Julie looked around the room packed with potential adoptive families — young couples buzzing with anticipation. She understood their excitement. The dark-haired 24-year-old had first felt God give her a passion for adoption when she visited Russia at age 17.
“It grabbed a hold of me hard-core,” she says. “I went back eight years in a row.” She went to minister to orphans who wanted the one thing many children take for granted — a family.
Now, years after that first encounter, she was attending an adoption conference as a representative of Children’s HopeChest. But though her heart beat for orphans, as a single woman living with three roommates, she was in no position to adopt.
“I was feeling sorry for myself,” Julie says. “Here I was watching all these couples talk to agencies and gather information and all I could think was, When will it be my turn?” I wanted to adopt so badly but didn’t even have a romantic interest — let alone a husband or the resources to begin an adoption.”
That’s when everything changed. “As clearly as I’ve ever heard Him, God whispered to my soul, ‘You already have a child who is alive in the world somewhere; she’s just not yours yet.’ Here I was wondering when it was going to be my turn, and God was telling me I was already a mother.”
A few weeks later, Julie, a vocalist on her church’s worship team, caught the eye of Alan, a youth pastor. He asked her out and a year later, on Oct. 14, 2007, they were married.
Two Hearts as One
During their courtship, Julie wrote Alan a letter explaining her heart for adoption — specifically that she believed most of her children would be adopted rather than biological. “Alan hadn’t really thought about it, but God began giving him the same passion,” Julie says. “It was a big enough deal to me that I needed Alan to have the same heart.”
A few months after their one-year anniversary, the couple began pursuing the adoption of two children from Ethiopia, leaving the age requirements open to accommodate the child Julie believed God had told her about.
Some people reacted with surprise that Julie and Alan would start their young family with adoption rather than biologically, especially since the couple had no known fertility issues. “God laid it on our hearts that we should adopt first,” Julie says. “We wanted to encourage other people that it can be done differently. And we wanted our adopted kids to know that they were part of our plan all along.”
Describing the moment when she first saw a picture of her daughter, Julie says: “Then I saw her … a sweet 6-year-old girl. She was the one, the one God had told me about three years earlier.”
In June of this year, 16 months after they began the adoption process (Julie says it was faster because they were willing to adopt older children), Julie and Alan traveled to Ethiopia to pick up their daughter and son — Bethlehem (Betti), 6, and Emanuel (Manny), 2.
Bringing Adoption Home
About four years ago, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly was working out at his local gym when he began talking to the woman exercising next to him. Her name was Debi Grebenik and she runs an agency called Maple Star that places children in foster care in adoptive families. She began to talk passionately about her heart for these orphans and their need to be placed in forever families. For many would-be adoptive families, adopting children out of foster care can be an overlooked option.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding with adopting from the foster care system,” says Katie Porter, Program Director of Adoption and Orphan Care Initiative at Focus on the Family. “A large percentage of people believe that these children are in the system for juvenile delinquency. That is just not true. These children are in the system because of abuse, neglect and abandonment on the part of their birth families.”
Daly, who was an orphan in the foster care system as a child himself, began asking what Focus might do to help these children. The orphan care team brainstormed a recruitment event that would help agencies connect children in the foster care system with adoptive families. A short time later, Wait No More was born.
Wait No More is a collaborative event between Focus on the Family, government officials, adoption agencies, ministries and churches. Interested families attend the events and are educated about adoption and given the opportunity to initiate the process. Unlike international adoption, which can cost thousands of dollars, adoption of U.S. children generally costs less than $500.
More than 1,300 families attended the first Wait No More event in November 2008 in Colorado Springs, Colo. “That first event blew us away,” Porter says. “We were hoping 100 families would initiate the adoption process — 265 families did!”
Since that first event, seven additional Wait No More events have taken place in five states. More than 1,260 families have initiated the adoption process. The response from government officials and adoption agencies has been overwhelmingly positive.
The heart of Daly and the orphan care team is to see the number of orphans in their home state of Colorado reach what they call virtual zero. “Virtual zero is more families waiting for kids than kids waiting for families,” Porter explains. Actual zero can never be reached because the number of children in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated is constantly changing.
Porter and her team believe their goal is within reach. Since Wait No More began in 2008, the number of children in Colorado awaiting adoption has dropped from approximately 800 to 365. Although many factors may be involved in the drop, the numbers indicate that Wait No More is making a difference.
Right now there are around 114,000 legal orphans in the U.S. foster care system. There are also more than 300,000 churches. No wonder Porter and her team believe eliminating the orphan problem in the U.S. is possible.
Wait No More is one of four points of emphasis for the Adoption and Orphan Care Initiative at Focus. The initiative also sponsors the Cry of the Orphan Campaign, in partnership with Show Hope and Hope for Orphans (a ministry of FamilyLife); gives financially to help care for orphans outside the U.S.; and provides post-placement support — in the way of resources and counseling — to families who have adopted.
“Adoption is not about meeting your wants or needs,” Porter says. “Christ has called us to lay down our lives for others. Is that easy? No. People should be asking, ‘How can God use me in the life of this child?’ —not, ‘How can God use this child in my life?’ ”
They’re Just My Kids
Julie and Alan have found those words to be true. “Because of my past experiences with orphans, I expected adoption to be hard — and it was,” Julie says. “Our first week with the kids in Africa was difficult. They were super clingy to me and didn’t want Alan. I was exhausted and needed help, and Alan felt rejected.”
Even when the couple returned home, they had to deal with the logistics of learning what Betti and Manny would eat, how to get them to go to bed and how to deal with behavioral problems. Julie says she went through a mourning period for the loss of her old life.
But now, five months in, the family has found the new normal. “There’s a difference between the mind and the heart,” Julie says. “We instantly loved our kids with our minds, but it took a few months to fall in love with them emotionally.”
Julie describes Betti as “a bit of a diva,” who is honest, feisty and has a caring attitude, especially toward younger children. Manny “is going to be the class clown for sure,” Julie says. “I don’t know many 2-year-olds who are funny on purpose, but he sure is.” The siblings both love music and dance.
Each day, Julie wakes up and gets Betti ready for school. Then she spends her day with Manny, overseeing his toddler schedule. It’s a far cry from her former life, which included a full-time job and busy social life. But she wouldn’t trade her new lifestyle for anything.
“They’re just my kids,” she says. “A few days ago Alan told me his favorite part of every day is coming home and having the kids run down the driveway yelling, ‘Daddy!’ Being parents is hard, but it’s awesome.”
And for Betti and Manny, who have found a forever family, it’s an unspeakable gift.
For more information about joining Focus on the Family in caring for orphans, visit iCareAboutOrphans.org.
Copyright 2010 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.