Our Journey: Moving On to the Past

The next morning, we awoke from what seemed like a nightmare from the day before. Only it wasn’t a dream. Exhausted from sleeping with our tiny fighter and from the stress of the day before, we just wanted to stay put at the convent.

Maybe the kids playing in three inches of dirt next to a pile of garbage, a giant hole, a burn pile, and clean laundry hanging on a line wasn’t so bad after all.

We knew what was on the agenda for the day: meeting with a member of the kids’ birth family. Questions plagued my mind: Would I have to peel the kids away from their Congolese family? Would they ask for money? Would there be evidence of abuse or neglect? But there were just as many questions about the lives that our children had lived prior to the orphanage. We literally knew nothing about their past, or why they were surrendered to the orphanage. This was our only chance to find out.

As lunch was ending, we found out that a member of kids’ birth family was on the way. So we took the kids upstairs, got them cleaned up, and brought them back down to wait in the snack bar area.

Soon after, our bodyguard and our interpreter walked in with a beautiful African woman. The children ran to her and hugged her legs. She patted them gently, and came to sit down at our table. The children sat in their own chairs.

At first, she looked at Emmanuel, and began to speak to him. Our interpreter told us that she was telling him that she was no longer their family, that we were their family. She gave him very specific instructions about obeying, working hard, and being good.

Then she looked at “Rosa” and began to speak gently to her. She told her not to be a troublemaker and that we were her new parents. I was her mother, and Ken was her father. At one point, Addie Rose asked her to help with something, and she told her that she needed to ask her mother, and pointed to me.

She gave each child a lengthy speech, and blessing, and transferred authority to us. The children sat and listened intently. They clearly understood what was going on, but there were no tears, just nods.

We had the opportunity to ask lots of questions, which she graciously answered. When we asked what her hopes were, she told us that we were the ones to now dream dreams for them, as they were now ours. We found out much about where our children had come from, what they were like when they were infants, and we found out the depth of their grief goes much beyond being surrendered for adoption. Our children have experienced things no child should ever have to go through.

But our childrens’ story is not ours to tell. Someday, you can ask them if they would like to tell their story, but you will not hear it from us.

We showed her where we live on a global map on the wall in the snack area.

We posed for a picture all together.

She hugged us goodbye.

She didn’t hug the children goodbye.

Just a little wave and a smile.

And then she was gone.

Her blessing and her transferring of parental authority were such tremendous gifts to us. She could have undermined our authority, or clung to the children desperately, asked us for money, or ignored us completely. Instead, she was as gracious and kind as anyone could ever be. The children will always remember that our relationship was not one of animosity, but of curiosity and gratitude. Though their birth family situation was filled with tragedy, somehow, miraculously, God has brought us into these tiny lives to facilitate the healing of the hurts that they have experienced, and show them God’s grace to bring them hope and a future.

Our Journey: The Fight Begins

The night of our “gotcha day” we all crawled in bed next to each other in our king-sized bed — me next to Rose and Ken next to Emmanuel. We turned off the lights, snuggled up, and fell asleep.

For about an hour.

Then Rose began kicking, screaming, crying, fighting — all in her sleep. I began to count how long between episodes. Twenty to sixty seconds.

As I laid there in bed being pummeled by my tiny fighter, I remembered working with a pediatrician who never treated kids with ADHD with stimulants. He only did sleep therapy and medication. He pointed out that he believed that he believed the root of all ADHD problems were sleep related, which is why kids need stimulants like Ritalin to keep them focused.  Rose’s personality was being explained right next to me in the darkness of our convent room. She was and is too tired.

And so was I. I got almost no sleep that night, and neither did anyone else get much more. The fatigue manifested itself in their first tantrums and standoffs. It was just their first challenges to our authority. After all, we were perfect strangers trying to tell them what to do. We had a rough morning, and by afternoon, we were ready for a change of pace.

Our interpreter told us that we were going to do a little bit of sightseeing and take the kids to a playground.

Perfect.

Just that morning, our kids had been banished from the front lawn of St. Anne’s and sent to the back courtyard, which was basically 3 inches thickness of dirt surrounded by a burn pile, a 3 foot by 6 foot hole, clean laundry, and a bunch of garbage. We needed space to run and play.  While we weren’t wild about being out in public, we were assured that we would be fine.

So we packed up a few things and the four of us, the other family, a driver, our interpreter, and two body guards hopped in the van — one from our agency, and one with the driver.

Driving around the streets of Kinshasa we noticed that the police were everywhere. Rumor has it that the police aren’t paid a salary, but earn whatever they can collect in fines. Most of the police aren’t even armed, but are vigilant.

We toured some national historic sites first. Emmanuel was still pouting from an earlier tantrum, but Rose was chatty and had boundless energy. As we were walking, she asked our interpreter what her new American name would be.

So we stopped and told her, “Adeline Rose will be your new American name, and we will call you Addie Rose.” She giggled with delight, her typical response to anything about her! At that point, we had our interpreter ask a sulking Emmanuel if he wanted a new American name. He shook his head no. although I’m fairly certain that he would have said no to anything at that point.

We continued on our tour, to a large stadium, which we were promptly dismissed from because they had an upcoming soccer match. As we all piled back into the van, a crowd of homeless boys surrounded our van, asking for anything we would give them. I couldn’t help but notice that they were just slightly bigger than our son. There are tens of thousands of homeless and abandoned children on the streets of Kinshasa, who are left to fend for themselves. They are the outcasts of their society at the age of eight. We held our children a little more tightly, recognizing that the great but ironically miniscule difference between life of those in the van, and those outside.

We drove on and were preparing to turn left at an intersection, when suddenly, a police motorcycle drove up in front of the van, blocking our path. Two police officers on foot stormed the van and all three began yelling in Swahili or Lingala (none of us could understand). Suddenly our vehicle was commandeered by the police, our body guards were taken away, and we were driven a short distance to police station. We could see our driver and body guards arguing vehemently, especially the one from our agency.

Our interpreter, only in her twenties, struggled to remain calm so as not to frighten us. She tried to explain that the police were trying to get money for something, but was vague. But since it was our body-guard in the midst of the heat of the argument, we were quite certain what money was in question. Ours.

So we sat on the streets of Kinshasa for what seemed like an eternity. With the police officer still in the front seat, the sun beat down on the vehicle and the air grew stagnant from sitting and waiting for our fate. The children were unusually quiet. We were even more so. We couldn’t open the doors and windows. The only thing we could do was wait. And pray.

More police officers were called in. Phone calls were made. The argument seemed like it would come to blows.

Then as quickly as the incident had started, it ended. Our body guards and driver got back in the van, and we moved on. We were told that a superior officer released us without penalty.

We were shaken. We really just wanted to go back to the convent, but our interpreter encouraged us and told us that she had told the children that we were going to the playground. Okay. Just a playground. We can do this. Some swings, some air, and some bathrooms would be good.

We pulled into the “playground,” and immediately had to pay for parking. As we made our way through the crowds, we realized that this was no playground, it was a carnival. Hordes of people carrying toys, prizes, children, pushing their way past each other. The van took us all the way into the carnival and the driver’s guard opened the door. Immediately, vendors shoved toys in the kids’ faces, trying to bait them to take them.

We shouted “No thank you!” in French a dozen or more times as our interpreter led us to a concession area where we could get drinks. We were all dying of thirst. We were surrounded by bumper cars, a carousel, loud music, and hundreds and hundreds of people.

We ordered drinks and as we waited, we all grew increasingly wary. We explained to our interpreter that we were really very uncomfortable and wanted to leave immediately. We had thought that we were going to a place with swings and a slide, not to the DRC State Fair. She told us that she had already sent our driver away and it would take a while to get him back. She encouraged us that this was normal life in the Congo and that the children were enjoying it. They would want to ride on a ride or find a toy. So since we had to wait, we might as well ride just one ride. Then our driver would take us back.

Okay. Just one ride.

The less expensive rides were at the opposite end of the park, and we had to walk past vendor after vendor pushing toys, hats, and all manner of junk that we were not going to buy into our kids’ faces. They began to cry that they didn’t have any toys (well, except for the dozen back in our room). We were miserable.

By the time that we got to the rides, Addie Rose was already complaining that she had to go to the bathroom, but we had already learned that public toilets were just a pile of dirt behind whatever one could duck behind, so we encouraged her to wait and that we would be leaving soon. Emmanuel wasn’t talking to us because we wouldn’t buy him a toy, and was hanging out with our agency body-guard.

We bought tickets for the ride for the two American moms (me included), three children (including our two), and the body-guard, who agreed to take Emmanuel. We hopped onto the little twirly ride.

Ken asked our interpreter if he could take pictures of us on the ride. She pointed out that there were lots of families taking pictures, and even video taping. So the two dads started shooting pictures.

Just as the ride was getting ready to start, the police and park security surrounded the dads and started shouting. Our interpreter started shouting back. Our body-guard hopped off the ride, leaving Emmanuel by himself. The ride began.

Terrified, I eyed Ken every time the ride would go past him. He was fighting. Our body guards and interpreter were fighting. I tried to laugh with Addie Rose and pretend everything was okay. Emmanuel looked like he was laughing and having fun. But it wasn’t okay, and it wasn’t fun.

The ride stopped, we got off, and the dads explained that the park owners/police wanted $55 for one picture that the dads took. Multiply that by all the pictures they had taken, and it the price was climbing rapidly. We weren’t allowed to just delete the pictures. Our interpreter refused to let us pay, even though we just wanted to get out of there. We taken to a side area to wait while the fighting continued. Other parents continued to take pictures of their kids, even video taping. We were being penalized for the color of our skin.

Suddenly our van appeared, and we were herded onto the van. We were hopeful that we were making our escape, but we were told that we were being taken to the main office. Our body-guard was taken to the office ahead of us, and an officer got on the van with us to prevent our escape. We drove back through the carnival, but this time the whining about the toys dissipated. There were much bigger things going on.

We sat in the musty stench of the overheated van and waited. This time the arguing was in French, and Ken could hear our interpreter saying, “These are our guests, not a bank!”  Our body-guard was taken inside where we couldn’t see him, but a throng of police officers, park employees, our interpreter and now even carnival guests gathered around and started shouting. There was nothing we could do but wait and pray.

Phones were pulled out. Phone calls were made. It was clear that whoever knew the most important person would win. Where was our attorney at this point? Soon a man in a suit, though not our attorney, who seemed to have great authority (an attorney? park owner?) appeared and began to argue as well. For close to two hours (with a four-year old that had to go to the bathroom) we sat and awaited our fate for the second time that day.

Then they called for the other dad’s camera. They wanted to see the pictures. As he climbed out of the vehicle, Ken slipped me the memory card from our camera. We could live without our camera. The memories on the card were much more important.

Slowly, the crowd began to disperse. Our body-guard was released from the office area. The police gave up their fight. The other dad returned to our van. Phones were put away. The tone of conversation dropped.

Finally, after two hours, our body-guard and interpreter got back in the van. She explained that she had called in the man in the suit who was the father of one of her friends, and that he was the one that got us released. We were allowed to drive away.

We pulled into the gates of the convent at sunset. It was too late to either sign up to eat dinner there, or to go to the market. But at that point, we didn’t care. We ate plain tuna on bread and Pringles for dinner, showered, and tucked our family into bed, thankful to not be in a Kinshasa prison that night. We couldn’t have been more close.

I will say, that in all of the chaos, the representatives from our agency fought valiantly for us. Our body-guard was as charming and friendly as they come, great with the kids, but when someone tried to cross us, his inner monster came out. We needed that monster.

The intensity of the stress of that day, especially being sleep deprived, isn’t one that has gone away quite yet. The memories come back frequently in the darkness of the night.

Just a few days later, our driver was arrested on his way to get us, but with no other explanation. The danger of the Congo was very real. We needed prayers for protection, because clearly, we were facing a fight that wouldn’t end until we boarded the plane to leave Kinshasa.

And certainly, there was more fighting to come.

Our Journey: Gotcha!

After having traveled well over 24 hours to get to the convent, we were exhausted, so sleep came easily in spite of the fact that we were excited about meeting our kids the next day. We needed a basic supply of water, but we managed to get one at the snack area for brushing our teeth for the night and morning.

Our interpreter said that the kids would be brought to St. Anne’s convent the next day, but never said what time. Knowing that the families just prior to us received their kids late in the afternoon, we knew we could spend the morning organizing, planning, and finding someone to shoot video of us meeting our kids. Our interpreter gave us a phone to share with the other couple, and told us she would update us in the morning. But of course, that was on “Africa time,” which we knew meant that we likely wouldn’t hear until the afternoon.

Breakfast was at 7:15 a.m., and we decided to go with our new best friends to the market a block away. The gate of the convent faces the gate of the U.S. Embassy, so we felt pretty confident in the one block walk. We put on our brave faces, and headed past the local vendors to the market, which was like a department store and grocery store combined.

We were browsing the Pringles and Oreos and water, when the phone rang.

The children were at St. Anne’s. In the lobby. Before 9:00 a.m.

WHAT THE WHAT?

We were woefully unprepared. We had no cameras. No video camera or person to record! Our friends called back to St. Anne’s and asked that our children be taken to the snack bar so that we could grab our cameras to capture our gotcha moment.

We bought the water that was in our carts, and headed back down the street to St. Anne’s. As we walked up the front steps, we all realized that our children were just behind the lobby door waiting for us.

No cameras, no video cameras. But it was all okay.

The moment was ours to share with just our kids. Rose was handed to me, and she immediately said, “Hi, mommy” and threw her arms around my neck. Ken went to Emmanuel who was behind the door, and shared a special moment. Then Ken was whisked away by our attorney to take care of paperwork to apply to leave the country with the kids.

Rose was in a tattered organza-like white dress with pink trim, and a white headband with a pink bow. She smiled so easily, chattered endlessly, and giggled contagiously. Emmanuel was more reserved. He had on red shorts and a shirt with a Jamaican flag on it. His smile was slower in coming, but real. Rose was a bit bigger than I thought, and Emmanuel a bit smaller than I had anticipated. They were both super heavy!

We decided to go over and look at the fish in the aquarium in the corner, and just chat. I sat down and held each on one knee and sang to them and told them in their own language that I loved them. I had a few items in my travel purse — a brush with a mirror and a book light. Not exactly what I wanted to present to them, but really, it didn’t matter. We had our own special moment.

The rest of the day was spent playing, eating, laughing and enjoying being a family together. We spent a couple of hours playing on the front lawn of St. Anne’s where the grass was thick and lush. Bubbles, soccer, frisbee, pictures, and more. The children, whose pictures we had been memorizing for months, were finally REAL. We had suspected that Rose was a bit of a diva. We were right. We had suspected that Emmanuel was more shy and reserved. We were right. But the fragments of personality that we had pieced together through pictures were fully blossoming before our eyes.

It was a great gotcha day.

And as it turns out, we really needed that great day to prepare us for the next.

Our Journey: On the Way to DRC

We received our permission to travel on Wednesday, August 8th, and began the furious dash to finish our semesters of teaching, prepare triple copies of our documents, and pack enough clothing and basic food for ourselves and our kids, whom we had never met. In addition, we had over 100 pairs of flip flops collected by our church to take to the orphanage. The list was long, but the light weight flip flops kept our bags under weight. And because we were flying on a “humanitarian mission” we got to each check 2 pieces of luggage for free.

We left for Kinshasa on Sunday, August 12th. We flew through Washington, D.C. where we met another family traveling to go get their children. Then it was quickly off to Brussels, and then on to Kinshasa. I had considerable trouble in Brussels getting my Epi-Pens through security. They wanted to run them through the scanner, but the manufacturer states that it will degrade the epiniphrine, and recommends having it hand inspected instead. The officer refused to hand scan it. He said either it would go through the scanner, or he would confiscate it. I tried to explain that it was very possible that I would die if he did that, especially eating in a country in which I didn’t recognize the foods. I was about to give up, when Ken stepped in and demanded to talk to the supervisor. At first, the officer refused, but he eventually went and talked to the supervisor, who didn’t even come over to us — he approved the Epi-Pens outright. Praise the Lord. (It turns out, I was very fortunate to have it. Peanuts were hidden in dishes, and hazelnuts were served every breakfast.)

We left for Kinshasa, and arrived safely, and then the craziness began. We were able to enter the country with our visas, and found our driver holding a sign for us, and we were then escorted to an area to get our luggage. It was sheer chaos. My new best friend Jenny and I stood back and guarded our carry on luggage, while our husbands wrestled for our checked luggage. There was pushing, shoving, yelling, grabbing. Men jumped up on the center of the luggage carousel and tried to distribute the luggage. In the midst of all of this, Jenny and I lost track of our driver, a police officer helped us for a while, and then another person showed up looking for us. We had trouble getting a cart for our 8 gigantic suitcases and 8 carry-on pieces, but when we finally collected ourselves, our driver, and our interpreter, we realized we had to fit 6 adults and all of the luggage into a very small SUV (I think it was a CRV). We had a very special get-to-know-you well one hour ride to the convent.

The streets were crowded and dusty, but for the most part, I couldn’t really see much of anything. We were completely relieved to make it safely to the convent for one last night of sleep before our gotcha day.

Ready or Not, Here We Come!

We woke up last Saturday morning with a new mission: to apply for our visas.

Money orders, paperwork, addresses and phone numbers of places we are going to stay, more photos, and on and on.

It was a mad dash to get our visas off to the Post Office, and then the familiar feeling began again: we waited.

We knew that we could get our visas as soon as Wednesday, but we knew we had to sign for them, so we made sure that we were home by our usual mail drop-off time: 3:00 p.m.

When Ken pulled into the driveway, his first stop was the mailbox to make sure it was still empty.

Only it wasn’t.

There was a little yellow slip indicating that they had tried to deliver a package, and that we could pick it up on Thursday after 9:00 a.m. Knowing that we couldn’t buy plane tickets or make reservations until we had our visas in our hands, Ken couldn’t take being “yellow slipped.” So he drove to the post office, knowing that it wouldn’t be there yet, but he wanted to see if there was anything that could be done.

At first the postal workers weren’t impressed that he wanted his package, but when they heard why it was so important, they told him that they would call him as soon as the driver was back from his route.

Satisfied, Ken departed for home.

Then he realized that he wasn’t satisfied.

Knowing that the mailman was likely still in our neighborhood, Ken started scouring the streets. When he finally found him on the other side of the neighborhood, he excitedly approached the truck. And then he realized that an excited man rushing toward a mail truck might not be construed in the right way.

So Ken slowed down, pulled out his yellow card and held it up, asking if he could claim his package. The postman recommended he pick it up at the post office the next day. So again, Ken started to explain that we needed the visas to buy plane tickets to pick up our children. He was about to pull out pictures when the postman relented, found our package, and allowed Ken to sign and take it.

Ken was so excited that he almost hugged the postman, but clearly, he did not share Ken’s sense of adventure and enthusiasm.

When Ken arrived home, I met him there, and was able to book our flights and finalize details of our trip. We are headed out soon!

Because of the public nature of this blog and for security reasons, we are going to refrain from posting travel plan specifics here, but if you are interested, please check out my Facebook page. This will likely be my last post until we return with our two kids!

As always, your prayers are appreciated. While we are close, we are not quite there yet. Travel to the DRC is not as simple or safe as other countries, and we need the Lord’s hand of protection as we seek to finish off the spiritual battle over our kids hearts and lives.

Ready or not, here we come!

Celebrating in Jerusalem, Judea, and The Ends of the Earth

If you have known me for long, you know that the Lord has developed a passion in me in three areas: mentoring/teaching PA students, working with people transitioning out of homelessness, and of course orphan care — especially of two orphans in particular. In the same way that Jesus calls us to those around us nearby, in our area, and around our world in the Great Commission, these three areas are what I call my “Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth.”

Jerusalem: Our PA Program celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2012 on Friday night. I wish all of you could know how wonderful, gifted, and godly these graduates are. They are intelligent, compassionate, and motivated. They laugh easily and have learned more in the last 27 months than you can imagine. They are some of the finest people in the world. And even though I shared some of the darkest moments of my life with them, they were quick to encourage and love me in a way that a professor never expects to be loved and encouraged. So watching them walk across the stage in graduation on Friday night, I was reminded of how blessed I am to watch God mold and shape each of them into wonderful PAs who see medicine as ministry. And I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to minister to them, and have them minister to me in return.

Judea: Friday afternoon, I had the chance to attend an open house for The Clinic at Mercury Courts. For several years, Health Advocate and all-around awesome person Traci Patton has been dreaming of creating a convenient option for health care to the residents of this old-hotel-turned-housing-complex just a block from where I work. The residents there have little access to health care, and few transportation options to get to it. So over two years ago, Traci and I began dreaming, brainstorming, thinking through structure and possible partners, writing grants, giving presentations, attending meetings, negotiating, conference calling, and finally opening The Clinic at Mercury Courts. The PA students that I teach will be helping to staff the clinic, and we will continue to do weekly health-related workshops and semi-annual health fairs as we have done in the past. The clinic will be run by a new partner with Mercury Courts, and we are excited about working together to address the healthcare needs of the residents of the housing community, as well as the population that lives in the Murfreesboro Road community.

The Ends of the Earth: Thursday, when I woke, I had a message from a friend from our agency that her childrens’ visas were going to be issued, and that I should call too. Ken called 6 times before he got through, but when he did, he found out that our kids’ visas are going to be issued next week as well. The embassy has completed their investigation and determined that our children qualify to be adopted and come to the United States. That means it’s time to start packing and go get our kids! We’ve applied for our visas, and expect to get them next week, and we’ll be leaving next weekend to go get our kids! We won’t be able to have final confirmation and buy our tickets until we get our visas, but we have tentative plans made for the moment we know we can go!

We are ecstatic! We are frantic! We are exhausted! We are busy packing, planning, rearranging, buying and borrowing. This is already a tremendously busy time in our work schedules (we are leaving just before our finals, and Ken has a whitewater rafting trip and Upward fall sports kickoff) and we are thankful for coworkers who are helping us with our responsibilities (and we’re still looking for more volunteers) so we can go get our kids! They have already waited too long!

Rose and Emmanuel, your wait is almost over! Mommy and Daddy are on their way soon!

It’s been an awesome week in Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth!

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