by John Williams
East-West Church and Ministry report editor Mark Elliott interviews John Williams, executive director of Holt International Children’s Services, Eugene, Oregon. Williams has worked in international child care services since 1975 and has been Holt’s executive director since 1993.
What years did Holt work in the former Soviet Union?
1991 to 1995.
How many children from there did Holt place for international adoption?
About 57, mostly handicapped and older orphans.
What does the future hold for Holt in the former Soviet Union?
That is not decided. We may or may not go back.
What were the reasons Holt decided to suspend its work there in 1995?
There were multiple factors.
(1) We grossly underestimated what it would take to work there financially and in terms of personnel. We were spread too thin.
(2) We discovered that lessons we had learned working in the rest of the world often did not apply in Russia.
(3) Information we received from orphanages about children often proved to be unreliable. Often, a child’s condition was worse than described.
(4) We discovered that there was a much higher incidence of severe emotional trauma among Russian orphans than in our experience in other parts of the world, including Romania.
(5) Finally, we elected not to pay people off. It has always been our policy not to participate in unofficial payments or bribes in an attempt to expedite matters or further our cause.
What part did pressure to pay bribes play in Holt’s decision to end its work in Russia?
Actually, it was not a significant factor because our policy is clear that we don’t pay bribes.
What guidelines would you suggest regarding bribery, based on your experience in developing nations?
We play ignorant and proceed as if we do not understand when officials are hinting for bribes. Once you establish that you don’t operate that way, people will respect you for it and work with you. Things may move a little more slowly, true; however, if your intention is to represent the Christian community and be there for the long term, then the policy of not paying bribes will serve you and the kingdom of God in a much better way.
The above perspective on bribery was reprinted from the Winter, 1997 issue of the East-West Church and Ministry Report. Eds.