Sunday, December 21, 2008

Meet Anton, Ekaterina, Lima, Denis, Dmitry, Eduard, Ivan, Vladislav, Larisa, Nikolai, Alexei, Anton, Vladimir, and Sergei! (Whew...)

January trip progress was boosted yesterday afternoon when the last child traveling to Tulsa found a host family. It’s a delight to introduce the children who take on Tulsa in under three weeks:

Anton M. is eleven and staying with my sister- and brother-in-law. He would have travelled in November but for the quarantine of his orphanage. My nephew, also eleven, anticipates Anton sharing a day with him at school. What a thrill it will be for me to see these kids meet!

Ekaterina, fourteen, visited Grand Rapids in July. I loved her sweet smile and determination to make her trip count despite her mild cerebral palsy. While I’m not much of a crier, I had to blink back tears when she mentioned in a recently updated DVD that her favorite book to read was the Bible I’d given her in July.

Cheery Lima, eleven, dreams of seeing her biological sister Lisa who has already been adopted in America. Lisa lives in Michigan and is the daughter of a dear friend of mine; her mom told me she has been asking everyone she meets if they would adopt her sister. Because Lima loves to help people, she hopes to be a doctor. People at her orphanage call Lima “the sunshine girl”.

Denis, thirteen, makes shoes at his orphanage and enjoys taking care of a turtle which lives there.

Dmitry, thirteen, names shoemaking Denis as his best friend. In what must be a reflection on both boys, Dmitry says he likes Denis because he’s a good student. Dmitry would like to be a “worker” when he grows up.

Violinist Eduard, thirteen, calls Paganini his favorite composer and famous Russian writer Alexander Pushkin his favorite poet. He is a good student who likes to build things with Legos with his friends.

Ivan, twelve, is hearing impaired. Holding his hearing aid in his hand, he read lips during his interview. Describing himself as peaceful, industrious, and flexible, Ivan told his interviewer that while many teachers like to bring him home for the holidays, he worries he will hurt someone’s feelings if he gets more than one invitation. When poetry is needed for a special orphanage occasion, Ivan writes it.

Vladislav, twelve, and Larisa, ten, are siblings. While I know Larisa is devoted to her brother, it has saddened me that I have no further information with which to promote them.

Nikolai, thirteen, had his dream of seeing what America was like interrupted by the orphanage quarantine of November. In January the Lighthouse Project fulfills that wish when Nikolai visits a family whose oldest son shares his passion for drawing and his dream of becoming a builder.

The teacher of Alexei, ten, says he tries hard in everything. Alexei helps fix broken things at his orphanage, though he was quick to add he does not break things himself! He dreams of either becoming an architect or a toy repairman. He recently won first place in an art competition with his drawing of a man building a house.

Thoughtful Anton B., thirteen, might be the next Baryshnikov according to the Lighthouse Project’s Russian coordinator. He is sensitive and enjoys writing poetry. Anton told his interviewer that because God tells us to forgive and be kind, he tries hard to do so.

Vladimir, eight, loves homework, and calls English one of his favorite subjects. Vladimir will celebrate a birthday the day after his arrival in Tulsa; I hope he will receive the remote-controlled car he wishes to have. In my favorite interview moment, Vladimir sang his best-loved song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in English. Will we hear a live rendition at our evening program?

Second grader Sergei, eight, would like a lion for a pet. When asked a day before the most recent Russian elections what he would like to be, he exclaimed, “Vladimir Putin!”

While these fourteen children have a history of loss and challenge, they have not been robbed of the dreams and aspirations of youth. And with their upcoming chance to find a forever family, they have hope on their side in Tulsa. The host families have various goals in opening their homes to these kids; some aspire to adopt, some await God’s leading, and some plan to be a bridge for another family to meet their host child. Regardless of their intent, I applaud the faith and love that leads each to step forward and risk their heart to make the world a better place for children who would otherwise have little realistic hope of a happy life.

Welcome Home! Welcome Home!

This past week two children from my July Grand Rapids trip arrived home. Sergei, fifteen, whose Monday night arrival neither snow nor time could make me miss, was overwhelmed when he saw all the people waiting for him in the airport. Standing next to me and waving a tiny Russian flag was Lidia, thirteen, a veteran of my March trip. She arrived home less than a month prior and was already making a charming attempt at explaining the proceedings to me in English. On Friday, Maria, fourteen, got home hours after schedule when the Michigan snow caused the cancellation of her flight from Detroit to Grand Rapids. Stranded 150 miles from home at the end of a 5000-mile journey, some determined friends and family braved the weather and a mild fender bender to rescue the new family and deliver them home. There are myriad reminders why I work with the Lighthouse Project, but seeing newly-hopeful kids coming home and standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the welcoming committee with a girl not yet home a month must be among the best.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's a Boy!

Having coordinated several Lighthouse Project trips, there is no thrill for me like receiving e-mail updates from Russia, sent by families who are completing adoptions for kids I’ve had here. My favorite correspondences are the ones sent by new parents that start something like, “It’s a boy!” or, “It’s a girl!” immediately after they complete their court process in front of a Russian judge who approves the adoption and declares them a legal family. I experience a cacophony of emotion as I read those lines: nostalgia for our own moment a few years ago, when nothing but hope stretched before us; melancholy while considering what the child will leave behind; pride at having been a part of bringing a family together; joy at a new beginning for a previously hopeless child; pensivity at the prospect of challenges I know lie before my friends; and even a twinge of envy at the excitement and expectation that accompany adoption. It is not outside the scope of this blog about the Lighthouse Project to look at the end of the road, or at least the end of the beginning, when a new family is finally rewarded with a son or daughter birthed physically years ago and half a world away, but born to an American family through a dream of the heart.

A good parent would never admit to having a favorite child; a good Lighthouse Project coordinator is bound by no such decorum. In July of 2008 a boy a few days shy of his fifteenth birthday traveled on my Grand Rapids trip. He was added to the trip at the last moment; the project director flattered me when she told me she’d added him to the trip without consulting me, hoping she had not acted out of turn! As director it was not out of turn; having met him, I would have forgiven her if it was. Sergei brought an unusual expectation in his eyes, a smile that owned his face, and an attitude so winning it defied you not to like him. It was hopeless: I crumbled at this defiance and Sergei ensconced himself as my favorite child ever to travel on a Lighthouse trip.

For finding an adoptive family, though, age and gender were not on his side, and it worried me. With two days remaining before the kids' return to Russia, I had high hopes but no leads. That night at the evening program that is historically my best avenue in finding adoptive families, one family was cajoled into attending “for support” by a hosting friend. After the kids performed in their typically touching manner, the supportive family rather tentatively approached me with questions about a list of three kids that had piqued their interest. My heart leaped when Sergei’s name was mentioned. While it is tempting to claim I knew then I was speaking to Sergei’s parents, honesty requires disclosure that it was more circuitous than that. But in the end, both the supported and the supporters decided to adopt children from the July trip. Friends before but with a deeper bond forged now, both families are in Russia together as I write, proud new parents of teenagers.

So it was with a more acute sense of pride, joy, and envy than usual that last Friday I received my latest “It’s a boy!” alert. Sergei’s family posted a few photos of their trip; the best was a thousand-words shot that showed his “Poppy” helping him with his tie before their court appearance. For many boys, this lesson by their father would be a rite of passage into proper attire; for Sergei, this was a passage into his family. The expression of admiration on Sergei’s face exemplified the emerging connection between Sergei and his dad; the tie was demonstrative of the importance of the court moment when they would become family in fact; and the lesson from Poppy “Exhibit A” that parenthood is a series of seemingly mundane lessons on the path to responsible adulthood that all children require. The photo said Sergei has parents who care how he grows up. Somebody has come alongside him. He is not rudderless. He is not an orphan.

Congratulations, Kevin and Kelly!

Welcome to your family, Sergei!