Written October 2009:
Where it all Started
Josh and I went to Russia together in 1997. While we were there we spent a couple days in Moscow before heading out to the town of Mystora. In the town we worked closely with the orphanage. I helped run a daily camp for the kids while Josh helped build them a brand new infirmary. We were each given a picture of an orphan who we were to meet when we got there. My orphan was nowhere to be found, having befriended someone who was not holding his picture. But we found the boy in Josh’s picture. He was shown sitting on the horse that the village used for milk delivery. His name was Dima. He was going on 16, which in Russian translates roughly to, “Getting ready to be booted out of the orphanage and onto the street.” Hopefully we had a good influence on him those two weeks. He was a wonderful kid, very chivalrous, and taught me a lot of Russian. I had been to Russia in 1996, though I am still not sure where the camp I helped run was located- it was in the middle of the forest about a four hour drive from Moscow. In 1996 I learned a lot of Russian, fell in love with the language, the culture, the people. I yearned for more. I missed the 12 year-old boy I had befriended in ’96 named Zhenya. The facilitator of the group we traveled with in 1997 made arrangements for me to be driven out to the orphanage where Zhenya was so I could see him again. His orphanage is really, really in the middle of nowhere. The kids there were all assumed to have a disability of some kind, though I couldn’t tell you what Zhenya’s might have been- other than him being insanely short for his age. The Soviet Union had hidden these orphanages as though they were ashamed of the disabled children. I was driven by a man in a small rusty car through forested dirt roads for hours to get to the orphanage. We actually left the road and drove through trees on a couple of occasions when he deemed it necessary. We were going very fast- 130 kilometers per hour at some points- through the woods up and down roller coaster-like hills. I was terrified. But I was hyper with joy at the thought of seeing “My Zhenya” again. (There are many Zhenyas in Russian orphanages, and my teenage friends the year before had a few Zhenyas of their own.) We were reunited during the late afternoon. I had my picture taken with him.
I recognized other kids from the camp the year before. Another Zhenya.. “Yegorochkin,” he had told me over and over again until I pronounced it correctly. And Ceryozha, Maxim and Sasha. All were happy to see The American there. I only could stay for about an hour. Zhenya showed me where he slept. He kept two or three different Russian/English dictionaries in a small drawer there. They were all gifts to him. He had little of anything else, including clothing options and shoes. Most orphanages in Russia have their own vegetable gardens to supplement the government’s meager (and rare) checks. This one was no different. Understaffed, self sufficient. The kids there did seem happy, but then I never saw them when an American wasn’t around. I cried saying goodbye to Zhenya. He had just poured over his dictionary and finally looked up at me and said, “You, adopt, me?” I can’t, I’m a child myself!! “Oh, Zhenya, I can’t. I’m so sorry. I love you. I will miss you.” I still pray for him to this day that he didn’t become a statistic as is so common for the sixteen year-old orphans in Russia. Well over 3/4 of them turn to prostitution and drugs. Suicide is not uncommon for them. There is no hope, no family, no skill sets, no job. No roof, no clothes, no food. Nothing. Not to mention that they are a four hour (plus) drive from Moscow with no car, no bike, no horse, no goat. Finding food and work in the city with no skill sets is a problem but in the country where they hide these orphanages…. hopeless. So I got back to Mystora and cried on Josh’s shoulder. We were dating then- had just graduated high school a month prior and been dating since Christmas. He comforted me, and somewhere in the recesses of his brain he tucked away a little nugget; someday we will adopt together. We spent more time with Dima, letting him lead us around town, he showed us where to get ice cream cones. He was excited to tell us about the first bananas he had ever seen earlier that year. He brought us to a little shop where I bought a couple children’s books in Russian that he helped me read. He taught us Russian words. Motorcycle still chimes in my head; mat-a-syekel. Water; Vada. Vodka; Vadka. Did you know that vodka is cheaper than bottled carbonated water in Russia? I like telling this to people because I hardly believed it when someone told it to me but found myself at a little kiosk comparing the two in Moscow and found the information to be quite legitimate. Walking back to our “hotel” every night in Mystora we would pass the main street with houses lining it and there would always be at least one or two houses that the occupants were out front, hammered, yelling slurred Russian at us. The funny thing is, if we were to say hello and introduce ourselves, they would have insisted that we come in and have a bite to eat at their expense… their finest feast. And their best vodka. That’s how the Russians are, and that’s why I love them. Dima grew to be our closest friend while we were there. We both cried saying goodbye to him. We got on a bus at the orphanage and waved as we drove away. The bus stopped at our hotel (a fifteen minute walk away) so some of us could retrieve our baggage and found that a group of kids had run the whole way there, following our bus. We had to get off and give one more hug to Dima. I didn’t want to let him go, and neither did Josh.
Two years after we were married (which was the summer after our Russia trip) we actually tried to start an adoption process to get Zhenya before he aged out of the system. Some wise counsel (the director of the two trips, actually) advised us against adopting without some serious education on the matter. We were also advised of the sheer amount of time and money it took to accomplish an adoption. We were disheveled. At least I was. Josh was probably something more like disappointed. We had our first son in 2001 and named him after Dima. His legacy will live in our son. Dmitri means “lover of nature,” which is true both of Dima and our son. A beautiful sentiment that we will pass on to him as he gains in wisdom and inquires more about his namesake.
It has been 12 years since Josh and I were together in Mystora. We have been married 11 years. We have wanted to adopt from Russia this whole time. We have even had Russian adoption in our long-term goals for our entire marriage, always planning to put money into an account and save for it once the bills were under control. We got those bills paid off about this time last year and realized that even with our extra money every month we wouldn’t have international adoption-sized funds for at least a decade, if not longer. Last summer God started talking to Josh and I about adopting. We came together and were surprised to learn that we both had been given the same message separately, and were relieved to know that we were so clearly on the same path of thinking. But resources! God we can’t do it!!! So last fall we finally threw our arms up and decided to pursue a local adoption through a foster agency. Basically this means that we would get a child who needed foster care, and then cross our fingers (so to speak) that their parental rights would be terminated and that we would consequently have the chance to adopt them. This is a painful and time-consuming process. Even with a terminated-rights child the state will not let perspective parents adopt until the child has lived with them for at least six months to verify a good working match. During that time old Aunt Sue might turn up and get first dibs on giving that child a home. Blood always comes first with the law. Not that this is bad- it’s certainly usually best for the child- just that I have always been hypersensitive to begin with. Watching a child that I had grown to love get torn from my arms could plausibly change me into a new person. A distraught, doubting, depressed person. And my children need me to be strong. Josh was horrified at the thought and having anxiety about it. He knows me well enough to realize that if he has to protect me from the news previews between commercials, sad movies and heart racing CBS shows on weeknights, that I would hardly be able to withstand the emotional turmoil brought on by a foster adoption gone bad. And he couldn’t protect me from that. He wanted to, but wouldn’t be able to if we committed ourselves to this journey. But we signed up, took 25 hours of classes, filled out forms, got fingerprinted, allowed background checks, and started to prepare our home for the home study specifications. This took us about a year- in fact it was the first week of September 2009 that we got a call to schedule our home study. Apparently our referrals all came back glowing, our background checks cleared, and our fingerprints were not linked to any heinous crimes. But two weeks before the call to schedule our home study we had a different call.
We were sitting in church, listening to our pastor’s sermon on August 23rd. The sermon was about having faith. At one time he said, “Please, just jump.” He said how faith is so important to us and our belief system. He said how without faith we wouldn’t be able to accept God’s provision for our eternal afterlife in Heaven. But he also said that we have a hard time acting on faith. That the root of the word “faith” in the Bible defines it as a verb in the present tense. That faith doesn’t just mean to believe in something without seeing it, it means to actively pursue something without necessarily having the immediate ability to do so. Allowing God to have some wiggle room to prove Himself. At least now that I am looking back at the sermon, that’s what I heard. And I remember Mike saying, “jump.” I thought, huh, that is really cool. We needed to hear that since one week ago Josh had his hours cut back to 25 per week and we really need money to survive. We need to put this in God’s hands! I can do it! I will jump! But a couple weeks before I had started praying for God to make me into a more submissive wife. I wanted Josh to be the spiritual leader in our relationship. I always seemed to be in close communication with God, and felt that I was somehow more sensitive to His voice than Josh was sometimes. I had been specifically praying for God to bring His plans to me through Josh, so that I could trust and follow Josh as he had trusted and followed God when receiving the direction himself. And that Sunday after church I was surprised at how quickly my prayer was answered. After every sermon we compare our thoughts and talk about it. This Sunday I was excited, as I thought I had a real revelation about how we needed to move forward in faith about Josh’s job situation. I turned to Josh and asked what he thought about the service. He was quiet for a moment and then verified that he had a revelation too. I asked what it was. He told me, “I think we need to adopt. From Russia.” My body went cold with a big traveling shiver that ended in a pit-of-the-stomach feeling. Not the kind you get from bad news; the kind where you just feel queasy because of the magnitude of something. It only took a second for me to realize that God was comforting me in the moment telling me it was okay to get excited about it again, the time had come, He was in control this time. Josh and I talked the whole way home about the million ways we were preparing ourselves for an entire year for adoption with no clue what God was really leading us toward. Yes, we wanted to adopt. But God didn’t want us to settle for less than our hearts’ deepest desire. And that was to adopt a Russian child. God had educated us through our adoption classes and given us contacts that will prove to be invaluable later. Our instruction was clear; Adopt from Russia. Now. Start the process. The money will come. (Sound like a famous movie line? Our neighbors may initially think we’re crazy too.)
Where we are Now
Last spring we were told of a project that brings Russian orphans to America to attend camps. Most of them get adopted as a direct result of meeting potential families while here. The idea is that they all have to have a home to stay in while they visit. For $1000 (to help offset the $2500 fee for flying them here) someone could volunteer to be a host family. These families have to turn in lots of paperwork and prove their homes are safe, etcetera. Apparently after years of this going on in other states, the project was coming to our city. This was brought to our attention by Josh’s brother and sister-in-law who go to a church that wanted to partner with the project. The night they told us about the possibility we could have a Russian orphan in our home I cried. What are the odds? We wanted to sign up but lacked the $1000. That’s an amount of money we could raise, we felt confident about that. We began by contacting the two churches that were partnering with the program. One offered some help. But before we heard back from the other church, the program was cancelled and moved to a city with a more widespread interest in hosting. Our dreams were put on hold. But the facilitators of the camp/hosting program were open to talking about adoption. It seems that over the years their organization had done numerous adoptions as a result of the program and they had a lady I could talk to who had facilitated most of them. I had called and talked to her all about it. Relative timeframes, Russian government requirements, the order of things, and cost. And this was months before God’s clear message to us. So when He spoke, I was prepared with facts. The fact is, God, we need thousands and thousands of dollars.
We are certain that God is going to provide for our needs financially, emotionally, and otherwise during the coming years. We have chosen partners (agencies) for our journey and have started the process of obtaining an international home study. When our local foster-adopt agency called to set up a home study I said, “Gosh, I feel so bad. We have decided not to proceed in this direction. We want to adopt from Russia now. Maybe you can help me find an agency that does international home studies?” And the woman informed me that a branch of their organization actually does international adoptions. You’re kidding! So I got in touch with a young lady who verified that Russia is under their umbrella of expertise and that they would love to help us complete a home study. Until this time I had been informed that our international home study would be done by an organization from a city an hour away at the nearest. This agency is located right here! We have set this up and discussed at length which international agency to partner with. Our home study agency does not facilitate the entire adoption. They more or less verify everything on our end; that we are a good home for an orphan, we fit Russia’s standards for adoptive families, and we get help filling out masses of paperwork. The overseas stuff has to be done by a separate agency. With this international agency chosen and applied to, we now have an exact layout of costs and an estimate of timeframes to go by.
As far as timeframes go, there really is none. As Josh so accurately stated, “it’s more of a sequence than a timeline.” Here is the sequence as we understand it:
- We turn in our application and get accepted into the program of the international agency (done)
- We schedule and receive a home study which is done through our local agency (done)
- Our dossier is completed and sent with the home study to the Russian liason (done)
- Russia (after an unknown amount of time has passed) will give us a referral, which means they have chosen a child that fits our needs (done!)
- We travel within a mandatory time frame once given the referral in order to meet (and accept or deny) the child referred (we will be in Russia for 5-10 days)
- We travel back to the US to wait for about 4-8 weeks before our next trip
- We travel on second trip to be with the child have more physical exams (child and us) get the court to sign off on the adoption, and get the child a visa to travel to the US (we will be in Russia for up to 5 weeks)
- We have adopted! We must comply with all post-placement regulations (continue to disclose information on the child to Russia for stated period of time)
This process can take up to a couple of years. I have heard of many Russian adoptions taking 6-12 months though.
What we Need
A Russian adoption has some disadvantages over other foreign adoptions. The good thing is that the Russian government has put these difficult rules in place to protect the best interest of their orphaned children. But what it means for us as Americans is a total of two trips to Russia to complete the adoption. This is uncommon in most international adoptions. The costs are also much higher, but I have been told by several agencies that although Russia often has the highest cost, they are also the most streamlined and efficient throughout the process. The last difficulty is that Russia requires post-placement reports to be filed after the adoption has been completed for a year. Agencies who have regularly failed to do so have been “blacklisted” by the Russian government. All of these “burdens” are in place because of Americans before us taking advantage of the system, often placing their adopted Russian orphan into the US foster system after deciding that they weren’t a fit. Russia will have none of that– which explains the two trips; it’s so we have plenty of time to make a well-qualified decision before bringing a child home. We are grateful for their government’s concern and are happy to comply. We are faithful that the money will come easily and not be a problem.
I want to make it clear that Josh and I are financing as much of this as we possibly can. We will be putting a large amount of our money into this, we just can’t possibly do it all. We have learned how to live frugally after Josh’s last pay cut. The extra money goes toward the adoption. My art and cake businesses are also helping. Both businesses will be applying part of every sale toward the adoption. We have done fundraisers including an on-line silent auction and mega-garage sale. We are saving all we can but will not use credit, as we have learned God’s plan to avoid being in debt to another man.
I found a verse two days after the sermon that inspired all of this. It helped me realize that having faith that God wants us to adopt from Russia is not enough. We can’t just sit back and wait on Him to make it all happen. Josh and I vowed that day to start moving, whether we had the money or not, to allow God to provide for our needs as they arose. This verse is powerful. It is guiding us through this time in our lives where we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. We only know that God made a promise to us that this was the right direction to move in.