. Jahraus tells me, is due to fears about child trafficking. The chaos of war, it seems, presents opportunities for criminals to prey on the most vulnerable in society, kidnapping the young and selling them off for a quick profit. A related atrocity is that this criminal activity prevents children from being adopted, and also from receiving medical care. Without the love of Dr. Jahraus for Sashko, stories such as these, about the suffering of the weakest in society, might get lost in the news footage of explosions, gunfights, and roaring tanks.
But fathers do not give up on sons, no matter what the cost. Because of the temporary adoption moratorium, says Dr. Jahraus, “at this point I am only asking the Ukrainian government to grant us a six-month guardianship, so we can get Sashko here to safety, and also get him started in the critically important therapy he needs to overcome fetal alcohol syndrome. We have a letter written on behalf of Bridges of Faith by Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, the third Ambassador of the U.S. for International Religious Freedom , appealing to Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova to assist us in getting at least a temporary guardianship of Sashko for us.” The Ukrainian Embassy in D.C., Dr. Jahraus writes, has not yet responded.
I contacted the Embassy of Ukraine in Japan to see if I might glean some information about Sashko’s case from that alternative route. The Embassy replied on the morning of Tuesday, April 5 Japan time:
“Unprovoked Russian aggression has caused many sufferings among the Ukrainian population. One of the most affected of them are children, who are in the foster care, and whose adoption was jeopardized by the war. The Embassy of Ukraine in Japan does not follow Sashko’s case, since the adoption is to be done in the US. Therefore we advise you to follow up with the consular section of the Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S.”
The attempts to bring Sashko to safety continue, but some questions remain. Why would a doctor in Alabama, a father with five children at home already, seek out a special-needs orphan halfway around the world? Why would he keep trying to bring that orphan to the safety of a new home and family, despite the outbreak of war, bureaucratic red tape, and the pain involved in opening one’s heart to someone lost in a broken world?
Because the love of fathers sometimes has nothing to do with the accidents of birth. Adoption can make fathers and sons (or daughters) out of even the worst situations. These are things that prolifers know well, so it probably won’t surprise Human Life Review readers to learn that Dr. Jahraus is pro-life.
“In theology,” Dr. Jahraus tells me, “we talk about general revelation and natural law, those things which are so inherent to and obvious in God’s creation that, even if one never read the Bible, the truth of such things would still be obvious. As a physician, I can tell you that God programmed mothers and fathers to love and bond with their children, all the way down to the fact that when we hold a baby, we release oxytocin, a sort of bonding hormone.”
The natural world, in other words, speaks of the love and design of the One who made it. But this is not the only reason that Dr. Jahraus is pro-life. “Long before I knew anything about physiology, from the first time I had heard of the notion of abortion, it was just so obviously and dreadfully wrong,” he says. “Abortion is so shamelessly destructive of the remarkable and beautifully intricate way in which God brings us into existence.”
He goes on: “In high school and college, and even in med school, I formed a deeper understanding of my position, which now extends to include an opposition to euthanasia and capital punishment—oppositions which aren’t always ‘politically congruent’ in the contemporary sense. For example, on euthanasia, I’m a Protestant evangelical, but I gained so much appreciation for how God moved in Pope John Paul II when he argued that when a person asks for euthanasia, he or she isn’t in fact asking to be put to death, he or she is in fact crying out for the love, care, and compassion of the family, doctors, and caregivers around them.”
Dr. Jahraus knows well the difference between administering care and doing harm. He is an oncologist. In helping people with cancer to heal, he does the work of God as part of his chosen profession. “The Bible is right (obviously) when it asserts that love conquers all,” Dr. Jahraus writes. “That influences my practice as a radiation oncologist a LOT! If every God-ordained moment of every life is sacred, and it is, then how could I not want to care for a child, in Sashko’s case, whose mother was stricken with alcoholism, and whose disease in turn has left Sashko with developmental disabilities that can (maybe) be reversed if we can get him here and offer him the rehabilitative care, and moreover the love, that he can’t get in a Ukrainian orphanage, and now, in a war zone?”
War rages now in Europe, as men in kingly office—men as rich and proud as Croesus once was—strive to regain bits and pieces of an imagined “motherland.” Sons on both sides of the divide go down into the dirt as the contest for the motherland continues. In the past, sons have died for fatherlands, too. Fathers bury sons in war, offer them up to political ambition.
But there is a different kind of “Fatherland,” a different kind of connection possible between a Father and His sons. The love that God has for all of us is the logic of adoption, of the fatherhood that is chosen out of love for one’s brothers and sisters. That Fatherland demands life, not death. In war, fathers bury sons. In Heaven, there is no more death, no more burying in the ground. Adoption gives all of us a peek at what that new life will be, when there are no more wars and no more abandoned or trafficked children. The pro-life father shows the world what our pro-life Father wants for all of His sons and daughters.
“It’s ironic,” Dr. Jahraus writes in closing. “My heritage is what’s known as ‘Germans from Russia.’ Three hundred years ago, my great-great-great-grandfather farmed the land in a German settlement called Rohrbach, located just outside the now-Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. That makes my connection with Sashko feel even deeper. But of course! God knew before either of us, and many of our ancestors, were even conceived that He would bring us together. With a plan of God’s that great, how could I be anything but pro-life?”