Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Unmasked

“Ordinary” would be a compliment for Egor, nine. The second grader plays soccer, favors macaroni for lunch, loves reading, and, like many boys his age, aspires to become a policeman. He wants friends, and is legitimately choosy when picking them.

Thoughtful and soft-spoken, Egor expressed basic desires with a gentle demeanor that sought reassurance. His interview translator asked, almost apologetically, if he had a dream, as if such a boy might not dare to dream. When Egor looked heavenward, finally answering simply, “Mama, Papa,” the entirely ordinary orphanage dreamer needed no translation for an answer that broke this heart with its simplicity.

Calling Egor an orphan, while true, falls flat in conveying the gravity of his circumstances. Born with a cleft lip and palate, he also suffers ocular, facial, and hand deformities. An American plastic surgeon opined the cleft palate could be repaired in one extensive surgery; the ocular and facial disfigurement, a likely result of a rare congenital disorder, would require more complex surgeries spanning a period of weeks to months. It would take commitment: all parenting does, but Egor’s life could be transformed by a family minded to give him a chance.

Watching him offer his measured responses, I come up with my own questions the interviewer mercifully leaves unasked: How much of his desire to protect others as a policeman is seeded in his own unmet need for protection? When Egor says he chooses as friends only good kids, elaborating he’ll not play with any boy or girl who calls him names, I mentally counter: In an orphanage with minimal adult guidance, how much does that stipulation narrow the pool of potential friend candidates?

It seems cruel that any child, faced with such challenges, should be doomed because of them to become, and remain, an orphan. A boy, whose most grandiose dream is shyly contained in the two words he would have uttered thoughtlessly under different circumstances, might never use them as more than an answer to an interviewer’s query about some unattainable wish. A little boy with perfectly average aspirations waits trapped behind a mask that might deny him their fulfillment.

I know Egor defies his physical challenges, unmasking his soul when he whispers his dream. But the silent interviewer within frets, wondering if he really thinks the translator can make this far-fetched dream of a mama and papa come true, worrying whether anyone, anywhere, will even want to make it come true.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Faith to Sight

The Lighthouse Project kids returned to Russia Sunday from Chicago. So much wonderful has happened, I struggle both deciding where to start and how to artfully craft the news into one coherent post. Currently, it seems plausible every child could return permanently, should they consent. Five children have families with definitive intentions to adopt; the other five have families at least seriously considering them. After nine go-rounds, this is my first trip to end with every child having adoption prospects.

Denis L. has more than a prospect; he has a family. The boy who asked his orphanage director daily when he could return to America to find his family had his faith turned to sight late last week. (Michigan, Meet Denis 2/27/09) In mid-February Heather called me because she’d heard I was concerned about Russian people. She surprised me by requesting prayer for a Russian friend of hers, rather than asking about Lighthouse. When I launched into my Lighthouse spiel anyway, she asked to ride along when I drove across town to pick up Russian Bibles for VBS. Two days before the kids’ arrival, my mom was hospitalized, so someone else got the Bibles instead. I sent Heather an e-mail apology. Her reply was gracious, and she confessed a heavy heart for Denis. The trip unfolded without leads for him, so late in the week I contacted her again, asking her to come meet him. Her family agreed more eagerly than I expected, falling in love in short order. By Saturday, they knew they were Denis’s family and they promised to match his persistence by asking daily, “When does Denis get to come home to his family in America?” Adopted at age sixteen herself, Heather’s ache to pass the gift of a family to another child has been heartwarming, to say the least.

The trip’s first Saturday brought an end thirteen-year-old Lisa prayed for almost six years would happen sometime. (Cheering, 3/5/09) Adopted from Russia years ago by a Michigan family who discovered impossibly late that she had a younger sister named Lima in a different orphanage, Lisa and Lima met once in Russia, to say goodbye. At home in Michigan, Lisa settled in but couldn’t forget the sibling she’d left behind. Faithfully praying, Lisa tirelessly informed everyone she met that her biological sister was waiting in Russia for her family to find her. Those prayers finally got an emphatic affirmative when an Oklahoma family heard Lima’s story and traveled to host her in March. While Lima’s path has been a circuitous one, it wound last week through Grand Rapids, where Lisa and Lima had the reunion Lisa always knew in her heart would happen. Trying to make up for lost time, the girls enjoyed a sleepover, a pizza party, picking out curtain fabric for Lima’s new room, and having their mom and mom-to-be, who both love to sew, make matching dresses.

Nine-year-old Denis E. had a churchful of prayer warriors behind him as he sought his parents. Learning he loved farm animals, his hosts’ friend made a “prayer blanket” out of chicken-themed fabric, bringing it to church with numerous untied strings dangling. Congregants willing to pray for Denis throughout the week each tied a string, finishing the blanket in less than one-half hour. As Denis charmed everyone at the evening program with his infectious smile and darling carrot poem recitation, I knew the church’s prayers would be answered. They were: Denis will be the first child of a mom and dad who promptly began missing him as soon as he left.

Fourteen-year-old Nikolai, on his final trip, found a family desirous of adopting him, though huge financial challenges loom. (Smile, Nikolai! 3/30/09) The night after they met him, he pointed to the chairs where they sat during the meeting and implored his host parents, “Mama? Papa?” Still paying off two previous adoptions, the might-be family needs very significant financial assistance to make Nikolai their son. Given the difficulty I had finding families to even speak with about Nikolai, I find myself believing that God, who led me to a family who wants to parent him, can lead me to another who wants to provide the means.

Jesus commended the faith of little children; several had theirs turned to sight in Michigan last week. I’m older, but still trusting for Nikolai. I was not alone in my prayers for him; may our mutual faith, weak as it is, turn to sight.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hope in America Slide Show

video

Choking Up

I love writing. Educating and entertaining are my aims; the stat counter on the right is my report card. While being read is every writer’s dream, my sense of purpose and responsibility comes less from numbers and more from action my writing impels others to. Learning my words were God’s gentle prompting, helping usher a hopeless child into a family, is a thrill I’ll never outlive.

My remuneration is the sheer joy I derive from pounding out clarion calls. A few months ago I wrote about a mom from my March 2008 trip, struggling to raise funds for fourteen-year-old Inna’s adoption. (Struggling, 2/2/09) A lady who works part-time as a tax preparer read Inna’s story, called me, and offered an entire week’s salary to help get Inna home. Knowing my writing prompted this generosity from one who felt the donation’s pinch was as good as having been paid myself.

February’s first post featured Ekaterina, a girl with aspirations of being a chef. (Marching On, 2/2/09) One of the kids on March’s Grand Rapids trip, she was in imminent need of a family before her birthday. After seeing the post and photo, a dear Oklahoman was led to host her in Michigan. Yearning to be in a family rather than on the street, Ekaterina yesterday opined to a babushka that nobody wants a fifteen-year-old. For dinner tonight Ekaterina baked chicken but ate crow when my friends asked her to be their daughter. She joyfully consented amidst tears and hugs, asking the translator, “Do they really want me?! Do they like me?!” Being wrong never felt so good.

Less satisfying are the blog hits from Monday and Tuesday. After my post about Nikolai, his best friend Sergei’s new parents forwarded the link to everyone on their e-mail lists, straining to find the family God has chosen. Monday, the day I posted Nikolai’s story, my blog set its record for daily traffic; Tuesday, it was dramatically eclipsed, doubling Monday’s short-lived benchmark. Flushed prematurely with pride in the numbers, the less gratifying reality was no resultant calls. Sergei’s dad confided he was severely choked up reading Nikolai’s post, adding, “If I’m any kind of a good dad at all, I need to be able to tell my son that I did my best to help find his best friend a family…” I repaid the compliment by choking up at the sentiment, the effort, and the lack of response roused by our college try.

Today I conversed with a caller, adopted herself at an older age, about a child I worried might be especially difficult to place. At the close of our discussion, she offered the most heartfelt thanks I’d ever received. Thanking me for what I do for kids, she said that someone adopting her when she was older “made an eternal difference,” adding, “I am where I am today because someone did it for me.”

Pondering this profundity, and trusting Nikolai might one day echo it, I resolved to fight on in faith to make this his testimony, too.

And talk about choking up...