My 35th birthday was a difficult one. I had been serving as a solo pastor in a small Presbyterian Church in Washington State for 5 years, and it just didn’t seem to grow, no matter how hard I worked. In my aging congregation, I had lots of opportunity to care for widows, but I also felt called to care for orphans. My father had received a diagnosis that his cancer had changed significantly and needed a stem-cell transplant in order to save him. (He was also a Presbyterian pastor.) My Youth Leader, who had been one of my only friends in Kelso, died the previous December from cancer. All my friends were having their 2nd children and I was feeling forgotten, disappointed, and all alone. The earthquake in Haiti was a painful reminder to me of the needs of innocent children in the world. I needed something new and different in my life. I needed something happy to focus on and hope for. And since that husband that my heart desired didn’t seem to appear anywhere, I felt God calling me to be a mother first.
I wasn’t sure if it was just sentimentality or guilt over not doing enough for Haiti earthquake relief and then in a conversation with another single clergy woman friend, she said she was adopting from Haiti. “Really, I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.” Another friend from Seminary called me up and said, “Every time I see those precious little babies from Haiti, I think Hanna needs one of them!” But the real kick in the pants for my adoption process was getting the Christianity Today magazine with an adoption story on the front cover. “Okay, God, I’m listening, what do You want from me?”
I called the agency that my friend, Heather, worked with and started the application Home Study process. After several interviews, background checks and fingerprints taken by the FBI, the State Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security, I was ready to finalize my Home Study. Then I got a phone call from my Agency, stating that Haiti was no longer adopting children to single people. Because of all the confusion with earthquake relief, they took that opportunity to change their laws. But this agency had a really great program in Ethiopia, if I was interested. I needed some time to think and pray about this one. My heart had been set on Haiti. I really felt that was a clear call on my life. Ethiopia didn’t sound right for me. After exhaustive internet research and lots of prayer, I found an agency located in Georgia which had a program in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This sounded more like me.
Everyone in my family speaks French. We all lived in France at different times during our college years. My sister was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa. My dad had gone on a mission to Cameroun and preached all through the country in French. One missionary called him the “French Billy Graham to Africa”. I have always loved Africa. Even as a little girl I wanted to be a Missionary doctor and save those starving babies in Africa. My call to ordained ministry came when I felt God telling me that, “their bodies would die anyway; make a difference for eternity. Go save some souls.” My heart was beating to the rhythm of African drums in a place I had never been before. The more I learned about the plight of women and children in the DRC, the more my heart broke for that country and my desire and decision to pursue my adoption there was cemented. It’s scary to send off thousands of dollars to an agency you have never heard of and can’t go visit in person. I checked with the Better Business Bureau and called references to be certain it was legitimate and sent my application and money to Georgia.
The process involves piles of forms and documentation that you can provide adequately for a child; including a statement from the bank verifying that I have $20,000 in my bank account. After borrowing from everyone I knew and taking out a loan on my car, I was able to achieve this. Then it came time to talk to my church. Everyone in my family was thrilled with my adoption decision, and very eager to help me. I was tentative about who to tell in my congregation. We have a few adoptive parents and so I told them first. Then I needed to tell our Session. Some people were encouraging. Some were confused. Others were concerned about how would I have time to care for them? The comment I received the most was, “Your whole life will really change!” Well I certainly hope so; that was the point.
I wrote Adoption Updates to share with the congregation to answer some of the common questions. The first question was: Why international adoption? There are plenty of children in America who need loving families, but I feel called to make a difference in the world. As a single parent, I needed to have as healthy a child as possible, and many adopted children in America have substance abuse issues. Also, in most domestic adoptions, the mother chooses to whom she will adopt and it is unlikely that a single woman would be chosen. Neither did I want to become a foster parent and then have the child returned to her family. If I was going through this process, I wanted it to be completed and not have my family torn apart.
All adoption comes from a place of pain. Whether it is result of infertility or a single woman who desires to be a mother, adoption is not normally the first choice. It also comes from a place of pain on the part of the child. This child has been abandoned or has suffered the trauma of losing her parents. But God comes to that painful place and meets us in our brokenness with love, grace and wholeness. I don’t need a husband in order to be a complete person. In the same way, I don’t have to be a mother in order to be a complete person. I am complete in Christ. But God has also put into our hearts the desire for companionship. And in my case, God has put into my heart a great desire for loving and caring for children. Adopting a little girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo is the answer God has given me at this time to live in obedience and love the widows and the orphans.
My adoption process has not been easy, nor has it been free of conflict. There were people in my congregation who didn’t like the idea of my adopting a child as a single woman. There were also some people who didn’t really want a black child in our predominantly white congregation. I have taken those opportunities to guide and lead this congregation in the direction I believe God calls us as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ to work for justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.
I have a wonderful group of friends and family who have celebrated this journey with me, even when my congregation was not as supportive or encouraging as I had hoped. The waiting is the hardest part. Everyone who adopts will tell you it is a process of “panic and patience” or “hurry up and wait”. Every time you need paperwork completed, it needs to be done yesterday. But you can’t do the next part until the current part is finished. After I completed my Home Study and Dossier for the DRC, I didn’t receive a referral for a child for 12 months. This was an agonizing time of wondering, “When would I ever hear from my agency?” Throughout that time, I donated stem cells for my father’s cancer treatment transplant and after five months of fighting valiantly, he died. My uncle also had a stroke and after 6 weeks in ICU on a ventilator, he also died. The process of giving the most important men in my life a good end of their lives and celebration of their lives was strenuous.
January 10, 2011 was the date of my stem-cell donation and I had hoped it would be a day of new life for my dad. Unfortunately, that was not God’s plan for him. As you can imagine, I was feeling sad and discouraged when that day rolled around the calendar again. Busy getting ready for Session and committee meetings, I received the long-awaited phone call. “We have a little girl for you,” the voice from Georgia came, “are you interested?” YES!!! Yet one more affirmation that God is in control of this entire process. It wasn’t the chance for new life for which I had prayed or had anticipated, but God knows the plans for us, plans for hope and our future. On that day, when I worked so hard and prayed for a chance for new life, God gave me the blessing of my daughter, Vivienne (whose name means “full of life”).
Photo by Kristine Andersen used under a Creative Commons License. http://creativecommons.org/