Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Ethiopia? -Warning, Long Post Ahead

The short answer to the question is, because that's where God put us. But, the process that He has taken us through is much longer. So, if you wanted a short answer, there it was. If you want the longer answer, then grab a big cup of coffee and here goes.

It has been 23 months since Gareth and I began actively pursuing this adoption. About 2 months before that, I began researching adoption options and agencies. Domestic or international, open or closed, what agency, what country, there were lots of choices.

Initially, we chose an international adoption because we were not convinced that a domestic adoption was a good fit for our family. Adopting a child out of the state system was a process that we weren't really up for. As an openly active Christian family who was planning on homeschooling and does discipline their children, we weren't sure that we really wanted a social worker nosing around in our life. Our experience with social workers at the children's home we worked at was far from positive. (Since then we have met some fantastic social workers employed both by the state and by private agencies, and I no longer loathe all social workers!!!!!!). We had also had extensive experience dealing with children who were products of the state foster system during our time working at a children's home and were not prepared to take that risk again. Leaving our positions at the children's home was in the end an easy decision because when the girls we were caring for found they couldn't break us any other way, they used being horrible to our children as their weapon of choice. So, for the period of time that we have young children at home, that wasn't a risk we were open to. On the domestic front we could have also applied to an agency like a crisis pregnancy center to adopt an infant, and initially that was appealing. But, the more I looked at all of the families who were waiting for that perfect white baby, the less appealing that route was. I didn't want to be part of a beauty pageant where our family profile would be put out there with all of the other profiles while we tried to convince prospective birth moms that we were smarter, richer, more beautiful, and had a better house and better education than the other families who were waiting. We were also not open to the idea of an open adoption, as I felt that I would struggle not being the only Mom in the picture and wasn't convinced that having multiple influences was not necessarily in a child's best interest. (Disclaimer: I recognise that this is not the case for everyone who chooses to adopt from within the United States. I personally know a couple who has adopted through crisis pregnancy, and I have the utmost respect for them and the beautiful child they are raising. And, as the last couple of years have passed, I am growing more open to the possibilities of open adoption and the chance to show love not just to a child but to a birth mom who may need to be loved as well. But, at the time those were are thoughts, and I want to be honest with you about the choices we made and the thought processes that led us there at the time.)

Anyhoo, having ruled out domestic adoption, this confirmed that international adoption was the route we were interested in. At which point, I began shortlisting agencies. I felt that choosing the right agency was more important than selecting a country. I wanted an agency that was small, had a personal feel, was specifically Christian in it's outlook and approach and that had a reputation that was above reproach. There are lots of agencies out there, but in the end we chose America World Adoptions. For those of you who follow contemporary Christian music, you may recognise this as the agency that the Steven Curtis Chapman family has used for their adoptions. I love what AWAA has to say about adoption. If you have a chance, you really should visit their website: awaa.org and read what Brian Luwis (AWAA's founder) has written about the Spirit of Adoption.

So, when Gareth and I agreed that we both believed that God was saying it was time, we applied to AWAA to join their program. At which point, we needed to choose a country. AWAA is involved in facilitating adoptions from: China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Rwanda, and the Ukraine. Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Ukraine were out of the question because they involved making multiple trips to the country during the process and Gareth did not have enough vacation time to be able to do this. China was out of the question because I wasn't yet 30, which is China's minimum age to begin adopting. India and Rwanda were not yet open when we began this process, so we were left with El Salvador and Ethiopia.

We rejected Ethiopia immediately. Our experience at the children's home was proof enough of the race issues that we didn't really want to deal with. Racism, we found, can run both ways. We didn't want to risk our daughter one day rejecting us "because we were white, therefore we couldn't possibly understand". We didn't want to risk the awkward stares and rude comments that might be forthcoming. We were afraid of how she might be welcomed (or not) in the backwoods area of MO that I call home and we still visit to see my parents.

El Salvador, on the other hand, was immensely appealing. I speak some Spanish and was confident that with some work I could have a good enough grip on it to happily converse when we travelled down to bring our daughter home. El Salvador is relatively close, and relatively inexpensive in terms of international flights, so the entire family could travel down together, and it appeared that the wait times were short and the program was relatively inexpensive. So, we prayed and applied for the El Salvador program. 6 months later, we had a dossier ready to submit. Quite literally the day before I was going to send it away, we got the e-mail from our agency that El Salvador was not processing children for adoption. The program wasn't closing, but they could not tell us when, or if, we would ever be able to complete an adoption. We could choose to stay in the El Salvador program, or America World would transfer all of the money we had invested so far into another program of our choosing.

We were heartbroken. Hadn't God been working? Weren't we walking in His will? We looked again at the countries that were available and arrived at the same conclusions. The countries available to us were El Salvador and Ethiopia. By this time, when I pictured my daughter she had beautiful big brown eyes, beautiful bronze skin, and long, dark, straight hair. She looked Salvadoran. She did not look Ethiopian or African in any way.

We began to pray, asking God what He wanted us to do. We asked friends to pray with us. We had 1 week to make a decision. And, as I remarked to my mentor, we couldn't make a decision in a week. Gareth has never made decisions easily and certainly not swiftly. I called my family in tears, and talked to my Dad. Now, my Dad isn't an openly emotional guy. We have almost never had "deep" conversations. But, as I explained the situation and began to talk about how afraid I was to adopt from Ethiopia and how our child might rebel because of difference in skin color and how I didn't want to risk exposing a child to the unkindness of others just because her skin looked different, my Dad and I had one of those rare conversations that I treasure. He told me that he didn't care if our daughter was purple with green polka dots, they would still love her. He reminded me that how our daughter felt about who she was and the value that she placed on herself would be made up in large part by hearing my responses and to our teaching her about the love of God for her and the value He places on her as something beautiful that He created. He reminded me that if a child is going to rebel, they will choose to find something to be rebellious about, and if it isn't about skin color it will be about something else. And, God began to move. You see, one of the things that I have learned is this adoption isn't just about an adoption. It's also about God continuing the process of growing me up. Or, for those who prefer a slightly more religious term, about sanctification.

For a long time, I couldn't understand why God allowed the experiences we had at the children's home. After all, we had gone there to serve. We wanted to love those kids and to be the parents they never had. What purpose had it served to allow such a bad experience? But now I see. He was growing me up. Although I didn't see them immediately, God had lessons that I needed to learn. Mostly about attitudes that I needed to change. And, I am grateful. I am not the same person I was 3 years ago. Still not perfect, but not the same either. And, the same goes for this adoption journey. It's about learning to trust God in a whole new way. About not limiting Him because of my fears or worries or preferences. Inviting Him to do what He wants to do through us and learning to wait patiently. And, gaining a whole new understanding of what it means to be adopted by Him.

I can't explain it, but as we talked and prayed over those couple of days, we were given such a peace about Ethiopia. A peace about opening ourselves up to some of the things we had feared. A realization that our daughter could look Salvadoran in my mind, but she could also look Ethiopian with beautiful bronze skin and slightly darker hair. Yes, I could be excited about learning to make cornrows and two-strand twists!

Couldn't God have taught us some of those lessons in an easier way? I suppose he could, but I'm not sure that we would have learned them as well or have such a vivid reminder of the things He wanted us to know and put into practice.

And now, here we sit, with a picture of the most beautiful little girl waiting in Ethiopia. When we see her, we see our daughter. And, I wonder, what else is God going to teach us through this process?


  1. I loved reading how your chose Ethiopia. God is so big, we see inside our own little box and he sees from the outside. The awesome thing is he wants so much more for us than we even want for ourselves. I can't wait to see how the rest of this adoption plays out...

  2. That is beautiful! God knows exactly what we need....I still can't wait to meet your beautiful little girl! What a beautiful story to tell her some day when she's old enough to comprehend. What a picture of love.