Late one night alone in my office, I met EJ.
In the quiet incandescent glow of my computer screen, I discovered an Internet site with a photolisting of children available for adoption in Haiti. One of those was a darling five-year-old boy with huge brown eyes and a dimpled smile. "EJ is a charmer," the accompanying description said. "He's the first to hug the workers at the orphanage each day and is easily one of the fastest learners in our classroom."
To my surprise, I instantly felt a connection to EJ. In a moment's time, Haiti no longer was another country with starving, homeless children. Rather it was the homeland of this precious child. I could almost hear him calling out to us: "Mommy, Daddy I love you. Please come take me home. I need a family. Please "
Up until this point, any family discussion on adoption had been brief and esoteric. We were busy, after allmy husband, Don, with teaching and coaching; me, with my writing. Besides, we already had three beautiful childrena number we planned to stop at after our youngest boy, Austin, was born with a heart defect that required surgery when he was just three weeks old. All that changed the moment I found EJ.
I called Don into my office and for the next hour we talked about the possibility of adopting this sweet child. There were no disagreements. EJ belonged in our family. Now we needed to present the idea to our children.
I printed EJ's photo, and the next morning Don and I introduced him to Kelsey, Tyler, and Austin. Setting his picture up in front of an empty chair, I asked our kids, "How would you like EJ to be your brother? He's five years old, and he lives in Haiti."
"Well," our only daughter, Kelsey, 12, said thoughtfully, "he looks friendly."
"He's five?" seven-year-old Tyler chimed in. "That's right between me and Austin."
Two-year-old Austin just grinned and pointed. "That my brother? Huh Mommy and Daddy? That my new brother?"
We studied EJ's picture for days. At night we prayed about him, connecting, building a bond that grew stronger with each glance at his face. He was living at the Heart of God Ministries orphanage in Port-au-Prince, so we contacted workers there and learned more about him. Finally, with full hearts, we made our decision to pursue adopting EJ.
Over the next several months, we completed a daunting amount of paperwork for the Immigration and Naturalization Service as well as a Haitian dossier. Through every step we were driven by EJ's face. In fact, it wasn't long before we were driven by another little face as wellthat of a six-year-old boy named Joshua who was at the orphanage with EJ. The photolisting said Joshua was a happy child who excelled in academics and sports. He had great leadership qualities.
"Kids, what would you think about having two new brothers?" my husband asked our three children one evening. "EJ might like a brother who's more like himanother little boy from Haiti."
Again our kids were excited about the idea. But for reasons we didn't understand at the time, we were given wrong information about Joshua. "Joshua's a difficult boy," one of the workers told us. "Frankly, he wouldn't blend well with other children."
With unsure hearts, we decided on a different boy, a six-year-old named Sean Angelo. Six months later, we got the call every adoptive parent waits for: "Your children are ready to come home."
Haiti is widely known as one of the poorest countries in the world. It's a place rife with dangers, and there were months when I considered having our new little boys escorted home by someone else. But in the end, God made it clear that while Don stayed home to care for our three children, I was to travel to Haiti to take pictures, absorb myself in their culture, and bring home a piece of their heritagesomething I could share with them later.
I was taken to the orphanage and introduced to my two new sons, EJ and Sean. The boys, dressed in their best donated clothing, both offered me shy smiles as they sat on my lap. They didn't speak a word of English.
Thisall of itwas what I'd expected.
But I didn't expect what happened next. As I sat there searching for a common bond with EJ and Sean, a little boy walked up and brushed a lock of hair off my forehead. "Hello, Mommy." His voice was clear, his English perfect. "I love you."
Then, while the noise from 42 orphans faded away, he sang to me, "Lord, I give you my heart. I give you my soul. I live for you alone. "
My heart was snagged in a matter of seconds. "What's your name?" I asked the child.
"My name's Joshua," he told me.
This was the six-year-old Joshua we'd considered adopting before finding out about Sean Angelothe child we were told might not fit into our family! An hour later, I knew the whole story. Joshua was still up for adoption. The orphanage worker we'd talked to had given us misinformation about him, and the man no longer worked there. Joshua was a wonderful child, outgoing and confident, brilliant in his studies and good with the little ones at the orphanage. He and EJ and Sean were buddiesinseparable.
I called my husband that night and wept. "Joshua belongs with us. I can't imagine leaving him here."
My husband's answer was something I'll never forget. "Two three what's the difference, Karen. If you feel that strongly about him, bring him home."
Of course, in the world of international adoption, the process is never that simple. Six months after EJ and Sean came home, Joshua followed. Only then did we truly feel our family was complete.
Those early days together hold dozens of moments we'll never forget. The first time EJ and Sean washed their hands in warm water, they began speaking loudly in Creole, pointing to the water and jumping up and down. It wasn't difficult to figure out why they were excited: They'd never felt warm running water before.
Then there was the day our family visited the zoo. EJ, Sean, and Joshua were mesmerized by the animals, but the experience was nothing to what came next: a trip to the grocery store. It was a starving little boy's paradise.
As their English improved, we learned more about their past. Our boys had lost parents to starvation or illness, and had gone without food for days at a time. They customarily ate something called "dirt cakes" that looked like cheap pottery made from clay, dirt, and water. Village women mixed this recipe, baked it, and gave it to the children to ease the pain in their empty tummies.
Meals came only after great effort. Our boys were adept at using rocks to knock mangos from trees, or to kill wild birds. In the early months, Sean, especially, would see a bird and nearly go ballistic, pointing and motioning toward the nearest rock. His message was simple: "Please, Daddy, this is something I can do let dinner be on me tonight." Politely, and with a full heart, my husband dissuaded him from killing birds.
In those first months, we helped them deal with the basic cultural adjustmentssleeping in beds instead of on the floor, using bathrooms, learning table manners. But miraculously, the boys almost never needed to be told twice about issues of obedience. They're constantly cleaning their room, and remain thrilled with their new toys and beds (they share a large bedroom with Austin and sleep in two bunk beds).
"Please, Mommy, can we vacuum?" is a question I field weekly.
"Well, okay, since you've been so good this week, I guess so."
Often people comment on the blessing we are to these little boys. But we correct them every time. Over the last 18 months, the blessings have been all ours.
One has been watching our three biological children embrace their new brothers. This is obvious especially when the kids play together or do homework. Because of Kelsey, Tyler, and Austin's efforts, our new sons already have learned basic reading. On the school front, our sons have been welcomed by their classmates. Their school even took on the Heart of God Ministries orphanage as a service project and collected two suitcases of school supplies for the Haitian children.
Another blessing has been realizing the depth of faith these children have. They had nothing in Haiti, not even a chance to live. But they had a deep love for Jesus, and prayed and sang throughout the day. In a culture ridden with voodoo, it was especially comforting to know a Christian orphanage in Haiti had given these children so strong a foundation. Even now, the children love singing for God, and sometimes cry during worship time at church.
"Are you sad, honey?" my husband, Don, will sometimes ask.
"No, Daddy. I'm just so happy when I think of everything Jesus has done for me."
The boys are very loving, hugging us often and telling usfirst in Creole, then in Englishexactly how much they love us. The other day, Sean said, "Mommy, when I get big, I'm going to get a job and make lots of money. I'll send some to the people in Haiti and give the rest to you."
I was puzzled by this. "That's very nice, but why do you want to give me money?"
"Because " his eyes glistened. "You and Daddy have given so much to me."
People ask us about the transition. "How do you bring children into your home who have nothing in common with you?" they inquire. "You have different skin colors, different cultural understandings, different languageseven different food preferences." We tell them this: with much prayer.
A few times we've had conversations about skin color. "Why do I have black skin and you and Daddy and Jesus have white skin?" Sean asked once during a break from playing with his brothers in the backyard.
"Well," I said. "Jesus didn't have white skin. He had brown skin. God gave everyone a special color, a color he loved for that person. All skin colors are the same to Jesus, and they're all beautiful."
Sean thought about that for a minute. "What color skin will I have in heaven?"
"I'm not sure." I pulled him into a quick hug. "But I hope it'll be just like it is now. Because you're skin is beautiful, Sean and you're such a handsome boy. I wouldn't want you to look any different than you do right now."
Sean's smile stretched across his face. "Thanks, Mom." Then he ran out of the house to join his brothers in the backyard once again. I'll never know if that was the perfect answer, but I know this: God alone will need to provide the answers as questions such as that come up.
We're aware their Haitian background one day will be important to our sons. As such, I've learned to cook Haitian beans and rice. We eat them at least once a week and marvel at the platefuls of food our new boys put away. To help the boys maintain their Creole, we sometimes spend the dinner hour asking them to teach us various phrases. In addition, we've networked with a small Haitian-American contingency not far from our home.
More than that, though, we stress this fact: Our primary heritage is found not in our ancestors or family genealogies or birthplaces but at the cross, in Christ alone.
There's a story often told of a particularly rough storm that came up one night and left a sandy beach strewn with starfish. The next morning, a child walked along the shore, stopping every few feet to pick up a starfish and fling it back to sea. An old man watched the child and finally shouted at him, "Why bother, son! There are too many starfish to make a difference!"
With that, the boy picked up another starfish and looked at it intently before heaving it out to sea. Then turning to the old man, he said, "It makes a difference to this one."
The statistics on homeless children in our world are daunting. But our family's seen this truth at work: Adoption makes a difference. Just ask our three new sons: EJ, Sean, and Joshua.
Karen Kingsbury, a best-selling Christian fiction author of more than 20 books, including Moment of Weakness, On Every Side, and Halfway to Forever (Multnomah), lives with her family in Washington.
Interested in Adopting?
What: Haitian adoption
Who: Precious in His Sight, formerly Heart of God Ministries a Christian orphanage with Internet photolistings.
Where: On the web at www.precious.org.
How: The Precious in His Sight website details the process of international adoption. The process always includes a home study, which can be done by a private or state-sponsored social worker.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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