Nicole called me first September 11, 2008; it’s in my notes but the date was easy to remember anyway. She was young enough that I wasn’t sure how serious she was, but she told me she’d always been interested in adoption. I could relate to that, though, and we had an encouraging conversation.
Within days, Nicole and husband Randy signed up to host a ten-year-old boy named Alexei. She was giddy as she outlined her plans for him for the week. It crushed them more than the other families when he was one of those kept behind in the orphanage due to last November’s quarantine. At the end, they hosted another child instead, but Alexei had already stolen their hearts. When he finally arrived in Tulsa for his trip in January, he was an obvious fit for their family. On the return flight to Russia, he flashed business cards with Randy and Nicole’s photos on them to the translator, insisting he wanted them to be his family.
Two weeks ago Alexei could put away his cards. Randy and Nicole arrived in Russia, went to his orphanage, and were welcomed like dignitaries. When he saw them, he bounded to them and leaped into Nicole’s arms, hitting his head hard on her lip. For the rest of the trip, she savored how happy her new son was to see them every time she noticed her sore mouth. Though they’d worked for this moment for months, Nicole was nonetheless taken aback by the intensity of her love for Alexei as he thanked them repeatedly for adopting him.
There were other kids at the orphanage and they swarmed the American visitors. One especially winsome boy proudly exclaimed all the kids had washed and put on their best clothes before they arrived. He asked them if they were Alexei’s mama and papa, but haunted Nicole when he added, “Do you like us?” I could envision the little chap and the look on his face as he queried; the boy was Denis (yellow circle on shirt), my favorite child from the March Grand Rapids trip. Several of the thronging orphans tried to curry favor with Randy and Nicole, making it clear they wanted to go along, “auditioning” for their own chance at a family. Kids never understand how much work has gone into the adoption before parents ever come through the orphanage door.
After court, they returned to Moscow, where Alexei purchased a gift for his new mom. They visited the traditional Moscow biggies, played football, and cuddled as Nicole counted his freckles, losing track at 122. Friday, Alexei arrived home in Tulsa, with a new, American name meaning, “saved by God.” Seldom are names so aptly chosen. Returning home to Grand Rapids late Thursday from my own vacation, I could not be in Tulsa in body, but was present in spirit.
So to Randy and Nicole: Congratulations! Your heart for orphans shines through as you’ve helped with the Lighthouse Project and now taken the ultimate step in orphan ministry. While your time in the orphanage was short, remember the kids who touched you in Russia. Even a minute with such neediness leaves you forever changed.
To Alexei: Welcome to your new family and country! We promise to keep working diligently to find families for the friends you left behind. You’ll be proud to see your parents are a part of that.
And to Denis: Yes, Alexei’s mama and papa did like you and your friends, more than you’ll know. They sent photos for me to pass on to your own mama and papa in Michigan. It won’t be long before your friends wash again, donning their best to meet the new parents coming to the orphanage, for you.