Saturday, November 15, 2008


Reflecting on the November Tulsa Lighthouse Project trip, I recognize we were blessed with an unusual wealth of good media coverage. This would be nice anywhere, but was most helpful in a new area for the project like Tulsa. November 10, the day after the kids left, the Tulsa World ran a follow-up story about the kids who I thought at the time were likely to be adopted. They highlighted a boy who had also travelled on my July Grand Rapids trip, and I was delighted to have the story be from the perspective of his family-to-be from the Tulsa area. (Tulsa World article, 11/10/08)

November 13, Channel 6 in Tulsa ran a piece on the family who both hosted fourteen-year-old Tatyana (above) and plan to adopt her and her two siblings. As I watched the story, I wondered if Tatyana had any idea about the emotions she has stirred in her new family, and what she has told her younger brother and sister about their new parents and little brother working for them in America.

The scariest part of Halloween for me was a call I received at 1:25 p.m. October 31 asking me to be at the KFAQ office at 2:15 p.m. to appear on The Chris Medlock Show to talk about the Lighthouse Project. This being my first foray into radio, the benefit of the short notice was a lack of time to worry. My husband scrambled for directions while I threw myself together. Thankfully, we didn't get lost, actually arriving in enough time for me to hear Chris on the radio a few minutes before taking my turn. Without my very supportive husband I could never do all the work it takes to coordinate a Lighthouse Project trip, and he sat in a waiting area listening and praying while I was interviewed. At the end, he encouraged me by saying he thought I'd done a very good job. I can only hope he was right, as I have not yet worked up the courage to listen for myself. While I didn't get a lot of time to speak, that made it practically a can't-fail proposition. I hope to have a chance to improve my performance next trip; Chris told me to call him again before the January edition of the Tulsa Lighthouse Project.

When we return to Tulsa for our January 2009 trip, I trust the abundant media opportunities we had for November 2008 will pave the way to finding more host families, and ultimately, more adoptive families for the kids who occupy so much of my heart and thought. Thank you, Lord, for these chances to let Tulsans know about the kids and the right words given to so many of us when opportunities arose.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Time to Say Goodbye

Early Sunday morning the Lighthouse host families met at the airport in Tulsa for a tearful goodbye with the Russian children who’d helped them put faces on the world’s orphan problem. Depending on the source, estimates of the orphan population worldwide range from 30-143 million. While no one person could save them all, I believe I speak for the entire group of host families when I say it was a privilege to help the six children (nine, counting their siblings) whose visit kept us busy the preceding week. Awaiting departure, backpacks were checked and rechecked to ascertain the presence of mementos acquired during the previous week, and notes were compared as the children passed around their photo albums, chronicling just how they had found their way into their own family’s hearts. Lingering hugs and tears, a group photo where the smile words were “Russia” and “Oklahoma” instead of “cheese”, and a somber walk to the security lines to share the last precious seconds of togetherness marked the end of our time with the November Lighthouse children.

After the children were out of sight, Dima’s host mom, who also just happens to be his future adoptive mom, passed out copies of the November 5 Tulsa World. Her sister teaches school and her class receives the paper. They’d taken the section with the election results and left the important part for us: an article written by a reporter so touched by the children and their stories that he wept as left the two-hour interview time on the last day of Vacation Bible School. As he walked out the door of the church, he justified his tears by telling us he’d adopted an older child years before and was “deeply moved”. Having adopted older children myself, I embraced the sentiment.

Anatoly’s host dad offered a prayer for travel safety of the children on their journey back to Russia; safekeeping while they waited in their orphanages; and their prompt return to the families who, with love and anticipation in their hearts, would be working here to adopt them. Any eye dry after the last wave to the children as they disappeared from view was no longer dry at the end of the prayer, and we stood there at “Amen” unknowing what to do. A farewell seemed appropriate so I reminded them I’d be back in January with the seven children left “home” in their orphanage due to illness, along with others also awaiting their chance at a family.

Three children, along with their three siblings unable to travel, had definite adoptive families. The other three had families prayerfully considering them, though that number decreased to two later that afternoon when a mom told me she and her husband had decided to make one of these kids part of their family. While these two more children wait, I pray that the decision is quick and in the affirmative.

After all the work, prayers, e-mails, miles, phone calls, and late nights pondering what else might be done to find families, the kids were gone and the time for doing was past. The kids had entered their families’ hearts and, for them, there would be no going back to life as it was before. Leaving the airport that morning, the paradoxical sensations of emptiness and fullness dueled. These dear ones were gone, yes, but with hope for the future. On the road heading back to Michigan, a plane soared overhead and I thought it must be our kids, off to tell their siblings and friends the hope they’d found in America. As they’d been blessed, I’d been blessed, too, blessed enough to think I’d do it again, and soon.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


One of my favorite parts of coordinating Lighthouse trips is getting to see the transformation children undergo during their stays in the United States with their host families. It doesn't matter what state the child goes to; what matters is the compassion and special attention they receive on their trip. On the Tulsa November trip, that transformation was best exemplified by Andrei, a child initially at risk of not even being able to make the journey.

Andrei, age twelve, is doing well in fifth grade, where his favorite subject is math. He knows the English alphabet, which he learned at one of the orphanages he's lived in. He likes cats. His favorite food is milk soup, and he also likes barley. He would like to have a career as a driver, and he wishes for a cell phone. He knows some prayers taught to him by believers who came to his orphanage.

This sweet boy had two prior opportunities to visit America on Lighthouse trips but was unable to actually come either time because no host family could be found. Thankfully, we found a host family in Tulsa so at long last Andrei had the chance to at least be seen in America. While here, he visited a pediatric ophthamologist and was diagnosed with ptosis, or a droppy eyelid. The doctor said a minor outpatient cosmetic surgery easily available in Tulsa would correct this. Andrei's vision was corrected to 20/20 with the cute glasses he got. His host mom told me that on his ride home after getting his glasses, for the first time he didn't want to watch a movie in the car since he was so excited to be SEEING outside!
Andrei has a family currently praying about adopting him. They were able to spend time with him while he was in Tulsa, and if the sweet pictures I saw were any indication, it appeared they hit it off together. While I am happy that Andrei is now able to see the world clearly with his glasses, I'd be over the moon thinking about the life he'd see through the lenses of a family's love. I was deeply touched by this boy and I can't stop thinking about him or praying for him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


During trip week, I love hearing from proud host families about how their child is blossoming with the individual attention they’re being given. I received the first such report Saturday night at a bonfire hosted by the family who initially planned to host Anatoly. The host mom of Losha hurried up to me immediately after I arrived and enthused about how he had spent the day. The family was at a soccer game when Losha looked at her and said in English, “I want to play soccer.” When she replied, “You can play later,” he persisted, “I want to play soccer now!” She decided to get him a uniform, after which he proceeded to score his team’s only goal. I exulted when I saw she was as proud as any mother could be in relating the story. Last night at the cultural program the kids put on for the host families and the community, Losha was asked during the question and answer session about how he felt about scoring his team’s one goal. His answer was that he scores goals all the time in Russia so this was just an ordinary goal!

Sunday, Anatoly achieved a childhood milestone when he learned to ride a bike. Most American children would take parental assistance for granted, but Anatoly had an unusual helper for an orphan: his host dad. So smitten was he with this new experience that he ran outside to his bike while still in his pajamas Monday morning. He’s still a bit wobbly, but with more help and guidance from his host family, Anatoly can learn to be steady and sure.

At last night’s program, the children performed so sweetly. I wondered if they knew how their love of their music touched, or how their bravery in reciting a poem surprised, or how the honesty in their answers charmed. While I could not understand the songs’ words, the children sang like they meant them. Ten-year-old Dima recited two poems but stumbled slightly on a third. I hoped he knew it didn’t matter; the audience loved him anyway. Fourteen-year-old Tatyana said that when she returned to her orphanage, she would tell her brother and sister of how well her host family took care of her. I hoped she would be able to tell them that she’d met a family, and they’d have to be patient just a little while longer while they waited for Mom and Dad to come.

The host families shared their love of their children with the audience pictorially. An immensely poignant montage of photos from the week’s events was compiled by a young adult Korean adoptee. She’d flown all the way from Rhode Island because she wanted to speak to the audience about how her own adoption had blessed her. From all the sniffling I heard, I imagined there was not a dry eye in the house, except among the children who found humor in our Cyrillic renderings of their names.

At the end of the evening, a 600-cookie reception was the backdrop for my Guatemalan daughter to play “Heart and Soul” with a lady who fell in love that night. While she played the duet with my daughter, a photo taken of the moment showed that her heart had really been given to a young orphan boy, at whom she looked with smiling eyes and loving face. I’d like to think it was the smile of a mother, and I wondered if that was something he’d seen before. Time will tell the story, but for now, I have hope. Maybe he does, too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Welcome to Tulsa!

I have been following a blog myself recently. It is being written by a family who is traveling in Russia currently; they are completing the adoption of a thirteen-year-old girl they hosted and fell in love with on my March Grand Rapids trip. (They are being reunited with their daughter in the photo on the right.) In it, they talked about the pleasure they derived on the train trip from their daughter’s region back to Moscow when they saw two Tulsa Lighthouse Project children board the train with them, and the remaining four boarding at various stops along the twelve-hour journey. It was easy for them to imagine that what they were seeing now was what their daughter had experienced shortly before she came into their lives.

I loved reading this before I met the Tulsa children this evening. It gave me a parent’s eye glimpse of the journey these children make toward our homes and, ultimately, our hearts. For these newly adoptive parents, it allowed them to envision a time in their daughter’s life prior to them. That’s a challenge adoptive parents must master: recognizing their son or daughter had an existence before them, outside of them. For parents of children adopted at older ages, there is a lot of history before we come into the picture. I hope this experience of my friends seeing the Lighthouse kids on their way to America gave them a few extra days of history with their daughter before they could be there for her.

As coordinator of the trip these children were traveling on, it thrilled me to know someone who cared had seen these precious children start their trip. Tonight a crowd who cared saw the end of the long journey to Tulsa when they arrived at Tulsa International Airport. Future parents of these kids will appreciate that people who cared saw the beginning and end of the journey. There were balloons everywhere, welcome signs, a stuffed dog as large as Anatoly who received it, and tears in most eyes as we saw the nervous expectance of kids who wondered who in this crowd might be there for them. Several families not hosting came to experience the event, as did a television camera from Tulsa’s CBS station, Channel 6. (Channel 6 story, 10/31/08) Tatyana, age 14 and trying to put her best foot forward for her two siblings who didn’t travel but are counting on her to make a good impression, seemed so sweet as she went immediately to her host family. When I saw her leave the airport, she was hand in hand with her host parents’ son. Alexei S., a seasoned veteran of my July Grand Rapids trip, was all smiles as he patiently waited through all the introductions to find out who would have the pleasure of hosting him this time. Anatoly was tired from the 36 hours he’d spent getting here and crying over the loss of his backpack. His host family had gotten word only an hour before the arrival that they would be hosting him. The original host family, aware of the devastation the other family felt when Alexei P. was unable to travel due to the dysentery outbreak, selflessly stepped aside to allow them the opportunity to host Anatoly, in a move they hoped would increase his chances of being adopted this trip. How could one not hope this gesture would be rewarded by Anatoly’s adoption?

Every time kids arrive, I am struck by the way they leave with people they don’t know, who speak a language they haven’t learned, into the dark without any idea where they are going or how long it will take to get there. I marvel at their bravery, but can’t help but wonder if they risk so willingly because, remembering the life they’ve left behind, they know they have nothing to lose.