Friday, January 16, 2009


Lima (LEE-muh) has a biological sister, Lisa, who was adopted several years ago by one of my dearest friends in adoption. Lisa now lives in Michigan with her family. Desperate for Lima to find a family of her own, she has been asking everyone her family meets if they would please adopt Lima. It’s challenging to find an adoptive family in Michigan for an eleven-year-old Russian girl visiting Tulsa for a few days, but Lisa is persevering anyway.

The first morning Lima was in Tulsa her host mom asked what she’d like to eat. In a charade with Lima “holding” a cone and pretending to lick it, her host mom deduced she’d like chocolate ice cream for breakfast, so the entire family shared a chilly meal. At Wal-Mart shopping for clothes, Lima chose a dress she thought a princess would wear and unseasonal high-heeled sandals. Her host mom, whom Lima called the Russian word for “Doll” when she forgot her name, melted at the joy with which the sandals were shown and could hardly say "nyet." At home, Lima enjoyed bubble baths, ate second and thirds of everything, and was transformed into Princess Lima with a flower girl dress and tiara. In an interview, the translator said Lima likes math. When Doll asked Lima if this was really true she was surprised to hear, “I like math, but I like bunnies better!”

Several days into the visit, Lisa called Lima and the two sisters heard each others’ voices for the first time in five years. Lisa had forgotten most of her Russian, and Lima’s English was limited, but Lima knew who Lisa was. She spent the rest of the day smiling and saying “I love you!” in honor of this conversation. Lisa sent a gift she’d made small enough to fit in the one carry-on Lima will be allowed to return to Russia with. Lima was expecting this package and made a point of asking every Russian speaker to ask Doll when her “big surprise” was coming. Much to Doll’s relief the surprise arrived in the mail this afternoon in time for Sunday’s morning return, containing two tiny dolls, a handkerchief embroidered by Lisa, a drawing, a letter, and a photo sheet. When Doll’s mother arrived, Lima ran to her yelling, “Babushka! Babushka!” pointing to both her own eyes and Lisa’s eyes in the photos. Lisa is a beautiful girl and the similarities were unmistakable.

Yesterday Lima went to the dentist. Through a translator Lima explained that she fell when she was little and hurt her jaw; consequently, her teeth are growing in very crooked. When she confided in the translator the reason she believed she was ugly and deformed, Doll begged to differ. The dentist said her smile could be corrected easily enough with braces. About 50% of children in America need braces, so Lima is no different than most, except she doesn’t have a mom or dad to provide her dental care or reassurance that she is beautiful when she doubts it.

Most crucially, Lima has a heart that is kind and good. She loves to help and aspires to be a doctor. While this is an unlikely occupation for the child the orphanage staff calls the “sunshine girl”, Doll thinks she’ll be a huge blessing for a family, adding, “She has been to ours.”

Still Waiting

I have a heavy heart today for four children, since I have no leads and no ideas. There are other children I am not confident have adoptive families, though I have significant leads. These kids still wait:
Nikolai, age 13

Nikolai is in 7th grade. He likes physical education and likes drawing. He would like to be a builder some day. He has a best friend whom he appreciates for his reliability and trustworthiness. Nikolai's one wish is to go to America to see what it's like here.

Anton, age 13

Anton is doing well in sixth grade; math and Russian are his favorite subjects. His favorite color is black; his favorite season is summer. He is able to crochet anything. Anton speaks a little English. He would like to be a truck driver and have a family. He believes in God, and told his interviewer that God tells us to forgive and be kind. Because of this, Anton tries to be kind. Anton amazed his host family his first day here with the swan he carved from an apple.

Dmitri, age 13

Dmitry is in 6th grade. He especially enjoys art classes and drawing. He likes the color black. Winter is his favorite season because the new year comes and children get presents. He likes to eat potatoes and would like to have a cat. He likes his best friend, Denis because Denis is a good student. Dmitry would like to be a worker when he grows up. He has worked hard in America to keep his things organized and neat. His host family loves his great attitude and how he is always ready to go. His host family gave Dmitry a one dollar bill which he treasures, taking it with him everywhere he goes. They ached at last Tuesday’s evening program to leap up and tell the audience what a great kid he is. He was so proud to see his photo in the evening program brochure.

Lima, age 11

Lima enjoys math in her third grade class. Her favorite season is summer because her orphanage sends kids to camp where they can swim. She likes fairy tales; her favorite is a story about three pigs. Lima is friendly and talkative, and she likes the color yellow; the orphanage social worker calls her the "sunshine girl"! Lima likes to help and receive attention. She would like to be a doctor some day because she wants to help people feel well. Her biological sister has been adopted by an American family; Lima dreams of seeing her again if she gets a chance to return to America. She was able to speak to her sister on the phone Wednesday and she couldn't stop smiling or saying, "I love you!" afterward. Lima’s sister has been asking everyone her family meets in Michigan if they would adopt her sister, since she knows what a blessing it is to have a family. She wants her biological sister to have this same blessing.

If you know of anyone who might be interested in any of these children, please contact me at (616) 245-3216; the children return home to Russia early Sunday, January 18. We are getting down to the wire, but it is not yet too late!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mud Slinging

The January Lighthouse Project suffered a lamentable lack of big-time media coverage in Tulsa in its early stages. While smaller newspapers ran stories based on press releases I’d written, we never had the break-through media moment we got in November. I arrived in Tulsa one day early hopeful, I suppose you’d call it, for an invitation to the Chris Medlock Show as in November. Maybe he’d read my blog and felt miffed that I referenced the fifty-five minute advance notice I’d received then because this time, in spite of repeated and impassioned pleas, I got no notice and wasn’t invited at all. The day of the kids’ arrival I sent releases to all local network news television stations inviting them to the airport. There was disappointment that night at the news cameras being no-shows, but disappointment transformed into full-blown despondency when I heard a camera had been there waiting in the wrong area for an hour, leaving without ever seeing us. The cameraman could not have been more apologetic; still I couldn’t help wondering if the missed coverage would cost a child a family. Pounding out press releases until the wee hours of morning, I puzzled over what to submit to the Tulsa World. My submission should have been written several days before, but absent fresh material the paper was unlikely to write another article after the two in November. Inspiration arrived fashionably late the day before the kids, so it was gratifying to learn the World would write a story on Saturday’s ball game based on the updated release. On Sunday a well-written article came out two paragraphs short: both evening program and contact information were omitted. I begged the World to correct the oversight in a short, without result.

While I believe God controls all things, that does not negate human responsibility, and the failure to deliver saddled me with a doom-ish discomfiture unusual for an eternal optimist. With a resourceful and persistent streak running through my core, I grab straws with abandon and subscribe wholeheartedly to the “throw enough mud at the wall and some of it will stick” theory. With viable options and time running out, I prayed a desperate prayer and my mud throwing metastasized to mudslinging in a frantic effort to get the word out about Tuesday’s program.

God heard my prayer and the tide rolled as decisively as it had ebbed prior. Sunday afternoon ORU’s Coach Finkbeiner, about whom the World article had been written, was booked to appear on a Monday state-wide sports show by a reporter touched by the truncated story. On Monday as the kids mixed with a local homeschool group, the station which had missed our airport festivities set up a camera and filmed a story for Monday’s evening news. Online that afternoon an invitation arrived to interview on the Pat Campbell morning show in Tulsa during Tuesday morning drive-time. Next day, having dragged myself out of bed almost two hours early, sleepiness briefly tied my tongue and Pat asked me about the two kids I knew least about, creating a few slightly awkward moments. Over all though, I was pleased enough with my second stab at radio that I summoned the fortitude to listen to a few archived minutes. I was immensely pleased by the multiple references to the evening program and our contact information; Pat also posted photos and thumbnail write-ups about the kids. (Hear hour 3, Pat Campbell Show Tuesday, January 13, 2009.) Country station KVOO was in the same building; on the way out Pat introduced me to another morning show host who had rebuffed my earlier requests for time, and we taped a four-minute interview clip to be played during the rest of the week. I arrived late for VBS, oversaw the evening program practice, and then tore out in the middle of a five vehicle caravan to our next gig, a singing and interview appearance on OklaTravelNet. A live, web-based program about events worth attending in Oklahoma, the connection was that Tuesday night’s evening program was the place to see and be seen in the Sooner state. Though this association was a bit tenuous, the five children who went sang preciously and enjoyed being on “television.”

This concentrated flurry of media attention after my lapse in faith and subsequent prayers reminded me that God does care for orphans, more than anyone could, and He will not allow their cries to go unheard. I believe that.

Now could somebody please clean these walls?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Saturday Bits and Pieces

Bit observations, Day One:

Saturday found most of the Lighthouse Project kids at Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center to cheer on the women’s basketball team, coached by birthday boy Vladimir’s host dad. The ORU Golden Eagles rolled out the red carpet for us, gifting us fifty-five comp tickets, welcoming the kids to center court during halftime for introductions, and inviting Vladimir and Eduard to the floor to participate in a time-out game of catching thrown rubber chickens in a bucket. While a victory would have been icing on the cake, we enjoyed the spectacle nonetheless. The game whetted the kids’ appetites for shooting hoops, which we sated in the practice gym while awaiting the arrival of the Tulsa World reporter covering our story. After interviews and a brief photo shoot the group dispersed and Vladimir was off to likely his first birthday party, thrown in honor of his ninth. Parties and chickens, both thrown for Vladimir in a single day…

I tried some Russian on Eduard at the game, but his English answers were proficient enough that I fought an urge to hide that my knowledge of his mother tongue was not. When volunteers were sought for the chicken game, he leaped from his seat with a gusto that ensured he’d be picked. Eduard caught eleven chickens in thirty seconds.

On the way to an outing Saturday happy Alexei of red helium balloon fame burst into tears. His host family, who’d endured two extra months of waiting to host him when his orphanage was stricken with the dysentery quarantine before the November trip, tried to console him but couldn’t understand the mercurial change. During their translator home visit, they found out the poor boy’s distress stemmed from his fear that he was being returned to the airport for not being good enough. His hosts’ “babushka” jumped to her feet and embraced him, and the family reassured him how they loved having him in their home. I wondered if it would comfort him to know how distraught they were when I had to tell them the day before the November trip departure he was unable to travel, and they’d have to wait until January.

When I called Ekaterina’s host mom in the morning for an update, she enthused, “She’s precious!” Ekaterina noticed carrots being peeled in the kitchen, reached for the knife, and polished off the job herself. After the game the translator and chaperone visited her hosts’ home; I went along as a hanger-on. Ekaterina told us her best friend at the orphanage is a “home girl”, so-called because her biological mother visits her occasionally. Ekaterina exuded a reflected glory in being in good with a home girl, as those with even minimal parental involvement are classified in the higher echelons of orphanage social strata. I found this revelation especially sobering, that a child could ache for a family so sorely that mere association with another child whose own mother visits a few times yearly would offer solace.

So ends Day One lacking enough fodder for a cohesive blog entry, but providing sufficient material to give incentive for one thousand more Lighthouse Project trips.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tulsa at Last!

If waiting for a delayed flight at the airport can be enjoyable, it happened last night in Tulsa. The kids’ flight from Moscow went through Chicago; their legendary winter weather had threatened early in the day to cancel the connecting flight. With many people praying, by mid-afternoon the weather had cleared sufficiently for us gather at Tulsa International Friday night. Weather delayed the flight enough, though, that we waited an additional hour for the group. The patience and flexibility shown by the throng of 90 or so blessed this harried coordinator, and demonstrated requisite traits for any family planning an international adoption. While host families usually make airport welcome signs, it’s a treat to see the creative messages (not that I can read them) and the different takes on what a Russian welcome sign should look like. One young family with infant twins, present just to support the kids and the project, braved the wait with goodie bags for each young traveler, and another distributed Tulsa t-shirts. With the large crowd, balloons, flags, foreign-language signs, and excited din, our festive gathering drew curious questions from passersby and a coveted opportunity to tell more people about the kids, their visit, and the mission Lighthouse families share this week.

The Lighthouse kids are usually the last off the plane, but not this time. A security guard tells our oversized group to make a path for other passengers to get through, creating a gauntlet of signs and hosts straining to catch a first glimpse of their child for the week. We clap when our faith turns to sight, and kids and families are efficiently matched by names on signs. After the lengthy anticipation, the poignant awkwardness of the meeting surprises anew. It’s understandable: two days of travel by plane, train, and automobile; a nine-hour time zone change; the late hour; an alien language; the hoopla our friendly welcome has fostered; all combine to overwhelm these parentless children who must travel around the world to change that reality. I hardly worry, knowing the difference a day will make.

After two months of studying kids’ photos, it amazes me how difficult some are to recognize. Their slouching hats, misfitted clothes, and typically downcast eyes provide an identification challenge the first night, even when I feel I have known them for months already. The hosts practice the Russian they know, realize they’ve forgotten a lot of it, give a reassuring squeeze to their child, and ask the translator to give an explanation of this or that plan. Alexei, one of the children who seems not to be shy, is intrigued by the three red helium balloons his host has brought him. He pulls them down repeatedly and seems delighted each time they rise again. He doesn’t stop smiling once he sees how predictable it is. Next to him Ekaterina, the girl with cerebral palsy, has red eyes. Though she’s been to the United States before, the late-night meeting has overwhelmed her in her tiredness. I was drawn to her on my July 2008 trip, so I move toward her; answering questions as I go slows me down, but she sees me, recognizes me, and beams. I use my paltry Russian to greet her and find out how she’s been. I give her a hug and she hugs back. It’s clear we both think it’s nice to be remembered. After the translator’s individual introductions, families with Russians in tow trickle out of the airport. I’ll see most of them again Saturday at a basketball game we’re attending. Scared faces will be replaced by the smiles I know I’ll see tomorrow as the kids and families warm up to each other. It always works that way.

It’s as sure as Alexei’s balloons rising.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Burden Shared

With the kids’ arrival looming I am feverishly checking off items on a mental “to do” list: e-mailing Tulsa churches and anyone who has ever expressed even passing interest in the kids, helping anxious host families put the finishing touches on preparations, sending out press releases, trolling for translators, making welcome signs that say “Добро Пожаловать!”, figuring out which true friend to ask for 600 cookies for the evening program the kids present, and testing the limits of human endurance in sleep deprivation. Doubts creep in: Have I done enough? Will people come to meet the kids? Will the host families be glad they signed up? Will the kids find their families? Have I left a stone unturned? In a last-minute eruption of panic, it is tempting to think it all depends on me.

But it doesn’t.

Hope, the director of the Lighthouse Project is wont to tell me, “This is God’s program,” and she’s right. We each have our bit roles to play. While some are more visible and likely lauded than others, it takes far more than a zealous, bleary-eyed coordinator to keep the program rolling. Our Russian coordinator Love spends more time on the train than at home, tirelessly riding twelve hours one way between Moscow and the region, ensuring trip minutiae is attended to. The Moscow translator types the kids’ documents into the language most American host families read. Drivers with death wishes brave Russian roads, bringing cahperones and kids from far-flung orphanages on white-knuckle rides to the regional capital several times in advance of the trip. Hope wades through stacks of documents and e-mail determining which kids most need a trip to America to find a forever family. The Lighthouse translator Faith visits Russia several times annually to interview children; calls the orphanages from her home in the States to ferret out answers to families’ questions; and psyches herself for six annual ten-day trips where she only juggles entertaining the Russian chaperone assigned to the trip, visiting all the host families, cheerleading for the kids and program, playing the piano at the evening program, and keeping the smile and upbeat personality that have made her such an asset to our first forty-one trips. Then there are the hosts: families who obey God’s call to visit orphans in distress by opening their homes to kids who don’t share their language or culture (yet). Hosting is costly; generous haves contribute money to cover hosting fees for have-nots. Bakers hold sales outside Wal-Mart. Some plaster evening program posters around town. Others shamelessly forward e-mail messages on the kids’ need for families to their entire address book. Dentists offer to treat mouths that are new frontiers in dental care. Friends lend extra beds to host families lacking one for their Russian visitor. Crafty folks plan, provide materials for, and praise the kids as they make the VBS handiwork they’ll proudly show their host parents. Russian believers share the Good News with orphans who previously heard precious little good news. Others fill silent roles only Divine eyes see, as prayer warriors storm Heaven on behalf of children on the most momentous search of their young lives.

Even this woefully incomplete list of my Lighthouse team is sufficient exhibit that my eleventh-hour jitters are selfishly unfounded. I do not shoulder the responsibility alone; nobody could. God is using all of us who care, in ways small and large, to assemble a metamorphic experience for the fourteen children whom we welcome Friday. He uses each us together to work His will for His glory. That’s as it should be.

It’s His program, after all.