16 January 2015

Bribery

Twenty-five years ago I was a college-aged student teaching English in Eastern Europe. It was soon after the fall of Communism, and anything seemed possible.

My team and I decided to take a jaunt from Bulgaria, where we were stationed, across the beautiful blue Danube River, and spend the weekend in Romania.

Romania was fascinating. They'd had a bloody revolution just a few years earlier, and the buildings were still riddled with bullet holes. We visited a cemetary filled with graves of young men and women, most of whom were the same age as us, who had died fighting for freedom.

The trip back to Bulgaria was tricky. Long story short...we didn't want to wait for the train to cross the border, so we decided to walk across the bridge into Bulgaria. This had been done previously with no problem, but this time Romanian border guards, outfitted with Soviet sub-machine guns, were not accommodating.

As a twenty-something full of nationalistic pride, I truly believed the American dollar could solve most problems. And truth be known, so far in my journeys it had. But these guards were different. They were offended and angered that we though we could "buy" our way across the bridge. (Maybe $20 wasn't enough?!)

They took our passports, forced us into a border office of sorts, and let us sweat it out. Literally. For hours. Finally they pushed us on to a terribly overcrowded tour bus, threw our passports at us, and told the bus driver to take us across the border.

They never did take our money.

I thought of this story this afternoon while talking to our international adoption case worker. Our adoption of three siblings from Ethiopia has come to a seeming stand still. We need documentation that the regional government exhausted all local options for our children before signing off on their international adoption. The federal government is requiring it. Unfortunately, that piece of documentation was not required when the regional office signed off, and the regional office is no longer issuing ANY papers for international adoption from their region, so basically we're at a stand-off.

The Feds say we must have the document. The Regional office refuses to give it. The Feds say, "Keep trying to get it. One phone call or one letter is not enough."

Our agency tells the Feds, "We have tried and tried to get it. They are refusing."

The Feds say, "Try again."

Our agency says, "Think about the best interest of the children. Think about the hundreds of pages of documentation and eye witness testimony we have provided that say these children have been in institutional care for seven years. Their parents are deceased. Extended family members have appeared in court and said they are unable to care for them and they are OK with an international adoption."

The Feds say, "Try again to get the paper."

The Region says, "No."

And so round and round we go.

A dear friend offered to give us the money to fly over their ourselves to sort this out. Another sweet friend said she would be willing to go over there and see what she could do.

But here's the thing: Ethiopian culture is not like our culture. The more pressure we put on them, the more they feel backed into a corner, and the more resistance they put up.

Our team in Ethiopia have several contacts within the Ethiopian government. The agency's African director, and Ethiopian man, is well respected and has worked through situations like this before. But it takes time. Sometimes lots of time. But because he is Ethiopian, he knows the cultural aspect that we as Americans don't understand.

If it were up to me, I'd contact my congressional representatives and have them put pressure on the Ethio government. I'd start a petition and have all 400 of my Facebook friend sign it. I'd demand they hand over these children.

Or, if I got really desperate, I might consider throwing money at the situation. Because the might American dollar solves everything...right?

But that wouldn't work. It would probably make things worse. (And if the money did work, I'd have to live with the knowledge that I contributed to systemic unethical adoptions...which is really human trafficking...)

Today I was brainstorming/commiserating with a friend, and we were thinking about who we knew that could help with the situation. Later in the afternoon, I thought of someone.

His power is greatly underestimated, and yet He alone can change the hearts of those in authority.

He could change the hearts of those at the regional level, and put it upon them to submit the necessary document.

He could change the hearts of the federal authorities, and put it upon them to think about the best interests of the children, and release them without this paper.

Or He could do something entirely different, a solution that my finite mind has not yet considered.

---

So many of you are praying. Cousins and aunts and uncles in California and Texas and Florida and Connecticut. A Sunday School class in Fort Lauderdale. Grandmas and grandpas in Texas and Illinois. Friends in Colombia and Iran and Wheaton and Elmhurst. Friends at Faith Baptist Church in Winfield. Lifelong friends from Harvard Ave. and Willowbrook. And countless Facebook friends and acquaintances.

Our three Ethiopian children very well may be the most-prayed for children in the world.

But could we humbly ask you to keep praying? Every kid deserves to be in a family.

In my moments of doubt, I start thinking this is never going to happen. I can see what God has done to get us this far, but I also know of other families that have gotten this far and everything has fallen through.

Our social worker has assured me today that they are not giving up. That's not their style. But sometimes my fears overtake my sensibilities. I look at the photos of these three and think it's too good to be true--that they could be ours, and we could be theirs.

But God.

I know all things are possible, but we need God's gracious hand to move. I'm trying to be patient, but I also want the healing to begin. I want to see the redemption that is going to happen.

07 January 2015

Finally...A White Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
Melkam Genna!

መልካም ገና

Today is Christmas in Ethiopia! And it's a white Christmas (but only here in Chicagoland). Ethiopians follow the Julian Calender, so Christmas falls on January 7.

 I wished Jackson a Merry Christmas today, and after some strange looks by him and an explanation by me, he asked, "Do Lucia and Mary and David have a Christmas tree up?"

 No, probably not.

Christmas in Ethiopia is celebrated very differently than here in the United States. I was going to summarize what I've learned, but this website explains it so well that I decided to simply copy and paste. 

*I don't know if this is exactly how our kids are celebrating today, 
but this is the traditional celebration. 
My guess is that just like every family in the U.S. has their own 
variation on Christmas, so do folks in Ethiopia.*

 

Many people fast on Christmas Eve (January 6th). At dawn on the morning of Genna, people get dressed in white. Most people wear a traditional garment called a shamma. It's a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends. It's worn like a toga. If you live in a big town or city you might wear 'western' clothes. The early Genna mass starts at 4.00am!


The Ethiopian capital city is Addis Ababa. It's a modern city. Most people who live outside big cities live in round house made of mud-plastered walls which have thatched cone-shaped roofs. Sometimes houses in the country are rectangular and made of stone.


The design of Ethiopian Church is similar to the houses. In the country, they are often very old and have been carved out of rock. In cities, modern churches are built in three circles, each within the others.



 The choir sings from the outer circle. Everyone who goes to church for the Genna celebrations is given a candle. The people walk around the church three times in a solemn procession, holding the candles. They then go to the second circle to stand during the service. The men and boys are separated from the women and girls. The center circle is the most important and holy place in the church and is where the priest serves the Holy Communion or mass.

It's also a tradition that one of the Wise Men who visited Jesus came from Ethiopia.
Around the time of Genna, the men and boys play a game that is also called genna. It's played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball, a bit like hockey.

Traditional Christmas foods in Ethiopia include wat which is a thick and spicy stew that contains meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs (sounds yummy!). Wat is eaten on a 'plate of injera' - a flat bread. Pieces of the injera are used as an edible spoon to scoop up the wat.


Twelve days after Genna, on 19th January, Ethiopians start the three day celebration of Timkat. It celebrated the baptism of Jesus. Children walk to church services in a procession. They wear the crowns and robes of the church youth groups that they belong to. Adults wear the shamma. The priests wear red and white robes and carry embroidered fringed umbrellas.

Musical instruments are played during the Timkat procession. The sistrum is a percussion instrument with tinkling metal disks a bit like a vertical tambourine. A makamiya, a long T-shaped prayer stick is used to keep the rhythm and is also used by the priests and a stick to lean on during the long Timkat church service!

Ethiopian men also play a sport called yeferas guks. It's played on horseback and the men throw ceremonial lances at each other (sounds rather dangerous!).

People don't give and receive present during Genna and Timkat. Sometimes children might be given a small gift of some clothes from their family members. It's more a time for going to church, eating lots and playing games!

So from the Doman home to yours, Melkam Genna!

(Interesting tidbit: On all the children's paperwork that we have received lately, their last name is listed as Doman. I like that.)



 

30 December 2014

A Good Way to End the Year

While there is no real news on the "adoption red tape" we've been muddling through, (except that talks continue and our agency is hopeful), we did get a new assessment report on the kids today. They usually send one every other month.

Included was this paragraph:

[The Social Worker] reported that she shared with the kids that the processes seems a bit slow and the Doman family will be coming later. [They] understand the wait and they promised to pray for their family everyday.

THEY are praying for us. Can you imagine such a thing?

They also sent these pictures:

Below... Not bad for a 7 year old who has only just started learning English (her third language), let alone a new number system and a new alphabet. (If you're wondering what their numbers and letters look like, check this out.)

 
I've blurred out her name at the top, but this is from our 9-year-old, "to mom, dad, and Jack."

 And they made some pictures just for Jack:

We're not allowed to show their faces, but these are our girls. The top one is "Mary," age 9, and the bottom one is "Lucia," age 7. Lucia is checking out the social worker's phone.



And this boy...our sweet almost-12-year-old. Click on the letter to enlarge it. Sigh...

 

We love these kids so much I can hardly stand it.

Thanks for your continued prayers that God will work miracles and move mountains to get them home.

Happy New Year!

22 December 2014

Our Hope

Yesterday at church a lady who had read my previous blog asked, "So what do you do now?"

Good question.

We wait. We pray. And we hope.

So many of you have sent us messages and posted comments saying that you will pray for our little family, and it has encouraged us so much.

Our only Hope is in Emmanuel...God with us. He is Father to the fatherless and He places the lonely in families. He says that true religion is taking care of the orphans and widows, and so we know He is in this.

Our only hope.

But it's enough.

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, 
you can say to this mountain,  'Move from here to there,' and it will 
move. Nothing will be impossible for you. -Matthew 17:20

This week, as you celebrate Christmas, some very important meetings will be taking place in Ethiopia. (They celebrate Christmas on January 6, so this week is business as usual.) The Federal Ministry has invited all adoption providers to a meeting, and our prayer is that Sebilu, who is director of African Operations for our agency, will have opportunity to petition for our children and other kids stuck in the same situation.

It only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains, and this is a big mountain we're facing.

We need a Christmas miracle.

I know it's a busy week, but as you remember the Christ Child who came for the lost, the forgotten, the poor, the needy...will you petition for the children in Ethiopia who don't have moms and dads? For our sweet children?

Thank you. We look forward to sharing how God has moved mountains in response to your faith--even if it's the size of a mustard seed.



18 December 2014

Adoption Update

A lot of you have been asking when we're going to Ethiopia. Our agency told us to expect travel in the December - January time frame, and here it is December, and we don't have any tickets or even a timetable for travel.

I've put off blogging until I had more concrete information. I knew there was some red tape our team in Ethiopia was trying to straighten out, but I hoped it woudn't take too long.

Today I talked to our agency and received some upsetting news. Despite their best efforts, the team in Ethiopia has not been able to get the necessary sign-offs, and it looks like obtaining them is going to take some time--if they are able at all.

You may have heard about a case in Seattle where an adopted Ethiopian child was made to sleep outdoors, forced to shower with the garden hose, and ultimately starved to death. Her adoptive parents have been charged with murder.

That case caused a lot of bad press for the Ethiopian government. They were made to look as though they had not done their due diligence, and now they are very hesitant to allow international adoptions at all. Their constitution guarantees that right, but the current government is making it nearly impossible for agencies to do their work.

A series of approvals have to be given at Ethiopian's city, county, and state level before a child can be approved by their federal government to be adopted internationally. Our children received those letters more than a year ago--but now the federal government is requiring additional information on those documents.

Unfortunately, our children's region--the Tigray region--is no longer allowing int'l adoptions from their region, and they are refusing to re-issue the approval with the necessary information. And so we are at a stalemate. Nobody wants to budge.

It seems like it would be easy enough to solve, but Ethiopian culture is completely different than ours, and getting things done requires a different set of cultural rules and etiquette. We are thankful that our agency has employed an amazing team in Ethiopia that consists of Ethiopian men and women who know better than anyone the rules of the game.

This team, led by a man named Sebilu, is working every angle they can to get our children cleared. Right now Sebilu is making the argument that the federal government needs to look at the best interest of the children rather than simply crossing items off of a checklist.

Friends, will you pray?

Pray that God gives Sebilu favor as he meets with these people in authority. That God would show him favor.

Pray for our children. The last report we received says our little girl, Lucia, asks continually when her family is coming.  David and Mary ask to look at the photo books we've sent almost every day.

These children have been without a family for nearly seven years--since Lucia was just an infant. David recently told a social worker that he'd seen a lot of other kids get adopted, but after all this time in orphanages, he never thought it would happen for them.

Pray for the leaders in Ethiopia. I understand their desire to give due diligence, but at this point, it seems our children are political pawns in an unfair game.

And pray for us. Our hearts are broken. We want our children home.

Finally, as I've written about before, I know that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of evil.

Wouldn't it be just like Satan to make an innocent child question his worthiness to have a family? Doesn't Satan want us to feel lonely, isolated, unlovable, and forgotten by God?  That's what he's doing to our kids. He's hardening the hearts of those in authority so that our children will never know the love of a mother and father. They won't be told of the goodness of our God and see His provision in their lives.

But God is greater.

Will you stand with us in agreement, wherever you are right now?

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God.

For with God, nothing is impossible.





01 December 2014

Why I Got Angry Today

This is a re-post from September of last year. Still relevant, especially today.


Today, Ken and I attended a CPR and First Aid training class. The presenter was a firefighter/EMT from our community. And I liked her. She was funny. Really funny. Did I mention likeable? She made the training enjoyable...even at 8 am on a Saturday morning.

However, part way through the training, something was said that really upset me.The trainer was talking about CPR and the new recommendations for compressions and mouth-to-mouth. She said something to the effect of, "As a non-medical professional, you are considered a Good Samaritan, and you aren't legally bound to give mouth to mouth. And if I were you, I wouldn't. Why? Because people are gross. And you never know what gross diseases people have. They might have hepatitis, TB, or AIDS. And although the experts say you can't get AIDS from saliva, I don't believe it."

Whoa. Stop right there, lady.

I have several dear friends who are HIV-positive, and this stigma has got to stop. It's a lie. It's a fear-based lie. I was shocked and disappointed that this medical "authority" would disseminate false information. I was so stunned at the time that I didn't speak up. I wish I had. But now I will...for my friends with HIV, for children with HIV, for anyone touched by HIV. I have to speak up...as a Christian, as a promoter of the truth, as a human being.


First of all, people with Hepatitis, TB, and AIDS are not gross. Some of the symptoms of their disease may be gross, but they are not. They are human beings, dearly loved by God and created in His image.

Second, this woman appeared to have misspoke when she used the term AIDS. I believe she meant HIV. HIV is not AIDS. HIV is a virus, that if left untreated, can cause AIDS. Because of advancements in treatment and testing, it is uncommon for a person with HIV in the United States to progress to having AIDS. In fact, people who are being treated with antiretroviral drugs usually have an undetectable viral load, meaning the virus can not be detected in their blood. Therefore, transmission is very unlikely under any circumstances, and most of them live out normal life spans with minimal health issues. With regular treatment, they can marry, have babies, and do just about anything an HIV-negative person can do.

How is HIV transmitted? A person can contract HIV through mutual blood or semen contact. This most often occurs during unprotected sex or by sharing needles during injection drug use. There are also cases where a mother passes the virus on to her newborn or transmits the virus via breastfeeding. These instances usually occur with people who are not receiving ongoing antiretroviral medications.
If you aren't having sex with an HIV+ person, sharing needles, or being breastfed by a person with HIV, the risk of becoming infected is virtually non-existent.  
 
Can HIV be transmitted by saliva? No. In some persons living with HIV, the virus has been detected in saliva, but in extremely low quantities. Contact with saliva alone has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV, and there is no documented case of transmission from an HIV-infected person spitting on another person. 

Can a person get HIV from casual contact with an infected person?
No. HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, church, or social settings. HIV is not transmitted through shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus, and it does not live long outside the body.

Let me repeat: HIV does not survive well outside the human body. You cannot catch HIV through saliva. You cannot catch HIV by touching HIV+ blood unless you have a gaping wound or open sore and it enters your blood stream. If you do have open wounds, you should be using gloves when dealing with anyone's blood.


Friends, PLEASE end the stigma. If the Church is not proclaiming the truth, showing love, and giving compassion to those affected by HIV, who will?


I got this information from the CDC.gov, TheStigmaProject.org, and TheBody.com. Some of it I copied and pasted; some I paraphrased. For more information, visit any of their sites or gather your own research from reputable sources.

25 November 2014

Ferguson

I'm trying not to be judgmental about folks who respond to injustice with violence because I have never stood in their shoes. I've never been fearful of the police. I've always thought justice would prevail. I've rarely been a minority.

But I wish I could get inside their heads for just a minute so I could understand why they act the way they do. It doesn't make sense to me, but maybe it makes sense to them. Or maybe they are so overcome with grief and anger that even they don't know why they are doing it.

All I know is this: We're about to have three little brown-skinned people join our family in a few short months. And sometimes, especially on days like today, I feel scared for them. And I also feel scared for anyone who might judge them based on the color of their skin rather than on the content of their character. Because those folks will be dealing with this Mama Bear. And Mama Bears can be kind of scary when they're protecting the little ones they love.