Friday, October 31, 2008

Remembering the Kids Who Wait

This is a difficult entry to write, as the end of our Tulsa November Lighthouse Project has come sooner for seven of the children scheduled to arrive this evening. One orphanage on the trip, represented by seven children, is under a medical quarantine due to an outbreak of dysentery. The head of the Ministry of Health of the specific region of Russia is not allowing any of the children from that orphanage scheduled to travel to come; thus, there will be only six children on the trip. The children affected are Anton, Alexei P., Lima, Denis, Ekaterina, Nikolai, and Dima P. It would be hard to overstate how sad this makes me, as the children are terribly disappointed. Additionally, the families have thrown themselves into preparing for this trip so enthusiastically that it was devastating to have to deliver this news to them. These families are still true host families, as they’ve been hosting these children in their hearts. Please keep these disappointed and sick children, as well as their Tulsa families, in your prayers.

As these children have passports, plane tickets, and visas good for six months, my plan is to return to Tulsa in January for another trip, hopefully with additional children. These seven should be able to visit Tulsa at that time. Each host family who planned to host one of these kids will, of course, have first priority to host the same child in January, assuming the child is in condition to make the trip. Exact dates will be announced, though it appears the trip will be the early part of the month.

I am experiencing much emotional dissonance: on the one hand, great sadness for the children and families who will not meet each other in November, and hope for the children God has allowed to actually come. I am cognizant that the six remaining children deserve to have a wonderful trip where they find their families, but behind my necessary enthusiasm for the trip as it now is, I remember with great emptiness and sorrow the seven children I thought would be here. I will smile and work vigorously for the trip, but please know I have not forgotten the kids who wait. That said, I am obligated to switch gears and work toward finding families for the kids we’ll meet tonight.

But I have not forgotten…

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ready to Go!

Today brought news that our trip is complete: Denis has his host family! I am praising God that this final piece of the puzzle has been put into place. While the prayers for host families for all children were graciously answered, there is much prayer needed for each child’s forever family to be found. Here are two more of the children I’m praying for tonight:

Andrei (left) is a twelve-year-old who was proud to recite the English alphabet on video. His favorite food is milk soup. Like many boys in Russia, Andrei wants to drive for a career. He was on the master list for two previous Lighthouse Project trips, but as a host family never chose him, he had been unable to travel prior to Tulsa. This time, a host family picked Andrei, so this sweet boy finally has his turn to seek his place in a family. A generous pediatric ophthalmologist in Tulsa has offered to do a complete ocular evaluation on him, so any family considering making Andrei their son would have a realistic picture of challenges he might face. After the struggle to find Andrei’s host family, I am praying that his adoptive family senses God’s call on this first trip so his wait can end without further delay.

My first six Lighthouse Project trips have run in my home state of Michigan. Since the Lighthouse Project has been such an important part of my family’s life for the past few years, it’s not surprising that some of the people I speak with most have wanted to participate. My sister-in-law lives in the Tulsa area; her desire to host a child led to my decision to run a trip in Oklahoma. Her family is eagerly awaiting the arrival of eleven-year-old Anton (right). Anton’s teacher says he is one of the best students in his grade. He knows many poems and has visited the art museum in his orphanage town. When asked what he wanted in the future, he said just a brother, sister, mom, and dad. I’m praying that my sister-in-law and her family will know the same joy that has so thoroughly motivated me: being part of a child’s life in a way that leads him to a future filled with hope and promise.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Seven Days and Counting

There is always an extra air of excitement once we hear the final trip dates for the Lighthouse Project children. All the phone conversations, e-mails, mailings, and prayers for the trip culminate in the kids’ arrival, and when we have airline tickets, arrival cannot be long away. Good news came in threes yesterday: Nikolai’s host family was found, dates were finalized, and Denis was put on the trip even though we have not yet found his host family. The kids will fly into Tulsa on American Airlines flight 485 at 10:20 p.m. on Friday, October 31. Families interested in meeting the children when they arrive at the airport are welcome to do so.

An edge of nervous anticipation hangs over our group as the host families wait the last few moments before meeting the child with whom they will share their hearts and their homes for the next ten days. With balloons, teddy bears, and welcome signs written in Russian, a group photo is a must. Some families expect to be a bridge for another family to meet and adopt the child they host, while others see this as the first day of forever with a child they believe is their son or daughter. I’ve not tired of this moment after six trips; this moment rewards the previous months’ efforts.

The Russian children are always the last ones to the arrival hall. Finally, I recognize the kids I’ve grown fond of and known just in orphanage photos and short video clips. Most kids are smaller than I expect, and all are thinner. What strikes me most, though, is not how little they are or how lightly they travel, but that they have no one. My children don’t cross the street without me, but these children cross the world alone, looking for that someone who will protect them, cherish them, nurture them, love them. Is this too unreasonable a request? After a trip filled with family and fun, I know they return to their orphanages, their “homes”, and no mom or dad will greet them at the door with a hug and “I missed you! How was your trip?” I understand again when I see the children at the airport for the first time: my task is urgent. I will attack it with all the gusto and creativity I can muster. Someone is counting on me and I will do my best not to fail them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lighthouse Project, Take Two

I’ve coordinated seven Lighthouse Project trips to date. What keeps me coming back, again and again, to do the hundreds of hours of work it takes to make one trip happen? As an adoptive mother of two Russian children, I have been to the orphanage some of the children come from. I’ve seen orphans at the train stations who aged out of the system, never having found that forever family of their own. My friend’s son, adopted at age 10, tells of how whenever he saw a stranger drive up to his orphanage, he wondered if they were coming to be his mom or dad. I’ve seen the difference between kids arriving at the airport nervous and unsure for their Lighthouse trip, and the same kids a few months later, arriving home holding hands with their adoptive parents, confident in the knowledge that they are not orphans anymore. Seeing the joy these kids have received when they found love has blessed me immeasurably.

On my previous Lighthouse Project trips, about 70% of the children who traveled have found adoptive families. One of the most frequently asked questions in conversations with potential host families is what happens to children who are not adopted? With the Lighthouse Project, kids who don’t find the family God intended for them on a first trip are generally be able to come again on a second, or even third, trip. Several children on past trips I’ve coordinated have found their family on their second trip to America. Three children traveling to Tulsa are on their second trip; I am prayerful that their third trip here will be hand in hand with their new family.

Katya (top left) is a bubbly 14. She has lived in an orphanage since about three months of age. On her first trip to the States, she enjoyed horseback riding, visiting the zoo, and picking out her own flavor of ice cream at the ice cream shop. This sweet girl loves to read the Russian Bible she received in America, and she told the Lighthouse Project translator that she most likes to read about Adam and Eve. I am seeking a special family for Katya; she has mobility challenges most likely stemming from a mild case of cerebral palsy. Her future in Russia is even bleaker than for the typical orphan.

Anatoly (right) is seven; he is a smiley boy who likes to help and was very kind and generous to the children of his previous host family. He loves pie, going barefoot, and the color red.

Losha (bottom left) is 12. He had a fantastic trip in July to Michigan, and especially liked going to the amusement park there. He likes sports and would like to be a professional skier; his school group won every cross country skiing event they entered last year. Like many boys in Russian orphanages, Losha can knit and crochet. He also dreams of a family in America choosing him for their own.

None of these children have been forgotten just because they did not meet their family last trip. While my goal has always been 100% of the children being adopted, attaining that figure has been elusive to date. One of my favorite things about the Lighthouse Project is knowing that the kids who don’t find families can come again if they want to. Until I reach my goal of every child being adopted, I know we always have the hope of next time. That’s one of the great treasures bestowed by the Lighthouse Project: giving hope to those children who still wait at the windows, wondering if each car that pulls up might be the mom and dad they’ve dreamed of.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tulsa, Here We Come!

The Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project is delighted to announce our Tulsa, Oklahoma, trip kids will be arriving at the end of next week! Several Russian orphans will be staying with Tulsa-area families for ten days before they return to their orphanages, hopefully having met a family who wants to adopt them.

Nikolai (left) wants to go to America. He likes drawing, physical education, and dreams of being a builder when he grows up. Denis (right), a shy boy with a sweet smile, promised his interviewer to look at her, and kept his end of the bargain. He enjoys physical education and making crafts, even making shoes at his orphanage. Both boys, aged 13, still need host families or they will be unable to travel.

In their mid- to late teens children in Russian orphanages age out of the system, frequently turning to lives of crime or prostitution to support themselves. Most adoptive families desire children as young as possible. Children ages two or three are already considered “older” by adoption standards and, therefore, hard to place. Children the age of Denis or Nikolai have little hope that a family will ever travel to Russia to find and adopt them. Recognizing this, the Lighthouse Project brings Russian orphans ages 7-15 to the United States for ten-day hosting trips, partnering this time with Grace Baptist Church of Owasso. While here, children stay with host families, participate in a Russian-language Vacation Bible School, receive a Russian Bible, and enjoy family activities and attention not available in an orphanage. When families spend time with a child, they are much more open to considering adoption of that child. The program has been successful in its mission: since 1998, the forty Lighthouse Project trips to several states have helped more than 300 Russian orphans find families. The vast majority of these children would not have been adopted had they remained in their orphanages waiting for a family to come looking for them.

There are eleven other children on the trip, each with their own compelling story. In the coming days, you’ll hear about each of the kids coming and have a chance to follow them on the journey we are praying leads them to a forever family. The children will present a program for the community during the stay, and they would love to meet you there! For more information on the Tulsa trip, Russian adoption, or to host Denis or Nikolai, please call Tulsa Lighthouse Project Coordinator Becky De Nooy at (616) 245-3216 or visit .

Get ready, Tulsa! Here we come!