Thirteen years ago today Clarke and I were embarking on an unknown journey with our sites on adopting from Ukraine. The seed of adoption had been planted early in our days of marriage, and we always knew someday we would like to adopt. With the craziness of life, marriage, work, having two wonderful children, life whisked by and it is as if we forgot our intentions of adopting.
We always knew we wanted a big family, whether through foster care or adoption. Amanda was 11, and Alex was 9 at the time that the seed of adoption started to grow. People often will ask us why we decided to adopt. We tell them the story of Mr. Matheson, known as “Mr. M” who is the world’s best gym teacher at Ivy Stockwell Elementary in Berthoud, Colorado. Clarke and I were finishing up our Cub Scout meeting one Tuesday night at Ivy Stockwell when we ran into Mr. M doing some last minute equipment clean up. In his arms, he was holding the most adorable little girl named Katherine who was recently adopted by Mr. M and his wife, Brenda. We said hello and met Katherine, who was a sweet little girl from China about 18 months old with a smile that would melt your heart.
That night as Clarke and I drove the 10-minute drive from Berthoud to our house, we had made the decision to start the “adoption” process. I remember looking up into the night sky gazing at the moon and stars and told Clarke “Just think, our child we will adopt is alive right now, looking at the same stars and moon in the night sky!”
So the word “adoption” began to resonate in our house. We did not know the first thing about adoption and began to pray about it as well as search the internet for any resources. We dove into a world of the unknown. So many questions that pre-adoptive families have. Who, what, where, when, why plus so much more! We attended workshops, talked to adoption agencies, made our lists of questions, did more research and so on! When I look back, I am always so thankful to know that Gods’ hand was all over the process. After months of research and questions, with open and closed doors, God led us to adopt from the country of Ukraine.
And so the journey began…
We decided on Ukraine for many reasons and began the process of figuring out how to go about and adoption from Ukraine. We had assumed that in order to adopt that we would need to hire an adoption agency and headed down that road. Six months into the paperwork process, and with many hurdles and frustrations, we met the Weston family. They were our life savers as Wade and Julia were adopting from Ukraine too and were doing their adoption “independently”. We changed course and headed right behind them and an immediate life-long friendship was made with our families. Our dossier followed theirs and both our travel dates were only 3 weeks apart. Both families had wished for 2 school aged children, possibly a girl and boy.
Upon our arrival in Kiev, we were quickly shuffled to the “Tourist” hotel on the left bank of the Dnieper. Our hotel room down the dark hallway was 100% Ukrainian style and honestly, we were in culture shock. Everything was dark, the room, the hallway, the clothing people wore, the atmosphere, it was heavy and dark and dreary. Our facilitator was abrupt and stern, asking us “and now for my money!” As adoptive families know you have to travel with many thousands of dollars. Our facilitator asked us to put it in a grocery sack and hand it over along with his gifts of soymilk and gladiola bulbs. He quickly grabbed his goods and left us in the dark hotel room, we watched as he walked down the dark hallway and he was gone! I remember Clarke and I just looking at each other saying that we hope we have not just been had. We sat on the beds and just waited and about 10 minutes later a knock on the door and in entered our new friend and translator, George! He was a bundle of optimism and sunshine as compared to people we had met since our arrival.
We were able to meet up with Wade and Julia and to meet their newly adopted children Sonja and Nikita, a brother and sister from Kharkov. The Weston’s were successful, ready to head soon to the US with their adorable children, they made it look so easy and we were really happy for them. Our sites were set on the same “family” for us, a school aged sibling group seemed like no problem!
We took the longest possible train ride in Ukraine to a far off land of Lugansk, which is the last stop before you enter Russia on the east border. Sadly, today Lugansk lies in the conflict zone with Russia and returning to visit Natalie’s grandma or family is unsafe due to the destruction of the city and surrounding area. We spent about 12 days visiting Natalie at her orphanage while the paperwork process was in motion to adopt her. We fell in love with our sweet Natalie the moment we laid eyes on her as she shyly walked into the Director’s office. She was a curious, neat, organized, funny, beautiful, sweet 3-year-old that would gaze into the camera for a picture anytime we wanted a picture.
It is day and a moment in my life I will never forget.
Our adoption trip was about 3 ½ weeks long and we returned home on April 11, 2003. Upon our return home our life, as we knew it would be filled with giggles, sticky hands, sweet singing and loads of smiles. Natalie quickly adjusted to her new family and it took us about 3 months to fill like we were not babysitting anymore! Natalie was a trooper and quickly was immersed into our busy life of activities. Watching every single football, basketball, baseball, track meet, softball game that Amanda and Alex would play, she captured the hearts of so many of our family and friends.
Adopting Natalie was more than just adopting one orphan. Adopting Natalie planted the seeds and started the grass roots of Ukraine Orphan Outreach. As UOO journeys in their 10th year of serving orphans, we continue to see God’s providence in the ministry but especially through all those who have been touched by meeting an orphan. We celebrate so much looking back:
With all your support throughout the years, we have touched the lives of hundreds of orphans, whether through mission trips, VBS camps in Ukraine, UOO Cultural exchange camps, life-long friendships, tours of “The Old Russian Shoemaker”, committing to support aged-out orphans and praying for orphans around the world, our heartfelt thank you for believing in our cause and being a life changer for JUST ONE.
Praising God in all that He has done through UOO!