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Our Ethiopian Adoption Experience: Part 1


Before we left for Ethiopia to adopt four children, the predominate question we were asked leading up to the trip was, “Are you ready?” This blog is about the question we’ve been getting on this side of our adoption, “How was it?”

So here’s Part 1 of a 3-part answer.

Beth got the stomach flu three days before our travel date. It was a violent one; 24 hours of diarrhea and vomiting. We prayed that it would pass over the rest of the family given the task at hand. Our kids were spared. I was not.

And so began our adventure … with me on my knees for three straight hours in a Boeing 767 toilet headed for Paris (our layover leg of the trip).

I know it’s risky to begin a post-adoption series with such fleeting discomfort. But it’s a fitting visual that represents the trip as a whole, though not the adoption. It seemed that everything that could go wrong, went wrong … except death. And that, as much as my finite mind can discern, seemed pretty close as well.

The list of lousy things that happened is long. Here’s a sample: Our travel companion who signed on to help with the flight back ditched us in Paris, the airline lost our luggage, we had less than ideal accommodations due to hotel restrictions for adoptive families (experiencing 12- to 24-hour power outages), and my stomach flu was followed by Giardia (I lost 12 pounds total).

But it was our first night with our new children that had us wondering why God was allowing Satan to sift us like wheat. We were sick, exhausted, dirty, living in cramped quarters. And though we were only moderately deprived of our health and comfort, we were given a very sick baby.

So began our doubts.

When we first met 9 month-old Olivia Konjit, she had a cough and seemed lethargic. The orphanage nurse assured us it was only a “little cold.” So she gave us some adult cough medicine for mornings and evenings and sent us on our way.

As that first night wore on, however, we noticed that Olivia’s breathing had became short, shallow and raspy; extremely labored. Unnerved, I stayed awake while she slept fearing it could get worse. It did. And when I reached down to pick her up about 1:00 a.m., she was burning with fever; hotter than I’ve ever felt someone feel.

When I put the digital thermometer under her arm, it shot up to 105 degrees within seconds. I took it out before it beeped because I was afraid of how high it would go. I knew we needed to get help immediately.

I banged on the “guest house” manager’s door (who lived in the garage). I explained the emergency. He drove us to the main hospital in Addis Ababa at 1:30 a.m. It was closed until 9 o’clock the next morning. We then drove to a children’s clinic where there was a doctor on call. The doctor took her temperature. It was over 106 degrees. He said Olivia had pneumonia and gave her an antibiotic and fever reducing medicine.

We got back to the guest house at 3:30 a.m. We spent the rest of the night giving her medicine and wrapping her in wet cloths by candle light. The power had been off for 12 hours.

Olivia didn’t get better that night. At one point, her breathing was so labored and her fever was so high, I was certain she would die because I had nowhere to take her. I thought, This is how it happens in Ethiopia. People just die because they have nowhere to go.

But she didn’t die. Her fever broke and her breathing improved the following day. I’m convinced God spared her life. When we got back to Colorado, we took Olivia to our pediatrician who said, “I’m glad you got there when you did.”

With the benefit of hindsight, I now know I was too cavalier about the “Are you ready?” question. I expected it to be painful. But not so much that we would question the very decision we made to adopt.

That is where we were. And that is exactly where I believe Satan planned for us to be.

John Piper has a sermon on the power God allows Satan in this world.

The fact that Satan has such power in the world should give a kind of seriousness to our lives which unbelievers don’t have. It ought not to make us paranoid or fearful, but sober and earnest in our prayers and persistently conscious of needing God’s power. When the enemy is supernatural, so must the weapons be.

I now know with certainty that we were not ready. And we were heading for a crash.

Read Part 2 here.


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